Use mentoring to maximise impact

Transforming your staff will bring greater impact to every area of your organisation. Whether your business is large or small, it is key to pay attention to staff in all positions, from the most junior to the board level.

While I was Finance Director at Amnesty International, a staff survey showed my team needed transforming. They were demotivated, expressing a desire for better management support and more control over their own areas. How did I use mentoring to address this, and what was the result?

What is mentoring?

The words “mentoring” and “coaching” are often used interchangeably. I use “mentoring” here for consistency, and to understand the differences go to My Services and click on the link to learn about the differences between them.

My father mentored me when I was a young child - he listened carefully to my questions and challenged me to find my own answers, building on my responses when required. This made me feel valued, and inspired me to try harder and achieve more at school. As a result, I have always believed in the benefits of a mentoring approach to management: if you take more time to listen and understand your staff’s situation, you can give better advice and help them learn to find their own solutions.

How do you implement mentoring in your team?

Photo by Felipe Correia on Unsplash

Step 1: Be brave and change yourself first. I told my direct reports that I was going to reset the purpose of our regular one-to-ones. Instead of using these meetings to hear their updates and hand out work, they would become mentoring sessions for my managers to reflect and resolve their issues. Updates would be done through a monthly report and if I wanted to discuss work, I would set up a separate meeting. It was essential that I committed to my staff to make our sessions different from now on, and I asked them to hold me to account for that

Step 2: Stick to a new agenda for the sessions. As you walk into the room, consciously change your mindset from ‘manager’ to ‘mentor’. Take a breath and focus on your mentee, be ready to listen deeply to the issue they want to discuss, and ask open questions to help them identify how they may be exacerbating their issue, questionable assumptions they may be making and options to move forward. Your role is to ensure they creatively think about all possible options, before they decide their way forward. If you have a strong desire to give direction, put your finger on your lips or sit on your hands until they have finished talking. This will give them more space to think, and will improve the quality and relevance of your advice

Step 3: End every session by asking your staff member to summarise where they have got to, what their actions are, and to reflect on one thing you could do to improve the session next time. Afterwards, take 5 minutes to note what you did well and what you could do better. Mentoring is a new way of working which takes time and practice, so be patient and stay positive. For practical advice, read The Mentoring Manual by Julie Starr or book on a training course – for example this one

Step 4: If you have a larger team, ask your managers to use mentoring with their staff. The best way to learn is by doing. Set up half-hour manager practice sessions where you pair them up and roleplay these new skills of active listening, powerful questioning and giving advice that is more focused and useful.

What was the result?

After doing the above, staff turnover fell, we filled more of our senior vacancies internally, and the team’s service and impact ratings shot up in our annual “How are finance doing?” survey. We were also proud to win the ‘Third Sector Finance Team of the Year’ award.

I honed my skills by training to be a coach and mentor, and now aim to maximise impact through mentoring senior leaders and developing managers' coaching and mentoring skills.

Get in touch to discuss how mentoring might benefit your organisation, or to ask a question.

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