Ramping up Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

Mentors are valuable in helping new hires get up to speed, but not many companies go through the trouble of creating formal — or even informal — mentorship programs, according to a new survey. A majority (58 percent) of chief financial officers recently polled said that it is uncommon for new hires to be matched with mentors within their organizations.

The survey, developed by Accountemps, was conducted by an independent research firm and includes responses from more than 1,400 CFOs from a stratified random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.

“While mentoring seems like such a great way to get a new employee acclimated to an organization, many companies don’t even have an informal mentoring program in place to encourage new hires to connect with established professionals,” says Jason Skidmore, Columbus’s regional vice president for Robert Half International, Accountemps’s parent company.

Smart Business spoke with Skidmore about why it is important for businesses to start mentorship programs, and steps companies can take to start one.

Why is it important to have mentoring programs in companies?

The main bottom-line reason is that it helps new hires to get acclimated and ramped up into the work environment more quickly.

It is also important because of the good feelings it fosters for both the mentor and the new hire. For the mentor, it is a pat on the back as well as a privilege and an honor to be asked to guide a new employee. For the employee that is being mentored, it shows that the organization is committed to his or her career, growth and development.

Relationships with supervisors are always a bit tricky; it is not always easy to be completely honest with your boss. So a mentor is an objective third party that the newly hired employee can go to for advice and guidance.

Why do you think so few companies institute mentoring programs?

The main reason is that nobody has stepped back to think about it and set one up. Many organizations don’t do it because they can’t figure out how it is done. However, if the idea is handed off to the Human Resources department, it can happen more quickly. While the mentorship program should always be run at a department level, the HR department can be instrumental in getting it off the ground by developing a standard 8- to 12-week curriculum.

That said, we all recognize that everyone has so much on their plates these days. It is hard for two people to carve out 30 minutes a week to dedicate to a mentorship program. But, if there is a formalized process within the organization with an approved curriculum, people do find time to make it happen. People quickly realize that the benefits of mentoring far outweigh the inconvenience of taking time out each week.

Have you ever participated in a mentorship program?

Yes, I’ve been both a mentor and a mentoree. As a mentoree during my first 60 days on the job, it helped me to understand how to operate in the organization. The best thing about being mentored is that I could learn from the mistakes of others. While it was a formal program that was officially over within 60 days, I still keep in touch with my mentor after seven years.

I have also been a mentor to employees, and I would hope that they learned from my mistakes as well. I have to say that mentoring helped me in my current job since it helped me to hone in on what the department should be doing because here I was coaching someone on how to do it the right way. It’s a great feeling to be a mentor. It reinforced that the company is confident in my abilities as a leader who could be counted on to bring other people along.

What are some steps that companies can take to start a mentoring program?

There are several:

  • Clearly define the objectives and goals of the mentorship program. What do you want the mentor and mentoree to get out of the program? Do you want to pair people up to help them in the technical or cultural/operational aspects of the job?

  • Contact your HR department. Use its skills in organizational development to create a mentorship curriculum.

  • Get feedback from staff. You could formulate a task force to discuss and approve the curriculum, and add what they would like to see in a mentorship program and how they would like to see it orchestrated.

JASON SKIDMORE is the regional vice president for Robert Half International in Columbus. Reach him at (614) 221-9300 or jason.skidmore@rhi.com.