Companies are increasingly investing in career mentorship for their employees to boost succession planning, diversity and inclusion efforts, and employee retention

Whether you're a small remote team or a fast-growing global workforce, you need to offer mentorship as an employee perk to hire and retain great talent--because all your employees' friends work at companies who are investing in their career growth. Especially if you're located in a major tech hub, mentorship as a perk is the new La Croix--except that it's a lot more meaningful and effective in breaking silos and building a productive workforce.

When I worked at LinkedIn, I started a mentorship initiative for female employees at LinkedIn as a passion project, and it took off. Hundreds of LinkedIn employees wanted to participate in the program, and I realized that companies have untapped mentors at every seniority level. If you don't leverage these existing resources, you're leaving so much behind on the table. These mentors (and mentees) become tremendous evangelists for your company, which translates to them referring their friends to work at your company as well as giving top-notch experiences to your customers. 

That said, most mentorship programs fail because of poor program management, lack of executive sponsorship, poor mentor-mentee matching, and lack of structure and resources for mentors and mentees to navigate their conversations. Here are five basic fundamentals to help you build a mentorship program that actually works.

1. Start with "Why?"

The most important part of setting up a mentorship program is articulating to employees why they as individuals will benefit from participating. For example, you can email all new managers and help them visualize that by becoming a mentor they can practice their people development skills in a safe space. Or, as mentees, they can get ongoing mentorship from a more experienced manager who knows the company policies and culture.

To effectively communicate this to employees, you need to yourself establish your program goals first. Do you want to develop managers? Do you want to proactively provide access to mentorship to certain underrerpesented minorities? Do you want to break silo's and connect employees across different functions or locations? Once you understand the "why", you can then effectively communicate it to your employees and get them excited to enroll in your mentorship program.

2. Match based on mentees' goals

I recommend matching employees primarily based on their goals, so that they show up with a sense of urgency and actually follow through otherwise the relationships will fizzle out. Goals could range from learning SQL to learning about a specific team to navigating life as a new parent. Goals are very personal and unique, and hence it's crucial to match people accordingly. Chemistry plays a huge role, too. So, as a second layer, I recommend taking into account their preferences for location of their match, career philosophy, and personal identifiers such as being matched with a fellow person of color, parent, immigrant, etc. 

3. Equip them with conversation topics

Most mentees don't know how to navigate these conversations. Often, mentors don't know how to build momentum and give guidance. You can hold a quick 30-minute training at the launch of your program to go over the basics of mentorship and what's expected of your employees. After you make the matches, you can send them a document suggesting conversation topics for the first three meetings. 

4. Train them to follow through

The number one complaint we hear from mentors is lack of follow-through from their mentee. It's extremely important that you train your mentees on driving the relationship (that means sending follow up thank-you notes, scheduling the next meeting, sending their agenda before the meeting, and so on) and hold mentors accountable to treat mentorship meetings as they would treat an important work meeting. 

5. Celebrate success stories

Finally, don't forget to survey them at the end to collect and celebrate success stories. Something as small as giving a shoutout to impactful mentors at your company all-hands meeting or hosting a luncheon for the mentors and mentees to network with the entire cohort will go a long way. Facilitaing meaningful company wide relationships will lead to happier employees who stay longer and become raving fans of your culture and brand.

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