What Are Mentorship Programs?

Mentorship programs utilize company resources that are already in place to teach employees new skills, develop leadership, and improve overall employee satisfaction. Mentors can guide employees who are determined to advance in their careers.

Workers today seem to understand that. A study by Deloittte found that millennials who would like to remain at the company where they work for over 5 years are twice as likely to have mentors as those who have no intention of doing so.

That's why mentorship programs are a great way of retaining younger workers who might be inclined to switch jobs frequently. Mentors provide feedback and a deeper connection to their company.

However, it's important that all mentorship programs receive a concerted effort from the entire company. Data shows that scaling a program to a supportable level is better than trying to make it too big. In fact, a lot of large mentorship programs fail because their size prohibits delivering the benefits for which they're created.

An alternative is if it's obvious that there just aren't the resources necessary, or commitment is lacking at the corporate level, it might be better to create some type of shadowing program that will be both effective, yet manageable.

How to Start a Mentorship Program: Investigate the Need for a New Program in Your Community or Organization

Building a quality mentorship program takes a great deal of effort. You should definitely investigate whether there is actually a need for one in your community before undertaking steps which may prove to be unnecessary. There is very likely already some type of service provider or organization offering exactly the type of mentorship program that you are considering.

Another possibility is that there will be key allies in your community who will be more than willing to partner with you, that are already helping the population you want to mentor or addressing the same needs that you are hoping to target. In any case, Mentoring.org is an excellent place to start.

There is a Mentoring Connector tool which can help in identifying any services that might already be available, as well as who is offering them, in your community. If none already exist, the organization has a great many resources you will find useful in creating your own program.

MENTOR has Mentoring Affiliates at many local and state levels to help you with training or technical assistance, whether you are trying to strengthen an existing mentorship program or start a new one from scratch. Affiliates collaborate with members of the community to train mentors, equip program managers, galvanize leadership, and promote keeping national standards at a high level of quality.

How to Start a Mentorship Program: Keys to Success

If it turns out that you need to build your own mentorship program, there are several factors which can increase your chances for success:

  • The more thoughtful planning that goes into your program, the greater its chances of success.
  • Inform everyone in your organization that a mentorship program is now available.
  • Senior executives in your program should be endorsing the program, and letting everyone know that it is very important to your company. Hopefully, they will also be among the mentors.
  • Start off your mentorship program gradually.
  • Create goals within the program, and develop ways to measure your progress in reaching them.
  • Track productivity in the areas targeted by your program, and note any measurable improvement.
  • The best mentorship programs are those with a sustained commitment from the entire organization.

Once you have employees who have completed the program, have them share the mentorship experiences they feel have had a positive impact on their careers. This will encourage more employees to participate, and keep your program moving forward.

How to Start a Mentoring Program: Creating a Structure

The first priority for any company that is considering offering a mentoring program is to define the objective of the program. Options include:

  • Welcoming newcomers to the company
  • Teaching employees a specific skill
  • Developing leadership
  • Achieving higher retention rates among minorities

The word "mentor" may be interpreted differently by different people. Some employees may think that a mentor will get them promoted, or otherwise rewarded. So the first order of business is to clarify for participants exactly what the objectives of your mentorship program are, what they can expect from it, and even more importantly, what they should not expect.

Once the parameters are established, you have a few different options as to the actual structure of the program. You might want to consider some which have proven success, combine them, or even mix them up.

  • Group mentoring – Classroom-style discussions are appropriate for many types of mentoring
  • Have mentors and mentees meet separately one-on-one – This is the most common arrangement, with high-level mentors assisting lower-level employees.
  • Individual meetings first, then group discussions – Mixing or combining approaches can be helpful.
  • Lunchtime functions – Sometimes, a more relaxed environment can be more effective.
  • Peer to peer mentoring – Allowing more experienced employees to guide newer ones.
  • Mentorship vendors – You can hire a "mentorship boot camp" host or other type of vendor to direct your mentorship program.

One-on-One Mentoring

While one-to-one pairs are the most common type of mentorship programs, the most common problem is how to create a successful mentor and mentee pair. Some programs available for purchase from vendors use an algorithm similar to online dating services to match mentors and mentees, sometimes attempting to create "flash mentoring" by employing a speed-dating format.

Regardless of which method you choose, however, it has been found that the most successful mentorship programs are those which allow the people involved to have some input.

Allowing everyone to fill out questionnaires is one way of letting everyone share information about what they hope gain from a mentoring program, or what they feel they can offer. Another option is to make several options available for both mentors and mentees and letting them choose the person they prefer. Phone interviews and committee recommendations are other possibilities that can be considered.

In any case, people will obviously remain in pairs longer if they get along. In general, mentoring relationships tend to progress along a common cycle of phases:

  • Preparation – Mentor and mentee discuss the boundaries of their relationship, as well as discuss their expectations and levels of confidentiality
  • Establishing agreements – Mentors assist mentees in creating a plan which has clearly described tasks that will lead toward achieving their goals.
  • Enabling – This phase is when the actual work takes place. Mentors not only provide support for mentees while completing the tasks laid out in the plan, but they also offer feedback and accountability. During this time, mentors act as a mirror to mentees, so they can see what the possibilities are and where they stand on the path to achieving their goals.
  • Closure – Every mentor/mentee relationship must have a planned ending. This phase can provide an opportunity for both parties to reflect on what they've learned about themselves through the process, in general and as a mentor or mentee. Mentees, in particular, can look at what they've learned and decide how they can use their new knowledge and experience to raise the bar in their career, taking it to a higher level.

It's of the utmost importance to make sure there is a way for either the mentor or mentee to withdraw from the relationship and pair with someone else without anyone's feelings getting hurt. One option is to maintain a schedule of mutual evaluations. If it turns out there is a serious problem, then it will probably be best for each person to pair with someone who is more compatible.

Companies With Solid Mentoring Programs

You may find it helpful to know how some of the biggest companies in business choose to structure their mentorship programs.

Time Warner

Cable telecommunications company Time Warner partners mentees with mentors for a year. Any level of employee can apply to be mentored and the mentors are selected from management level or higher. All participants receive training and there are quarterly meetings with executive level Human Resource sponsors.

General Electric

This multi-industry giant offers a two-year mentorship program called "Commercial Leadership Program". It focuses specifically on developing sales and marketing skills for employees. General Electric's website says that their program is the "premier entry level program for our sales organization and the best way to develop and expose successful candidates to opportunities in sales and sales support at GE."


Aerospace manufacturer Boeing also offers a two-year program, but it is rotational. It is intended for early career professionals who would like to obtain work experience in the IT, HR, business and engineering departments. Boeing's website says that the objective of their program is to achieve both short-term and long-term career goals by building strong relationships between these early career professionals and leaders within the company.

Liberty Mutual

Insurance behemoth Liberty Mutual provides a great deal of guidance for both recent graduates and early career professionals in what they refer to as "graduate opportunities". Those include a mentorship program that allows senior managers to pair with entry-level workers in order to provide leadership training and coaching, as well as guide assignments.

It's not only old school long-time companies that see the advantages of mentorship programs, either. The tech sector is also well-invested in mentoring employees.


Premier chip maker Intel has a long-established program that pairs mentors with employees, based on the interests and skills of the mentees. As befitting a well-established tech company, the mentors may be virtual, as well as in-person.

All participants in the Intel program are required to fill out a questionnaire. The information is then used to pair them with other employees who are qualified to teach them the skills they are interested in learning.


There are actually multiple mentorship programs offered by PayPal to company employees. However, one of the most noteworthy is the Unity Mentorship Program. It consists of an employee-led community that specifically focuses on helping women thrive in the company.

While the focus is on female employees, pairs in the Unity Mentorship Program are commonly of mixed gender. Mentors and mentees can also be from different departments, as well.

Pairs are matched based on answers obtained from questions on a short survey. The initial meeting allows participants to decide if they both feel the match is a good fit.

Unity is a fairly small program. At any given time, there will only be about 100 mentor and mentee pairs. Since there is a lot more demand for the program than available spots, PayPal is now expanding mentorship alternatives to include peer and group mentoring, in addition to one-on-one pairs.

Group mentoring programs at PayPal will assign one senior leader to 20 mentees. They will meet once a month for six months and discuss specified topics.

PayPal's peer mentoring program is intended to play a different role. The programs will have a more personalized emphasis, and the mentors will be more like cheerleaders within the company.

In all of the company's mentoring programs, the goal is to provide all of the participants whatever support they need in order to achieve their personal version of success.


A leading enterprise software company, NetSuite has also created a mentorship program specifically for female employees. Although still in its early days, it is very highly regarded.

High-performing women at the company are matched with mentors at least two levels above them. Mentors may be of either gender and work in any department.

Currently serving about 60 mentees, NetSuite's mentorship program isn't only concerned with making connections. It is part of the larger Women in NetSuite program which hosts a number of events that are structured to allow for networking.

Participants in NetSuite's mentorship program don't only receive individual coaching within the company, they are also able to share their own experiences and knowledge with their mentors. This allows more senior employees to remain up-to-date in the rapidly changing technology sector.

There is no question that mentorship programs make a company stronger by increasing retention and encouraging employees to form a stronger connection with their employers. However, while there are a number of different options for creating such programs, it is crucial that they are structured properly and clear documentation is provided for the protection of all participants.

If you need help with mentorship programs, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.