Ultimate Guide on How to Start a Mentorship Program at Work
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.
In the dynamic and ever-changing tech industry, knowledge becomes outdated very fast.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. This especially concerns knowledge workers like software developers, designers, product managers, marketers and other tech roles. Leading companies invest huge amounts of resources in talent development, as they understand that this is a crucial factor 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 company.
However, software developers and designers 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 employees, who need to reach new levels in their professional area, but also for more experienced teammates, and the company.
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.
What is mentorship?
Mentorship is a relationship between two people, in which a person with more experience, knowledge, and connections (a mentor) can transfer what they have learned to a less experienced specialist (a mentee) and help them deal with challenges in a particular field.
The activities of a mentor are aimed at maximizing the personal and professional potential of the mentee. However, it is important to note that mentoring is not focused on a person's problems, but is aimed at developing and teaching, so that a junior specialist can find solutions to their problems on their own and build necessary skills.
Benefits of a Mentorship Program
Ideal mentoring is a two-way road, where both the mentor and the mentee benefit. Although at first glance, it seems that the mentee gets the main benefit — this is only one side of the coin. By helping a junior employee become better, the mentor not only gains the satisfaction of helping and developing someone, but also achieves success in management and takes their career to the next level.
Why do knowledge workers need a mentor?
Knowledge workers are people whose main capital is their skills. Their employment requires them to apply knowledge of a specific subject to the tasks and problems they’re facing at work, as opposed to simply producing goods and services.
In the tech industry, the skills of knowledge workers, especially software engineers and designers, become obsolete very quickly, that’s why they need to constantly level-up and learn. An experienced mentor can help them with this.
A good mentor will not only help see growth points in the professional development, but also how to stay on top of the latest industry trends, join a community of like-minded people and build a development plan with appropriate learning activities.
How does a software developer benefit from mentorship? Let's find out:
Learn about best practices and tools.
A mentor can teach a mentee advanced programming techniques. Of course, it is useful to gain general knowledge about universal tools for a developer: programming languages, frameworks, etc. But it is especially helpful to learn how to tailor the programming skills to the needs of a particular team.
Find a better solution to a challenging problem.
If an employee can't cope with a difficult task, the mentor can give a broader view of the problem and suggest a different angle or faster solutions. It is important to understand that, if the mentor solves the problem for you, this is the wrong way to go about it. It is better if the mentor can competently suggest which books, courses, and other resources can be studied on this topic. This will help a mentee deal with difficult tasks on their own in the future.
Identify areas of growth.
The mentor can honestly point out areas where an employee need to work on improving. It is absolutely normal that we do not notice our weaknesses, because it is human nature to avoid difficult tasks. And working on the weaknesses is one of the most difficult tasks that can stand in the way of achieving high results in career.
Career development advice.
A mentor can help you find the area of development that suits a mentee best and that he or she likes. Help from a senior colleague will make the career path easier and help avoid mistakes. Perhaps thanks to the timely advice of a mentor, one can create a career path and achieve the goals more quickly.
Support during remote work.
How can employees gain a rewarding experience when they work alone? A mentor will come to the rescue, immerse them in the culture of the company and help build friendships with colleagues, from whom they can gain experience and with whom they will create successful projects. Remote work will not take an employee away from reality, if there is a specialist, who is interested in integrating them into the development team.
Why become a mentor?
Ideal mentoring is a win-win story, where each side benefits from the interaction. Mentors also get benefits from conducting sessions with young professionals. This is new knowledge, and a new impetus in a career, and an opportunity to influence the future.
Let's take a closer look. These are the benefits that mentors can get when they start working with mentees:
Next step in their career.
Often, employees who have taken a senior position or become team leads do not see a further career path for themselves. Becoming a mentor is one of the roads a developer or a designer can grow into. Mentoring can be perceived as the highest career point, because a person grows from a specialist into an expert and influencer in their field.
Opportunity to make a contribution to the community.
With their expertise, a mentor can influence the future of a field of activity that they are passionate about. It is an honor for every great specialist who truly loves what they do to oversee the transfer of best practices to future generations and to make sure the industry develops.
New knowledge from young professionals.
Although beginners do not have much experience, they have a lot of ideas and think broadly, while their everyday life is not busy with routine tasks. Plus, the mentor develops as a manager, planning and controlling tasks for a young specialist.
Benefits for the company
A mentorship program at the workplace is a great opportunity for its employees to develop professionally and cultivate a continuous learning mindset. But are there any advantages for the organizations that introduce these programs? Here are the ways that mentoring can be beneficial for your company:
Develop new managers.
Managers have a significant impact on the key processes in the company and help senior leaders achieve business goals. That’s why companies should invest in mentoring programs to help experienced employees grow their management skills. Also, while mentoring others, they gain new tools, increase confidence, and build a qualified team. That’s not only good career development for managers but also very beneficial for the company in the long-term perspective.
Increase retention of talent.
The company should always think how to keep the top performers since these employees bring 91% more value to the business compared to their teammates. Mentorship is one of the great ways to motivate your best-performing employees and encourage them to stay at their workplace.
Improve employee engagement.
When employees have support in solving challenging work situations and opportunities for professional development, they show higher levels of satisfaction with their jobs. As a result of continuous growth and learning, they get paid better - which also contributes to the overall workplace happiness. Happy and satisfied employees tend to engage more, be productive and loyal.
Strengthen company culture.
Investing in the development of employees increases retention, improves productivity, and generally makes people feel the company cares for them. All of these positive outcomes strengthen the culture and make your company a great place to work.
Now, let’s find out how to implement a mentorship program in the company’s work.
Guide On Implementing a Mentorship Program
In this part, we will tell you how to build a mentorship program integrated into the workflow of a company, as well as give agenda templates and tools that will help make each mentorship session super effective.
Meetings Schedule & Agenda
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 the Mentorship Program Schedule for 2022. The program contains mentorship sessions marked in the calendar, as well as the agenda and the tools a mentor will need during these meetings.
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 these templates, you can build your own program.
Review Meeting — Identify skill gaps and areas of growth
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.
To make the Review Meeting structured and effective, you can use these two main tools: Skill matrices and a Well-organized review process. Let’s take a closer look at how they can be implemented.
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.
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 areas of growth.
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.
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
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: a Knowledge base and a Task manager.
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.
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 — сourses, literature, professional resources.
Work tasks to practice the skills — in Jira, Asana, Gitlab, etc.
Monitoring Meetings - Track the progress and adjust activities
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 is a 1-on-1 meeting with ready-made templates.
Ready-made templates with agenda
To make the mentorship session as effective as possible, the mentor should have a prepared agenda. 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.
In this section, we will give strategies for those who want to find the perfect mentor for themselves but don’t know where to start. Also, it will be useful for mentors to help them improve their mentorship skills.
How to find a mentor
Finding the right mentor is not an easy task. Firstly, he or she must be qualified in the area in which you want to develop; and secondly, you must have a match and the desire to trust your mentor.
Here are the ways you can find a mentor:
Mentorship programs at the workplace
Often, employers organize mentoring programs, where more experienced developers train and mentor junior employees. It is a very good indicator if the company has such programs. This means that the company cares about the development of its employees. Developers should use this opportunity, if the company involves them in such an onboarding process.
If the company does not offer such programs, developers can ask an experienced colleague to mentor them on a regular basis. However, there are situations when colleagues are not ready to train a young specialist: perhaps there are no resources, they are busy with projects and there are many more reasons. Then you will need to find a mentor outside your company.
Professional communities in Facebook, Slack, etc.
There are many professional communities, in which developers share knowledge, experience, and information. You can become a member of such a community, take an active part there, follow the specialists you are interested in and ask them for help. Many experienced developers, CTOs, or engineering managers are happy to share their experience and provide advice.
There are also specialized resources, where mentors and mentees can meet. You can find a list of such databases in Vectorly’s Biggest Knowledge Base, or go straight to the last part of this ebook, which contains the mentorship platforms for different tech roles.
Signs that you and your mentor are a good match
How do you know if your mentor is right for you? We advise you to pay attention to the following signs, which show that you and the mentor will work together well and your cooperation will, indeed, be beneficial for both parties.
Relevant experience. If your mentor has gone through the same career points as you and has already achieved the goals you have in your mind - this person can help you avoid mistakes that he or she faced in the past.
Successful cases and completed challenges in relevant fields. Find out what achievements the mentor had when they started their career in development. If among them there are those that are relevant to your aspirations, the mentor will share their experience and help you achieve what you want faster.
Goal-oriented. A good mentor creates a growth plan, monitors your progress, and clearly tells you what you need to do to get to the next level. The stated goals at the start increase the chances of success at the end.
Available for regular meetings. Observe how responsive your mentor is and whether he or she responds in a timely manner to your problems. Also, in order to achieve the best results, it is important to meet regularly and summarize the outcomes of the iteration or task. Meetings, strategy sessions, and calls show the mentor's interest and involvement in your affairs.
A good listener. Assess the mentor as a person: is he/she listening to your ideas and professional difficulties? Does he/she give feedback? If yes, it will be easy for you to work together for a long time.
Shows interest in empowering others. The mentor should be interested in your growth and support your intention to take on more tasks or empower you to do so. For example, if at some point you want to not only write code, but also do testing or take on managerial tasks, a good mentor will do their best so that you feel supported in your development.
Open to flexible mentoring styles. There are a lot of approaches and different styles of mentoring, so the mentor should be ready to find what suits best for your work together and make sure everyone feels comfortable with it.
Ready to learn from a mentee. This is one of the most important points, because a person who is ready to admit that he/she does not know something and is ready to learn, can teach this skill to others. You will both feel satisfied if a mentorship session gives you both useful experience and new knowledge.
A good mentor’s strategies
To become a good mentor, you need to adhere to a certain ideology and order of actions in your work. Let's share a few behaviors, which mostly speak for themselves.
Tip #1: The best mentor relationships eventually become two-way. Be ready to learn from your mentee.
Tip #2: Listen. Put the focus on the other person, his/her needs and difficulties.
Tip #3: Guide, don’t control. Mentees must make their own decisions, so direct and support, rather than dictating to them.
Tip #4: Give specific, actionable advice. Don’t be vague.
Tip #5: Be authentic; practice what you preach. Ask questions that encourage, inspire, and stimulate.
Tip #6: Be direct and tell the truth, however hard. Your mentee expects you to be objective and constructive.
To sum up, here are the main ideas that need to be considered when starting a mentorship program at work:
A mentorship program is one of the best and most effective strategies to grow the skills of a tech team. It allows the company to develop employees inside the company instead of hiring one and cultivate a learning culture.
Ideal mentoring is a two-way road, where both the mentor and the mentee benefit. Plus the other party that gets its own advantages is the company.
A great mentorship program includes three main types (or stages) of meetings: Review -> Creating Development Plan -> Monitoring. These meetings repeat during the year.
Use meetings schedule, prepared agenda, and special tools to build an effective mentorship program. All that you can find in this ebook. Mentorship should be easy and enjoyable for all parties.
Start your own mentorship program with Vectorly, and we’ll help your team grow in the right direction! Book a demo call.
BONUS! Popular Mentorship Platforms For Tech Teams
Here is the list of most popular mentorship platforms from Vectorly’s Knowledge Base, where software developers and other tech roles like designers, product managers and others can find a mentor. These platforms may also be useful for more experienced engineers who want to start mentoring by themselves and share knowledge and experience by becoming a mentor.
Codementor is an online platform providing instant one-on-one help for software developers by utilizing screen sharing, video and text chat, in order to replicate for users the experience of having a mentor for code reviewing, debugging, and online programming.
Designlab is a UI/UX bootcamp that teaches participants in-demand UX/UI design skills through hands-on projects and 1-on-1 mentorship. Their main program is called UX Academy, which involves over 480 hours of UX design coursework and projects.
GrowthMentor is a curated platform of invite-only startup and marketing mentors who have proven experience in their respective fields. Members can browse all mentors or get personalized results by filtering based on things like objective, language, industry, or software tools.
The platform offers to learn from top DTC advisors from around the world by booking 1:1 sessions. Mentors help to overcome challenges in various fields like Engineering, Fundraising, Branding, Sales, Product Management, and many others.
Pushfar is the career progression and professional mentoring software platform. It’s a mentoring network which is freely available. When registering you'll be asked whether you would like to find a mentor, volunteer to mentor others, or do both. Pushfar will suggest the best mentoring matches, allow to network with others, set goals, schedule and host meetings through built-in video calling
MicroMentor is a free business mentoring platform. As part of Mercy Corps program, it enables the world's largest community of purpose-driven entrepreneurs and business mentors to create powerful connections, solve problems, and build successful businesses together.
CoachHub is the digital coaching platform enabling personalised coaching and professional development for employees at all career levels. A pool of certified top coaches provides members with live video mentorship sessions and helps leaders boost team performance and employees grow professionally.