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HR’s Role in Facilitating Mentorship, Formal or Informal

When you think of the people who have had the greatest positive impact on your career, who comes to mind?

Maybe a supervisor encouraged you to tackle a project you weren’t sure you could handle. Or a peer told you the helpful but difficult truth that drastically improved your communication with others. Perhaps a teammate on your company’s soccer team gives you an outsider’s perspective on situations within your own team.

Mentors of all kinds are advantageous for employee growth. In these relationships, employees should receive feedback, encouragement, practical help, career advice and learning opportunities that extend past the scope of what HR is able to influence. And that benefits your entire company.

However, HR has a weighty role in encouraging and cultivating an environment where both formal and informal mentoring relationships can thrive.

team placing flag

Benefits of formal programs

Understandably, executives and even HR can be wary of creating formal mentorship programs – they might feel forced and do take some logistical effort to implement. However, structuring such a program is scalable in a way that case-by-case pairings never can be. It’s often more equitable, too, giving women and minority employees a chance to join networks to which they might otherwise not have access.

On top of those benefits, a formal mentorship program makes it possible for your HR department to quantify the results of your efforts. Measuring graduates is one way to prove efficacy; for example, Paycom’s LEAD program has graduated more than 500 developing leaders over the last three years and likely will add another 300 alumni this year alone.

You might also track how many participants have received promotions or raises, or how many have taken on mentees of their own. Generating these metrics translates your work throughout the year into tangible business results you can share with company leadership.

Team org chart

Encouraging informal programs

Mentoring relationships that crop up organically are rewarding for your workers as well. While HR naturally can’t make these relationships happen, they can promote a work environment that helps spark them. Encouraging collaboration, rather than competition, during projects across and within teams helps.

Facilitating shared-interest clubs does this as well. HR’s role here is to help coordinate the logistics of these groups – creating an on-ramp for different types of clubs to form – and then letting employees take ownership.

You can (and should) set clear parameters, such as meeting outside of work hours and maintaining your company’s code of conduct. It’s helpful to provide some structure to new clubs, but you don’t have to assign an HR representative to run each group. As long as the clubs remain respectful places for your employees to gather, HR can be as active or involved as you have capacity for. That’s good news, especially if your department is strapped for time or staff.

If your organization is able to pursue both formal and informal mentoring strategies, the company and employees can benefit exponentially. The more ways HR can encourage these relationships, the more opportunities your employees will have to receive the same kinds of positive impact your mentors had on you.