Insights on Creating an Engaging Mentorship Program

We interviewed Jason Salamon, HR Alliance DC Board Member about what best practices and insights leaders and organizations should consider to create an engaging mentorship program.


I'm Jason Salamon, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Edgewood and Vantage Management, a residential property management company, serving largely affordable housing communities around the country. I've given a lot of thought to this. For really any competitive environment where there's a battle for great talent, tapping into various strategies for retaining people is really critical. And supporting our team members' professional development is really key among that. This is an important and really valuable tool in leaders' toolkits for developing people not just for the next or future roles within the organization, but also strengthens the connection for people to connect with the organization in meaningful ways, and obviously feeling that connection is reciprocating.

What are the top benefits of a successful mentoring program?
I think what makes a successful mentoring program really comes down to really the big three in my mind. First, trust, it's really the most critical from my perspective because it's foundational to every engagement that follows. Communication is the second, specifically really candid and honest communication and feedback is necessary so that both the mentor and the individual being mentored can build that relationship and it takes practice and effort to be able to make sure that it's valuable. And the third is really just organization, a clear process for regular reliable engagements, including keeping it on the schedule, dedicating set aside time, avoiding interruptions, and making sure that both people are able to add value in a way that respects each other's time and their commitments.

What makes a successful mentoring program?
I think companies, in order to launch a mentoring program, really need to be prepared to manage with limited resources. And those really come down to the big three. It's people, time, and money. People, are there adequate and appropriate people to be tapped to share their expertise? And with regard to time, are those people able and committed to setting aside time to dedicate to those engagements? And money might not necessarily be direct because there's a lot of mentoring that takes place that doesn't have to require an actual monetary investment. But to the extent necessary, is the organization committed to setting aside the capital to support and commit to a program long term beyond just the infancy stages so that it can develop into the next generation of mentors and it can develop into a sustainable program?

What should companies consider before they launch a mentoring program?
I think what companies or individuals get wrong about mentoring, first and foremost, it's really planning for the short term, is not creating a sustainable program that's going to stand the test of time. Picking people to be mentors based on title or assuming that senior leaders know what they're doing and how to actually mentor correctly other than selecting people based on their actual ability to learn how to be a true mentor and with the commitment to follow through on it. Not checking in on a mentoring relationship to make sure that we're monitoring the relationships, that we're monitoring the progress to make sure that progress is actually being made, potentially not creating a reliable foundation on which to build sustainable program. And that really gets to building something for the long term.

What do companies/individuals get wrong about mentoring?
Entering into a mentor and mentee relationship, I think some of the best practices really start by identifying the goals for the program. If the mentor and the mentee are able to level set on what they're both hoping to get out of it, I think it's going to be really important so that success and progress not only can be measured, but can also be tracked and you can celebrate those victories when they come. If you don't set aside enough time at the front end to make sure that you're laying that foundation, it can pretty quickly go off track because you have different expectations for the program.

How important is the matching part of the mentorship program?
Making sure that members are selected purposely and properly and that a mentor and a mentee are appropriately aligned and matched, that that matched relationship is no different than finding an executive coach or someone who's really going to partner with you to help you grow in your career. Match fit is so critical in any mentor and coaching situation because of the underlying trust that's necessary to have ongoing, regular, candid, open feedback.

What are best practices for mentors/mentees to get the most out of their interactions?
Some of the other best practices include making sure that time is dedicated and we're creating time for interaction, that it's based on a structure so that it's clear not only what the next step is, but that there's regular intervals for getting back together that's set aside. Ensuring that there's diversity in both the availability of mentors, but also the opportunity to be engaged as a mentee in the program. And whether that's equity in the opportunity and the availability for it, I think, is a really important part of it.

What is a misconception about mentoring that should be clarified up front?
Not only the mentor, but also the mentee being trained and communicated with so that they understand what the purpose of the program is. Some folks might think that the purpose of a mentorship program is to lead to professional development or growth in position, growth in title, and they may be thinking that that's going to happen as a result of going through the mentorship program. If you don't address it directly, then that assumption is going to be out there. And when it doesn't happen, it may actually demotivate the individual who's been engaged to go through the process. And so level setting on what those expectations are and what each individual and the organization stand to get out of it, I think, is going to be really... It's an important best practice that will help the success of the program.

How should a person approach a potential mentor?
So I don't advise people to ask someone, "Will you be my mentor?" I think that's an awkward conversation to have. It's a really nice thing to be asked without necessarily understanding what comes along with it. And so for anyone who's asked that kind of question, I think it's important to turn it around with a question to say, "What exactly are you looking for and what are you hoping to get out of our time together?" If it is about learning more about our industry, learning more about a particular profession, or tapping into a level of experience, then it doesn't have to take the form of a mentorship conversation. It could simply be setting up a one-on-one touch base every month as an opportunity to pay it forward.

I actually have that set up right now with two of my team members. I've had the benefit professionally of working with some really generous senior leaders who took me under their wing because I was hungry, because I showed initiative and wanted to learn. And as a result, I was able to learn by doing, learn through osmosis, and by being able to ask some very candid questions of individuals who I work with. And because of that, I try to be generous with that information rather than keep it and assume that I'm the smartest in the room. I would rather pay it forward and give people who I work with and who report to me, whether it's directly or indirectly, the opportunity to learn from my experience. Even if they take 10% of it, I'm okay with that. And they can put that into their toolkit to be able to help round them out as a professional. And they can utilize that to become the professional that they want.

Can mentorship programs make a difference in engagement & retention?
I think so. I think companies are having to figure out how to attract and retain talent at all levels. I think engaging with people in a mentoring or a coaching relationship that adds value to an individual's professional growth is something that people are seeking. Whether they are going to make a decision because of that or whether that is an extra tick mark in the why I should stay or why I should join that company. I don't think many individuals are joining or not leaving an organization simply because of that, but it certainly does add value to an existing relationship or potential value to making a new commitment.

Connect with Jason Salamon on LinkedIn.

Watch the interview here on our YouTube Channel.


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