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October 02, 2017

How to Start a Mentorship Program at Work

The Transportation Planning Department of MMM Group (now WSP) established a mentorship program in 2016 in response to a strategic visioning exercise that identified mentorship as a staff need. A Mentorship Committee designed the initial program and guided it to the conclusion of the first year. Minor adjustments enhanced the program for its second year. This article summarizes the steps taken to establish the program and the lessons learned from its first year. 
Steps We Took to Establish Our Program
  1. Establish a Committee: Our volunteer Committee consisted of women and men, engineers, planners and technicians with all levels of experience, from a senior manager to a co-op student.
  2. Develop an application: The Committee felt strongly that participants should show some October20171-1.jpgcommitment by completing a brief application. The application also informed the matching of pairs.
  3. Allow staff to self-select: Participation in the program was voluntary. Each participant was empowered to decide if they were a mentor or mentee. Participants also could choose to fill both roles. A few people decided to be a mentor to one and a mentee to another.
  4. Match pairs: A subcommittee of intermediate and junior staff reviewed all applications and matched mentors with mentees. No mentee was matched with their manager.
  5. Have a formal launch: A pizza lunch was provided by the Department to launch the program each year.
  6. Keep conversations confidential: We stated clearly up front that all mentorship conversations are confidential, and no discussion will be repeated or used in the performance evaluation of the staff.
  7. Follow up at the end: At the end of the first year, a follow up form was provided to each participant. If both mentor and mentee agreed, they were matched again for the second year.
Lessons Learned
  • Show corporate commitment by funding the program: The Department allocated $100 for each pair to use throughout the year for mentorship lunches or meetings.
  • Schedule meetings in advance: The year-end follow up showed that some pairs did not meet as often as desired. To help prompt meetings, four calendar appointments were issued at the beginning of the second mentorship year.
  • Follow up throughout the year: The Committee sent emails and followed up in person to see if pairs were meeting, and to identify any problems.  In our experience, no pairs were split and rematched during the year.
  • Empower staff to decide for themselves: If someone was a mentor or a mentee was left to the applicant. In some instances, people asked to be both. This desire to do both was embraced.
  • If it does not work, do not be afraid to fix it: If a pair does not work, the next year we matched participants in different pairs.
  • Open the program to new staff throughout the year: We opened the mentorship program to new staff who joined throughout the year, both as mentors and mentees.

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Brett Sears, RPP

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