We increasingly receive inquiries concerning our “mentoring and coaching” training. When such an inquiry is received, our first task is to clarify whether we are talking about “mentoring,” “coaching,” or both. Increasingly, clients are interested in both.
The terms mentoring and coaching are used by many as if they are interchangeable. Strictly speaking, they are not interchangeable. They are similar but different. Mentoring focuses primarily on the development of the individual, with secondary benefits for the organization. Coaching focuses primarily on the needs of the organization to ensure that an employee can perform tasks at an acceptable level of competency, with secondary benefits for the individual. As a matter of proper style and approach, mentors ask a lot of questions which require the mentee to think and learn. At the risk of over-generalization, coaches tend to be more prescriptive and directive in their approach than mentors.
That said, our mentoring training emphasizes that coaching is frequently an essential part of mentoring. What’s more, clients increasingly want a mix of mentoring and coaching so that the organization both ensures skills transfer and development between the mentor and the mentee as well as nurturing career futuring and robust employee self-development.
Figuring out the relative level of emphasis is essential to ensuring successful “Mentoring,” “Coaching,” or “Mentoring & Coaching” efforts in your organization. Clarify your terms, specify your goals, and you can design and launch a program that gets the most people on board with what you are seeking to do and how you are going about doing it. If concepts and intentions remain vague, you run the risk of ending up with a program that nobody likes
The Washington Post reported on February 13, 2010, that the “Toyota Way” was derailed in part because the company had thinned its ranks of expert mentors. The article quoted Susan Helper, a professor of economics at Case Western University in Cleveland, as follows: “So much of what made the company work well was that each manager was personally trained by a mentor who himself had long experience with the company. When the fast expansion came, Toyota was very short of senior managers who were ready to become mentors.”
Whether you are dealing with explosive growth, constricted staffing, or simply the changing of the guard as a new generation replenishes the ranks, the Toyota story is instructive: Mentoring is not an HR frill to be dismissed lightly. Indeed, as the Toyota example demonstrates, sufficient high-quality mentoring is the make-or-break difference in ensuring continuity of quality and productivity as well as pivotal values and norms. Those who have brought success to an enterprise can and should pass the torch to those who will bring future success after the mentors have moved on. Effective mentoring is the passing of this torch of success–a torch that is not passed by accident or raw luck.
It takes several years to ramp up a quality mentoring program with an adequate stable of capable mentors. This cannot be done overnight. No mentoring “miracle-grow” exists. Fancy electronics won’t get it done either.
Mentoring is a long-term investment intended to yield long-term benefits and as such, it conflicts with day-to-day operating imperatives. Long-range initiatives are trumped regularly by the emergencies of the day. Those of us in the training business often hear “there is no good time for training.” This logic suggests that there is no good time for mentoring either. That said, ask Toyota if there is a good time for failing.
Once your mentoring program has developed momentum, it is essential that it be maintained adequately. This means ensuring that new mentors are cultivated and that legacy mentors are refreshed periodically. In addition, once target mentor-mentee ratios have been established for the workforce, an enterprise must ensure that these ratios are maintained properly.
We don’t know if quantitative and qualitative indicators of mentoring were Balanced Scorecard dashboard items at Toyota, but we surmise that Toyota now wishes that it had paid more attention to the maintenance of a mentoring program that was once the envy of its industry. “Short-Term Bottom-Line Fast Buck Freddy” companies don’t and won’t make the long-term investment that quality mentoring requires, but “Built to Last” companies will.
To ignore mentoring is to ignore the long-term interests of your stakeholders. Today’s choices surrounding mentoring are your strategic future. The strategic future is now.
The Director of the 2010 Census recently remarked in the Washington Post that he is concerned about the imminent brain drain in the US Bureau of the Census owing to projected retirements. He pondered how this development could impact adversely a 2010 census which promises to be more than a little controversial at best. His solution? The older employees should take 15 minutes to sit down and have coffee with the younger ones to “transfer knowledge.” It begins to make you wonder about the level of compensation afforded to Census executives and managers if the knowledge can be transferred successfully over a cup of coffee, be it tall or grande. Sad. Starbucks will like this “strategy,” but the thoughtful citizen will not.
The passing of the mantle of leadership in American government and business is nigh. Baby Boomers have begun leaving the scene in one way or another but the question is: Are they ensuring that the transfer of knowledge and expertise will be smooth and complete? Too often, it’s being left to “someone else”—the next person “on watch” as it were.
The problem is that most of the time, the next person on watch is the very person who needs to be mentored for the job! Look at public utilities, such as water and wastewater districts and you will usually find the same predicament. The need for making a smooth transition is ubiquitous, yet the level of systematic and concentrated effort is usually paltry. Indeed, if Y2K proved to be a sheep in wolf’s clothing, the passing of the baton to a new generation has the potential to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) is a 14,000-employee federal agency that performs a vital function—it pays our military heroes, our defense contractors, along with the President and a few other notables. A few years back, then-DFAS Director, Thomas Bloom, was concerned about ensuring uninterrupted performance as the mantle of leadership is passed from one generation to another. Indeed, the leadership demographics were cause for pause. The top leadership team of 20 executives was at or quickly nearing retirement age. Not remarkable on the face of it. However, the average age of the next lower echelon was actually older than the top leadership team! Go down yet another level and the employees were still no younger, on average. This is the condition at many organizations, particularly public organizations where no less than 50% of the employees are retirement-eligible as this is written.
DFAS started working on this challenge in 2001. Tom Bloom certainly wasn’t content with the idea that a couple cups of coffee would do the trick. The agency instituted a mentoring program. Strategic Futures Consulting Group has now trained more than 2500 of the agency’s employees in how to do quality mentoring. Creating an embedded mentoring culture in a large organization takes time—probably a decade, give or take. When it comes to renewing organizations by preparing the workforce adequately, leaving things to chance or leaving things to the next leader won’t do.
The strategic future is now: Organizations should ensure their perpetuity while those who can transfer productive knowledge are still on the payroll, not after they have already departed.
Should we say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” even when our lying eyes promise us that it is fixin’ to be broke? Today is the time to prepare for tomorrow.