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Mentoring: Make It Pay

Mentoring programs can have a positive influence on employee engagement and retention, but many companies don’t take full advantage of them to ensure they support the business strategy, according to a study released in February 2010 by the nonprofit organization Catalyst and Nationwide Insurance.

“This study tells us that formal mentoring programs can reduce turnover, enhance a company’s recruitment efforts, increase the overall performance of a company and create an overall improved work environment, especially for women and people of color,” said Candice Barnhardt, vice president, Nationwide Insurance, in a statement about the report.

Making Mentoring Work, sponsored by Nationwide, showcases how smart companies conceptualize, track and leverage mentoring relationships. The impact and potential benefits of a formal mentoring relationship—those in which organizations match mentors and mentees, designate minimum time commitments, monitor relationships and evaluate the program—can span an entire career. That is why it is important to plan and consider the design, development and execution of these programs strategically from building a robust formal mentoring program from the ground up to leveraging existing programs, noted the report.

Charateristics of Ineffective Mentoring Programs


Mentor, mentee matching is ad hoc, not based on assessment.

Lacks formal goals, objectives.

No clear time commitment.

No monitoring or check-ins.

No accountability.

No clear tie to business efforts.

Charateristics of Effective Mentoring Programs


Mentors, mentees matched based on skills/development needs.

Formal goals are outlined, tracked.

Minimum time commitments designated.

Formal process for monitoring relationships.

Both parties accountable; talent management links.

Links to business strategy, goals.

Source: Making Mentoring Work, Catalyst, 2010.

“Using formal mentoring programs to help employees gain key business skills, expose them to others in the organization or help prepare them for expanded job responsibilities can improve employees’ satisfaction and the organization’s bench strength,” said Julie S. Nugent, Catalyst’s director of research and co-author of the study.

Program Design, Development

The report suggests doing the following when developing a business case for formal mentoring:

  • Provide guidelines, outline appropriate timeframes and set expectations.
  • Align critical areas of focus or consideration with the business.
  • Maintain strong communication over time.
  • Assess progress/outcomes for the duration of the relationship.
  • Link outcomes to job growth, employee satisfaction/morale and retention.

Formal mentor-mentee pairings can enhance retention, help address human resources challenges like recruitment and succession planning, and, ultimately, foster cultural change. Cultural context, however, is critical when identifying and defining mentoring pairings. For example, companies should consider the following when deciding who to involve and how to pair mentors and mentees:

  • Gender imbalance in senior management. Oftentimes it’s necessary to match male mentors with female mentees because the majority of high-level, high-powered positions are still held by men.
  • Confluence of four generations in workforce. Match employees in different life or career stages. For example, pair an employee just beginning to deal with elder care issues with an employee who has gone through the process, or match a seasoned employee with a recruit for reciprocal learning.
  • Global expansion. Match employees in Asia, for instance, with ones in the United States to explore cultural values and work styles.
  • Growing alumni base. Match alumni or “boomerang” employees with tenured employees to leverage those networks.
  • Mergers and acquisitions. Match employees from the acquired company with ones within the acquiring company for better cultural integration.

Also, consider how to leverage the mentoring match for career growth during planning. Mentor-mentee conversations are a great place to explore new ideas in a safe and confidential space, the report notes. This is particularly important in environments that might not be highly open or transparent. Employees need to be assured that the relationship is a place where they can test out ideas, concerns and fears without risk of retribution.

The relationship can also be an incubator for creativity and development that spills over into the mentor’s and/or mentee’s job. These relationships provide a nonthreatening venue in which to provide feedback. During these discussions, the mentor should work with the mentee to identify training needs and goals. These relationships should be reciprocal, and learning should be taking place on both sides.

The report emphasizes that mentor-mentee relationships might include emotional or social components and role modeling. These relationship elements can help support career development as well. For example, a mentor explaining organizational politics or unwritten rules will help the employee navigate the work culture better, and a mentee discussing her perspectives might help a mentor gain different insights into the organization’s culture.

Program Implementation

Successful mentoring should not stand alone. It should be an integral component in a comprehensive development program that typically includes many aspects, including:

  • Overall talent evaluation (performance evaluations, 360-degree feedback).
  • Training.
  • Succession management (slates, succession planning).
  • Networking or other important career functions.

There are common organizational links that can be made to support career development highlighted in the report. For example, employees in formal mentoring programs might be assigned certain projects to augment skill sets that are then transferable to their organizations. In addition, mentors and mentees might share their experiences with broader groups of employees or even with leadership.

At KPMG LLP, for example, mentor-mentee pairs are expected to formulate and monitor goals for the relationship. Setting goals helps define the relationship better and helps ensure that expectations are met for both parties. The mentoring program is entrenched in KPMG’s performance management system, the report states. There is a general expectation that employees will become mentors as they advance within the firm, and partner-track employees are expected to specify mentoring as one of their formal career goals.

The report suggests that companies consider the following when working to align mentoring programs with other organizational systems like performance management and career development:

  • Gain background information about career development needs, perhaps by conducting a 360-degree assessment for mentees and sharing the outcomes with their mentors to support success.
  • Define the roles for mentor and mentee to help reduce ambiguity.
  • Ensure that performance management systems function to allow mentees to solicit career feedback from someone other than their direct manager.

Measured Success

Identifying metrics properly and providing a link between mentoring and goals or outcomes highlights the importance of mentoring—for individuals and the organization. Some goals are easy to set and track (e.g., specific number of mentor/mentee meetings for the year), but others are more difficult. For example, companies might have large organizational mentoring goals, such as creating a more inclusive culture, that aren’t translated into or tracked using specific metrics.

To create suitable metrics for difficult goals, think about how the company will know when they’ve been met. What will have happened, what will be evident, and what smaller goals would make up a larger metric? Or consider that there could be several ways to meet a goal, and sort through the metric possibilities that open up from this line of thinking.

Programmatic Metrics


Participants: Number of mentors, mentees; number of women, men; differences among racial/ethnic backgrounds.

Structure: In-person, virtual, group, circles, or one-to-one.

Timing: When and how often mentors and mentees meet.

Satisfaction: How participants feel about, among other things, the program and their mentor, mentee.

Organizational Outcomes Metrics


What percentage of employees in the program is from diverse groups?

What is the effect of mentoring on promotion rates?

Do employee survey data show attitudinal improvement; increased satisfaction, retention; high quality of all mentoring relationships?

Do employees in the mentoring program have access to more opportunities?

Source: Making Mentoring Work, Catalyst, 2010.

Another way to look at the success of formal mentoring programs is to compute mentoring return on investment (ROI), the report said. Formal mentoring ROI is what companies receive in return for their investment in a formal mentoring program. There are several ROI measures, and organizations need to identify those measures that apply best to their program and ROI “lens.” Among the metrics to track:

  • Benefits, such as increased job satisfaction, decreased stress, decreased biases toward others.
  • Positive outcome comparisons of a group that has been mentored to those of a group that has not.
  • Cost comparisons of mentoring to the costs associated with reaching the same outcomes without mentoring (e.g., through traditional training).
  • Concrete savings associated with benefits of a formal mentoring program weighted against mentoring costs.
  • Decreased regretted loss turnover for mentored employees compared to those not mentored.

Metrics should be gathered from a variety of sources, including employee surveys, interviews and focus groups, the report stated. For example, Sodexo Inc. was cited as a company that tracks its mentoring program outcomes and results closely by:

  • Assessing the ratio of monetary gain/accomplishments to the cost of running the mentoring program. In 2007, Sodexo had an ROI of 2 to 1, mostly attributable to enhanced productivity and employee retention.
  • Asking participants about the impact formal mentoring has on their careers and day-to-day work.
  • Tracking employee job satisfaction, organizational commitment and other factors to monitor program effectiveness.

KPMG, also cited in the report, analyzes its mentoring data provided by employees in a variety of ways, including by gender, race/ethnicity, practice group, functional level and age. The firm is able to compare turnover rates of people with mentors to those without to better understand the relationship between mentoring and career development.

Finally, to reap the benefits of mentoring fully, mentors and mentees need to be held accountable for their responsibilities to each other and the program. To support accountability on the mentor’s and mentee’s part, the report suggests that companies:

  • Identify someone to lead the accountability process and ensure compliance.
  • Ensure that clear mentoring goals have been established and communicated.
  • Identify appropriate measures and metrics needed to show progress.
  • Determine specific accountability measures (e.g., performance objectives related to formal mentoring) and apply them appropriately and consistently.
  • Link accountability to talent management facets (e.g., performance evaluations).

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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