HR Minute

The Benefits of Mentoring Programs in the Workplace

About This Episode

In this episode, Jeffrey Fermin interviews Ashley Werhun, the CEO and founder of Mentorly, a corporate mentorship software. We discuss the importance of corporate mentorship and how it can be improved. Ashley shares also shares her background and the inspiration behind starting Mentorly.

About The Guest

Ashley Werhun is the CEO and Co-Founder of Mentorly.com, and is on a mission to make mentorship accessible, and reliable to all.

Episode Transcription

Welcome to the HR Minute podcast by All Voices. I'm your host, Jeffrey Fermin, and today we have a guest who will talk about corporate mentorship. Her name is Ashley Werhun, and she's the CEO and founder of Mentorly. Ashley, why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself?

Sure, thanks, Jeff, for having me on. Like you said, I'm the co-founder of Mentorly. We're a SaaS company that builds infrastructure so that people can run better and more successful mentorship programs.

We have been in the market for years now and I've seen a lot of companies either ramp up brand new mentorship programs with us or kind of change from some manual to automation so that they can better scale their mentorship offerings. And I'm really excited to be here.

Wonderful. And I have to ask, why did you choose to go into the corporate mentorship space?

That's a great question. I have a non-traditional background to be a tech founder. I was a professional ballerina for 12 years, touring around the world with some of the best companies. And when you're that high up in any career, you get a lot of requests for mentorship and people were coming with pretty life-changing questions like, should I go to Juilliard? Should I go directly? And it felt like the process of getting high-quality mentorship was really broken. That's the first initial thought behind Mentorly. And after years of development and listening to the market, it was very apparent that mentorship is largely delivered through programs.

However, a lot of those programs are under delivering; they're manual, there's no tracking, and people's experiences were sort of unpredictable. Some people had 10 out of 10 life-changing experiences and others never even got a meeting. So looking at that gap, there was a clear in and white space to really improve this experience.

So then everywhere, no matter where they worked or what community organization they were in, they could have a top-tier experience with mentorship.

That's amazing. I feel like mentorship has been a forgotten notion, especially given how fast-paced today's society is. We're very busy nowadays.

Key Elements of Successful Mentorship Programs

We're always constantly moving and trying to upskill by having our heads down and really just trying to work all the time. So with that said, what makes a mentorship program successful, especially in today's day and age?

Yeah, so, as you alluded to, a lot of people collect information as they go, right?

If you're at a job, you're going to use Google a lot. You're going to use chat to PT. And as you hit roadblocks, you want to gather the information to make better decisions. We're seeing a huge drop-off in recorded learning materials. So just general training, how companies do training, there's very little retention and comprehension of that material.

Oftentimes people stay for like 2 out of the first 100 minutes. So live learning is a really important way for people to connect and learn the lessons that colleagues or some of the folks that are above them have already come to those problem areas and then kind of display that information down. So in today's day and age, Gen Z and millennials actually value career growth opportunities and mentorship akin to their salary.

So it's super important when they're going into a workplace or starting at a new job that the company is offering them some growth opportunities, whether that's promoting them to new roles, but also growing themselves. I think in your 20s and 30s is a really right time to invest in yourself and grow on the other side, mentors.

You know, you can kind of lose the lackluster in your role. It's often hard to remember how good you are, the lessons that you learned in your past. So the mentorship programs offer this opportunity for a change of data and information to boost confidence, to feel seen and heard. If you're going through something hard at work to have a mentor saying, I've gone through that almost exact same scenario.

This is the outcome. You're not going to copy their answer, but it really helps people grow. But to set up these programs, it's quite complicated. Essentially you're dealing with a little bit of a marketplace, right? You have a pool of mentees and a pool of mentors. So you have to decide on some fundamental elements when you're setting up this program.

So the first is who you're serving. So you're going to decide in your program, who are the target audience for mentees? Is it everyone in the company? Is it new hires? Is it interns? Is it a specific group within the company? And then who are the best mentors for them? You're going to decide what set up the program has, is it 1 on 1 matching?

Are you going to set 2 people up for 6 months time to learn from each other, or will it be more of this ala carte experience, which is really popular right now and where the mentees can choose who they're talking to, they can understand what their background is, what their skills are a little bit more about them, read about them and then request a session with them, a 1 on 1. So after you've established that, then you can go into the other fundamentals, like matching setup, which obviously you can use our matching algorithms to do better. And then kicking back to reporting and satisfaction. So those are the kind of 5 main areas that you really want to consider.

When setting up a mentorship program, mentorship actually is a kind of a key word in all people conversations in terms of retention and skills transfer, but it's really being able to take it from an abstract strategy and put it into something that you offer in your company and you're doing it.

Every single quarter for a population of the company, we've seen a lot of mistrust build between employees and companies where companies since 2020 have made quite big promises to employees in manifestos and these announcements and articles. And then when a company joins, I think, like, well, where is that?

Where does that live in the company? And so mentorship is often a catch-all people solution, but I think the key is to actually implement it. Track it and make sure that you're offering it to your employees as they grow.

Incorporating DEI into Mentorship Programs

So quick personal story. As a Hispanic person that's been in tech for over a dozen years, I found it very difficult early on in my career. And even now to a certain extent to find mentorship, you obviously don't want to go around asking people to say, Hey, can you be my mentor? But I think everybody does want some kind of a hand-holding for lack of a better term.

With that said, a lot of new DEI initiatives that have been pushed out in the past couple of years. We're in a very interesting era when it comes to work. I'd like to know your thoughts on how can DEI be incorporated into mentorship programs to make sure that there's less situations like myself or I'm sure like others face where they might not be getting mentorship because, you know, they want to connect with somebody that's very similar to them.

That's a great question. So, you have to think of even diversity of personality, like, what type of person there is a subset of person that will be at the front of the room. They'll be raising their hand every time they believe they get mentorship that could be developed from their childhood.

Maybe they saw examples of people giving back. Maybe they saw examples of parents reaching out for help. They will be on the forefront of requesting mentorship. And so one of the goals when you're building a program is to make that experience possible, no matter how loud and upfront that worker is.

Oftentimes you'll miss talent and opportunity because, you know, they're more introverted. They're in the back of the room. They're not showcasing their work, but that person actually needs guidance. Maybe they have bigger ambitions within the company. And so when we're building tech, we think about the psychological barriers to even asking for the meeting.

And so when you're doing that, and you're building things like calendar connections and profile pictures and descriptions and intro messages to mentees to say, hey, this is why I'm part of this program. This is what I'd love to talk to all of those things help the barrier come down little by little.

Right? Because, especially the younger generation. They love to text. They would rather not chat on video. And so making that kind of a gamified experience so that they can easily request a meeting and they know exactly why it's really important. I think one of the benefits of a program is that it's not you're not just in the world looking for a mentor.

I think that's a really it's advice that's given often, but it's not very good advice when you're saying, just go and find a mentor like that can feel as impossible as finding your soulmate. Right? It's just, it's really complicated out there. You don't know if the mentors willing and ready to hop on a call and give that advice.

They might think you're interrupting them. And so by having their opt-in and their commitment to that program, you know that they're raising their hand. You talked a little bit about, you know, DEI and intimidation of reaching out. It's really important that you have someone at the company that's not your manager to speak to about career challenges, about questions.

You don't want to always be asking the people that you're reporting to and are tracking your performance. For some of those things, right?

Maybe some of those questions around. Hey, I know that's just how they talked about the culture, but what was your experience when you went on that leave? Like, what's the real, real here?

Can I talk to a senior woman about that experience? And then with our product, you can actually, if you have a strong DEI use case, so let's say you're serving women in the company or like you and your question, folks of Hispanic background. You can ask questions like, would you like to meet with someone that has a similar background or in the experience of choosing a mentor, you're going to have their profile picture.

Maybe in my office, I didn't have, you know, a black woman to look up to, but maybe in the London office there is, and I would have never even met her as a, as a young employee. And now I have the opportunity to reach out and make a relationship. So we have horizontal software, meaning like you can turn on and off different feature sets.

We do see some of the use cases be DEI focused and others not, but I think as we're building the product, you have to think about just the psychological barriers people go through to make the request for the meeting and then to give feedback for the meeting, right? Like, when we ask for feedback, it only goes to the program manager and it's secure there.

So you want to layer in some of those, like, barriers being lessened as you're building a product.

Strategies for Building Effective Mentorship in Organizations

 The one thing that I'd love to know is what can companies currently do to encourage mentorship and how can they facilitate it and how can they create an environment where mentoring is welcome for both mentees and mentors?

 Yeah, that's a good question. I think a lot of companies are dealing with no matter if you just went through a layoff, like we're seeing today, or you're expanding your company, Microsoft did an interesting study, and they released the different types of big data within companies. So, whether that's a bridging or bonding data, and so the bonding data was within team.

So, within your team, how close and connected are people like, who is meeting with whom who's getting work done. And then the bridging is team to team city to city. And after covid, what happened is teams got really focused, but small and they lost connections to other team in the company. So, when that happens.

And we've probably felt this even in our individual lives, right? Like, we're more selective with friends and we do smaller gatherings. But what happens is you lose the big picture of the company and then you don't have as much empathy for other teams and what they're working on. You also lose sight of opportunities within the company that you don't know exist.

And then when a macro changes comes, you don't understand the big picture of the company. And so to build those bridging data, the bridging connections between teams between cities, we obviously encourage to set up a formal program and you can focus on matching to have people from the California office be talking to folks from New York and vice versa, or within different lateral team connections.

I would say outside of mentorship programs, which I would love to talk about. Is how your your users, your employees interact with each other day to day. And so I would talk to your managers about how are they encouraging a learning culture within even their one on ones, like within a one on one, what is the structure of that, right?

Like, even internal at our company, we have in the sales one on one, it's a coaching session. Essentially, we're reviewing tape. We're going back. We're increasing the feedback each time. And then you can see people growing from week to week to week. And as their confidence increases, their outcomes increase, and it encourages a culture of learning.

And so that employee is always coming to the 1 on 1 with questions or roadblocks. Or perhaps they reflected on feedback that you gave last time that didn't work for them. And you're going to dive into that. So I think at both the manager structure of creating a learning culture within those meetings.

And at an organizational level, you can do this, but it's definitely not something. To slap on the values and and important culture notes and then not act on and the other thing is, is reflection and mirroring. If you see your leaders or people you look up to the company be operating in a certain way, they're always inquisitive and they're asking for feedback and they're giving thoughtful feedback.

The employees underneath them will follow suit. Especially people that are new to the professional world. We learned by observation. And so modeling I think is super important as well.  

Actually, fantastic interview. what is the best way to reach you and Mentorly online?

So we're at Mentorly.com. So you'll find us there. We're on every social you'll generally find us at, at Mentorly. And you can find me on LinkedIn is the best place. It will be. Ashley Werhun. So W E R H U N.

We'd love to talk to you hear more about what you're building in your companies or your networks and how can we kind of better help you manage your mentorship programs. Fantastic. And that concludes this episode of HR Minute. Ashley, thank you very much.  Thanks, Jeffrey.

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