How to Build a Sustainable Mentoring Programme
Understanding the importance of quality mentorship is easier than establishing systems that support it. When you’re keeping an eye on the bottom line, it’s hard to prioritise making mentorship work. Here’s the framework we used at Project Thrive to help you establish a mentorship programme at your company.
OfferZen’s State of the Development Nation reports for South Africa and the Netherlands both showed that mentorship and opportunities for growth are key reasons why developers stay in a role. It’s no wonder that top tech companies like Uber, PayPal and Amazon all have internal programmes that make it easier to foster an environment of mentorship.
What does it take to set up a successful mentorship programme? What does a mentor need to do to provide an impactful experience? Over our three years of operating and engaging with hundreds of mentees and mentors at Project Thrive, we’ve learned a thing or two about what makes mentorship programmes both successful and sustainable.
We’ve pulled our findings together into 7 steps that’ll help you to establish a mentorship programme at your organisation.
1. Establish your goals
There are myriad of reasons to set up a mentorship programme in your organisation. And your reasoning will influence your strategy as well as the areas you’ll prioritise.
Ensure you’re clear on its purpose, both for the organisation and participants. Begin by considering any skills gaps that exist, or broader areas of development that need to be addressed.
For example, your programme could seek to:
- Establish strong working relationships and close-knit teams
- Exchange skills and specialised knowledge internally
- Create a culture of learning and development
- Upskill teams in soft skills
- Develop leadership skills within teams
We’ve worked with many organisations that have aimed for one or more of the above goals. For one partner, a mentorship programme was a tool to connect team members during the transition to remote work during COVID-19.
Other organisations have used mentorship to supercharge their graduate programmes. By pairing graduates with seasoned team members, they were able to move through onboarding and development more quickly. Their juniors also benefited through new skills and an easier transition into the workplace.
Other organisations have used mentorship as a tool for individuals looking to move into leadership, or to try leadership on for size in a lower stakes environment.
2. Plan your project timeline
Now that you know what your programme seeks to achieve, it’s time to consider implementation. Naturally, if you have loftier goals, you’ll need a longer programme to achieve them.
But no matter your programme duration, we’ve seen success in breaking the mentorship relationship into three distinct phases. This helps both the mentors and the mentees to have clear expectations of what they need to focus on, and when.
Phase 1: Getting to know each other Phase 2: Working on goals Phase 3: Reflecting and revising
Getting to know each other
With so much of the mentorship experience relying on the relationship between the two parties, it pays to take the time to establish strong groundwork.
During this phase, they’ll share their backgrounds, interests and get to know each other on a personal level. Once they’ve taken some time together, they can also discuss what they’re hoping to gain from the experience, and the areas they’d like to focus on. This helps to break the ice and set up clear expectations. During this phase, the pair can also discuss how and when they’d like to chat and other logistics.
Once that’s done, they’re ready to start the goal setting process. Our mentors and mentees do this using the personal SWOT analysis and GROW goal-setting model. It’s a great way to consider any hurdles that might stand in their way, and how they’ll measure success.
Working on goals
Once goals are set, it’s time to put a plan of action into place and start taking steps to achieve these goals under the guidance of the mentor.
Your job as a mentor isn’t to solve all your mentee’s problems. You’re there to guide and empower them in their growth so they can solve problems themselves. Ask questions, and most importantly, listen.
After giving your mentee the space to problem solve, share your experience, and the tips and tricks you’ve refined over the years.
You’re also there to be your mentee’s top cheerleader. Encourage them as they work through their goals, and help them to be accountable to themselves and the goals they set, especially when faced with challenges.
Reflecting and revising
Active reflection is essential to the success of mentorship. During phase three, the pair will look back and consider the progress made during the course of the programme.
They’ll also look forward and plan next steps. For example, did they set reasonable and actionable goals, and will they continue to work together once the formal programme is finalised?
3. Set up systems
A mentorship programme won’t run itself. Outside of the mentorship relationships, there’s a lot of monitoring and administration that needs to be done to keep this ship moving forward, and these efforts will make or break a mentorship programme.
Ownership: Our experience has shown us that these initiatives fall apart when there is no clear ownership in place. To set your programme up for success, make sure you assign an individual or team to monitor the mentor–mentee relationships.
Frequency: Establish how often the pairs should meet. We’d recommend a weekly meetup for shorter programmes, to maintain momentum. Longer programmes might be unable to sustain that regularity. In those cases, once a month will do, provided the pair keeps in contact in other ways in between sessions.
Feedback loops: Create a system for collecting feedback from participants. This is one of the best ways to monitor the success of your programme. We use a simple Google form. It’s efficient and doesn’t take too much of anyone’s time. Ask your participants about their experience with their mentor/mentee and the programme, as well as the benefits they’ve experienced. Remember to ask them for recommendations to improve as well.
4. Choose mentors
A mentorship programme can’t exist without mentors, so you need to get the right people involved. Before selecting participants, ensure they’re 100% clear on the expectations of the programme: both in terms of the time commitment, and the value for them and junior devs.
To help you clear up your criteria, use the following as a guide:
- They should be senior in their field, be it Development, DevOps, Cloud or something related to these fields.
- They should not be a direct manager of the mentee, so there is less of a power imbalance in the relationship.
- They should be excited about helping to develop others.
- They should have strong interpersonal skills and empathy.
- They should have enough time to commit to sessions.
5. Establish pre-programme training to lay groundwork
There’s often a power imbalance in a mentorship pair, much like that between a student and a teacher. In our experience, this kind of dynamic gets in the way of quality mentorship. Instead, we strive to create thinking and accountability partnerships.
To help them with this shift, mentors need to be trained upfront. This sets expectations at the correct level and helps them to understand what you want mentorship to look like in your organisation.
But successful mentorship can’t only be driven forward by a mentor. To help level the field, mentees should also be set up with training before the programme starts. This training should establish that mentees need to put in time and effort to get value out of mentorship. It should set up the expectation that mentees are in charge of their own professional development.
What would this look like? Training should establish that mentees should be setting the agenda for their catch ups, and must always come prepared. They should be ready to discuss any difficulties they faced since the last meeting, any triumphs they experienced, as well as questions or concerns they have where they could use input. Training should also prepare mentees to take note of action items that arise out of these discussions and to follow up on these in their next session.
6. Match up mentors and mentees
A successful mentorship programme relies closely on the relationship between the mentor and the mentee. That’s why we dedicate an entire phase of our mentorship framework to establishing a strong working relationship between them.
As the programme organiser, you can help set them up for success by being mindful of pairings. Consider where your participants might be able to find common ground, be it through their love of AI, their robotics hobby, or, like one previous Project Thrive pair, their journey as first-time parents.
Other factors to consider include:
- Personality types – are they likely to work well together?
- Skills or experience and how these coincide with existing career goals
Use an “intake form” to help you to learn more about each participant. Over at Project Thrive, both mentors and mentees are required to complete an application form. After that, our mentoring coordinator calls them up to chat more about the program and ask some follow up questions. We use this information to partner participants as best as possible.
Here are some examples to get you started:
- How long have you been in your field?
- What tech stack do you use?
- What are you willing to provide mentorship on? (check all that apply)
- Technical skills (e.g. learning a new skill/improving existing skills)
- Career development (figuring out career path)
- Personal development (building confidence, communication skills)
- How long have you been in your field?
- What tech stack do you use?
- What guidance are you looking to get from your mentor?
7. Keep on supporting
By this stage in the programme, you’ve put in a lot of time and effort into project logistics and content, but mentors and mentees need ongoing support. If questions or concerns pop up, they’ll need someone to talk to.
But this point of contact should be in place for more than just problem solving. In our experience, a mentor often needs someone to talk to about the impact they are having within the mentorship relationship. A pro tip here is to facilitate a space where mentors can connect and exchange thoughts, concerns and ideas. This can be applied to mentees as well.