7 Tips for a Top-Notch Mentorship Program

By Drew Stevens

Even the smallest business on the tightest budget can make mentorships work in its favor. Get new employees acclimated to your unique business environment, and pass down valuable knowledge from seasoned employees.

Of course, implementing a formal program for the first time can seem daunting, to say the least. Take the guesswork out of launching a mentorship program for your business with these seven tips:

1. Start at the beginning. Mentorships should ideally begin at the inception of employment rather than several months or even years after, says Drew J. Stevens, Ph.D., president of Stevens Consulting Group in Eureka, Mo. If you wait, employees will inevitably develop undesirable habits and techniques that will need to be altered before you can instill new work ethics. “This doubles the work effort,” he says.

2. Determine the best possible match-up. Ensuring the best possible mentee/mentor combo is essential. In very small businesses with limited resources, the only viable option may be involving the owner as mentor, Stevens notes. But when possible, “matching mentors and mentees by industry type can be helpful—i.e., service, retail, manufacturing, e-commerce,” says Charles E. McCabe, CEO of Peoples Tax Inc. and The Income Tax School Inc. in Richmond, Va. “The most important criterion is to match a mentee with a mentor who has attained the next level of business success to which the mentee aspires.”

3. Formalize it. Create a formal mentorship rather than an informal one, Stevens says. “Anything less is a waste of time for both parties,” he says. “The crazy world we are in does not enable informal relationships because work will interfere.”

4. Check in with the mentee. Conduct a periodic formal survey to make sure the mentee is getting what he or she needs, McCabe says. When the mentor relationship is a formal one, “the mentee is obliged to provide specific feedback on the implementation of suggestions provided by the mentor,” he says.

5. Put some metrics to it. When implementing a mentorship program, many small businesses don’t build in measures of success to determine the mentee’s progress and the program’s effectiveness, Stevens says. “Create objectives with timeframes and metrics to ensure the mentee is meeting the standards established by the mentor,” he says. “These include time, productivity and profitability metrics in accordance with job function.”

6. As the owner, give your full buy-in. “One of the best practices for an internal mentorship program is to ensure sponsorship from the executive level,” Stevens says. Create an organizational culture of teaching so all employees can achieve maximum success. “From the executive down to the direct supervisor, mentors and mentees must have access to the organization’s ‘brain trust,’” he adds.

7. Put yourself in the mentee seat. Employees aren’t the only ones who can benefit from a mentorship. As the business owner, find another successful business owner who is willing to share his or her expertise with you, McCabe suggests. “Most small business entrepreneurs deal with the same issues regardless of industry—personnel, marketing, sales, legal,” he says. “So mentoring at the CEO level doesn’t need to be industry-specific.”