Author and Mentoring Expert Dr. Wendy Axelrod

“I do not want to look back on their period and realize I didn’t advance myself— that I remained stagnant during this quarantine!” That’s what a client emphatically told me last week. I always believe that every day can be a development day, and this certainly still holds true during the pandemic. Changes to work patterns, how we do business, the client needs, and with whom we interact, opens the door for development opportunities.

Whether you are a manager or a mentor, in your role of promoting someone’s professional development, you can help position their career advancement for the time when work-life moves into a new normal. There are advantages to navigating these uncharted waters for both of you, with some aspects familiar and some exploratory. Begin with a personal conversation; listen to connect and learn about what they are currently doing and feeling.  Find the space in your conversation to ask “What would you like to be doing in 6 to 12 months, that is different from today?” If their answer leads to interest in development, commit to leading the process through a series of conversations and actions over the months ahead. Below are the suggested steps to enable development.

  • First, given their work in this current environment, uncover niches where they could take developmental action (e.g., being asked to join a new project opens potential to lead that team in this environment, with your support).  
  • Have them articulate a clear objective, being deliberate about how this growth will add to their skillset and have a career impact.
  • After jointly identifying those anticipated new behaviors or approaches, they can start by gathering information, observing, and speaking to experts. (This is an excellent time to build relationships with experts, and very useful later).
  • Prepare them for taking progressive, incremental steps. Lift their confidence by rehearsing their intended new actions, followed by an insight building debrief. View the actions as field tests, not expecting perfection.
  • Continue your conversations through their learning process, asking high-gain questions, such as: What were you experiencing as you took those actions? What obstacles will you need to overcome to take this further? What was the gap between the intended impact and what occurred? What are you most proud of?    Listen well and reflect back what you heard.
  • Jointly track progress: mastery of new behaviors, added self-insights, and increased confidence. Then, call out and celebrate those successes.

Here are four ideas for development during this period. Use these as a springboard to create a best-fit opportunity, given their circumstances.

1) IMPLEMENT PROCESS IMPROVEMENT

With the new work demands for their team and organization, support them to identify technologies and methods that streamline and simplify, appropriate for the department. They can then test their proposal with department stakeholders. Once a potential method is identified, they work with others to pilot test, track impact, and fine-tune the application of those improvement methods.

2) CREATE AN ENGAGING TEACHING VIDEO

Your employee or mentee can help others both learn about and leverage important elements of their department’s work. Masterfully creating the video is a stand out capability for any professional and leader, requiring a broad range of skills such as: communicating effectively, balancing information, examples, and stories;  maximizing their message through on-line tools and graphics; and overseeing production decisions including editing the final polished piece.

3) ENHANCE CUSTOMERS’ EXPERIENCE DURING UNCERTAIN TIMES

Their customers’ needs are shifting yet may feel tentative about what is next. What a prime opportunity for the professional to apply an expert consultative approach. This requires them to: build greater trust with their customers (whether internal or external), ask questions to expand perspective, learn and appreciate what customers are facing, and help customers explore new ways to build value and prioritize in the shifting landscape.   

4) BECOME EXPERT WITH LEADING A TEAM VIRTUALLY

Work with your professional to engage and motivate team members virtually, having team members feel they are contributing and growing. Required are advanced skills in emotional intelligence: deepening trust, building conversational safety, and creating a productive team climate. You can help them build these skills over successive conversations and targeted actions they take with the whole team and with individual members.

Now, do you feel called into (development) action? You are in the privileged position to both enrich and inspire them during these challenging times. Help them to look back on this period and realize they grew in significant ways. How gratifying for both of you!

ABOUT WENDY AXELROD PH.D.

Wendy Axelrod is an Executive Coach, former HR Executive, Talent Management thought leader, and Speaker. She is particularly sought out for helping managers and mentors become exceptional at growing the talent of others. Her first book Make Talent Your Business: How Exceptional Managers Develop People While Getting Results identifies the 5 practices managers use to seamlessly weave development with performance every day. In 10 Steps to Successful Mentoring, she provides a complete and practical guide for succeeding with mentoring relationships, creating lasting development for both mentors and mentees.