Author and Mentoring Expert Dr. Wendy Axelrod

I often hear from people who want to deepen their mentoring skills, and are surprised when I suggest that cultivating the best possible relationship is a skill in itself. Masterful mentors know how to foster qualities that are most central for a career-expanding mentoring relationship. Acceptance, mutual respect, conversational safety, and transparency are all part of it. As the mentor, you have the lead in observing how the relationship is going and taking steps to ensure its vitality.

Here are three actions to consider

OBSERVE WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE DYNAMICS OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP

Each of your meetings has the potential to be a gem of a conversation, taking the mentee to new places and new insights. 

  • Assess the flow of your conversations and how it contributes to the forward progress of your mentee’s goals. Time spent together should be purposeful, yet flexible enough to include ad hoc discussions. Allow yourselves to delve into some areas more deeply, especially when those discussions have discovery potential.
  • Take note of whether there is enough trust for them to share what concerns (or even embarrasses) them most, whether a lack of confidence or competence, or a troubling interaction. If they are holding back, think through how you can make the conversational environment safer for them.
  • Consider a wonderful barometer of the atmosphere between you as to whether you are each eager for your next meeting. If so, identify the positive underpinnings of the relationship and discuss those. If not, jointly envision what needs to be addressed, which might include: expectations not being met, lack of accountability to the process, or maybe spending too much time on topics that are not goal-oriented.

ESTABLISH REGULAR CHECK-INS TO DISCUSS THE PROCESS

As part of setting expectations for your work together, advocate regular check-ins to ensure the health of the process. This opens the door for the mentee to speak up to someone with much greater experience. And, it avoids suddenly bringing up negative news when your process is not going well. Select from a variety of ways to tuck this into the mentoring conversation:

  • Ask questions that are specific and require a thoughtful response on their part, e.g., “In what ways is our process supporting your mentoring goals?”  “What two things would take this mentoring process to the next level?” If they are cautious about responding, remind them that this is good practice for questions they get at work about improving their functions.
  • Reserve five minutes at the end of the meeting for each to describe your favorite part of the meeting, and what you believe was accomplished. Then identify what you want to be included in your next meeting.
  • Suggest that each of you take accountability, in advance of the next meeting, to propose useful questions to help address a knotty part of your process (e.g., the mentee feels too directed by the mentor, or the mentor is not seeing anticipated follow-through)

WELCOME FEEDBACK FROM YOUR MENTEE

Many people believe the normal flow of feedback in mentoring is what the mentor offers the mentee. Inviting feedback from your mentee is an act of trust and respect. Though they may not provide much substance the first time you ask, they will appreciate your openness and be more likely to speak up when it really counts. Consider these three actions:

  • Prime this conversation by giving a lead-in, stating the purpose of this discussion.  Invite the feedback with a non-threatening question that allows them to suggest future behaviors rather than evaluate your performance. e.g., “What could I do in our conversation next time, that would make us even more productive?”
  • Be mindful that the way you receive the feedback is modeling how they could take in feedback from others. Plus, importantly, it sets the tone for true give-and-take in your ongoing relationship.
  • Take an inquiring stance, using an open, curious tone of voice. Ask for details. I once had a mentee whose feedback to me was, “Wendy, when I come to you with a problem, you ask too many questions. I wish you’d just give me straight-forward answers.”  I asked her for examples and that helped me understand her frustration with my approach. Just as important, the open tone of the conversation led to a discussion about how well-formulated questions can spur deeper and actionable learning.

Ready to take your mentoring even further? Become a master at cultivating a deeper relationship; one that is open to questions, feedback and purposeful modifications in how you work together. This is bound to both increase your capacity as a mentor, and achieve more impactful and lasting results.

ABOUT DR. WENDY AXELROD

Wendy Axelrod is an Executive Coach, former HR executive, mentor, author, and speaker. For three decades, Wendy has helped organizations to achieve extraordinary results with their leader and professional development efforts. She is particularly sought out for helping mentors and leaders become exceptional at growing the talent of others. She is the co-author of Make Talent Your Business and the author of 10 Steps to Successful Mentoring. Learn about Wendy’s IMS program.

Julie Winkle Giulioni on employee development

A significant investment is made each year on studies, training, portals, and programs related to career development. Sadly, the return on this investment continues to disappoint organizations, leaders and employees alike. And it’s unfortunate because what’s needed doesn’t cost even a penny. What’s needed to ensure healthy, sustainable career development is creativity.

“Creativity” and “career development” rarely come up in the same sentence. In fact, many organizations have inadvertently wrung a lot of creativity out of career development through the creation of complicated systems, processes, and forms. What many organizations are discovering is, the more sophisticated the individual development planning process, the less creativity is actually allowed. It turns leaders into box-checking bureaucrats, for whom career development is yet another task on a never-ending To-Do list. It’s like completing a paint-by-number career development plan. That’s not creativity, that’s drudgery.

APPROACHES TO CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT

Although many organizations have completely revamped many aspects of the employee experience—from recruiting to compensation—innovation in career development practices have typically remained largely stagnant. There are, however, a few pacesetting companies that are implementing genuinely creative solutions that ensure relevant and sustainable development. 

In general, these companies focus on two broad approaches that cost nothing but can quickly shift mindsets about how to develop employees:

  • Thinking outside of the box—the checkbox on the standard forms, that is. There’s a balance to be struck between the structure (required for manpower/succession planning) and the ongoing, iterative, informal, in-the-moment way people actually learn, grow and develop. Lightening the administrative load of the former frees up energy and creativity for the latter.
  • Rebranding the outdated career ladder. Although the regular, predictable progression associated with the ladder metaphor went missing from many workplaces some time ago, too many employees and leaders alike still hold that image. Progressive organizations are replacing the ladder with more nimble, lateral, and reality-based models including climbing walls, jungle gyms and Tetris-style ways of thinking about how career development really works.

Here are a few examples of creative ways to embed career development into your work team’s daily life:

ASK

This is the simplest route to helping employees grow: ask their opinion. Yet, managers sometimes forget to ask, “Where do you see the need to develop?” or “What would feel like a stretch assignment to you?” As a manager, it’s easy to get caught up in prescribed “development” activities handed down from upper management and take shortcuts. 

EXTRAPOLATE

What tasks/projects does your employee already do that can be extrapolated into a new project that will energize him/her and provide value to your organization. Perhaps she took a financial project and ran with it; what can you help her do to increase the complexity in the task, so she grows in this area?

DELEGATE

You’re probably already delegating, but here’s the twist: give away a task that you love to do. Perhaps there’s a task that you long ago mastered, but you hold onto because you enjoy it. Who on your team would also enjoy it, if only they had the chance to try it? These are just three possible avenues to injecting creativity into your organization’s career development processes. Everyone from the C-suite to the front lines needs to update their thinking about, expectations of, and efforts to support career development. As these examples show, the shift does not require a significant financial investment. Rather, what’s necessary is the infusion of the priceless quality of creativity.

ABOUT JULIE WINKLE GIULIONI

Julie Winkle Giulioni helps organizations enhance learning, engagement, retention, and the bottom line. Named one of Inc. Magazines top 100 leadership speakers, Julie is the co-author of the international bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want, a respected speaker on a variety of topics, and a regular contributor to many business publications. Julie will be presenting her insights for IMS members in 2020. Learn more about Julie at: https://www.juliewinklegiulioni.com/

Julie Winkle Giulioni on employee development

When you were a kid, did you ever complete a paint-by-number set? Whether it was recreating a picture of your favorite animal, or bringing to life a colorful race car, it was fun to see the image come to fruition.

But it was also limiting. What if you wanted the cat’s ears to be purple, not gray? And what if, while painting that race car, you decided what you really wanted was to paint a spaceship?

Although paint-by-number sets offer the advantage of structure, consistency, and immediacy, they are inherently limiting. And in that way, they are like the complex and colorful career development systems that many organizations create. In an attempt to systematize and create a structure for time-starved leaders, there is an inevitable reduction in creativity.   

As a result, many managers and employees are “painting by numbers” when it comes to career development. They do what’s expected of them. They complete the forms. They meet deadlines. And they continue to complain about the lack of authentic career development in their organizations.

Responsive organizations, dedicated to the engagement and well-being of employees, are struggling to address these issues and meet the needs and expectations of today’s workforce. But the inconvenient truth is that today’s environment is very different from the environment that established these expectations decades ago

A CHANGING DEVELOPMENT ENVIRONMENT

  • Baby boomers are living longer and occupying key roles longer than expected, stemming the historical tide of upward opportunities.
  • Flatter, leaner structures translate to fewer leadership roles—the roles that individual contributors have typically looked to for growth and development.
  • More fluid structures mean that former career paths are less stable and predictable. The chess game many career strategists successfully won in the past now frequently ends with moves toward roles that are no longer necessary. Or there’s suddenly a new and unexpected space on the chessboard—a new role for which they aren’t prepared.

Despite these fundamental shifts in the workplace, some organizations are trying to make career development—as it’s been understood in the past—somehow work. But many engage in unproductive and organizationally unnatural acts like:

PAPER PROMOTIONS

This “creative” approach to meeting employee expectations for growth involves gaming the org chart. A sizable service organization in Asia recently promoted several individuals by changing the title of “senior manager” to “assistant director.” Same customers. Same work. Same pay.

SILLY SUPERVISORY SCHEMES

Given the very few supervisory roles for the many individuals with an appetite for them, a technology firm in India has begun promoting tenured staff to supervisors. Most of them have one direct report (or an open headcount), creating a 1:1 individual contributor to supervisor ratio.

DEVELOPMENT DECOYS

Other organizations are getting on the “promotions aren’t the only way to grow” bandwagon. They recognize that additional projects, stretch assignments and similar development opportunities in the role are the ideal alternative to promotions and moves that aren’t available anyway. The problem is that too frequently this takes the form of dumping great volumes of work on already overburdened employees. As a result, savvy employees — the ones you want to engage, grow and retain — have developed a well-honed “nose” for extra work masquerading as “development opportunities.”

While well-intentioned, these efforts are not going to move the needle when it comes to career development. And here’s why. Most organizations responded years ago to wildly new workplace conditions with significant structural and organizational changes. The new employer/employee contract (or some may argue the lack of a contract altogether) has changed every dimension of human resource management from recruiting through compensation—except career development.

Somehow, employees and leaders alike have held onto the expectation—and hope—that career development could continue unscathed. But it’s simply not possible. As challenging as it was to establish the new workplace reality that included the loss of the lifetime employment guarantee, it’s time to establish a new reality around career development.

Does that mean that organizations must abandon career development? Absolutely not! But they must redefine what it means and how it really works today. And that requires a dose of creative career development planning. It’s not enough to provide paint-by-number templates; organizations must also give their leaders the latitude to formulate personalized plans unique to their teams’ needs. It’s time to allow access to the entire color palette for career development. 

ABOUT JULIE WINKLE GIULIONI

Julie Winkle Giulioni helps organizations enhance learning, engagement, retention, and the bottom line.  Named one of Inc. Magazines top 100 leadership speakers, Julie is the co-author of the international bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want, a respected speaker on a variety of topics, and a regular contributor to many business publications. Julie will be presenting her insights for IMS members in 2020. Learn more about Julie at: https://www.juliewinklegiulioni.com/

Author Jan Ferri-Reed

Our fast-paced world is presenting leaders with increased demands. Recruiting the best and brightest employees to help your organization respond to the challenges is still crucial, but you can’t wait for new employees to figure things out on their own.

In today’s job market, the most heavily recruited new hires are Millennials and Gen Z. Many Millennial job candidates were stymied by the great recession of 2008, and as the economy has recovered, these candidates are now ready to embark on the “dream” careers into which they have invested so much time and student loan debt. Gen Z comes to the workplace with similar expectations as their generational predecessors. So orienting Gen Y and Z within the company takes even more non-traditional approaches and creative strategies. 

This 80-million strong Millennial generation and 61-million Gen Z generation have a few things in common that need to be leveraged in our onboarding programs – technological savvy, a “work to live” high efficiency mentality, hunger for feedback, collaborative approaches, a high level of self-confidence and philanthropic outlook, to name a few.

It may have been passable to gather new employees into a meeting room and briefly relay onboarding information. Today, however, organizations thrive when they implement robust onboarding programs that quickly bring new employees up to speed as follows.

Plan it together 

It may seem counter-intuitive to established employees, but one of the most effective ways to fully engage younger employees is to involve them in planning their own onboarding. Give them options for acquiring information, let them plan the order and sequence of their onboarding program, assign them to interview key existing employees or ask them to prepare a report on a specific topic related to their onboarding experience. 

Make it visual, playful and
data-intensive with infographics

The younger generation prefers to absorb information – and a lot of it – from technology and word pictures and graphics.

Keep it brief 

Millennials and Gen Z prefer sending and receiving information through short text, sound bites and capsule summaries like Snapchat. Keep presentations focused in small bites with flash and short videos in order to retain attention. 

Automate it 

Whether the goal is to introduce new employees to organizational structure and functions or to impart corporate culture, there are technologies that can make the process easier and more effective. Consider using Facebook, Twitter, micro-learning apps, new employee blogs or chat rooms, online video conferences, facetime, etc. 

Make it interactive 

Younger people are used to kinesthetic learning via hands-on activities and projects. The more active and interactive your presentations are, the more impact they will have including simulations, project assignments and virtual problem-solving. 

“Group” it 

Millennials and Gen Z are accustomed to working in teams. Giving them learning projects to tackle as a team is a great way to engage and maximize their learning opportunities. 

Connect it 

No matter what the subject, information from company history to policies and procedures should be directly relevant. Make sure you help them make the connection to their present jobs or to preparation for future ones. 

In addition to the above strategies, consider placing your new employees in brief, temporary assignments within other departments. Cross-training and orienting will both promote better understanding among new employees and build a base for future teamwork and collaboration. And don’t forget about community involvement to build leadership and team skills in partnership with non-profit organizations in your area.

It may also be useful to assign each new employee a transitional mentor to help him or her learn about the organization in a less formal environment. The transitional mentor can be a knowledgeable veteran employee, or even a new employee with enough experience in the company to fill the role.

Extend the on-boarding process throughout the year and involve recent hires in the design and delivery of future on-boarding programs to capture lessons learned or things they wished they would have known. Employees who are onboarded the right way have longer staying power with your organization. You are engaging them right from the start which should contribute to higher engagement scores in the longer term not to mention the increased productivity and satisfaction that you and they will gain as a result.

About Jan Ferri-Reed

Jan is a seasoned consultant and President of KEYGroup, a 32-year Pittsburgh-based education leadership, teambuilding and employment testing organization with a focus on developing leadership skills. Jan has presented a variety of keynotes, workshops, personal coaching and career coaching programs to thousands of managers and employees in a diverse range of organizations across the globe. She provides guidance, wisdom and wit to leaders who are interested in finding unique solutions to unique people problems while providing a return on investment.

Peter B. Star on Leadership

In coaching a manager recently, we learned that her biggest challenge was holding two employees accountable for following department procedures and for communicating to other employees in a style that is respectful and collaborative. To put it simply, this manager needed these employees to do their job correctly and be great team players. When we asked this leader why she was hesitant to hold these two employees accountable, she responded with one word…FEAR!

Leadership fear

  • Fear that if they held the employees accountable, the employees would threaten to quit
  • Fear of the employees’ reactions to being held accountable (tears, aggressive response, etc.)
  • Fear that the employees would attempt to spread ill will and discontent among other employees on the team
  • Fear that if they did try to hold the employees accountable, it would make the situation worse. (Example: although the employees come to work late, do not follow policies and procedures, and are not team players, their measurable results “sales” are outstanding)
  • Fear that the employees would become angry or upset and stop talking to them
  • Fear that if they held the employees accountable, the employees would run to someone higher up in the organization who may side with them and not support you in holding the employees accountable

Here is the problem with the examples shared by this leader. When you don’t do what you should do to hold your direct reports accountable…and you don’t take the action out of fear, you are neither a leader nor a manager…you are a HOSTAGE! A hostage, by definition, is someone who is captured against their will. When managers don’t do what they know is the right thing to do, hold the employee accountable, and they don’t do it out of fear, they are being held captive.

To be a leader, you need to be respected. When an employee holds you hostage for one of the above reasons, although the employee does not come and tell you to your face, they do not respect you. A bigger problem is that everyone on your team sees that you do not hold the deviant employee accountable and the rest of the team also lacks respect for the manager.

Here are seven tips to release your hostage bonds and start down the path to re-claim your position of manager and relationship of leader.

Lean in

Employees who hold their managers hostage effectively do so because they know their manager is hesitant or lacks the confidence to talk to them about the issue. We are convinced that employees know what they are supposed to do to make the manager happy and, when they exhibit behaviors that undermine the success of the organization, team or manager, those behaviors need to be addressed in a timely manner.

Don’t manage by hope and hint

When an employee does something they are not supposed to do, tell them exactly what you need them to do differently and when you need them to do it to be a successful member of the team.

Clear your strategy with your boss and HR

Employees who hold their boss hostage are able to do it for a reason. They usually produce strong measurable results. These employees tend to be the best salespeople; the most productive workers. Most times, their customers love them. What you don’t want is for the employee to go around you, their manager, to your boss and have your boss side with the employee over fear of what the employee might do. When the employee says, “I am going to HR or your boss” and you have reviewed your strategy and both HR and your boss are on the same page, you can look the employee in the eye and say, “Going to HR and/or my boss is a great idea. Would you like me to help you get the meeting set up?” When you have that level of confidence, you are well on your way to reclaiming your title of leader.

Follow-up

During your meeting to discuss your employee’s accountability, set up the next meeting to review their progress. If you set up the next meeting for one week, make sure you put it on both your calendars and ensure the meeting happens.

Expect that your relationship with the employee may get worse

When you hold people accountable who resent the fact you are asking them to change their behaviors, many times the relationship gets worse before it improves. For example, prior to meeting with the employee, there was very little communication with me about the progress of their projects.  After I met with the employee about turning their projects in complete and on time, they stopped communicating with me altogether. Holding the employee accountable and working through their problems will make them feel better about their performance and the relationship improves.

Remember the truth

Employees who threaten to quit over being held accountable very seldom actually follow through on their threat. The reason that most employees don’t quit is because when they think about having to find a new job, they quickly remember that any new employer is not going to put up with their crap and they will have to change even more than correcting the problem you are discussing with them.

Have the guts to take big action!

If the employee is not going to change, then you need to regain your leadership title the old fashioned way. Coach them. Counsel them. Train them. Document your process with HR’s help. When all this does not work, SHARE THEM WITH YOUR BEST COMPETITOR. There is no greater strategic planning action than to take the employee who causes you the greatest grief and give them to your competitor and screw up their business plan. When you begin to work on cool stuff with your new employee, your competitor will wonder how they even got into this hostage situation.

Do you have an employee holding you hostage?  Put these seven tips into action and regain your position of leadership.

About the author

Peter B. Stark is a nationally recognized executive coach, author, and speaker. For over 20 years, he has helped leaders build organizations where employees love to come to work and customers love to do business.  Peter’s humorous, customized, informative and content heavy speeches are drawn from his personal experience as a leader, his experience with clients, as well as the information he gains through pre-keynote interviews. Employees and leaders will leave with actionable tips on how to make positive change and achieve both their goals and the organization’s goals.

How many times have you been frustrated by people constantly seeking your advice or approval before taking action towards a goal?  You want them to make decisions.  You delegate the decision making to them, but they are reluctant.  Why.  And how do you get them to make responsible decisions without your having to look over their shoulders constantly?

Delegating and Growing

It’s called empowerment.  Many have tried, but few succeed.  That’s because the actual process for achieving empowerment is shrouded in psychological mystery.  One has only to look at the reasons people are hesitant to make decisions independent of supervisory overview.  Most people actually do want to make decisions on their own; but are hesitant because they don’t want to make mistakes.  No one does. 

I tend to think in analogies.  I see a person standing on the yellow line in the middle of the highway.  They want to make a decision and step off the line, but every time they do, an 18-wheeler comes whistling by causing them to jump back on the line.  They say, I’m not going to take the risk again unless you tell me exactly what I’m supposed to do….boss.  So, they keep coming back to the boss to seek approval and guidance before making any decision.  It’s much safer…albeit annoying to the boss who wants the employee to make the decision on their own.

What needs to be understood, however, is that empowered delegation is actually boundary management.  The reason people don’t make independent (empowered) decisions is that they don’t know where their boundaries are.  Where/when can they make independent decisions and when do they need to check with the boss. 

True Empowerment

To achieve true empowerment, the boss and the employee must sit down together and decide several things.  First, what’s the goal/objective.  Secondly, based on the employee’s skills and experience, what are the ranges within which the person can make independent decisions.  Ranges in terms of resources they can use (money, people, technology, etc.), timeframes within which the goal must be achieved (as soon as possible but no further than the end of this month), quality of the outcome (must meet these specs), etc.  The more skilled a person is, the wider the range/ leeway the boss is going to give them regarding these parameters.  The newer the employee, the narrower these ranges become forcing the employee to go to the boss before making a decision allowing for coaching and skill building by the boss.  The boss’s job is to create multiple lanes on the highway so they employee is more likely to step off the center line and make independent decisions within the agreed upon ranges for each of the parameters.  Once you reward the employee for taking the risk of making independent decisions within the range, then they are more likely to make it a habit.

Now that you have them moving in the right direction and making decisions within agreed upon parameters, you can keep the process on track by setting up process checkpoints.  At each checkpoint, you check what their progress is towards the goal.  If they’re on track, you can reward them.  If they’re off track you can discuss ways to get back on track by determining if the holdup is due to an employee motivational issue of a lack of skill issue.  In either case tweaking some of the parameters may become necessary to fix the problem.  It’s a team effort driven by the psychological need to make successful decisions and complete goals within a pre-approved decision-making structure.

Enjoy your newly recovered lost time.

About Harvey Robbins

Harvey Robbins has been a licensed psychologist and award-winning author and consultant for over 40 years. Since 1982, he has been the president of Robbins & Robbins, a company shaped on psychology principles to coach leaders and train business teams.

Before becoming a consultant, Dr. Robbins served as a personnel research psychologist for the Federal Government and was in executive leadership positions with Fortune 500 companies, including Honeywell and Burlington Northern. He is also a Fellow at the Executive Development Center at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and a sought-after speaker at conferences and events locally and abroad.

His clients include American Express, Mayo Clinic, Nabisco, Toro, the IRS, the CIA, the US Secret Service, and many others.