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by Glenda May

“If all the great athletes need a coach, why don’t I?”

What exactly is coaching?  And how does it differ from mentoring?  Although the arts of mentoring and coaching have been developed over many centuries, there are no formally agreed definitions.

Pursuing the athletics metaphor, one helpful definition is to think of your coach sitting in the arena watching you perform a particular skill.  There are certain behaviours required to ensure that you achieve the best outcome, eg watch the ball, and keep your arm straight.

Once mastered and you are now successfully playing on the international arena, you might be having difficulty with the pressure of media attention, or being away from family.  This is where a mentor can help you, by exploring more personal and holistic areas than simply your performance itself.

However, it doesn’t really matter what label you give the mentor, it’s what happens in the process so that the mentee can develop from ‘good to great’.  A mentor will wear a number of hats, including catalyst, celebrator, challenger, critic, confidante, and cheerleader.  A useful working definition is “someone who guides their mentee to develop both personally and professionally to be the best they possibly can be”.

ttl-01v1-smallOverall, your mentor is a wise, trusted advisor who can help you on the road to success.

What could an organisation expect from implementing a mentoring program?

You will be providing your high-potential employees with skills and competencies in a non-threatening, supportive and encouraging environment.

Leaders or potential leaders are given an opportunity to develop and enhance their mentoring skills.  For non-leaders, this could mean growing the skills they need to undertake a leadership role in future.

Support networks are created for employees during times of organisational change.  Enhanced information sharing improves communication amongst employees, especially in different areas of the business.  Your organisation will retain employees, therefore reducing turnover and loss of business knowledge.

Why is mentoring relevant now?

According to Access Economics data, in 2004 the number of workers worker entering workforce was 200,000 per annum.  The number of workers entering the workforce in 2050 is projected to be 12,000 – 15,000.  There is a critical need to develop talent with the loss of senior role models as the baby boomers leave.

Critical Success Factors

To implement successful mentoring programs in your organisation, take note of these eight common factors from other programs: voluntary participation; learning contracts or agreements; setting clear goals; linking the goals to behavioural outcomes; manageable steps; relationship building; effective communication skills; and evaluation.

People are more motivated to change when they freely choose to do so.  As much as possible, allow mentees to decide whether or not they will participate in the development process, and have them set the change goals themselves.  Market the mentoring program as focused on “development’ rather that ‘deficit’ so that it is not seen as a remediation program, but a corporate initiative that is linked to reward and recognition.

Set up learning contracts or agreements as part of the process to ensure clear shared understanding and enhance commitment.

Set clear SMART (specific and stretching, measurable, attractive, realistic and relevant, time-framed) goals, action plans, and desired outcomes.  Goals can be broad and focused on anything the mentee feels will help them to be a more productive and motivated worker.

Determine the competencies that are most critical for effective job performance in a particular type of job. Make sure the competencies are congruent with your organisation’s culture and overall strategy.  Help the mentee see the link between their goals and the organisational goals.

Change is more likely to occur if the change process is divided into manageable steps.  Help the mentee understand when their goals are likely to ‘break’ them rather than ‘stretch’ them.  The mentee is then more able to predict and pre-empt possible obstacles that might derail them from achieving their goals.

Questionnaires can be used to assist in matching mentoring pairs on the basis of expectations, background, interests, skills, business units, and personality styles.  However retain an opportunity for either party to withdraw without any blame or shame, if it’s felt the chemistry is not sufficient for an ongoing relationship.

Consider setting up monthly training sessions to train mentors in insightful questioning, respectful listening and providing constructive feedback in a way that enabled mentees to accept and appreciate it more readily.

To see if the development effort of mentoring has lasting effects, evaluate it. When possible, find unobtrusive measures of the competence or skill as shown on the job, before and after mentoring and also at least two months later.  One-year follow-ups also are highly desirable.  In addition to charting progress on the acquisition of competencies, also assess the impact on important job-related outcomes, such as performance measures, and indicators of adjustment such as absenteeism, grievances, health status, etc.

Everyone benefits

You will find that, surprisingly, it is not only the mentees who find a mentoring program helpful.

The mentee will find: improved self-confidence and self-esteem; increased motivation; enhanced skills; broadening horizons and experience; and raised achievements and aspirations.

The mentor can expect to find: immense satisfaction from helping another person grow; development of interpersonal and communication skills; increased self-awareness; and seeing the organisation with fresh eyes.

Your organisation will also benefit by: development of your employees’ skills and motivation; instilling a feel good factor in staff; enhancing your reputation as an employer of choice; and shared learning means less compartmentalisation of knowledge.

Mentee, mentor and organisation – mentoring works three ways.

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