Mentoring to develop staff

The purpose of mentoring is for a more experienced person (the mentor) to help a less experienced person grow to become more effective now and in the future. Mentoring help often involves passing on knowledge, tips and good practices, opening doors for the individual and counselling.

Organisational issues, such as the attitude of the organisation to risk-taking and mistakes, influence people. If mistakes are punished managers will not easily delegate significant work. People’s scope to increase their performance will be limited. The manager must provide the space for people to grow. If this is not in place then the organisation requires a programme of cultural and attitude change. Team building is a good place to start.

If the someone wishes to develop others using mentoring then they may use the pure roles below.

Mentor as:

  • Counsellor.

The mentor listens to, encourages and challenges a staff person to solve her issue herself.

  • Teacher

The mentor passes on his/her wisdom and knowledge to a member of staff in a useful way

  • Guide

The mentor helps a staff person find his way around the organisation. Then he/she will know who has influence and how things are done.

  • Trainer

The mentor gives feedback to a staff person on how people in the organisation see her performance. This could include strengths and areas for improvement. The mentor would help her plan how to make improvements.

  • Facilitator of learning.

The mentor helps his/her people think about their work in the organisation and what they can learn from that experience. This role may require the mentor to draw on parts of the other roles.

The “Mentor” role requires all the above roles according to circumstances. A manager is also accountable to the organisation for achieving business objectives. It may not be possible for him/her to have the interest of his subordinate as his only objective. Keeping confidentiality can be very difficult.

This implies that other people should do some development. I like the idea of some being done by close colleagues using “Coconsulting” or “Cocounselling”. Here, people take turns helping each other and give each other feedback on the process. I also think there is much value in informal support groups where people help each other think things through. The benefits in stress reduction alone are enormous.

How do you do “Mentoring”?

A crucial skill, especially at the beginning, is for the mentor to create a trusting relationship where the learner can relax and accept help. The mentor must listen to the learner well enough to understand what form of development help will be helpful. All forms of help are not helpful in all circumstances. If some one says “Where is the Post Room?” then a “Guide” response, “It is the third room on the left” is more useful than “Counselling” help. That would be “How do you think you could find it?”!

The mentor would then deliver the appropriate help. Later the mentor would find out by observing the learner, asking others and asking the learner whether the help was helpful.

How to start

The precise way forward depends on the needs of the organisation and the way you do things. This is one idea for a past client.

You could start with two teams of managers. The manager of each team would be involved. All these managers should manage people too. The benefits of starting here are that the benefits and difficulties of mentoring would be real. The training process would develop support and trust in the group that they would build on afterwards. Putting everything into practice would be easier as everyone would have shared the experience.

The next step is to involve the team members, above, in the design of a training event. I find one-to-one interviews give the most useful information. These interviews also help the participants develop by stimulating their thinking and increasing self-confidence. The questions explored could include:

  • What have other people done that has helped you develop? How did that work?
  • What have you done that has helped other people develop? How did that work?
  • What could you give the organisation that you are not doing now?
  • How could your boss and the organisation help you give more?
  • How could you help your people give more?
  • How do you go about developing people? What developmental skills do you have? What do you want to learn?

The next step would be a workshop to discuss the results of the interviews and to decide, with the interviewees on a plan for two pilot training events. There would be one for each team. The pilots would respond to the reality of people’s situations. Because the teams had been involved in the design, they would want them to work.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick