Much has changed in the world of work and talent development over the last few months. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the modern workplace has seen an unprecedented shift in the number of people who are working from home. Most will likely continue to do so through the next year. Initially, companies put processes in place to support a virtual environment. They supplied remote employees with the necessary tools to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. Now that people have started to settle into their new working reality, Talent Development professionals are thinking about how to support and keep employees engaged longer term. Since remote work changes how our workforce collaborates, learns, and connects, companies are becoming innovative in how they respond to this changing environment. One innovation taking hold is themed mentoring.
Themed mentoring—also known as mentoring circles or group mentoring—is a people-focused approach to keeping employees connected, engaged, and productive. While themed mentoring programs have been around for some time, they now are gaining traction as a quick and simple way to offer mentoring to a broad audience. Mentoring in general is known to create measurable impact by dramatically increasing employee retention and satisfaction. This yields a large return on investment (ROI) for companies by reducing costs associated with employee turnover.
Like the traditional one-on-one mentoring style, themed mentoring enables participants to connect across departments, geographies, functions, and experience levels for personal and professional development. Although the format is more social than traditional mentoring, there still needs to be a primary purpose or strategy to guide the participants and help them set goals. In these programs, you still track metrics such as participation, satisfaction, and outcomes, but you may not track specific milestones or focus areas depending on the program objective.
Compared to traditional mentoring, there is a more fluid timeline and setup. Participants often play both the mentor and mentee roles. They navigate a creative and open environment where they can achieve business goals, share knowledge, and make connections. In more social formats, participation is voluntary and relationship length follows a natural flow. In other cases, such as in a leadership development program, you will have a more structured timeframe. Organizations also use themed mentoring as an easy-to-implement, timely resource to support a number of immediate needs. Some of these needs include supporting specific projects, providing structure to employee resource groups (ERGs), and as a social outlet. The flexibility around use cases, participation, timing, and roles allows for an autonomous environment while still providing governance boundaries.
How to Implement Themed Mentoring
When implementing a themed mentoring program, first look at organizational objectives. The roles, timing, and participation naturally will vary based on organizational goals and whether your program is being used for professional development or social engagement. Ask your employees about their needs and align those to the program design. If employees request to feel more connected, you may consider themed mentoring around hobbies, ERGs, or other joint interests. If your employees request more professional development, you might consider themed mentoring topics around soft skills, functional expertise, or professional development resources.
Once you’ve determined the objective and structure of your program, you will need to recruit participants and encourage them to join. Explain why the program exists and how it fits into the company’s goals and culture. That will go a long way toward getting people excited about joining. Also, opening up the conversation for employees to request new group topics or focus areas will help build rapport and gain momentum. Once people are participating in themed mentoring, it’s important to constantly monitor progress and ask for feedback. Monitor engagement: how many participants are in each group, how satisfied are they with their group, what goals have they set up? Keep an eye on the program. Learning from the feedback will help your programs grow and contribute to a happier workforce.
Paul MacCartney is Chief Learning Officer at MentorcliQ, a mentoring software solution that helps organizations launch, support, and grow high-impact employee mentoring programs. The company’s approach drives employee participation and satisfaction through an engaging user experience and supporting training resources. The MentorcliQ system makes it easy to manage multiple mentoring and talent development programs from a single place.