Your company's most complex acquisitions are your employees’ minds – but they come with no instruction manuals, no easy-to-read blueprints! As a manager, one of your responsibilities might be to mentor and/or coach these minds. Yet, you may find yourself compelled to either guess at what drives them or homogenize your tactics, so they apply to and appeal to almost anyone. These methods accomplish little and often do far more harm than good.
To be an effective mentor or coach, you must listen carefully and read between the lines when employees speak to consciously key in to subtle clues about how each one is wired. While the matter is arguable, most experts agree that mentoring and coaching are two distinct management tactics requiring a unique focus, role, and personal return.
|Personal Return||Mutual learning||Improved skills|
When assuming the role of mentor, your focus needs to be on fostering your employee's individual growth. Be prepared to take on a fairly high level of personal involvement with your mentee, as you’ll be offering career guidance and giving advice but probably in an informal, supportive, and encouraging manner. Your objective is not to develop your subject in any one particular area of technical expertise, but to hone his or her existing skills – the ultimate goal being to enable that person to function effectively in a wide range of business situations. You should have no agenda, and your job is to act mainly as a sounding board and give advice; keep in mind that your employee is still free to pick and choose what he/she does.
To establish a solid mentor/mentee bond, you’ll first need to find common ground in the area of communication. Have a clear understanding of how you typically convey your thoughts or make your expectations known, then be prepared to alter your style -- at least somewhat -- to gain the interest and attention of the person you’ve decided to mentor. There must be a high level of trust, and the relationship you build should be a very supportive one.
Are you a charismatic people person who’s mentoring a serious-minded introvert? If so, tone down your approach, harness some of your free-spirited enthusiasm, and force yourself to be succinct and focused when speaking; otherwise, your words may fall on inattentive ears and result in mutually disconcerting frustration. Conversely, when you’re the more staid personality who’s assisting a very gregarious individual, you’ll need to reverse the tactics, breathe some life into your words, stay upbeat, and sound enthusiastic to maintain your mentee’s interest.
If the thought of adapting your communication style makes you uncomfortable, fear not! Mentors needn’t outrank their mentees; they must be more experienced; therefore, any well-seasoned employee can serve as a mentor to one of your employees. Consider assigning the task of mentoring to a peer who might be similar to your mentee in personality and able to easily trade thoughts, information, and ideas about best practices. A mentoring experience is typically reciprocal, allowing mutual learning that benefits the mentee and the mentor equally!
While a mentor’s focus is on enhancing the employee’s all-around growth as an individual, a coach focuses on performance growth. In this case, there is an agenda, which may be, for example, to improve an employee who is not working to full potential. Coaching calls for critiques, evaluations, and an accurate understanding of an employee’s personal strengths and weaknesses. This, however, can make a coaching relationship much more vulnerable than one that is mentoring; it requires a very high level of mutual respect and, often, some confidentiality. Coaches need to know not just the personality of their employees, but, perhaps even more importantly, their behavioral traits, habits, and typical inclinations; without this information, bad decisions, inaccurate assumptions, and inappropriate training techniques may be utilized.
As an example, consider the case of manager Donna and employee Mark. Mark is a fairly new salesperson at a well-known insurance agency. His job performance has been uneven, some weeks impressive, other times, weak. After a few confidential discussions about building consistency in his sales, Donna agrees to Mark’s request and decides to coach him on sales strategies.
Because she’s unsure of where Mark’s shortfall lies, Donna utilizes general, broad-based coaching techniques. Unfortunately, her time and effort go unrewarded when Mark still fails to meet his quotas consistently. What happened? Donna lost sight that different people need different coaching strategies; if she had taken the time to assess Mark’s innate assets and liabilities accurately, she could have keyed in to them quickly and based her strategies around them, thus greatly improving his chances for success.
One of the most common mistakes managers make today is to have unrealistic expectations of their employees. Your reserved, pragmatic salesperson is not going to persuade prospects by instilling excitement about your insurance products. Still, he or she may make a sale by underlining the facts, giving potential insureds logical, inarguable reasons to purchase, and functioning mainly as a resource for questions.
Successful coaching leads to improved skills only if you have a firm handle on the reason behind an employee’s job performance. A Producer may be struggling and suddenly seem hesitant to go out in the field, more interested in performing research and working behind a desk.
This could be because he or she is:
a) generally nonassertive
b) unable to weather a prospect’s rejection
c) some combination of the two
Without knowing specifics, it will be virtually impossible to home in on weaknesses; your effectiveness as a coach will be, at best, hit or miss.
Similarly, you may find your CSR is excellent with service but inept at selling. She may see sales as an imposition on clients or be uncomfortable prolonging conversations with people she does not know well. Until you can determine the root of her problem, you’ll be unable to rectify this financially draining situation.
Mentoring and coaching are different processes. If you choose to undertake one or both of them, do so only after you’ve acquired a clear understanding of yourself and your employee. It’s up to you to use your skills as a knowledgeable decision-maker to accurately assess situations, formulate alternative strategies, and implement appropriate plans.