When Mark Zuckerberg was a young college dropout developing a social media platform, he went to a mentor for guidance: Steve Jobs. The Apple co-founder advised the future Facebook CEO on topics like product design and team building.
Zuckerberg isn’t alone. Among companies in the Fortune 500, 92 percent have mentorship programs, according to a 2023 survey by the mentoring platform MentorcliQ. Those companies saw their workforces increase by 4 percent over the previous year, while those without programs saw a decline of 33 percent.
Unsurprisingly, mentorship programs are connected to business success. Mentors help employees develop their abilities and advance their careers. By helping individuals elevate themselves, they help the businesses they work for elevate as well.
The nature of mentorship programs can vary, depending on a company’s strategic needs. Understanding the benefits of mentorship programs and their various types can help a company gain a competitive edge.
What Is a Mentorship Program in Business?
A mentor advises someone who is typically less experienced, known as a mentee. The mentor offers their expertise to help the mentee develop professionally.
Aspects of Mentorship Programs
Although mentoring relationships can develop informally, many companies find it helpful to set up formal programs. These programs tend to have certain aspects in common.
- Rather than giving directives, a mentor provides advice and guidance, on anything from current work problems to future career moves.
- Mentorship focuses on the future. A mentor helps a mentee set professional development goals and evaluate progress in reaching them.
- The mentor and mentee meet regularly, in person or virtually, for a defined period of time.
Types of Mentorship Programs
Mentorship programs can take various forms. Depending on its corporate culture and organizational goals, a business can choose among several options.
In a one-on-one mentorship, a single mentor works with a single mentee for a specific period of time, getting to know each other personally and professionally. Such a relationship can help the mentee make greater contributions to the company and stay with it longer.
In group mentorship, three or more workers at the same level mentor one another, sharing experiences and analyzing business challenges. They might be managers at the same company, or they might be founders of startups who meet to exchange notes.
Not all mentorships are long term. An employee may seek a situational mentor for counsel on a particular short-term problem, such as a marketing or cost-cutting challenge.
The Benefits of a Mentorship Program
Mentorship programs offer a wide spectrum of advantages. The benefits of a mentorship program are realized not only by individual employees but also by the businesses they work for.
Benefits of a Mentorship Program for Mentees
Mentees gain the value of a mentor’s wisdom and experience in areas ranging from time management to problem-solving. Mentorship can also yield additional benefits for mentees.
- Career coaching. A mentor helps identify career goals and the steps to reach them, and can help pinpoint abilities that may need improvement.
- Career acceleration. A mentor can speed up an employee’s ascent through the corporate ranks, both by upgrading their abilities and by advocating to executives on their behalf.
- Networking. A mentor often shares their own personal network with their mentee. Those contacts can provide both new perspectives and new business opportunities.
Benefits of a Mentorship Program for Mentors
The benefits of mentorship aren’t confined to mentees. The process offers several potential payoffs for mentors as well.
- Leadership development. Developing another employee’s career can improve a mentor’s communication and leadership skills.
- Professional development. Mentors may improve their own knowledge of industry trends and expand their personal networking.
- Corporate recognition. Successful mentorship can draw attention, showcasing a mentor’s contribution to the company and helping accelerate their own career.
Benefits of a Mentorship Program for a Business
In the MentorcliQ survey, companies with mentorship programs saw their profits increase by 110 percent over the previous year. A look at the business benefits of mentorship helps explain why.
- Talent recruitment. A mentorship program can help recruit workers in a competitive labor market. Youth research firm Springtide Research Institute reports that 86 percent of Generation Z workers desire mentor-type relationships, but only 38 percent have them.
- Talent retention. Mentorship makes workers more likely to stick around. At the Dutch human resources firm Randstad, employees in mentorship programs were 49 percent less likely to leave, saving $3,000 per worker in turnover costs.
- Institutional memory. Senior executives can pass along knowledge to younger workers about a company, its history, and its norms, ensuring organizational continuity as those executives retire.
How to Build a Mentorship Program
Once a company understands the types and benefits of mentorship programs, it can start building one. Several strategies can help create an effective program.
Step 1: Establish Goals
Developing a successful mentorship program starts by defining who will be mentored and what the goals of mentorship are. Possible goals include the following:
- Mentoring new hires as part of the onboarding process
- Developing potential leaders among existing workers
- Enhancing the formation and functioning of teams
Step 2: Define the Process
The next step is to set parameters for the mentorship process, such as:
- Criteria for entering the program
- Type of mentorship: one-on-one, group, or situational
- How long the mentorship will last
- How and how often mentors and mentees meet
- Benchmarks for measuring program success
Step 3: Choose and Match Participants
Companies gather extensive information before matching participants to evaluate how well they’ll work with one another. Tips for making good matches include the following:
- Seek mentors who are well recognized in the company
- Seek mentees who are committed to the company and to advancing their careers
- Pair mentees with mentors whose strengths match up with the mentees’ weaknesses
- Give each mentor a few vetted candidates to choose from
Step 4: Train Mentors
Mentors should be knowledgeable about the program’s goals and approach to mentoring. Training should cover several key points.
- What is mentorship, and what skills are helpful?
- What types of mentorship does the program offer?
- What’s the time commitment, both overall and in frequency of meetings?
- What benefits will mentors and mentees get from a mentorship?
Build Business Strength from Within
A strong mentorship program can benefit a business in multiple ways: advancing careers, enhancing employee retention, and improving business outcomes. A degree program like Washington State University’s Executive Master of Business Administration can equip business professionals with the management skills for designing such programs.
In addition, the program can equip professionals with a wide variety of other skills in areas such as marketing, sales, analytics, and leadership. Learn more about how the program can help you pursue your professional goals and advance your career.