10 Tips to Establish a Mentoring Program

By August 4, 2023LTEN Focus On Training


Training Leaders – By Gus Prestera, Ph.D.

These field-tested best practices will help make an impact

As one learning & development (L&D) leader recently shared, this is a common theme that we hear from leaders implementing mentoring programs:

“Setting up the mentoring program turned out to be the easy part: it was like organizing my daughter’s middle-school dance. The hard part was getting all the kids to dance with each other.”

Here are 10 research-based, field-tested best practices for establishing mentoring programs with impact:

1. Start with goals.

When artificially putting people together into mentoring relationships, it’s important that the mentoring program has a clear and compelling set of goals. The most effective ones are targeted to specific needs, such as skill development, equity, networking or business acumen. Those program goals help to anchor both mentors and mentees, giving them a sense of purpose that guides their conversations.

For example, one L&D leader organized a mentoring program aimed at providing career sponsorship for emerging leaders from minority groups. Another focused their mentoring program on helping high potential sales reps develop their leadership brand and broaden their network. That sort of targeting made it clear to would-be mentors and mentees what outcomes were expected.

2. Ask mentees to self-assess.

To get the most out of the mentoring relationship, mentees should show initiative and do some upfront work on themselves. Ask them to self-assess their needs and establish development goals, so that they can clearly articulate that to their mentor from the start. Does the mentee need help developing knowledge and skills? Do they need career advice? Do they want to learn more about how the business works? Do they need help expanding their network of contacts within the leadership team? Do they need someone to champion them?

Giving mentees an opportunity to reflect on their needs and to have those needs shape the mentoring relationship from the start creates buy-in, which makes it more likely that the mentee will commit and take full advantage of the opportunity.

3. Match them up.

You should know your mentors and mentees well enough to be able to match them up, with goals being the driving factor in your matchmaking. Letting mentors or mentees choose with minimal information often leads to poor choices that are based on bias rather than substance. Share your matchmaking recommendations with your mentors and mentees, provide your rationale and then check for alignment before proceeding.

4. Set expectations.

Set clear expectations upfront with mentees and mentors regarding responsibilities, ground rules and time commitments, so that they know what they are walking into and can make an informed decision. When either party gets in over their heads, the other party can feel abandoned. One party not holding up their end of the bargain is the most common cause of dissatisfaction with mentoring relationships.

5. Set an expiration date.

Don’t wait for mentoring relationships to putter out on their own. Establish a finite period of time, so that there is a sense of urgency from both parties around a due date. A six-month commitment to meet once or twice a month is feasible yet substantial enough to accomplish a worthwhile mentoring goal. At the end of that timeframe, mentors and mentees can wrap things up or they can choose to continue meeting informally (without your support).

6. Break the ice.

Mentees often feel intimidated by their assigned mentors, and mentors aren’t always able to relate well to their more junior counterparts, so it is important to help them get over the initial awkwardness. Organize a kickoff meeting, preferably involving multiple mentors and mentees, facilitate some meaningful activities that help them learn more about each other and some relevant career development topics.

7. Prime the pump.

Pre-arranged mentoring relationships are at risk of fizzling out early on, simply because they run out of things to talk about. Provide the pairings with a little structure, some assignments for the mentee and some discussion questions to get them started, then scale back the scaffolding as they get more comfortable.

Consider also what educational resources you can provide to the mentors, not all of whom will have equally strong coaching and mentoring skills. Remember that this is a development opportunity for the mentors as well.

8. Formalize agreements.

In the first couple of touch points, each pairing should develop and agree on a written mentoring agreement. This encourages them to discuss goals, expectations, ground rules and logistical issues around when they will touch base, how often and how they will meet. It gives you and them a mechanism for checking progress and maintaining accountability.

9. Check in with both.

On a regular basis, schedule one-on-one check-ins with both the mentors and mentees. They can be brief conversations. You might do so after the first few weeks, then again after the second month, and then once every couple of months. When things go awry, they typically do so at the beginning, and early intervention is the best way to salvage a match.

10. Close out the process.

Ensure that each pairing has a close-out meeting where they can summarize what was accomplished and discuss what the mentee should focus on next as they move forward. Even if they choose to continue meeting informally, it is good to have a transition conversation. Have one final check-in with both parties. You could use a survey, but for this a conversation may be more insightful.


Mentoring is a powerful development tool, one that can help junior managers expand their network and acquire the business acumen, executive presence and career development skills they need, while also providing senior leaders an opportunity to develop their coaching and mentoring skills.

To make mentoring programs work effectively, though, we need to start by recognizing that matchmaking isn’t as simple as getting everyone to the dancefloor — we also need to get them dancing with each other. Choreographing the process and providing a little structure and support will get everyone up out of their seats in no time.

Gus Prestera, Ph.D., MBA, is president of Prestera FX. Email him at gus@presterafx.com.



About LTEN

The Life Sciences Trainers & Educators Network (www.L-TEN.org) is the only global 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization specializing in meeting the needs of life sciences learning professionals. LTEN shares the knowledge of industry leaders, provides insight into new technologies, offers innovative solutions and communities of practice that grow careers and organizational capabilities. Founded in 1971, LTEN has grown to more than 3,200 individual members who work in pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device and diagnostic companies, and industry partners who support the life sciences training departments.

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