in How to Reward Your Mentors

Dig for Victory


Want your mentors to show up and dig in? Give your mentors badges.

The Boy Scouts may have gotten there first, but everyone knows that people love badges. Like awards, they’re a way to reward accomplishment and signify membership or affiliation. The world may be awash in startup awards, but badges are curiously underused and remain a powerful, untapped way to drive mentor behavior.

Measure and differentiate mentor engagement

Engaging mentors is tough. The good ones are busy and there’s plenty else for them to do. There are plenty of mentor programs and they all promise the same mix of ‘amazing’, ‘new’ technology, ‘inspirational’ entrepreneurs, and ‘valuable’ networking. There are mentor dinners and panel events. It’s all rather intangible.

The value add for mentors is especially intangible when mentor programs only offer mentors the opportunity to call themselves ‘mentor’. Anyone can call themself a mentor at almost any program. Show up once for drinks and you’re a mentor. Show up every week, introduce program teams to investors, broker a startup’s first contract with a corporate customer – and you’re still just a ‘mentor’.

Use badges to drive mentor behavior

Count something and you get more of it. Make the badges transparent and quantifiable. You want mentor engagement? Hand out badges for ’X mentor sessions attended”. Hand out badges for years of mentor service. Create a badge for ‘founder mentors’ who have been with your program since launch. List what it takes to earn each badge clearly on your website.

Make the badges visible

LinkedIn is an easy place to let people post their badges. Your website is fine, but your website is probably designed to appeal to startups. One of the best places for most of your mentors to show off their work is on LinkedIn, so enable them to post their badges there.

Use badges instead of awards

Badges are cost effective. Awards take a lot of work to build into prestigious brands. They also take a lot of time and money. Your average two-year old startup has a whole shelf of awards. Many mentors can say the same. Trophies are marketing tools for the people awarding them. Bluntly put, the average award plus five dollars will almost pay for a cup of coffee.

A badge is different

A badge lets you and your mentors quantify what they have done. It is a step towards demonstrating the value they create. Napoleon said that a man would risk his life for a ribbon, but not for a bag of gold. He was onto something. Badges work. Use them to get your mentors involved – and to keep them involved.

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