Whether you are dealing with departmental growth or succession planning, it's always important to be developing the next wave of leaders in your organization. While there are several strategies to train employees with the knowledge and experience needed to successfully spearhead a team, one of the most effective and rewarding ways to address this situation is through a leadership development mentoring program. Specifically, preparing and training high-potentials in your organization to grow into a leadership position by pairing them with an experienced employee.
Besides harnessing the people you already have in your organization, an in-house leadership development program helps:
- Increase employee engagement and satisfaction
- Boost retention and recruiting efforts
- Provide the attention and training high-potentials need to excel
- Develop meaningful relationships between experienced leaders and those looking to develop new skills
- Allow seasoned employees to give back
Here are five steps to keep in mind when designing a leadership development program to equip your employees with the skills to make an impact on your organization.
Determine Program Objectives
Like many projects, establishing an effective program starts by outlining your goals. You'll need to answer essential questions like:
- Why you’re creating the program
- What success looks like for the participants
Since you’re launching the program for leadership development, success might look like growing a team of effective leaders that can turn around and raise other leaders within your company. It could look like nurturing a corporate culture that celebrates learning and change, or training leadership on how to effectively lead teams.
Whatever your objectives are, make sure that they meet the SMART benchmarks used to develop goals. SMART stands for:
You can also learn more about developing SMART goals by reading this article. Having goals that meet these criteria gives direction to participants and provides leadership with insight into the importance of offering their support. These objectives are your guide as you plan, launch, and continuously improve your mentorship program.
Establish a Structure
You know what goals you want to achieve—now it's time to figure out how to get there. When creating the program road map, think about:
- Mentees: What eligibility requirements will you outline for mentees? Will there be an application or referral process that applicants must complete?
- Mentors: How will your organization select mentors? How will mentors be held accountable to the program?
- Mentoring Approach: Is there a set way for mentees and mentors to connect? Besides one-on-one meetings, are there e-mentoring options or group gatherings with other mentees/mentors in the program?
- Program Duration and Content: How long will the program last? The length of a mentorship program typically correlates to how long it takes to achieve the program goals—this can be anywhere from several months to a couple of years. Depending on the program length, how often will it take place—once or twice a year?
- Content: Are there specific materials such as leadership courses or workshops to complete during the program? I have found some useful books and online courses that reinforce the topic of leadership, such as The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni, and various courses on MIT Open Courseware. However, no course materials can replace real-life experience or wisdom gained from those who have led people through projects or challenges.
- Workshops and Projects: What opportunities will mentees have to implement the skills they've been learning? Will your program host workshops that offer opportunities to exercise their leadership muscles or will the company encourage mentees to co-lead certain projects within their department? This is when you pair conceptual learning with discussion and application.
- Rewards and Recognition: Will mentees receive recognition for completing the program? Will mentors receive some award or compensation for lending their time and expertise?
Once you've answered those questions, devise a workflow diagram or packet to summarize each step of the program process for participants. Include key deadlines, actions, criteria, and resources that are relevant to each step of the process. If there are specific tasks or courses that participants must complete before moving on to the next phase of the program, make sure to clearly denote that information.
Remember that while it is helpful to have an established plan in place, it's also important to allow for flexibility. Mentors and mentees should have the opportunity to meet their preferred individual learning styles and satisfy their mentoring needs and learning goals.
Announce the Program
When you have all the details in place, it's time to roll out the program and help it gain traction within your organization. However you choose to spread the word—through print (posters, signs, banners) or digital media (emails, websites, social media)—you need to clearly communicate:
- Benefits: How will mentees grow from the program? How will mentors benefit from volunteering their time in this way?
- Eligibility: Who is able to participate in the program? Are there specific requirements (age, experience) that mentees and mentors need to have?
- Participation Requirements: What is expected to take part in the program? Are there certain events that mentees must attend or courses they must complete in the program?
- Program Success: While it may be difficult to have social proof when first launching the program, make sure to constantly update your communications with the program's progress and success. Once the program is up-and-running, are there any noticeable participants that have been impacted by the program? Are there any success stories to share?
- Contact information: If someone has questions about the program, who should they connect with?
It may be helpful to create a pamphlet or a one-pager to help you communicate this information to potential participants. Don't just target specific applicants for the program, but spread the news to all levels of the organization. Reach out to young employees that may consider the program a few years down the road, as well as upper-level leadership that can serve as mentors or support the program in other ways. Spread awareness and gain the support needed for the program to take off.
Connect and Train Participants
Now that you have a pool of mentees and mentors to work with, pair participants based on similarities in backgrounds, needs, learning styles, competencies, personality, and desired areas of growth. When you don't know applicants on a personal level, it can be a challenge to set up pairs that will naturally click and work well together. Consider having applicants take a robust personality assessment to shine more light into the different characteristics you have to work with, and what personality pairings might gel better than others.
Mentees should also be able to work towards their specific career goals in conjunction with the company's goals. A mentor that specializes in a role that aligns with a mentee's career goals will help optimize this relationship and opportunity for growth. For example, if someone is looking to grow as a leader in developing company culture, pair them with an HR Manager.
When you have made introductions, set the relationship up for success by going over the program basics. Lay the foundation by addressing:
- Preparation: Talk about expectations, confidentiality, and relationship boundaries.
- Goals: Have mentees list their goals, making sure to connect them to the larger company objective.
- Agreements: Establish how mentors will assist mentees in achieving his or her goals.
- Enabling: Discuss how mentors will provide help, support, constructive criticism, and accountability as the mentee moves towards their goal.
- Scheduling: Lock down a meeting schedule for mentorship sessions. Have a minimum frequency for them to meet—otherwise other priorities may get in the way.
- Closure: Have pairs meet to close out the relationship, discuss what they’ve learned, talk about how they can use that information for ongoing improvement, and celebrate their success.
In this initial training, remember to provide resources and guidance as the program progresses to ensure participants are successfully moving forward toward both company and personal goals.
Assess and Evaluate
It's important to track success, both throughout the duration of the program and after completing each program season. This allows you to make iterative changes to keep improving the process. You can gather feedback in a variety of ways, including group retrospective meetings and individual feedback forms. Ask questions like:
- How challenging and useful was the course material?
- Would mentees refer their peers to complete the course?
- Was the relationship and program relevant to the mentee and their career path?
- How enjoyable was the program?
- Did mentors feel like their advice and time was respected?
- What challenges or difficulties were there during the program?
- What are two facets of the program that were done well and two facets that could be improved?
To capitalize on your leadership development program, it’s important to treat it as much more than just a one-time initiative. To have the greatest impact, the program needs to be woven into your company culture. To achieve this, appoint a program director, gain company-wide support from senior executives and other leadership throughout the organization, and make a point to continuously improve the program.
For every leader—or anyone aspiring to be a leader—self-awareness is critical to success. In order to work well with other people, leaders must understand themselves and their team members. By coupling self-awareness with others-awareness, leaders can build an environment of collaboration and support. Personality assessment tools like The Birkman Method ease the challenges of leadership by making communication easy. By diving into what motivates people and what they need from their environment to be successful, Birkman provides the information that you need to understand your team, as well as the tools to build successful teams.
Taylor hails from Boston, Massachusetts, with a deep passion for design and innovation. With over ten international creative publications, she brings a trained, artistic eye to Birkman’s marketing department. When she isn't consuming 17th century European works, you can find her dancing, running, or serving her church on the weekends.