Mentoring lessons learned – a tale
Before we share our results, let us briefly introduce the programme and players involved:
Introductions – The Programme, and the cast of characters
Mentoring Exchanges partnered with Swasti Health Catalyst to create a bespoke mentoring programme as part of Swasti’s overall leadership development initiatives. Designed for Swasti’s leaders and potential leaders, and piloted for a period of 6 months, this mentoring 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.
Mentoring Exchanges is a mentoring programme that matches global development professionals with executives and academics from around the world, enabling them to have 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…
“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, from understanding themselves better, to taking the next steps in their career – including leaving the organisation. 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. There was personal satisfaction in being able to share one’s own experience to help someone find a solution to the situations they faced. They learned the difference between mentoring and coaching, and broadened their experience by working with people from a different culture and different country.
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. The relationship was mutually beneficial. It was satisfying to share their knowledge/experience, but also helped them to gain knowledge about different cultures, and the challenges faced by an NGO.
What mentoring lessons did we learn?
For the programme managers, including our host partners, there were a lot of wonderful mentoring lessons learned – some new things, 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 – 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. 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. Not only is communication an individual preference, it is also culturally embedded – making the task sometimes challenging. 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. Keeping the communication channels open is vital.
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 synergies can be identified and leveraged.
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. Effective mentoring programmes require work. 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.
Email me: email@example.com
LinkedIn: Palena Neale
If you would like to read more about the power of mentoring here are some selected resources: