Can a Mentorship Program Help Your Business?

When the time comes to hire new team members many companies opt to hire externally. Others choose to promote from within. In such cases, there’s confidence that individuals who have worked within the organization and are deeply familiar with its culture and are ready for the next step. 

We see this often when we need to fill key positions within the sawmill, the lumber yards and in the corporate office.  Because of this it is important for us to help employees newer to their department or organization acclimate to our culture and way of doing business quickly.

mentor programs can work2We find that mentorship programs are a key element in this process. They’re also an increasingly important factor in the drive to retain millennial employees. According to one recent study, millennials who plan to stay with “their organization for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor than not.” This generation actively seeks coaching and mentorship opportunities in order to grow and eventually become leaders in their own right.

Here are a few best practices on how to create and support a mentorship program that benefits your organization that have worked for us in the hardwood lumber business.

Establish a program that works with your culture. Generally speaking, the key factors to consider for any mentorship program include:

  • The length of the program
  • The frequency with which mentors and mentees meet
  • Individual guidelines set by the participants
  • Opportunities for feedback when program concludes

There’s no specific criteria for these factors, only what works with your company culture.

Clarify the benefits for everyone involved. Sometimes there’s reluctance among senior staff to commit the time and effort needed to serve as mentors. In order for the program to work, it’s essential that there should be buy-in at all levels of the organization. It may be necessary, therefore, to clarify how mentorship isn’t just a one-way process; mentors themselves benefit from exposure to a younger, and sometimes fresher outlook.

Explain to managers and supervisors how the mentorship experience can “solve the problems that your executives have,” notes Julie Deitz at Higher Logic. If, for example, they have “trouble engaging millennials, [the] perspective of a tech-savvy millennial employee might help.”

Look for a creative match between mentors and mentees. There’s no reason employees must be matched with a person in their own departments. A better formula might be partnering individuals with similar interests or with the type of knowledge they wish to acquire as a result of the mentorship experience.

It’s also important to allow the mentee opportunities to help design the experience and to provide insights along the way. This greatly enhances the possibility that each partner will benefit from the experience.

We have seen this work first hand by matching employees in sawmill mills and lumber yards as well as marketing and human resources.

Share feedback after the program’s conclusion. Mentorship is inherently a flexible process. It’s possible to participate for a few weeks or months, then take a break, and resume again if both parties feel it’s worthwhile.

In any case, at the conclusion of an agreed-upon timeframe, encourage mentors and mentees to share feedback on the experience—what worked, what didn’t, what might make the program more beneficial in the long run. This helps enrich the experience for future participants.

Think about times in your own career when you were coached or taken under the wing of an older, more knowledgeable veteran. How did that help propel your growth as a leader? Clearly, your business will benefit from an exchange of ideas and perspectives, but also when a mentorship program serves as an “incubator” for future leaders. It may prove to be the key resource in your efforts to grow leadership from within.

Tony Cimorelli
Baillie Lumber
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