Bakers Journal

Seven steps to building a solid mentoring program for your bakery

January 18, 2022
By Bert Thornton and Dr. Sherry Hartnett

A well-designed, well-executed, scalable mentoring program allows you to connect experienced employees with new hires in a powerful way. It helps your pizzeria attract and retain talent, improves employee satisfaction, improves operational performance, builds a strong team and reduces training budgets.

Building a thriving mentoring program with great return on investment is within every business’s reach, regardless of budget or experience. Dr. Sherry Hartnett, who is founding director of the University of West Florida’s Executive Mentor Program, has identified seven vital steps to help your business create a robust, successful and lasting mentoring program.

Step 1: Define your ‘why’

Decide what you want your program to achieve. For instance, do you want to increase the number of minorities in leadership positions, retain valuable employees, or onboard high-potential new hires? When you describe how mentoring will improve your organization, you can thoughtfully shape a successful program and get buy-in from leaders, mentors, mentees and other stakeholders.

Step 2: Find the right program champion

The person who heads up your program will have a profound impact on its strategy, execution, and, ultimately, its success. Dr. Hartnett suggests his or her primary focus should be leading your mentoring program, as adding such a large task to an existing workload would cause the champion to struggle on both fronts. She also recommends this person be an opportunity-focused connector who is confident, tenacious, and accountable.

“Put a lot of thought into this decision, because it will make or break your program,” she says.

Step 3: Set goals and metrics

Align your mentoring program with your business objectives and identify metrics you can use to measure movement toward those goals. For instance, you might want to increase top-employee retention by 10 per cent from last year, or double the number of women in management positions within 18 months.

“Tracking this data will tell you whether your program is succeeding and what you may need to change,” notes Dr. Hartnett. “It will also tangibly illustrate to senior leaders why mentoring should be a continued priority.”

Step 4: Build your program (but start small)

Dr. Hartnett warns against “diving in.” Before the first mentor-mentee pair meets, you should secure any necessary funding, staff and supplies. Systems should be in place for selecting mentors and mentees, training and communicating with participants and evaluating the program.

“But remember, the enemy of greatness is perfection,” says Dr. Hartnett. “It’s okay to start with a small pilot program to work out any kinks.”

Step 5: Recruit and connect

It’s essential to attract, screen and train great mentors (but don’t make it compulsory!). Likewise, decide what your ideal mentee looks like (for example, people who have been with the organization at least three years or high-potential new hires). Then, thoughtfully match mentor resources to mentee needs, striving for common interests between the two.

“Both parties must understand up front what the length of the mentorship will be (I suggest a renewable 12-month period), how often meetings will take place, what the goals are, and that there will be work involved,” says Dr. Hartnett.

Step 6: Nurture your people and your program

Even the best-designed mentoring program won’t function for long on autopilot. It’s crucial to provide plenty of ongoing support. Organizing a keynote speaker at a meeting, setting up a networking event and publishing a regular newsletter are all great ways to reinforce initial training and nurture the connections being made. Also, find ways to invite regular feedback from each participant and use that information to improve processes.

Step 7: Measure to improve

Whether capturing results and feedback is accomplished through surveys, performance reviews, or other methods, data is vital to the progression and scalability of your program. It allows you to review, revise and continuously improve your mentoring program.

“I suggest measuring outcomes semi-annually or annually,” Dr. Hartnett says. “You can also informally poll and interview participants throughout the year. And don’t underestimate the little things – small tweaks can lead to significant results!”

“Don’t skip any of these seven steps; all are crucial to successfully achieving your organization’s mentoring goals,” says Dr. Hartnett. “And when you reach the end of the seventh step, circle back to the beginning. Continuing to cycle through these seven steps and always giving critical thought to improving your program will keep it vital, relevant, and results-driven for years to come.”

This overview of the seven-steps framework is excerpted from High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives, a new book Dr. Hartnett co-authored with former Waffle House president and chief operations officer Bert Thornton. High-Impact Mentoring is available through BookLogix, 2021, ISBN: 978-1-6653-0344-6.

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