Sharthok Chakraborty
July 22, 2023
14 mins

This blog dives deep into why mentoring and peer-learning programs have become so effective and popular. And most importantly, how you can leverage the best practices to create one for your organization and people.

Do you need to start a mentorship program in the first place?

In short, if your objective is to truly upskill and reskill your talent, in the context of the organization, so that they can readily use those skills on the ground (as opposed to just theoretically learning them) to fuel high performance, then yes, you do need to start a mentorship program at work.

A mentor and a mentee having a mentoring session
A mentor and a mentee having a mentoring session

The last 2 years have not only changed how work is done (the rise of remote and hybrid teams), but more significantly, it has changed people’s lenses on what they expect from work and their employers in general. And with the macro operating environment changing at a pace that has never been seen before, businesses now grapple with 2 simultaneous realities.

  1. Organizations need to rapidly upskill and reskill their talent so that they are able to not only survive but thrive in the future of work (which is now).
  2. People now want to own their learning, career development, and growth. They are no longer satisfied to be passive bystanders.

Now typically, when it comes to learning, the first thing that organizations resort to is to implement a Learning Management System (LMS). We surveyed over 100 People Leaders and the results were unanimous - LMS platforms have a very low adoption rate that ranges from 5% to 15% on average. What does this mean for organizations?​

It means that technology is not a silver bullet that can magically upskill and reskill your talent.

When we probed further, we found that there are 3 key reasons why LMS platforms were unable to live up to expectations.

  1. The skills learned on the platform, be it functional or behavioral, are mostly theoretical. People are unable to apply those skills on the ground, in the context of the organization.
  2. People, in general, don’t realize how these skills are going to further help them in their career development within the organization.
  3. The LMS platforms feel limiting by themselves. Related to point 1, if the people have questions that are rooted in their on-ground-reality, they have no way of clarifying that.

In light of this, organizations have started realizing the benefits of Mentoring, Peer, and Cohort-Based Learning. Let’s dive right in.

Why do Mentorship Programs at work, work?

Mentorship programs, as it turns out, are a much more involved and effective way of upskilling and reskilling your talent. When we spoke to our customers as well as organizations that have leveraged mentoring, we could identify, 3 pillars of success.

How mentoring can upskill people in the context of work and not just theoretically

The skills learned are in the context of work

We cannot emphasize this enough. There is a lot of internal and tribal knowledge within organizations that are left untapped. Mentoring enables leaders and subject matter experts to share this knowledge effectively and rapidly. As a result, when people complete their mentoring relationships, not only do they learn new skills, they know how they can readily apply them to their own reality. We found that mentoring relationships went far beyond the prescribed program length and people were able to reach out to their internal mentors in situations where they got stuck.

Mentors who can positively impact careers

People want to connect with leaders who can shape their careers

The reality is that a lot of talent and career decisions in organizations are heavily influenced by visibility. Be it a recommendation from a leader or just good feedback, people realize that it is important to network and connect with others who can have a say in their careers. This is NOT to say that performance doesn’t matter. Performance probably plays the biggest role in such calls. But it definitely isn’t the only deciding factor. As a result, employees are eager to connect with leaders, learn from them, and grow their network. It is a win-win since it enables leaders to also have great visibility on the upcoming talent pool.

Employees don’t just learn a skill, they learn how to be successful under different circumstances

Let’s understand this with an example. One of the most popular mentoring initiatives on Klaar is the New Manager Development Mentoring Program where new or first-time managers are either paired with, or get to select, experienced managers, subject matter experts, and L&D professionals as their mentors.

The managers who had not been a part of this program mentioned that typically new managers are asked to learn about managerial styles, time management, and so on, from courses. The limitation to that approach is even after learning all of those things, the new managers are completely lost on how to use this newly assimilated knowledge with the 5 people who are a part of the team. Translating theoretical knowledge into practical behaviors is a tall ask.

The mentees who were a part of the mentoring initiative all mentioned that the discussions with their mentors were all rooted in reality. They learned about the managerial styles, different models of management, and so on. But more importantly, they discussed about their new team. Every session shed more light on how they could inspire their new team better, what were the problems they were facing, and a lot more.

As a result, this program sees greater than 90% completion on Klaar.

And that brings us to the next section. As a Learning & Development or a Talent professional, how can you create and implement a successful Mentorship Program at Work?

Here are 10 critical pillars that differentiate successful Mentoring Programs from the rest.

Define the objectives and purpose of the Mentoring Program

We found that targeted mentoring programs have a much higher completion and success rate when compared to general initiatives. Defining the key objectives expected from the mentoring relationship ensures that even before mentors and mentees connect, they know what are the expected outcomes that they need to be working towards.

This begets the question, of how to understand what sort of mentoring programs to run. Having an open mind really helps here. Don’t make too many assumptions and revert to first principles. What exact people problems are you trying to solve? Some of the mentoring initiatives that we have seen a rise in popularity on Klaar are:

  1. New Manager Development Mentoring - if you want to create people managers who can inspire, create, and retain high-performing teams.
  2. Career Conversations - if you find that your top talent is leaving because of better career alternatives, this is a great way to retain them and gather tangible engagement and retention data points.
  3. Leadership Connects - Be it with identified high-potential talent, high-raters, or en-masse, this is a great way to let your people know that the organization's leadership is invested in the success of its people. We have seen this significantly improve retention and engagement rates. At the same time, leaders also get visibility on top talent and are able to identify successors for key roles.
  4. Subject Matter Expert-led Upskilling - Unleash the true power of your subject matter experts as they rapidly upskill talent in identified key areas that further contribute to organizational growth and culture.
  5. Peer and Cohort Based Learning - Mentoring doesn’t just have to be limited to a hierarchical relationship. Peer learning is one of the best ways to create on-ground skills and to establish a culture of continuous learning. In this case, it is essential to identify people’s skills so that peers can reach out to each other and strengthen each other’s overall skill sets.
  6. New Joiner Integration/ Buddy Programs - Hiring talent consumes time, effort, and money. New joiners typically have a very steep learning curve and take anywhere between 45 to 60 days to reach peak performance. Empowering them to have a supportive mentor significantly reduces this time and goes a long way in retaining your new joiners.
  7. Reverse Mentoring - Reverse mentoring is a process where leaders are mentored by typically employees who are hierarchically lower in the organization. The Economic Times writes that companies such as PepsiCo, GSK Consumer Healthcare India, Jubilant FoodWorks, Microsoft, Vodafone, and Mindtree are championing reverse mentoring — getting young employees to mentor senior, and even top leadership — on everything from technology, ways of working, social media and engagement.
  8. Coaching - Mentoring doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to functional aspects. A lot of our customers have broadened their horizons and used Klaar to coach senior leadership.
  9. Individual Development Plan-led Mentoring - Talent and Performance processes usually culminate in creating an individual or a personal development plan. Having one or more mentors actually ensures that these plans actually lead to upskilling and the intended development of your people.

Structure your Mentoring program and create a uniform experience for both the Mentors and the Mentees

When you are starting a Mentoring program at work, you will find all sorts of mentors and mentees - great, good, mediocre, and bad. Our customers mentioned that one of the most common reasons why mentoring programs fizzle out is if either party does not get adequate value from the relationship. To add to that, mentors and mentees often get stuck after a while.

The antidote? Structure your Mentoring program. Enable your mentors and mentees to realize

  • how they should start the relationship
  • how many sessions at a minimum should they be doing
  • the agenda points for every session that they should be discussing and who owns them
  • the action items expected from every session

They always have the option of building on top of this structure. However, this ensures that the most important points are being discussed uniformly. In Klaar, once you create this structure, a mentor and a mentee will have it ready in their mentoring relationship tab for them to use.

Pair Mentors and Mentees Intelligently. Better, Democratize it

One of the most common feedback that we have found from users is that they had no clue how the People team had paired them with mentors. This is a major friction point. Unless mentors and mentees are comfortable with each other (and that includes knowing each other’s backgrounds, skills, experiences, present roles, etc.), this sense of apprehension even before they actually start the relationship, is detrimental to the Mentoring program.

So while in Klaar you can pair mentors and mentees together, there is also a small context box where you can write what led to this pairing. This is extremely important. But what we strongly suggest is democratizing access to internal mentors.

When you democratize access to mentors (check the photo below of how Mentees can browse for Mentors in Klaar), your employees truly own their learning and career development. They feel empowered to take their decisions. And because they have relevant knowledge of a mentor’s skills, experience, role, and more, they are able to decide for themselves if this indeed is the right mentor for them. By empowering your people, you are actually making them more invested in the program.

Enable Mentors to have a personal cap on the number of mentees they can have simultaneously

There is very little doubt that your best mentors will get bombarded with mentorship requests. This is of course not ideal. Not only are you looking to develop your mentees, but creating a successful Mentoring program at work enables you to develop better mentors and people managers as well.

It is important that your mentors are able to set this personal cap so that they don’t have to reject requests every day and at the same time, other mentors get an opportunity to create value for the mentees.

Enable Mentors and Mentees to book 1:1 sessions seamlessly

This is one of the biggest friction points that you will encounter. A lot of mentoring relationships fizzle out because of the endless back and forth between mentors and mentees on the session timings. It is imperative that you make this process completely seamless.

As an example, in Klaar, mentors can sync their company calendars with the platform and create mentoring session slots. Just like Calendly, mentees are able to book these slots provided there is no conflicting appointment on the calendar. By ensuring that mentors and mentees don’t have to leave the platform, you effectively increase the chances of more 1:1 sessions actually getting completed.

Enable Mentees to retain their learning

A Mentoring program at work is not successful unless the mentees (and the mentors) are able to internalize the learning. And to enable that, you need to provide a safe and trusted space where the goals, agenda, and action items can be effectively seen and tracked by both the parties involved. Don’t forget to create a space where they can jot down their learning. Having access to this learning is imperative. We have found that mentees often come back to this space when they are actually applying the learning on the ground.

Ensure that you and the People Team have complete visibility of the progress

This is one of the main reasons why offline mentoring programs don’t scale. Unless the People Team or the team that is driving the programs has visibility on key identified metrics, you would not be able to nudge the participants and increase success rates. To add to that, when you have to justify the ROI of the Mentoring program, these are the metrics that will form a major part of your presentation. Some of the most critical information that you need to have complete visibility on are:

  • number of mentors for each mentee and vice-versa
  • number of sessions booked and completed
  • number of goals, agenda points, action items, logged and completed
  • quality of discussion
  • number of mentoring relationships effectively completed

Recognize Mentors (and if possible mentees as well)

Recognition is one of the best ways to answer the question that a lot of mentors will have, “What’s in it for me?” One of the best ways to recognize mentors is basis the number of successful sessions that they have completed or to ensure that the leadership is giving them a special mention in the monthly or quarterly town halls. This will also increase program adoption.

In Klaar, not only can you recognize mentors, but mentees are able to rate mentors and write testimonials for them as well. A lot of the companies that use Klaar, in turn, use these testimonials as inputs to the year-end talent conversations. It’s a great way to identify potential leaders from the crop of mentors and to effectively differentiate between the best and the rest.

Get feedback from Mentors and Mentees

It is imperative that you get timely feedback from both the mentors and the mentees. Without such feedback, it becomes difficult to improve the program. In Klaar, a lot of our customers use our pre-populated templates to automate feedback. These regular inputs enable you to understand the qualitative aspects of the program and where you might need to focus.

And finally, showcase best practices and internal success stories

Similar to how we benchmark against best practices, enabling people to have access to mentoring best practices will radically improve the quality of conversations. Instead of great mentoring practices existing in a silo and impacting just a few, you would effectively be enabling everybody to access such time-tested techniques.

Internal success stories are a great way to increase further adoption. Ultimately, your employees have to realize that the time that they are taking out from their days to invest in mentoring is all worth it. Internal success stories effectively reinforce this fact. When people get to see possible outcomes, they are further motivated to put in more effort and see their careers soar.

And that's it, you're all set!

So there you have it! A step-by-step guide on how you can create a super successful mentoring program at work. It’s not necessary that you start off with all of the points mentioned above, you can gradually keep on adding them. Mentoring and peer learning programs, if done correctly, are one of the best ways to rapidly upskill, engage, and retain your talent.

Klaar might just be the platform for you.

Investing in a platform like Klaar could be the difference between a successful Mentoring program and just another initiative that fizzles out. An easy way to start is to book a demo and run a pilot on the platform to effectively see the value for yourself.

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