One of the most valuable assets a young person can have in furthering a business career is a giving, knowledgeable mentor who’s learned the ropes – in many cases from a previous mentor. Mentors pass down information, strategies, tactics and best practices from one generation to the next.

In the workplace, a mentor is often a manager, director or some other form of senior advisor. In some companies, younger employees are assigned mentors to get them “up to speed” faster. In other companies, a mentoring relationship is a natural outgrowth of working closely with knowledgeable managers and young adults just starting their careers.

A mentor can take on many roles during the course of daily business activities. At times, a mentor is a teacher, passing on real-world experiences and best practices, from strategies and tactics to means of hitting quarterly quotas. At other times, a mentor is a counselor, working through a problem with an often younger, less-experienced mentee, guiding the mentee’s development to become a better employee.

A good mentor doesn’t deliver learning and guidance for personal gain. The most effective mentors help others grow, learn, discover and become better at their jobs because they enjoy sharing knowledge and experience.

Creating a Successful Mentorship Program

The organic growth of a mentorship program can be accelerated and focused through the creation of a formal mentorship program. Chances are, as a business owner or manager, you already know the staff members who would make good mentors – teachers who share their knowledge with others.

A successful mentorship program is based on routine interaction between mentor (teacher) and mentee (student). Start by determining who, at the senior staff level, has the personal attributes of a successful mentor. As you review the attributes of managers, look for the natural leaders. These men and women typically are: (1) confident; (2) committed to the success of the business; and (3) eager to share their experiences with the newest members of the team.

Not all of us are suited for a mentoring relationship. A good mentor must be willing to help improve the performance of the mentee, even if that improvement takes time and energy from an already busy schedule.

Setting Up Your Program

A mentor needs time to work with less experienced employees. Senior staff, with full schedules, may view an assigned mentee as “one more thing to do” in an already busy day. When designing a formal mentorship program, avoid assigning mentors. The best mentors want to share what they’ve learned. It’s not an assignment — it’s a privilege, and an indication that the company values the mentor’s knowledge, experience and work ethic.

Train the mentors you select and provide the tools they need to effectively deliver the information mentees require. These tools may include structured activities like conferences and staff meetings, evaluation reports and lesson plans developed by senior staff and the mentor.

Schedule regular meetings between student and teacher. An hour a week for discussion and the exchange of ideas often delivers the best outcomes. The meetings should be arranged to suit the needs of teacher, student and, of course, the business.

Define desired outcomes so both mentor and mentee understand expectations. Select or develop tools, like questionnaires, surveys and face-to-face interviews, to determine the effectiveness of a mentoring relationship in the workplace.

Make refinements to your mentorship program based on metrics developed through regular evaluations. If surveys and questionnaires indicate that teacher or student lack the time or motivation to engage in a mentorship program, determine how to create more time for the participants each week.

It may take time and refinement, but a formal mentorship program can benefit all stakeholders – student, teacher, management and business owners. The mentor is shown respect for his or her experience and business conduct. The mentee is formally engaged and “groomed” to take on more responsibility – a clear sign of managerial confidence in the younger employee.

Finally, the business benefits by the creation of an open, positive corporate culture that values knowledge and instills the feeling of “belonging” to something larger than the individual. Both teacher and student are perceived as valued assets to the business as successful tactics and strategies are passed on to the future leaders of the company.

Share the success of your most prized senior staff members and encourage less experienced employees and new hires to commit to the success of your business today, and into the future, through the creation of a formal, structured mentorship program.