River is a business mentoring software. It is designed for use within corporations and other professional entities, such as federal government agencies, with the intended audience being adults who work within the same organization. The company’s focus is to promote intra-organizational mentoring and knowledge sharing. Below is our interview with Chris Browning, the President of River:
Q: Chris, tell us something more about the company and your history?
A: River created the first commercially available online e-mentoring platform in late 1999/early 2000. Known at the time as Open Mentoring, our software was the first of its kind that allowed businesses to launch large-scale mentoring programs where the matching between mentees and mentors was done via technology, rather than by people using a spreadsheet to manually match people up. Today, our River mentoring software not only uses our proprietary matching algorithm to match people in mentoring pairs, it also helps people form mentoring groups, helps them communicate to one another in their relationships, gives them ideas for professional development activities, measures their progress toward development goals, and captures wide-ranging program metrics for administrators.
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Q: Who are the primary users of River software and what are some of the key challenges you are helping them solve?
A: Prior to creating our mentoring platform, we were a consulting company who went by the name Triple Creek Associates. We worked with businesses on organizational development initiatives, such as leadership development, team development, professional development, and the like. Through this work, we saw a growing need for broader access to mentoring. Employees consistently reported that they wanted mentoring, but due to the lack of technology at the time and subsequent time/energy constraints among those who were manually running programs, most companies focused their mentoring efforts on small, limited programs available to the “select few,” who were often hand-picked high potentials and/or minority populations. We saw this as a critical deficit in corporate mentoring programs and set out to change the way businesses engaged in mentoring.
When we first launched our mentoring software nearly 20 years ago, the primary challenges we addressed were making it easier for administrators to run a mentoring program, helping companies get more people engaged in mentoring, making it simpler and less time-consuming for administrators (and the mentees and mentors themselves) to make matches between people, and positively impacting people’s development. These resolutions have not changed over the years, but we’ve certainly added to them.
Today, we help companies implement mentoring programs to address:
• Leadership development
• Employee engagement
• Onboarding new hires
• Supporting recently promoted employees (e.g., new manager development)
• Employee productivity
• Retention efforts/reducing attrition
• Diversity and inclusion initiatives
• High-potential development
• Succession planning
• Extending training efforts through continuous learning and on-the-job support
• Retaining knowledge among employees/mitigating the brain drain
River helps our clients build a diverse and talented workforce, with many of our clients using mentoring to create a culture of learning, sharing, development, opportunity, and growth.
Q: What makes River unique in the market?
A: River is an extremely flexible Software as a Service (SaaS) solution that can be configured on numerous levels. From traditional paired mentoring to more modern group mentoring and reverse mentoring, clients are able to fine-tune River so that it can be leveraged for any number of distinct programs that a client needs to manage.
As we’ve worked with clients over the years, we’ve discovered that a single, large, open, come-one-come-all mentoring program is not the best option for most organizations. Most of our clients require separate mentoring programs for distinct audiences of mentors and mentees, based on the overarching goals of their development programs. River can accommodate this by bringing the focus of mentoring and the associated configuration options down to a program level. A client is able to concurrently run as many separate mentoring programs via River as they need to at a given point in time, with the flexibility to control the distinct configurations that are required for each specific program.
Within each program, clients can determine and control key areas. For example, they can control the audience by determining who can participate in their mentoring programs and which role each person is permitted to play (i.e., mentee, mentor, or both). The great thing here with River is that users can play different roles in different programs. For example, Jane might be a mentee in the women’s leadership mentoring group, but a mentor in the onboarding program. Clients have full control over how they set up these programs and audiences.
Some other factors that clients can control at the program level include specifying how people connect with one another, such as via self-directed matching or administrator matching; resources and learning assets that clients can curate for each program to help support their participants, such as videos, job aids, and mentoring guides; mass communication functionality via River’s Announcement feature that lets clients send out timely and important messages to participants on a program-by-program basis; and analytics capabilities, such as with our integrated Monitoring Check-in feature that lets administrators send out program-specific surveys that can be configured with any number of questions and set up to automatically send via email to participants with the frequency or cadence that makes sense for their specific program.
While all of these features stand out to our clients as important and unique, perhaps the most unique feature that sets River apart is our proprietary matching algorithm. River’s matching algorithm provides a wealth of options for clients when it comes to configurations and control, allowing for greater flexibility in how matches are made program-by-program. River’s algorithm can be configured to include and weight a single factor or a large number of criteria, depending on specific program needs. While not limited to the following, the most common criteria being used by our clients today include:
• Competency alignment, which provides insights on which mentors are able and willing to mentor on the competencies that the mentee wants to learn. When participants log into River, they select their competencies from a list provided by the client and then indicate their level of expertise for each competency selected, using a 5-point scale that ranges from No Experience to Expert. These level-set competencies help the algorithm make relevant matches and suggestions for people. You don’t necessarily want the most extreme expert being the mentor to someone with no experience. You typically want someone separated by one to two levels of experience, and our algorithm can be configured to accommodate that.
• Business function, which lets clients determine if people from certain business areas in the organization will show up higher in the search results within a specific program. We have encountered some programs, for example onboarding, where it is imperative that a mentor comes from the same business unit as the mentee. Yet for another program, for example high potential development, the client may want to promote cross-functional connections as a benefit to the mentoring process. To that end, River includes the ability to weight mentors from a certain business unit or department higher than others relative to the mentee’s own function.
• Job levels, which can be helpful if one of the goals of a specific program is to ensure that mentees connect with mentors who are at least one or two job levels higher or more senior than they are.
• Location or geography, which clients can use to determine matches as well. For example, one program might be focused on making sure mentees are matched with someone who they will have a better chance of connecting with face-to-face, while in another program, the client may want search results to prioritize mentors who are not located nearby in order to promote geographical diversity. River can be configured to suit the client’s needs.
River’s matching algorithm can accommodate these configurations and more, making it a game-changer for mentoring software on the market.
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Q: What are your plans?
A: We have some exciting enhancements and projects on the horizon for River. We just finished up a new Monitoring Check-in feature that brings more consistency and accountability to mentoring relationships. Administrators can set up automatic check-in surveys that the mentees and mentors complete, which provide insights into how the relationships are progressing, which relationships may need a “nudge” from a program administrator, whether adjustments need to be made, for example to the expectations being communicated to program participants, etc. And while I don’t want to give away all of our secrets for our future plans, the main theme driving us into the next year is making mentoring as easy as we can for administrators. Our clients will be seeing some great developments on that front.
Q: What’s the best thing about River that people might not know about?
A: Here at River, we like to describe ourselves as a full-service mentoring solution, not just a mentoring software provider. We encourage our clients to “do more with mentoring,” and to assist with that, we offer consulting services and training options, which, together with our software, provide our clients with a holistic approach to ensure success with their mentoring initiatives. Our collaborative style to strategic program design, wherein we work hand-in-hand with our clients to create both high-level, overarching strategies and align those strategies with detailed plans, allows us to cover important program implementation and expansion topics, such as: mentee and mentor recruitment, program marketing and promotion, stakeholder socialization, measurement strategies and ROI calculations, and risk mitigation. We’ve also expanded our training and education services to include mentor and mentee training, mentor certification, learning group leader certification, and train-the-trainer options. In short, our clients are never alone. We are always by their side as they launch, manage, measure, and scale their mentoring programs.
Many clients and people in the world of human resources and organizational/talent development see River as the thought leader in mentoring, and we take that very seriously. For us, it isn’t enough to simply sell mentoring software. While good software, like our River product, will help make the management of mentoring programs more effective and efficient, to truly work, it needs to be aligned with strategy and associated plans. Quite frankly, anyone who claims that their mentoring software will run itself is simply trying to make a quick sale and/or is ignorant around how mentoring actually works. Software needs to be implemented within the framework of a strategy, which is why we focus on providing a solution for our clients, as it is in the entirety of the solution that we are able to help ensure success. At the end of the day, we love what we do and look forward to helping our clients do more with mentoring.Activate Social Media: