February 28, 2021

Rachel Strella

Team-Boosting Benefits of a Small Business Mentor-Protege Program

Small business mentoring

When I started my business over ten years ago, it was a mentor who gave me the encouragement and guidance I needed to enter the realm of entrepreneurship. Mentorship has since been deeply rooted in my professional modus operandi. And recently, I felt impelled to expand on its possibilities within our organization.

So, several months ago, #Strella Social Media began a mentoring program to group team members into mentor-protege pairs. The program has gotten rave reviews from the individuals participating in it. Given its success thus far, I wanted to share how it’s enhancing our business model and what our team members find particularly valuable about it. I hope that other business owners will consider the potential advantages of implementing a similar initiative within their companies. This can work whether your team consists of hired employees, independent contractors, or both. Participation of independent contractors is voluntary, but my ICs have been eager to join the effort because the process benefits their businesses as well as mine.

#Strella Social Media’s Mentoring Program Structure

We approach mentoring in two different ways.

1. Core Values Strengths-Based Mentoring

The way our leadership team determines mentor-protégé pairs is to match a team member who excels in one of the #Strella core values with another team member who may have not yet developed strength in that area. For example, if a team member has demonstrated exceptional communications skills, we would pair them with someone who could benefit from coaching focused on elevating their communications skills so that they align with our organization’s expectations.

2. Mentorship as a Part of Onboarding New Contractors

In January 2021, we also started to include mentoring as an automatic part of our onboarding process. New team members are paired with an experienced mentor to learn about our company culture, values, and expectations.

Team Takeaways

What Mentors Had to Say

1. Facilitates Shared Objectives and Consistent Performance Across the Team

“For me, the mentoring program has been a great reminder that we should be patient with new team members. It can be trying to learn the nuances. I also think touching base with other people in the company helps keep everyone on the same page. They say you're only as strong as your weakest link, so I think it's on the mentors to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to strengthen their skills and perform well.” 

2. Deepens Relationships

“The thing I got out of it was getting to know my mentees better. I always think that it is important to try and have as many personal relationships as possible in all aspects of our lives. With all of us working at home and from behind computer screens, I think the mentoring opportunity has helped provide a 'realness' to our relationships. COVID-19 has closed off people from others and limited interpersonal interactions. The mentoring program has created a door for us to walk through to connect as humans.” 

What Mentees Had to Say

1. Promotes Feelings of Belonging and Being Understood

I was in the process of a lot of big things happening in my life, including being newly married, starting out on my own after college, moving across the country, and hunting for an apartment. My mentor reached out and talked to me about those things. She made me feel like she really cared about what was going on in my life. It was helpful feeling like I had someone to talk to in a crazy time in my life.”

2. Encourages Open Communication and Self-Development

“The mentorship program has been a very positive experience for me. My mentor offers encouragement and support, and helpful advice, which has been useful for both work and life. She is helping me to think more strategically and to make better decisions. Our conversations have been open and honest, and I enjoy learning from her.”  

3. Allows for Personal Interaction in a Remote Environment

“I've enjoyed the mentoring experience so far, mostly thanks to the person that I have been paired up with. She is so much fun to talk to and takes on a 'motherly' role, making it super easy to bring up concerns, vent, or discuss what's going on outside of work. It's been a really great experience to just chat, which is essential since our work is all remote and we don't get the experience of 'office talk' like you would in a traditional workplace.” 

4. Instills Self-Confidence and Improves Work Performance

“I feel that the mentoring program is a great way to connect strong mentors to new mentees. It's so important to create a workplace where you feel comfortable asking questions of those with experience and insight. When you work as a contractor and have a remote job, it can be difficult to connect with other team members. Pairing new contractors with seasoned contractors creates an environment where the mentees feel comfortable asking questions, taking risks, and reaching out. It helps minimize mistakes while allowing contractors to feel more connected and confident in their work. The mentoring program creates a more engaging work environment for everyone even though we all work from home.”

Core Values: The Cornerstone of Success

Well-defined and firmly established core values are essential for developing empowered, high-performing team members, whether they're employees or contractors. According to Andrew Defrancesco these values need to be central to a mentoring program to enable it to align the strengths of diverse individuals and create a collaborative, communicative group culture. For more on the topic of core values, I highly recommend leadership coach Chad Harvey's blog and David Friedman’s book, Fundamentally Different.

Your turn! Have you either started a mentoring program or participated in one? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. Leave a comment and keep the conversation going!

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