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Eight steps to launching a successful mentorship program. 


All parties benefit from mentorship, and doing so is much easier than you may think.
LAST UPDATED: November 20, 2023

Key Takeaways 

  • Mentorship should be accessible, fitting easily into both parties' schedules, and the right match is critical to a good mentorship.
  • Mentors care about their own growth as much as their mentees.
  • Casual connections over coffee or tea are often more productive than highly structured interactions.
  • Creating a successful mentor program involves an 8-step process.
  • Informal mentor programs can help organizations reduce employee turnover, increase engagement, advance diversity and inclusion, and nurture future leaders.

Listen: Eight steps to launching a successful mentorship program. 

In one of our live InsideOut Sessions, we had Felix Lee, the 27-year-old co-founder of the global mentoring platform ADPList, speak to our community about the importance of mentorship. 

Initially dubbed the “Amazing Design People List – COVID-19 Layoffs,” that spreadsheet quickly went viral in North America. And Lee and his co-founder James Baduor noticed that one particular tab, titled “GET A PORTFOLIO REVIEW,” received more attention than anything else on the document. This human-centered insight—that personalized advice from established Designers was every bit as valuable to Junior Designers as an actual job—led to the founding of ADPList.

Just three years later, ADPList has become the world's largest dedicated mentoring platform, boasting 170,000 members, 16,000 verified mentors, and 30,000 monthly mentorship sessions across 140 nations. Their mission: to democratize mentorship for all. 

Lee, however, will be the first to state that, contrary to what many may believe, mentorship done right doesn't require a dedicated platform, formal structures, or, least of all, paid programs. In fact, he points to several “universal truths” he's learned in creating and growing ADPList that can successfully decouple satisfying mentorship from formal programs of any kind. He acknowledges some of these insights can feel counterintuitive, but they are key to squeezing maximum impact from informal mentorship opportunities.

It needs to be accessible

First, Lee says, mentorship must be convenient, fitting easily into both parties' schedules. 

“We've discovered that mentorship should be very accessible and accommodate many kinds of interactions. If this is in a setting with your own manager, for example, just ask for a single meeting to begin with. Keep it casual, and make it as easy as possible for the person whose time you're requesting.”

It can often be helpful in establishing a first meeting to treat it a little like a two-way interview and avoid using the word “mentorship” at all by instead focusing on the specific outcomes you'd like to achieve at the end of a single session (regardless of which party is initiating the proposed meeting). 

The most common sorts of outcomes Lee sees in mentorship tend to be:

  • Knowledge and skills.
  • Opportunities (e.g., advancements or new roles).
  • Access to the mentor's professional network.
  • Skill-based instruction.
  • Career guidance.

Lee adds a sixth, less tangible outcome that he feels may be as important as any of the others: Hope. 

Hope means a mentee finally sees a real chance for them to be part of this community and industry. That can't come from books and videos. Mentorship provides access to this kind of hope in ways nothing else can.

Felix Lee Co-Founder of ADPList

The right match 

Lee also says that matching up with the “right” person is critical to a good mentorship. Think about which of the above outcomes is most important to you, and then think hard about who is best placed to help you meet those outcomes. Go into a first meeting with a plan to see if the other party also has similar interests. If the first session goes well, and there's a sense of alignment, agree to one or two further sessions together and allow the relationship to grow organically.

Mentor growth 

It's important to remember that mentors care as much about how they are growing from the interaction as they do about the impact on those they're mentoring. For example, Lee says that ADPList's own data shows that leaders who've mentored on the platform for 3–4 months report an increase in their team's agility, and 80% report greater job satisfaction. “Good mentorship isn't a one-way street or a purely charitable effort. Our experience is that mentors get as much out of this as those they're mentoring.” 

Examples of the benefits to leaders who mentor include growing their leadership skills, developing a reputation as an advisor and guide for others, strengthening their emotional intelligence and communication skills, gaining new perspectives on their own work and career, and strengthening their professional network.

And, of course, the benefits to the organization of even informal mentorship arrangements include reducing employee turnover, increasing engagement among employees, advancing diversity and inclusion, and nurturing future leaders.

Create casual connection

Casual connections, say over coffee or tea, are often more productive for both mentors and mentees than highly structured interactions, provided those interactions are with the right person (see above). 

A good mentorship doesn't need to be tightly structured or require a lot of preparation. Often the best outcomes are associated with interactions that are simply about relationship building rather than ticking off predefined bullet points on an agenda.

Felix Lee Co-Founder of ADPList

8 steps to creating a mentor program

ADPList partners with clients such as Meta, Google, Spotify, Apple, Twitter, LinkedIn, Nike, Netflix, and other enterprises as a purpose-built platform for their mentorship needs. But Lee also observes that moving beyond informal mentorship arrangements and building a high-impact in-house mentorship program can be achieved with a low-fidelity, minimal-budget effort. He recommends following these eight basic steps:

Define the purpose and goals of the program 

The first step in setting up a mentorship program is to define its purpose and goals. Are you looking to develop leadership skills, increase employee retention, improve diversity and inclusion, or achieve some other goal? Your program's purpose and goals will inform its structure and operations.

Identify mentors and mentees

Depending on the purpose of your program, you will need to identify potential mentors and mentees. This might involve inviting senior employees to serve as mentors, or it might involve partnering with an external organization to provide mentors. Likewise, you'll need to determine who the mentees will be—new hires, employees looking to advance, etc. 

Create a matching process 

Decide how you will pair mentors and mentees. Some programs use a formal matching process, where program administrators pair mentors and mentees based on certain criteria (such as career goals, interests, or areas of expertise). Other programs use a more informal process where mentors and mentees choose each other.

Educate them 

For mentors, training might include instruction on how to provide guidance and support, how to give feedback, and how to handle sensitive topics. For mentees, training might cover how to set goals, how to ask for help, and how to make the most of the mentorship relationship.

Establish communication 

Regular communication is key to a successful mentorship relationship. Establish a schedule for regular check-ins and provide guidelines for communication between meetings. This might include regular meetings, email updates, or other forms of communication.

Measure success 

Decide how you will measure the success of your program. This might include tracking the career progression of mentees, monitoring retention rates, collecting feedback from participants, or assessing the achievement of specific learning outcomes.

Continuous improvement 

Always be learning and iterating. By constantly evaluating and refining the program, mentors can provide better guidance and support. This helps mentees grow personally and professionally. Continuous improvement creates a dynamic learning environment that leads to long-term success and development.

Promote the program

Whether through internal marketing, word-of-mouth, or partnerships, promote the program to the people you are serving. By spreading awareness about the program, more people can access valuable resources and expertise, leading to personal and professional growth. Promoting a mentorship program fosters a culture of learning and collaboration, benefiting both individuals and the community as a whole.

The benefits

Though eight steps may seem like a lot, the benefits far outweigh the upfront costs. Reducing employee turnover, increasing engagement among employees, advancing diversity and inclusion, and nurturing future leaders are among the top staff concerns for many senior leaders, especially in the design field. And supporting the growth of those creative leaders through new pathways is of great importance to any organization looking to evolve. 

So, if your aim is to level up your team, mentor programs are an effective way to make that dream a reality.

If you're a senior design, experience, or operations leader of an in-house team at a high-profile brand and want to connect with others who share your unique challenges, let's talk. Our InsideOut community hosts roundtables to support the learning and growth of our members, and I'm honored to facilitate those discussions.