Organisational Development

Guidance for mentors

Learn more about the role of a mentor, the core skills involved in mentoring, and how to become a member of the University's staff mentoring programme.

Why mentor?

Mentorship can provide numerous benefits for mentors and their mentees. Developing this relationship can help both of you learn new things, build your networks and grow as professionals. Mentors report a sense of satisfaction in supporting other colleagues or ‘giving back’ to their working environment and colleagues. 

Your interactions with a mentee offer numerous opportunities to practice and build interpersonal skills, such as communication, active listening, empathy and patience.

Mentorship also serves as an opportunity to connect with someone potentially very different from you, offering exposure to new ideas and perspectives. Listening to your mentee's perspective may help you think differently and this can support you to devise more innovative or creative solutions at work.

To learn more about the impact and benefits of being a mentor, read Indeed's blog, 24 Reasons Why Mentorship Is Important for Mentee and Mentor.

What mentors do

  • support mentees to discover development needs and set their own development objectives
  • allow mentees to discuss issues, while occasionally clarifying and challenging
  • encourage mentees to reflect on their beliefs, feelings, thoughts and behaviours, and to view issues from multiple perspectives
  • help mentees to adopt a self-reliant approach to problem solving
  • enable mentees to become effective decision-makers
  • offer 'lived experience' in a particular area
  • provide support in a range of identity-based areas.

Successful mentoring can have a big impact on a mentee's self-motivation, problem-solving abilites, and their approach to developing new knowledge and skills.

Effective Skills for Mentors

Organisational Development offer the Effective Skills for Mentors workshop for all staff (Academic and Professional Services) interested in becoming a mentor. The workshop explores the core skills involved in mentoring and provides insights on ways to develop and practice an effective mentoring approach, utilising an established model. It will also give an overview of the Staff Mentoring Programme at Sussex, the benefits of being a mentor, chemistry sessions and the importance of effective contracting.

View the Mentoring workshops calendar to see upcoming workshop dates and book a place.

Feedback from mentors

Read about the experiences of colleagues, and the impact and benefits of being a mentor.

Professor Jorn Scharlemann, Professor of Conservation Science

"I joined the Staff Mentoring Programme as a mentor because I wanted to help someone and make a difference to their career and life. Mentoring someone from another School allowed the mentee and myself to speak more openly about any issues, as I could provide an independent sounding board not knowing the people involved. Although I attempt to follow the GROW model, each mentoring session has played out differently to meet the mentee’s needs.

Being a mentor has been very valuable for myself. It has helped me to understand better how younger colleagues think and what is important in their lives, which helps me interact with colleagues in my School and students. Mentoring has also taught me to ask more open and honest questions, and to become a better listener. Hearing mentees come up with novel solutions, that I had never considered when faced with similar problems, has been rewarding. At times I found it challenging when mentees raised issues where I could not think of a solution. Working through the issue with the mentee made me realise that I do not have to have the answer(s), but by asking the right questions can help them identify their ways forward.

I hope that my mentees have benefitted from our monthly meetings, enabling them to try out difficult conversations, decide on next steps and be held accountable, and from just having a confidential space to talk through concerns in a safe, non-judgemental setting.

Overall, being a mentor in the Staff Mentoring Programme has been a hugely enjoyable experience, especially seeing the progress and successes of my mentees. I am learning a lot from fellow mentors during the Community of Practice events and from my mentees."

Ed Jenkins, User Experience Design Manager

What motivated you to become a mentor? 

"I heard about the mentoring programme when I did a management course at the University. It seemed a great opportunity to apply the coaching skills I learnt on that course and to develop my skills as a manager. Also, I spend most of my day at a laptop either doing research or design so it was a chance to get away from the screen, meet new colleagues and share my experience in digital with others."

Tell us about your experience of being a mentor

"Becoming a mentor and setting up meetings has been simple. Organisational Development have an excellent process with clear guidance and documents for getting started. There are also community of practice meetings for extra support and feedback.

In the first couple of mentoring sessions I was trying get it ‘right’. I had read books on coaching and mentoring and was keen to apply the things I'd learnt. But I’ve found that focusing on being present and practicing active listening has been a more effective approach. The mentoring sessions have covered a variety of topics including digital strategy and processes, learning and upskilling, and sharing resources."

How do you think it has helped your personal development? 

"It's definitely made me more self-reflective in my own work and processes. And it has made me a better listener in meetings, particularly on Zoom or Teams where it can be easy to get distracted by notifications. It’s also helped me to recognise the importance of regular learning and development. I’m making more time for it now - I regularly read design books and take courses on LinkedIn Learning."

What is your advice for someone thinking of becoming a mentor? 

"I’d recommend booking onto the Effective Skills for Mentors session. It was an ideal introduction and gave me the confidence to go ahead with being a mentor. And if you have any doubts or concerns along the way then get in touch with Organisational Development. They were so helpful and always happy to answer any questions I had."

Professional Services colleague, Grade 7, Female

What attracted you to being a mentor in the Programme?

"I am developing my skills and knowledge as a manager, and I felt that coaching practice would be a positive addition to my CV. I was also keen to make connections with colleagues outside my immediate team, and to get that warm fuzzy feeling from supporting/helping someone!"

How did you approach sessions?

"I encouraged my mentee to take responsibility for setting the agenda for each session ahead of time. This enables me to prepare my thinking, and any research, on the questions or issues they were coming to the session with. It also encouraged my mentee to take ownership and responsibility for their learning and development.  During sessions, I tried to be a good listener, and focussed on reflecting back to my mentee what they were telling me, or what I had noticed. If it was asked for, I offered advice from personal experience, or sign-posted useful resources."

What have you enjoyed about mentoring? What have you found challenging, and how have you overcome that?

"I’ve found it very rewarding to watch my mentee grow in confidence and begin to reach some of their goals. I found it a bit nerve-wracking not necessarily knowing ahead of time what would come up in each session, and whether or not I would know what to say or have the ‘right’ answer. I overcame this by trying to be present in the moment and listen carefully, and I remind myself it’s okay if we don’t find the ‘answer’ together in a session – we might find a solution next time, or the time after, it’s a process."

What outcomes did you see for your mentee?

"My mentee has grown in confidence and is more assertive, they have started a 2 year course which will positively impact their career progression."

Eleanor Cartwright, Marketing Manager

What motivated you to become a mentor? 

I have been a people manager for many years but my current role at the University doesn’t include line management. I wanted to become a mentor so I could use my skills to help more inexperienced staff develop professionally.

Tell us about your experience of being a mentor

My mentoring experience has been positive. I mentored someone for six months who then went onto a role within the University that was much more suited to her abilities and interests. She was able to explore this direction with my help as a mentor.

How do you think it has helped your personal development? 

My role as mentor led to me taking up the opportunity to follow the Level 5 coaching professional course through the University. I passed early last year, after doing 50 hours of workplace coaching, two observed coaching sessions, a portfolio of work and an exam. Mentoring led naturally to coaching, and I would like to use the skills I’ve developed to enhance the internal coaching practice at the University.

What is your advice for someone thinking of becoming a mentee?

Try it! There are always people from whom you can learn. Also, if you are lacking in motivation at work, it’s worth trying to regain that in your current role with the advice and support of a mentor before deciding to move to a different workplace. Often a change of mindset is all it takes for you to fall back in love with your job.

Establishing expectations

It is really important at the beginning of any mentoring relationship that all parties are clear about what to expect and how the mentoring arrangement will work. This stage is known as ‘contracting’.

Taking time to consider boundaries and expectations with your mentee will help to avoid any misunderstandings and frustrations further down the line and gives the mentoring arrangement the best chance of success.Some questions to reflect upon before meeting a prospective mentee for the first time are:

  • What is my purpose for mentoring this person?
  • What do I need to know about my mentee?
  • What does my mentee need to know about me?
  • Are there any barriers to me being an effective mentor? If so, what can I do to overcome these?

During your first meeting

  • Mutually establish some ground rules for your discussions, particularly around confidentiality. What are the boundaries for the discussion? Are there things you will/will not discuss? If there are situations in which you would not be able to maintain confidentiality, you must make these clear in the first discussion with your mentee.
  • Decide when, where and how often you will meet, and for how long. As a guideline starting point, we advise that you meet for one hour per month for 12 months. However, mentors and mentees are free to agree what works best for them based on their circumstances and need.
  • Discuss what success looks like and expected outcomes. How will you know that the mentoring arrangement is working? How will you monitor progress?
  • Identify any conflicts of interest and manage them appropriately. Consider the impact of a mentoring arrangement on other working practices, processes and relationships. If a conflict of interest exists, you may need to set boundaries around what you can/ cannot discuss, seek advice from a mentoring scheme coordinator or advise your mentee to seek an alternative mentor.

We encourage both potential mentees and mentors to be proactive in checking your compatibility during this first session. If at this stage either party feels that it is not a good fit, it is best to be upfront and honest about it. We have provided further guidance on what to do if the mentoring arrangement is not working.

Core mentoring skills

To ensure that the arrangement is productive and meaningful for both the mentee and mentor, you need to foster the right mentoring skills to create an environment for growth. 

Establishing a supportive environment and building rapport

A key responsibility of the mentor is to set up an environment in which the mentee feels able to speak freely, without fear of judgement or repercussions. This in part relates to establishing ground rules, but also relates to a number of other factors in building rapport with your mentee such as:

  • Location of discussions: Ideally a private, neutral space away from distractions of phone, email and other colleagues.
  • Time: Enable sufficient time for the discussion to avoid the mentee feeling rushed or burdensome. Ensure you will not be interrupted during a mentoring session.
  • Approach of mentor: Ideally an excellent listener, empathetic, demonstrates interest in the individual, reserves judgement, positive body language, open and honest, avoids being directive but is willing to share own experiences.
  • Agenda and goals for discussions: In mentoring arrangements, the agenda/goals should be driven by the mentee. The mentor supports the mentee in exploring their ideas and approaches to their discussion topics and should avoid being directive or leading the mentee to a particular conclusion or solution. This is often easier if the mentor is not the line-manager or close colleague of the mentee.
  • Separation from other work processes: To enable the mentee to feel confident in speaking freely, it is strongly advisable that mentoring arrangements are kept distinct and separate from other departmental processes (probation, performance management, appraisal, progression, reward etc). Information learned in mentoring discussions should not be used to inform other work situations and processes.

Active listening

As a mentor, in any mentoring discussion you should listen significantly more than you talk. You are ideally aiming for a state of ‘active listening’. Listen not only to the words, but also pay close attention to the delivery in order to gain deeper insight (e.g. tone of voice, non-verbal signals and body language etc). Demonstrate that you are listening through your body language, asking questions and by reflecting back what you’ve heard to the mentee in order to check your understanding.

Consider what environment you require to maximise your ability to listen attentively to your mentee – this will likely require a quiet private space away from other distractions. Also give consideration to your own frame of mind – what time of the day are you realistically able to give your mentee your full attention? Also be aware of how your own thoughts/emotions might affect your ability to listen objectively.

To learn more about active listening, read the MindTools' article, Active Listening: Hear What People are Really Saying.

Effective questioning

Being able to formulate and ask effective questions is a key skill for an effective mentor. An appropriately phrased question has the ability to unlock new ideas, challenge limiting assumptions and bring about new insights. Good questions in mentoring are simple and generally require open ended responses. Open-ended questions typically begin with words like "how," "what", "when", "why", and "who".

Questions can be used to gather information and clarify facts, to highlight/reflect on important points, to explore different perspectives, or to move the discussion forward. There are various questioning frameworks that mentors can draw upon, including the GROW model. However, be guided by your mentee and trust your intuition when it comes to questioning. If you are genuinely interested in your mentee and their development, then your questions will inevitably be useful to them.

Sharing experiences and giving advice

When you have experience of dealing with particular challenges/scenarios that your mentee is facing, it can be tempting to direct the mentee towards solutions that worked for you. However, the ideas and solutions that will be most appropriate to the mentee will be those that they generate for themselves. This is not to say that your experience is not valid and should not be shared; in many cases, your mentee will be interested in your own perspective.

So when is it appropriate to give advice/share your experience? Some general guidelines are:

  1. Listen without judgement first. Give your mentee space to outline the whole issue. Resist temptation to jump in with a solution, as this might mean you miss some vital information. Often, just the act of articulating an issue aloud is enough to provide clarity for the mentee.
  2. Ask questions. Try to draw ideas out of your mentee using insightful questions and use brainstorming techniques to get mentees to generate a range of options that they can select from.
  3. Explore a range of perspectives. Get your mentee to imagine themselves from the perspective of others (e.g. what would your best friend/colleague/manager say to you?) and to consider scenarios from the perspective of the others involved.
  4. Once you’re confident that you have been through steps 1-3, it may be appropriate to offer insight into your own experience. Avoid being directive and saying "what I think you should do is..". Instead, ask the mentee if they would like to hear what you have done previously to overcome a similar situation. In most cases they will say yes, but if they say no, respect that decision and support them in coming up with their own ideas and solutions.
  5. If asked directly for your advice, give it with the caveat that what worked for you might not be the right course of action for your mentee. If it is beyond you the remit of your experience/knowledge, support the mentee in finding other sources of advice. As a mentor you are not expected to have all the answers.

Constructive feedback

As a mentor, you might spot an opportunity to give your mentee some feedback, or your mentee may ask you directly for feedback on their work or professional activities. 

Be careful to first ask the mentee if they would like some feedback, rather than assume feedback will be automatically welcomed.

In most instances, the mentee will welcome your feedback, but providing unsolicited feedback during a discussion can break the mentee’s concentration or complicate the matter under discussion.

Learn more about giving effective and constructive feedback.

When delivering feedback, remember the pneumonic 'BOOST' to ensure your feedback is constructive for your mentee.


Focus not only on areas for development, but also on strengths.


Provide feedback based only upon behaviours that you have observed.


Avoid judgements and relate your feedback to the observed behaviours, not personality.


Back up your comments with specific examples of the observed behaviour.


Give feedback soon after the activity to allow the learner the opportunity to reflect on the learning.

Community of Practice 

Open to all mentors at the University, the Community of Practice (CoP) offers an opportunity for mentors to meet, explore new topics and refresh their skills, share successes and support each other through challenges. The CoP runs on a regular basis. 

What to do if the mentoring arrangement is not working

Hopefully you will find yourself in a productive mentoring relationship that is rewarding for both mentee and mentor. However, mentoring arrangements can and do break down for a variety of reasons. Signs that a mentoring relationship is not working might be:

  • Mentee/mentor cancels appointments, fails to turn up or regularly rearranges last minute
  • Mentee/mentor consistently fails to make progress on actions identified in meetings
  • Mentee/mentor appears distracted in sessions or cuts sessions short

Ending a mentoring arrangement early

If the mentoring arrangement is not working, it is best to respectfully end the relationship and move forwards.

Acknowledge the issue openly

Be honest and tell the other person that you feel that something isn’t working with the mentoring arrangement, giving factual examples of why you think this. Explore whether there are things you could both do to get the relationship working more effectively.

Seek your mentee's perspective

Ask the other person for feedback on how they are finding the mentoring arrangement – it might be that they think everything is going well or have similar concerns to you. Either way, you will have more information to help you decide how to proceed.

End mentoring relationships constructively

Not all mentoring relationships work out, and it is not useful to prolong the arrangement if it is clear that it is not working. Don’t leave your mentee hanging. Instead, have a constructive discussion about how the mentee can progress beyond this mentoring arrangement, or point them in the direction of other help/information that might be useful to them.

Further resources

Contact and advice

Organisational Development
Sussex House SH-230
01273 075533 (ext 5533)