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Starting a Mentorship Program in Your Organization – Three Strategies

Part 2 of a 4 Part Series – Part 1  – Part 3  – Part 4

BY Bruce Tulgan

Any leader, manager, or supervisor who is charged with managing any person on any project for any period of time has an obligation to play the role of a teaching-style manager. But it’s doubly important with new young employees, and triply important with the best of them. Any manager who is weak, disengaged, and out of the loop will seem completely unworthy to high-potential employees. This will cause the superstar to quickly lose confidence in the organization and the chain of command. Superstar Millennials in particular want managers who knows and care enough to teach them the tricks and the short-cuts, warn them of pitfalls, and help them solve problems. They want managers who are strong enough to support them through bad days and counsel them through difficult judgment calls. More than the average employee, superstars want to know that someone is keeping track of their great work and looking for ways to provide them with special rewards.

Here are three different strategies for implementing this type of teaching-style mentoring in the workplace:

Many organizations try to put in place mentoring programs. But mentoring means different things to different people. To many, mentoring evokes a deeply personal relationship that requires a natural connection between mentor and protégé that often takes a long time to develop. In this view, you usually wouldn’t know who your real mentors are except in retrospect. Who has shared with you the rich lessons of their own lives over the course of many years? Which of those relationships have been profound and formative for you? Many argue that this type of relationship shouldn’t be forced. So what can you do as an organization to promote this kind of mentoring?

Encourage older, more experienced leaders to seek protégés and help these would-be mentors develop some of the techniques and habits of mentoring. Encourage younger, less experienced high-potential employees to seek mentors and help these would-be protégés develop some of the techniques and habits of being a good protégé. Perhaps you could hold matchmaking sessions including would-be mentors and would-be protégés and help them gravitate toward each other. One word of caution: the big lesson I’ve taken away from the dozens of corporate mentoring initiatives I’ve studied is that mentoring is usually the wrong word. I think it is usually the case, when organizations launch “mentoring” programs, that what they are really talking about is matching high-potential young employees with what I would call career advisers and organizational supporters.


Career Advisers
These are more experienced (usually older) leaders and managers within the organization who will make a commitment to be available to one or more Millennial superstars to provide career advice. The adviser meets with the Millennial on a regular basis to talk strategically about how the Millennial should navigate her career within the organization. They might discuss how the Millennial’s work assignments have been going and what assignments should be sought next. They might discuss what the Millennial could do within the organization to request new training opportunities, transfers to new work groups, or moves to new locations. The career adviser might recommend strategies for pursuing raises, promotions, or desired work conditions or might counsel the Millennial to delay such requests until a more opportune moment. The idea is to offer the Millennial regular career advice from an insider’s perspective so they don’t have to get it from outsiders (like headhunters.)

Organizational Supporters
This is like an internal career adviser with some clout. Organizational supporters don’t just discuss career strategies. They actually use their influence and authority within the organization to make sure that the most valuable Millennials are receiving the lion’s share of resources to support and accelerate their career success. Typically, organizational supporters talk regularly with their high-potential young employees to make certain that nothing has gone wrong or is going wrong in their work assignments. They steer their superstars to the best training opportunities, the choice projects and assignments, and the most powerful decision-makers. They help fast-track their Millennial superstars to help them win bonuses, raises, promotions, and desired work conditions. The idea is to make certain the Millennial never slips through the cracks and finds a better deal elsewhere.

If you really want to retain your very best Millennial superstars long enough to grow and develop them, someone has to make concerted efforts to surround them with teaching-style managers, advisers, organizational supporters, and maybe even mentors. The questions every leader and manager should be asking are: What roles can I play in this process? Who are the superstars in my managerial orbit? Will I be a teaching-style manager? Career adviser? Organizational supporter? Mentor? What can I do to make it clear to that person that he or she is the best in their class?

If this high-potential employee is truly the future of the company, give them more than the time of day.


About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (Revised & Updated, 2014). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website