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How to Mentor Employees Successfully:

In Tips for Mentoring Employees, Part 1: What’s a Mentor?, we saw what mentoring is and why it is important. So how do we be successful at it? The National Center for Women & Information Technology and the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology worked together to publish a guide called, Mentoring-in-a-Box: Technical Women at Work; Mentoring Basics – A Mentor’s Guide to Success, that answers this question. While it contains valuable information and I recommend reading it in its entirety, I’ll summarize some of the major points for you here:

  • It is important to agree on realistic goals from the start and to evaluate them often to measure progress.
  • Listen to your mentee’s concerns before offering advice and guidance, to prevent acting on incorrect assumptions.
  • Strive to establish trust and open communication up front. Sharing your personal experiences about mistakes you’ve made can be a great way to do this, with the added benefit of teaching them something new at the same time.
  • As a mentor, your role is to guide the mentee in accomplishing their goals, not to dictate their goals for them. Seek out opportunities matching their goals, such as projects or classes.
  • Be a positive role model and lead by example.
  • Successful mentorship eventually leads to the mentee being able to function independently, without the mentor’s support. So while it is important to help the mentee avoid pitfalls, it is equally important to let them learn and grow from their workplace experiences.

Mentorship can be informal, coming together naturally, but can also be formally structured. Companies wishing to introduce a formal mentorship program will find Alison Napolitano’s article, How to Build a Successful Mentoring Program, to be a helpful guide:

  1. Determine objectives: Use SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) goals to align with your organization’s specific needs.
  2. Create a structure: Determine how the mentorship will occur and who will be involved.
  3. Introduce the program: Share news about the program within the company to create interest.
  4. Train participants and launch the program: Mentors will practice creating goals, connecting goals to the organization’s larger objectives, setting dates for meetings with mentees, and providing constructive criticism.
  5. Assess mentorship progress: Mentors and mentees should touch base frequently to assess progress. For unsuccessful relationships, determine if different mentor/mentee pairings are needed.
  6. Evaluate effectiveness of the program: Using measurements like interviews, surveys, mentee retention rates, mentee advancement rates, and successful mentor/mentee pairings, evaluate if the program was a success and how to ensure it is successful moving forward.

Mentorship is extremely valuable for the mentee, the mentor, and the organization they work for. To be successful, it requires good communication, building trust, and leading by example. Remember that social learning—of which mentorship is an example—contributes 20 percent of what we learn about our jobs and how to do them, so resources invested in a mentorship program are sure to pay dividends!


Alex Weisberg

Alex Weisberg serves as an Instructional Designer on the Professional Learning and Instructional Design team for NC State Industry Expansion Solutions (IES). His focus is on working with subject matter experts to design, develop, and assess training content to ensure it is engaging and effective. Prior to joining IES, Alex worked at PTC as an Education Editor Specialist. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana University. His experience in adult education spans over 6 years working with subject matter experts to improve and develop training materials.