Why a mentorship programme in the workplace makes sense

 The Mentoring Effect: Tips for a successful mentor/mentee relationship

By Anja van Beek, Agile Talent Strategist, Leadership Expert and Executive Coach

As a leadership coach, I often get the question: “What is the difference between a mentor and a coach?” Usually, the mentor or coach is outside the direct manager / employee relationship context.

Mentoring is the opportunity for leaders to provide support and insights to help less experienced individuals to grow and develop in their careers.

In a mentorship relationship, it is acceptable for the mentor to give advice and to use their experience to guide the less experienced mentee. The mentor acts as an advisor and shares advice and wisdom with the mentee.

A coaching relationship is about supporting the other to find the answers themselves, mainly through questioning. As a coach, I support my clients to uncover their own knowledge and skills and will seldom share my own experience and expertise (from my career as an HR executive).

Bear in mind that as a manager you should wear both a mentor and coach hat in different stages in the performance discussions with your team members.

There are a lot of similarities in both mentoring and coaching:

  • Trust is the foundation of any relationship
  • Once the trust element is established, it flows into relationships where a safe space is created for the mentee to courageously explore without judgement or pressure.

 The stats speak for themselves:  71% of Fortune 500 companies have long-standing mentoring programmes, and 97% of those with a mentor say they find them to be valuable.

 Trust: The secret ingredient

Once trust is the foundation of the mentoring-relationship one can appreciate why finding the match for the mentor-mentee relationship is vital. Companies can get creative with this exercise - it should be more than a tick-box exercise done by the HR team. It is also a great initiative to instil the company values into a star-mentee that could retain their loyalty for longer.

A mentorship programme is a cost-effective way to develop talent and is also a popular strategy for talent development in any company as the technical expertise is in-house. The beauty of a mentorship-relationship is when reversed mentoring happens and the younger mentees educate their mentor on topics like social media or technology.

I’ve assisted in the facilitation of a session where the company provided the mentors and mentees with an opportunity to get to know one another before selecting their top three choices of mentors (similar concept to speed-dating… now it so search for the perfect fit mentor/mentee). This is a great example of how a mentorship strategy can work as the foundation is steady.

It is a commitment

If you consider being a mentor, think about the following before making a pledge:

  1. Time: Good mentoring takes time; you need to be prepared to invest the appropriate amount of time with your mentee; at least monthly but more regular “check-ins” might be needed.
  2. Good listener: Listening is an important skill for any manager. This is also the case in a mentoring relationship where you need to listen well, with an open-mind to know where to provide the necessary insights and guidance.
  3. Commitment: Are you willing to actively support your mentee with your actions and words, sharing knowledge and expertise? As an expert in your field, are you keen to spend time with diverse mentees? Someone who may not share common backgrounds, values and goals.
  4. Honest guidance: You need to be willing to share your successes and failures to provide your mentee with an authentic insight into lessons learned and why things worked or didn’t work. Circumstances may require that you have to provide specific and constructive feedback to your mentee. Are you comfortable doing this? It might even mean pushing your mentee outside their comfort zone (which is where beautiful things happen!).
  5. Learning mindset: Are you open to continued learning? Having a growth mindset will contribute to your being an effective mentor by keeping up with the latest trends and topics and potentially be reversed-mentored.

Tips for mentees:

  1. Expect support, not miracles: Keep your expectations realistic and be specific on the guidance you require. Be clear on the insight you want to gain from a professional and personal perspective. It should not only be about getting the next promotion.
  2. Be forward-thinking: Focus most of your attention on your long-term goals. Although it is necessary to share where you’re currently at; let your attention be on what you need to acquire to achieve these long-term goals.
  3. Honour your commitments: This might sound very elementary but be on time for meetings and respectful / appreciative of your mentors' investment in your career. Always respond promptly to your mentor's questions and comments.
  4. Take ownership of your own development: Be enthusiastic and eager to learn; the best mentees are fun to work with. Choose to apply at least some of your mentor's ideas and suggestions and provide feedback on the impact and application of the suggestion.


The important question is: “Do you have the know-how/confidence to guide and lead quality conversations?” Many companies have a mentorship programme but it sometimes requires a more structured approach to measure the return.