6 Secrets to an Effective Mentoring Program

6 Secrets to a Successful Mentoring Program

If you’re looking to start a successful mentoring program consider these six key components. Think past process and criteria to truly consider the human dynamics at play.

Start With Considering Your Amazing Mentor

Ask anyone who’s ever had an amazing mentor where that experience ranks in their growth as a leader, and I’d bet money they’d put their mentor ahead of any keynote, consulting program, book they’ve read, and potentially their 80K MBA.

I say that as a speaker, consultant, author, former MBA professor, and someone who’s had the fortunate experience of having a gaggle of amazing mentors over the last two decades.

Great mentorship is unscripted, raw, real, trusting, challenging and kind. Great mentorship is a two-way journey. It’s so human it bleeds into other areas of your life.

I’ve attended a funeral of a great mentor and felt like I’ve lost my right arm. A dozen years later I still wonder what he would say when times are at the most difficult.

I wasn’t the only one in the room who felt that way.

Great mentors are rarely monogamous

Sadly, few folks I know have experienced that mentor-induced pull toward becoming the leader they are meant to become.

When I ask my audiences how many of them have had a truly great mentor, it’s surprisingly sad how few raise their hands. In my MBA courses, the number is even fewer. Sometimes no hand is raised. This is our future.

As a culture, we’re not mentoring well.

I think we know this, which is why I receive so many calls asking for mentoring as a keynote topic. “How do we do this better?”  “Who must we involve?” “Why isn’t this working?” “What about the ‘millennial situation?'”

What Matters Most When Building a Successful Mentoring Program

So, prompted by another such conversation this afternoon, I’m opening this conversation for our LGL Community. Here’s what I think matters. I  hope you’ll chime in.

  1. Establish Measurable Goals: How will you know you’re successful? Determine how you will measure success. I promise you, it’s not just “that folks feel better.”
  2. Pick the Right People: If you’re going to get into the business of match-making, do it well. Consider the value of Nemesis mentors. What often works best is announcing the program, providing people with scaffolding to make their own matches, and then support.
  3. Get Them Started: Ready, mentor, go! is seldom enough. Even your smartest, most creative types can get a little twitchy when asked to do something outside of their day job. I’ve found a half-day kick off workshop including multiple mentoring relationships can go a long way in launching them toward success.
  4. Establish Parameters: Guidelines are vital. If you’re a mentor, does that mean you’re signing up to be a sponsor? These are key conversations. I’ve mentored a long list of folks I’ve helped to improve, but I wouldn’t put my brand on every one of their careers in support of the next promotion.
  5. Give Them Something To Do: In every mentoring program I’ve developed, I’ve given them easy tools and activities to them started.  Organic is great, and some will throw your guidance away. Awesome. Others will kiss it and make it so.
  6. Consider Alternative Models: I’m a big fan of alternative mentoring models: speed mentoring, mentoring circles, peer mentoring, reverse mentoring. Too much to discuss here. Call me to learn more.

Do you need help getting started? Please call me for a free consultation. 443-750-1249.

Posted in Career & Learning, Communication and tagged , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. This is such a great, important, post and subject. You’ve hit on several key areas and I’ve experienced them all. I recently set up a plan for a cross-mentoring group. The process was very specific in looking to add value of the strengths and experience of one group into the other. The mentees represented key team members aligned in succession plans and targeted to develop into the future leaders of the organization. We have a great culture and my original thought was the organic approach would yield the best results. Yet, I really like what you noted about a kick-off meeting and setting parameters for the desired outcomes or simply the process. In hindsight and in light of Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA), I’ll be adjusting as we move forward. Although mentoring and coaching are different, both hold such a critical place in the development of others by adding value and helping them get from where they are to where they want to go. Great post!

    • Rick, Thanks so much for sharing your experiences! I’m glad to hear of the important cross-mentoring work you are doing. I really believe in that kind of development– and the added bonus is that everyone gets to really know the succession candidates at a deeper level. I’ve found it also valuable to pair with action learning projects or “book groups.”

  2. Karin, you really underscore some sailent points in this article. One, in particular, that’s implied but I think is worthy of mention is consistency. I’ve seen programs begin at fever pitch only to fizzle off towards something more placid due to a lack of consistency. Furthermore, this trait of successful mentoring programs establishes trust in our emotional enterprised world. In this regard, I appreciate the consistency in your diligence mentor me from afar.

    Thank you for your leadership.


    • Chef. YES, YES, YES! Consistency is vital. I’ve seen many sizzle out as well.

  3. Hi Karin,

    I’m interested in the possibility of becoming both a mentor and a mentee. I’m wondering if there are appropriate resources you can point toward, particularly in preparing me for the mentor role. I’ve come across several sources, but most of them relate to establishing mentoring practices. The one which seems promising is the International Mentoring Association. Are you familiar with them?

    Any advice you could provide would be most appreciated!

    Thanks for another great post!


    • Tom, GREAT! I am not familiar with that association. My best advice is to have it be a two-way street. Sit down and really talk about what you both want out of the relationship and set some goals and potential topics to discuss. My free ebook, Talking Teams, has lots of exercises that could be useful to use in a mentoring context. And you should definitely by the book that I have coming out this Spring with the American Management Association and read it together 😉

  4. Karin, (re: Rick Foreman),

    Mentoring moves mountains! Great post. What are the clear-cut distinctions and/or boundaries between Coaching and Mentoring? What distinguishes each? When crossing those boundaries (if they exist) should you alert the Protege?


    • Stephen,
      Well, there’s coaching with a big C and a little c. Steve Borek will probably weigh in here with better insights, but I see coaching as less directive and more questioning to self-discovery. Mentors do that too, but mentors also give advice. I think the bigger blurry line is between mentors and sponsors. I’ve seen people get really twisted up because their mentor won’t back them for a job they’re not ready for.

    • Karin;
      Interesting enough, we’ve been doing the cross-functional book studies/masterminds for the past 8 years with great success. They are a standard part of our learning organization with everyone participating in a group every year. I agree of the power that comes from this approach. In addition, I have three cross-functional lean champion groups participating in “Becoming a Person of Influence,” by my mentor John Maxwell. We’ve found the importance of developing leadership is critical in moving past the status quo, while driving continuous improvement forward.

    • Stephen;
      I believe Karin described it very well. Coaching brings out that awareness and self-discovery in the journey for sure. The definition of a coach goes back to the Stage Coach days, as taking someone or something of value from where they are to where they want to be. Great question!

  5. Karen,

    I’m president of the 2015 Measurement Science Conference (see new msc-conf.com web site under construction) and look forward to you insight in metrology, quality, and process improvement.


    • Vern, The conference looks great. If you are looking for speakers for your 2016 conference timing would be perfect. My new book will have just come out and we have section in there that would make for a perfect keynote– and a challenging counter balance to what much of your content will cover. Masters the Metrics Maze: Use Data to Drive, Not Drown Your Team, in other words– the score is not the game.

  6. Such an important topic, Karin!

    I love the way you introduce “alternative” methods of mentoring because it doesn’t always need to be a formalized relationship with regular one-on-one meetings. They don’t work for everyone and with technology, busy schedules, etc…so many more options are available.

    Can’t wait to read your new book!!!

    • Thanks, LaRae! We’re getting the finishing touches to the publisher next week and then the editing process begins. We looking at a late February early March launch.

  7. This is great as usual Karin. I have been in a mentoring committee for the Bar Association for about 7 years. Honestly the most useful thing for me is being a friend, and an encourager. I think that might be the most useful thing I’ve done is just encourage young lawyers that they are not alone as they start out and serve as a resource for questions. I’ve really enjoyed our program.

    • Bill, Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Some of of my mentors and mentees have turned into lifelong friends. That’s a real sign that it’s working.

  8. Another great read! I don’t believe I have ever had a mentor. What strikes me is that I am now in a position to give back but I’ve never had this experience. Does a mentor need to be in the same industry? or the same company? Not really. Mentoring, in my mind, is more about helping another individuals make connections that he or she probably could not have made independently – connections in the mind, as a student of the profession, and with others.

    • David, Thanks so much. You are in the position to give back for sure. You’d be a fantastic mentor. With that said, I’d love to see you have the experience of an amazing mentor. Timing is perfect.

  9. Great article on mentoring and providing that leadership that allows both the mentor and the mentee to grow through this process. For those that I have mentored in the past and currently I have also tried to help them set goals for themselves and then helped them reach those goals. You can be a mentor for a summer intern or a for someone that has been in the business for 20 years. Thanks for the post.

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