Mentoring lessons learned – a tale

Mentoring Exchanges, in collaboration with our partner, Swasti Health Catalyst, have just completed a final review of our mentoring programme and are eager to share our mentoring lessons learned.

Before we share our results, let us briefly introduce the programme and players involved:

Introductions – The Programme, and the cast of characters

The Programme

Mentoring Exchanges partnered with Swasti Health Catalyst to create a bespoke mentoring programme as part of Swasti’s overall leadership development initiatives. The mentoring programme was designed for Swasti’s leaders and potential leaders, and piloted for a period of 6 months. The programme personally matched Swasti staff with mentors. The mentoring was developmental: i.e. focusing on developing the mentee’s confidence and skills, and providing mentoring around career advancement, management and leadership development.

The characters

Mentoring Exchanges is a mentoring programme that matches global development professionals with executives and academics from around the world. The programme creates the space for mentoring conversations around career advancement, management and leadership.

Swasti Health Catalyst is an NGO that designs, delivers and supports solutions for the health and wellbeing of the poor throughout India. They believe that health and wellbeing are best achieved when behaviours, systems and social determinants are addressed together. Their initiatives are, therefore, designed to address the personal, social, economic and environmental factors which determine the health outcomes of people and communities.

In order to learn, grow, and improve the programme for the future, Mentoring Exchanges recently completed a final review of the programme. The purpose: to gather information on the experience of the mentees and the mentors.  We would like to share our results – our mentoring lessons learned.

Let’s take a look at what the mentees, mentors and the administrators had to say…


 What the mentees had to say…


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“I have increased clarity on my professional goals and the social environment of my domain. The sessions encouraged me to reflect more deeply and also guided the reflection to eliminate unwanted distraction. As a result, I spent more energy and time on important aspects of my professional journey.” – Swasti mentee

Key themes reported by the mentees:


The majority of the mentees stated that this programme helped them to a great or moderate extent to develop the skills and/or knowledge needed to take on greater roles and more challenges.


Benefits for the mentees included gaining new insights, and clarity on professional goals. The programme helped them to reflect and focus on important aspects, and to allocate time and energy differently. They gained practical skills in leadership and programme management; increasing their ability to achieve a better work/life balance.


The results of participating in the programme were wide-ranging. They included better self-understanding, career advancement and development planning, as well as work-life balance initiatives. It gave mentees a source of information on leadership and self-management; and helped improve communication skills and confidence. It enabled them to create a better work/life balance; to help direct reports to develop as an effective team; and improved their ability to influence others.


Mentees were able to learn from their mentor’s experience in a variety of aspects of management. Specific areas mentioned were: team management, confidence-building, time management, conflict resolution, and communications.



What the mentors had to say…

“In 18 years’ experience as a Supply Chain & Logistics Executive. I’ve never had the idea to be a mentor! We’ve never been aware, within all my different companies, that this may be a wonderful idea to share experience, background and ideas on how skills, behaviour and management can be done. This is an amazing job – to openly discuss the work environment and confront our thoughts or mindset. I absolutely loved this experience and I am happy to start again, this year, with Mentoring Exchanges! Thanks to them for having implemented this programme!” – Mentor

Here is what the mentors had to say:


80% of the mentors described their experience as a participant in the programme as good to excellent.  All participants answered positively when asked ‘will you participate in another round of mentoring?’

Benefits and results

Mentors reported that they benefited from the ability to help someone, by adding value and building capacity. This was also expressed by their personal satisfaction in being able to share their experience to help someone find a solution to the situations they faced. They also reported learning the difference between mentoring and coaching, as well as broadening their experience by working with people from different cultures and countries.


All felt that this programme helped their mentee to develop the skills and knowledge needed to take on larger roles and more challenges, to varying degrees. Overall, the relationship was mutually beneficial. For the mentors, it was satisfying to share their knowledge/experience, and also helped them to gain knowledge about different cultures, and the challenges faced by an NGO.


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What mentoring lessons did we learn?

For the programme managers, including our host partners, there were a lot of wonderful mentoring lessons learned, including some new insights, and some reminders.

– Mentoring as a  programme

There are many ways to do mentoring, and a wide range of choices – in the models used, the level of formality, parameters such as inter-industry matching, etc. We do not profess to have all the answers. But it is important to remind those who want to set up a mentoring programme that IT REQUIRES WORK and it NEEDS TO BE MANAGED. Mentoring – as a programme, process and/or relationship – is like any relationship that needs to be built, managed, nurtured, sustained, and, when the time comes, concluded.

Tip: Make sure that someone is managing the programme (a programme manager, where possible) and/or the relationship (have the mentor and mentee take responsibility).


– Timeliness of activities

Most activities took much longer than originally planned. For example, the initial contracting discussions, the completion of online applications, ensuring that pairs introduced themselves.

Tip: Make sure you build in contingency time. You will probably need it, and that’s ok – life happens!

– Best practice doesn’t always hold true

Mentoring best practice literature and other mentoring programmes champion certain practices, e.g. having mentoring agreements, mentoring logs, training and webinars. These did not always prove to be ‘best’, in our experience. In our experience, completing ‘agreements’, ‘logs’ and even training webinars may be viewed as additional (and unwelcome) burdens and/or simply may not be possible, given people’s workloads.

Tip: Be flexible. Start with best practice mentoring protocols and adapt them to your context, as appropriate. And, remember to review and adapt them again for the next round with another cohort.


– Communication and scheduling

Our biggest challenge was maintaining communication and scheduling meetings between the mentors and mentees. It is important to remember that communication can be complicated at the best of times! Not only is communication an individual preference, it is also culturally embedded which means that cross-cultural mentoring pairs need to pay particular attention to communication styles and preferences. It is important to note that excessive difficulty in scheduling meetings is not only frustrating for both parties, but can dampen enthusiasm on both sides. It is key to keep the communication channels open.

Tip: You cannot over-emphasise your expectations of communication and scheduling requirements in your written materials, orientations, trainings, and other communications.


– Host organisation partnership

We had a very good partnership with our host organisation, which facilitated all key activities. This was essential for us and for them. Setting the tone from the top and demonstrating commitment to a mentoring programme is key. It is also important to demonstrate how mentoring initiatives fit into other people (including leadership) development initiatives in the organisation.

Tip: It is important to know how and where a mentoring programme fits in with the other talent and leadership development activities within an organisation so that synergies can be identified and leveraged.


In a nutshell, developing a bespoke mentoring programme takes a lot of preparation, time, follow-up and commitment – which often goes on unseen, behind the scenes.

Our mentoring lessons learned, in summary…

Our mentoring lessons learned show that key to implementing a successful mentoring programme is to ensure that it is actively and well managed. Whilst individual informal mentoring relationships may not necessitate regular project management (and this is also debatable as arguably all relationships require a certain amount of work), an effective mentoring programme requires work. It is important to be flexible, and arrange things in a way which suits both sides. The results are worth the effort.

We know that highly effective mentoring programmes have numerous benefits for both mentees and mentors, as well as the organisations they work for. Those mentored are likely to stay in their job longer, and be more engaged in their work. Mentoring boosts the confidence of both parties, leading to improved relationships at work, and an increased ability to coach their own staff. It can provide useful insights into the undercurrents of people management, which in turn can lead to improvements in HR policies and processes. Helping to achieve equal opportunity targets strengthens diversity management, and can have a measurable impact on cultural awareness.

And finally, all that is left to do is to express our thanks to Swasti and the programme participants, the mentors (from all around the globe), and the Mentoring Exchanges team with a special thanks to @JessicaDavid and @SueAppleyard.

If you or your organisation would like to develop a bespoke mentoring programme, please get in touch.

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LinkedIn: Palena Neale

Twitter: @PalenaNeale


 If you would like to read more about the power of mentoring here are some selected resources:

CEOs Need Mentors Too

Mentoring Matters: Three Essential Elements Of Success

Workplace Loyalties Change, but the Value of Mentoring Doesn’t

Getting the best out of your mentoring experience

Mentoring for women working in global development

The value of mentorship, according to 5 women leaders

Mentors are key to women succeeding in leadership

Advice for Men Who Are Nervous About Mentoring Women

The Surprising Benefits When Men Mentor Women