Mentoring is a topic I’m very passionate about, and believe it can enable women and underrepresented minorities to get access to opportunities they may not have access to. I launched the Tile Mentorship Program in December 2018, and we’ve had 3 successful rounds of mentoring since then. More than 65% of the company participated as either a mentor or mentee and greater than 90% executive team participated as a mentor every round. At Tile, I’ve seen mentoring empower my colleagues to switch roles within the company and allow them to learn about aspects of the business they may not have day-to-day access to and help newly promoted managers gain the skills needed to succeed in their new role.
In this article, I will share the steps and resources we used to run our mentoring program at Tile. One of my goals was to define a mentoring program process that I could pass on to someone else at Tile to run the actual coordination as well as have something I could share with others looking to start their own mentoring programs at their companies, so they wouldn’t have to start from scratch. I wanted a program that would provide real value to our employees and enable them with experiences and opportunities they may not get elsewhere, be easy to manage (especially since this is my side passion and not my main role), and finally, I needed it to be free as I had no
budget :) The first step to launching a successful mentoring program is getting leadership buy-in. At Tile, I had a lot of support and enthusiasm from both Lissa, our VP of People, and CJ, our CEO. This empowered me to ask the executive and leadership teams to commit to participating as mentors to ensure the success of the program. In true Tile culture, the leadership team heartily agreed to participate and I feel this has been one of the biggest reasons our mentorship program has been so successful.
After a lot of research into different mentoring programs and options, I focused my efforts around a few main key areas to build a successful mentoring program:
- Having a well-defined timeline and process for a mentoring cycle
- Enabling matches that most effectively empowered all the employees desiring mentoring
- Ensuring proper training for both the mentor and the mentee to enable a successful mentoring relationship.
Below I will share why I focused on each of these areas and cover the overall Tile mentoring process.
As an engineering manager, I’m a bit of a process nerd and wanted to ensure I had a well-defined process and structure for running mentoring. One of the first decisions I made when setting up the mentoring program was whether people would be able to join at any time, or if there would be fixed times throughout the year when we would allow mentoring pairs to get created. I decided to opt for the latter as it would make the overall process easier to manage if everyone was going through the same process concurrently. I opted for a 3-month mentoring cycle with about 1 month of planning/ prep before the actual mentoring relationships.
During the planning month, we take care of all the preliminary activities needed for a successful mentoring program. We kick off the program by announcing the mentoring program during the company's all-hands and give a quick overview in case we have any new hires.
Afterward, we will send out the mentoring planning survey. We ask our employees if they’d like to be mentees, mentors, or both, and the focus areas they would like to develop as a mentee or teach as a mentor. We give the company about a week to fill out the survey, sending a few loving reminders along the way.
After all the surveys have been completed, the mentoring matchmaking system takes place. I make it sound fancy, but it’s just a Google spreadsheet with the results from the survey and a new tab where we compile the mentoring pairs. The mentoring committee goes through each employee who desires mentorship and tries to pair the individual up with the most appropriate mentor.
Here is where I can really make sure we are empowering our female and other underrepresented employees. I ensure that they get access to the mentors they would like to get paired with to help them grow in their careers. Sometimes this requires contacting team members who may not have signed up for mentoring but may be eager once they’ve been asked. My goal is to give everyone who asks for a mentor the opportunity to meet with someone else at Tile to help them achieve their goals.
Once we’ve decided on the mentoring pairs, we send out an email congratulating the pair and inviting them to attend our mentoring training session.
Having training for both the mentors and the mentees is one of the most important steps for having a successful mentoring program. It is essential to cover:
- What is mentoring (and what it’s not)
- The specific roles and responsibilities of the mentor and the mentee
- The timeline for mentoring
- What to cover in the first mentoring session
- Suggestions and topics for future sessions
- Topics that need to be disclosed to HR if brought up during mentoring.
During the first session, I have the mentoring pairs fill out a mentorship agreement form which sets the stage for the rest of the mentoring relationship. It’s supposed to be a living document, but it starts on the first session by setting a commitment to meet x times during the mentoring cycle (our recommendation is at least 6 times), setting which topics are off-limits, figuring out what are the goals to be accomplished, and starting to break down what are the action items to accomplish along the way to meet those goals. This sets the groundwork for a foundation of being able to be truthful and vulnerable with each other in the mentoring pair as the mentoring content
is all confidential within the pair.
I also like to do an exercise in active listening and really get people used to the practice of listening to someone else. It's easy to start formulating a response to something someone is saying midway through their statement, but then you may soon realize you didn’t actually hear the second half of what they said. Here’s an exercise to try as a pair. Have one person tell a story about themselves for one minute. The other person’s job is to just listen as carefully as possible. At the end of the minute, the listener repeats back to the storyteller what they remember. The storyteller shares what was correct, what was missed, and what was incorrect in the listener’s retelling of the story. The two people then switch roles, and the storyteller is now the listener and vice versa. It’s a fascinating exercise to see how well you can do this, and who the best listeners in your team are.
At this point, your mentors and mentees should feel confident to start their mentoring relationships. I like sending out checking emails during the 3 months to provide encouragement, tips, and suggestions, as well as taking surveys. I definitely believe that which isn’t measured can’t be truly improved, and the same goes for mentoring. It’s important to set goals upfront when getting buy-in for your mentoring program and track them throughout. I suggest doing a survey of your training session, a mid-point survey to see if there is any course-correcting that needs to happen, and an end of mentoring survey to see how the round of mentoring went. The goals you set will be specific to your company and your current culture, but I like to measure the impact of mentoring on retention and empowering our team members to thrive.
At the end of the 3-month cycle, I like to close our journey with a celebration and retrospective of our mentoring program. I ask everyone who feels comfortable to share their successes and learnings along the way, as well as provide any feedback they have on the process overall. It’s honestly great hearing about the different learning journeys my colleagues were on and how we could help each other get better.
I hope you have found this summary of the Tile Mentoring Program to be useful for planning your mentoring programs.
If you would like more information or access to the planning and training documents I use, you can access them here on SlideShare. Please let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or feedback.