Mentoring programs are becoming increasingly popular in companies around the world, but unfortunately the vast majority are implemented without thoughtful program design. This is a real shame, because the best mentoring programs kindle transformative relationships that can help mentors and mentees to grow and develop.

While many wonderful mentoring relationships have formed organically throughout history, we have learned in the modern workplace that structured, more formal approaches to mentoring can ensure that mentors and mentees connect, with helpful guidelines and milestones for building successful and productive relationships.

Depending on the size and culture of your organization, it may be time to consider implementing a more structured mentoring program. Doing so will require a delicate balance of support and flexibility. Here are some best practices, according to our partner organization Career Partners International:

Avoiding Pitfalls with Mentoring Programs with these Best Practices:


  • Emphasize the mentor’s contribution to developing the next generation of star performers.
  • Make sure each mentor is committed to the process and will give it the time it needs to succeed.
  • Mentors should be honest and vulnerable and able to tell stories about their experiences.
  • Give the mentee options on who to work with to help ensure a good connection.
  • Help mentees get guidance on what they really need, not a standard need for all people.
  • Encourage employees to take control of their career.
  • Let mentees take the lead.
  • Mentors should share experiences and have valid input.


  • Monitor or manage what mentees are getting mentored on.
  • Avoid using a mentor as a counselor for issues that are best addressed by a therapist.
  • Require someone to be a mentor. Not everyone is interested.
  • Try to control everything.
  • Wait for the perfect timing.
  • Expect immediate results.


The following guidelines will help you design a successful mentoring program.

KISS – As best you can, keep it simple. Less is usually better.

Provide Guidelines and Training – Do not assume mentors and mentees know what to do. Provide guidelines on what is appropriate and what is not. Mentees need to be clear on what skills they want to develop from the relationship. That will determine which mentors to select. Mentors need to know what is expected of them in terms of time and preparation. Are they simply sharing their experiences or are they preparing the mentee for their next challenge or growth opportunity?

Flexibility – One size does not fit all. Each mentee will have a different set of goals and ideals they want from the relationship, so make sure your program can accommodate their unique needs. Suggest topics for their meetings to help them get started, but allow the latitude for the meetings to evolve to meet the needs of the relationship. The more you try to control things, the less likely it will work. The more flexibility you offer, the more likely it will work.

Reporting Structure – Although many bosses make great mentors, in a formal mentoring program you must make sure the mentor and mentee are not in the same chain of command. The success of a mentoring relationship depends on the mentee’s ability to safely and candidly share their experiences without fear of retribution. This is also a strong argument for encouraging external mentors.
Chemistry – It is critical that the mentor and mentee have chemistry with one another and are able to establish a good rapport. Without it, a lack of commitment to one another will likely surface and the relationship will fall apart. Giving the mentee more than one mentor to choose from and see who they connect with will help ensure a more successful relationship.

Encourage employees to seek external mentors – particularly in high level positions where peers become scarce. External mentors bring an outside-the-box, objective perspective. Conversations are viewed as safe and can be extremely productive at solving challenges and understanding how to maneuver politics at the senior levels. Ginger Duncan of Ingram Barge had external mentors and said, “External mentoring gives you a perspective that you may not have because you get too silo focused in your world.”

Whether you decide to have an informal mentoring program or a formal one, internal or external, there is no question that mentoring will generate positive outcomes in your organization.

Building a mentoring program can be extremely rewarding and have lasting impact on your company culture and your bottom line, but as you can see it can be very difficult to find the right balance. Fortunately, if you need help, you can always contact our expert HR Advisors to help you build and launch your mentoring program!