Could your organization benefit from encouraging employee knowledge sharing?

In a recent Human Resource Executive survey, HR professionals listed developing leaders, ensuring employees remain engaged and retaining key talent as the three biggest challenges facing their organization.

Many organizations also acknowledge that succession planning is an important goal. A WorldatWork report found that 82 percent of companies said they use succession plans as a key method to replace individuals who are critical to the organization’s success.

Succession planning, however, hasn’t completely calmed leadership’s fears. Only about half (51 percent) told WorldatWork they feel confident their organization can hold on to crucial talent.

Companies may not be able to predict the future and accurately gauge which workers will stay and which will go. They can, however, begin to address their employee retention and succession planning needs with an alternate approach: mentoring programs.

A mentoring program can enhance and encourage both healthy work relationships and leadership development, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Mentees can gain valuable career insight and a sense they’re valued; but they aren’t the only ones who benefit. A 2013 study, published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, on mentoring’s effect on careers, found that employee mentors experienced higher job satisfaction and were more devoted to their employer.

Structuring a mentoring program, in many ways, involves common sense: Most programs last between six months and two years, according to Inc.

Experts recommend you establish a structure, so mentors and mentees know when they’ll interact. It’s also important to also set goals to determine what the mentoring program participants and your company hope to gain from the program.

There are, however, a number of other elements that can help make your mentoring program a truly effective employee retention and succession planning tool:

Ensure your mentoring program echoes your company culture. If you have a relaxed work environment, Inc. recommends potentially letting mentors and mentees plan most of the details. If your organization is fairly formal, you may want to consider asking participants to apply and setting time and other requirements.

Opt for eager participants. Stress the mentor and mentee benefits— for example, higher positions and pay. A study that Sun Microsystems issued several years ago on its mentoring program found that 25 percent of employees who participated in the program later experienced a salary grade change, according to Knowledge@Wharton, an online business journal from the Wharton School. Just 5 percent of a control group comprised of employees who didn’t participate in the program had a salary change.

Mentors also benefitted from participating in the program. The study found they were promoted six times more often than employees who did not participate in the program.

You don’t necessarily have to pair employees. By offering mentoring seminars, networking and other events, you can encourage employees to choose their own mentor, according to CBS News, which may help increase employees’ participation in the program.

Fashion forward-thinking viewpoints: Mentoring participants need to look beyond the next year or two when discussing younger employees’ plans. The relationship should center on a mentor helping a mentee create a career strategy and plan for the future, according to the National Mentoring Partnership.

Consider nontraditional mentors and mentees: The classic mentor and mentee relationship involves an older employee coaching a younger one. But that isn’t the only option. Younger employees may be able to share a number of skills, such as multicultural awareness and tech knowledge, with their boss or other experienced team members, according to OPENForum.

Show, Don’t Tell: U.S. News & World Report suggests being a proactive mentor—bring your mentee to meetings, and discuss why you reacted to and said certain things.

If your company can’t currently support a mentoring program, or isn’t ready to launch one, you can work to increase retention levels and succession planning in other ways.

For additional ideas, view our recent blog posts on succession planning examples and 10 inexpensive ways to improve your employee value proposition.