How to Start a Mentorship Program at Work (Toolbox)

After reading this guide, you will learn how to build a mentorship program in your own company, as well as get the basic mentorship toolkit and useful tips, to help make the mentor-mentee sessions as effective as possible.
How to Start a Mentorship Program

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In the dynamic and ever-changing tech industry, knowledge becomes outdated very fast. With new programming languages and technologies appearing every day, there is no other option but to stay up-to-date with trends and look for ways to develop and expand your team’s skillset. Leading companies invest huge amounts of resources in talent development, as they understand that this is one of the main factors for the successful development of their business.

One of the best and most effective strategies to grow the skills of a tech team is implementing a mentorship program, which allows managers to develop their employees inside the team.

However, software developers and engineers often do not have much free time, which they are able to spend on learning and professional development. What is the best way to combine work processes and employee development? The answer is to integrate the mentorship program into the company's workflow.

Moreover, it is beneficial not only for developers, who need to reach new levels in their professional area, but also for the mentors themselves, and the company.

Read our recent blog post Mentorship in Tech: Useful Tips For Mentors and Mentees

In this article, you will learn how to build a mentorship program in a tech company, as well as getting the basic mentorship toolkit, to help make these meetings as effective as possible.

Why do you need a mentorship program at work?

First, let's look at what mentoring is. Mentoring is a relationship between two people, in which a more experienced professional transfers knowledge to a younger specialist. Mentoring programs benefit both developers, who need to continually evolve, and mentors, who can become more experienced senior members of staff. Mentoring is beneficial for the companies themselves, as well, because the creation of mentorship programs allows not only developing newcomers, but also attracting new employees. After all, an organized process of improving skills is as attractive to career development as anything else.

Why do developers need mentors? This is important both in terms of soft skills and hard skills. Let's take a closer look at the benefits for developer:

  • Learning about best practices and tools. A mentor will teach programming best practices that are applicable to specific company needs.
  • Finding a better solution to a challenging problem. A mentor will show the way to solve the problem and provide the necessary resources.
  • Identifying areas for growth. A mentor will point out the points of growth.
  • Obtaining valuable career development advice. A mentor will help with career guidance.
  • Receiving support during remote work. A mentor integrates into the team, even if the developer works from the other side of the world.

Senior specialists also receive the following benefits from mentoring:

  • Next step in their career. Mentoring provides a career boost in management.
  • Opportunity to make a contribution to the community. A mentor influences the future of the industry and changes it for the better.
  • New knowledge from junior developers. A mentor stays in trend and gains inspiration by communicating with developers who have just started their programming career and are not burdened with routine tasks.

Mentorship program: meetings agenda and tools

In this part, we will tell you how to build a mentorship program integrated into the workflow of a company, as well as give an agenda template and tools that will help make each mentorship session super effective.

The main purpose of a meeting with a mentor is not just to discuss problems, but to identify specific growth areas and form a development plan. A clear order of actions will help a novice specialist assess the amount of work at the start and find the goals to be strived for.

In the picture below, you can see scheduled mentorship sessions marked in the calendar, which contain the agenda and the tools a mentor will need.

Mentorship program meetings schedule 2022
Mentorship program meetings schedule for 2022

As you can see, there are three main types (or stages) of mentorship meetings that repeat during the year:

  • ‘Review’ Meeting (once a quarter)
  • ‘Development Plan’ Meeting (after the ‘Review’ Meeting, once a quarter)
  • ‘Monitoring’ Meetings (every two weeks)

The optimal frequency of meetings is once every two weeks. By using this template, you can build your own program.

Review Meeting — Identify skill gaps and areas of growth

Review Meeting: agenda and tools
Review Meeting: agenda and tools

The first meeting of the mentor and the mentee is designed to acquaint them with one another and determine the scope of work for the next three months. At this stage, the mentor needs to review the skills of the mentee and determine their skill gaps — which areas they need to improve. This way, the mentor will be able to determine the growth area and focus skills.

This is not a one-time session. A Review Meeting should be held once a quarter (marked in the 2022 calendar), in order to help the mentor monitor development progress and update the growth plan, if necessary.

These tools will help make the Review Meeting structured and effective:

  • Skill matrices

These will help a mentor determine what skills are needed for a particular role and what needs to be improved for a person to fit that role.

To save time, use the ready-made Vectorly skill matrices templates for 50+ tech roles and adapt them to the roles of your company.

This is what a skill matrix of a Python developer looks like in Vectorly. There is a skillset, which you can change and assess during a review.

Python developer skill matrix
Python developer skill matrix in Vectorly
  • A well-organized review process

The mentee skills review will help determine skill gaps and identify what skills a person lacks and what needs to be developed, and determine the area of ​​growth.

To hold a good skills review, you should understand the main steps of this process. Find more info on how to organize a skill review in our guide - Software Engineer Performance Review Example.

As a result of a review, a mentor will get a clear picture of the mentee’s current status and create a professional development plan to build the lacking skills.

Python developer skill review result in Vectorly
Python developer skill review result in Vectorly

You can also make the assessment process automated with Vectorly’s Reviews, so you do not have to worry about how to organize it.

Development Plan Meeting — Add activities to a development plan

‘Development Plan’ Meeting: agenda and tools
‘Development Plan’ Meeting: agenda and tools

At the second meeting, a development plan for the mentee is formed. After the review has been carried out and growth areas have been identified, the mentor builds a training strategy for the mentee, and sets tasks. Usually, these are not only learning activities, but also working tasks from the real workflow, to practice and develop these focus skills. The backlog of tasks is iteratively formed in the to-do list.

The main problem with development plans is that learning activities do not overlap with the real work tasks of the employee. Therefore, the mentor should strive to integrate learning into the workflow, by combining online courses, books, attending conferences, with the real working routine. This will help to bring the necessary hard and soft skills to a new level and integrate education into the workflow.

To help the mentor create a development plan that will really work, he or she will need the following tools:

  • Knowledge base with useful educational sources

It might be hard to quickly find a relevant online course, article or book for developing specific skills. So, to save time, a mentor might need a ready-made base with resources for skills improvement.

Vectorly has created the biggest knowledge base to grow tech skills, which a mentor can access and use for free.

The other way to find relevant sources to add to a mentee’s PDP is to use Vectorly’s Growth Plan, which automates this process. Vectorly analyzes the working activity of your team members for you and offers specific activities from the knowledge base, integrated with the service. All you need to do is choose between the offered recommendations and add the task to a mentee’s to-do list.

Recommendations in a growth plan
Recommendations in a growth plan
  • A task manager — a dashboard where the mentee will find a to-do list with development tasks. It can be on any platform your company uses, like Jira, Gitlab, Asana, etc. By recording these activities in a mentee’s task manager, you make sure that he or she won’t forget about their PDP and it will be integrated into their everyday working routine.

So, as a result of the second meeting, a mentee will get a to-do list or a PDP, which will include:

  • Learning Activities — Courses, literature, professional resources.
  • Work tasks to practice the skills — in Jira, Asana, Gitlab, etc.

Monitoring Meetings - Track the progress and adjust activities

‘Monitoring’ Meetings
‘Monitoring’ Meetings: agenda and tools

Once the mentor has created development plans for the mentee, it doesn’t mean the work is done. In fact, this is where the real work starts, since the mentee starts completing their tasks and the mentor should be the one who monitors their progress and helps them achieve their goals.

In essence, this is a never-ending process. If mentees successfully complete their PDPs, they need to be provided with a new plan, and if some of them are struggling with certain aspects of their PDPs, the mentor needs to make adjustments and add to or change the tasks of mentees lagging behind.

The third and subsequent meetings - ‘Monitoring’ Meetings are held every two weeks and are aimed at assessing the mentee's progress on his or her development plan implementation, so that activities can be adjusted and new tasks added, if it’s necessary.

Only regular reviews of the development program contribute to obtaining the desired result, since at the beginning of the process, it is not clear how the junior developer will cope with the tasks, and how actively he or she will assimilate knowledge.

The tool that will help the mentor ensure ‘Monitoring’ Meetings are aimed at solving real problems:

  • Ready-made templates with agenda

To keep the mentorship session structured and effective, the mentor should have a prepared template with a set of questions. Schedule regular meetings for monitoring in the calendar (every two weeks) and use a ready-made template. It will save time and keep the right focus during a 1-on-1 meeting.

You can use Vectorly’s ready-made template on personal development with a set of questions, from Vectorly’s library.

1-on-1 meeting template on professional development
1-on-1 meeting template on professional development
To build a mentorship program in your own company, read Vectorly’s Ultimate Guide on Mentorship in Tech

Key ideas

Mentorship programs allow companies not only to hire enthusiastic employees and rely on their knowledge and skills being up-to-date, but also to approach the task of developing employees in a systematic way, being confident in the result. Here are the key points we wanted to convey in this article:

  • Mentorship programs are useful for both mentees and mentors. The first receive a clear plan for professional development, the second gain management skills and inspiration for new career achievements.
  • In the mentorship program, it is important to combine both learning tasks and work tasks. So the mentee will be able to gain new knowledge and immediately apply it in practice.
  • The mentor should not only indicate the area of ​​development, but also the development plan, so that the junior specialist can iteratively move towards achieving their goals.
  • After meeting and drawing up a development plan, the mentor needs to meet regularly with the mentee, in order to check progress and adjust tasks if necessary.
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