Business Mentoring & Coaching

Business Mentoring & Career Coaching
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Virtual literally became a reality with the changes demanded of us through the Coronavirus pandemic. Businesses quickly adapted to significantly reduced personal interaction levels and moved to video calls, meetings, and training by phone or video call.  For some, the benefits have been enormous and they see very little reason to return to old ways, so does this work for virtual mentoring?

Mentoring should support teams and individuals, which is even more critical when working remotely. The feeling of community is easily lost and individuals can suffer stress and feel isolated without it being noticed when they aren’t turning up to an office every day. The virtual world is one way to overcome this and mentoring can undoubtedly be as effective.

Virtual Mentoring Has Many Benefits Even Post-Pandemic

  • Location– remote mentoring immediately removes the location barrier. Virtual mentoring opens up the opportunity for relationships that would never happen in an office.
  • Time Efficiencies– No travel time and sessions can happen from anywhere, be scheduled more efficiently and cost less.
  • Less Social Pressure– Meeting with a mentor face-to-face can cause anxiety and nerves, especially for those with low self-esteem, which can inhibit some natural reactions and become a barrier to progress. Virtual mentoring can be a highly successful way of removing this stress to become a more comfortable and productive process. You can begin with phone calls and move to video calls at a pace that your mentee is comfortable with.
  • Multiple Mentors– Individuals can have multiple mentors through the new flexibility that virtual mentoring offers.
  • Quick To Put Into Action– Mentoring programs within offices tend to become large programs that take planning and big meetings. Virtual mentoring allows this to be scaled down and is much quicker to get up and running as a result.

Overcoming The Challenges of Virtual Mentoring

  • Forming A Connection Wherever possible, encourage participants to use video calls, even if they start without the camera. It gives the option to switch on the camera as you form a connection without changing the basic meeting structure. Make time for the social side and use icebreaker games to get to know each other and become comfortable. Understanding how to mentor an anxious employee can teach skills valuable to all virtual mentoring encounters. 
  • Reducing the feeling of isolation – Mentoring programs have a sense of community that needs to develop even more strongly in virtual mentoring, whether to an individual or a group. Schedule a webinar for those involved before the program’s official start, encouraging participants to feel part of something. Have similar milestone meetings throughout the program to celebrate achievements and progress.
  • Technical Difficulties– You are bound to encounter some technical difficulties, so have a backup plan that everyone understands. Disruption can derail the flow and become frustrating. Check connections are stable before you start and resort to a phone call to get back on track if you can’t fix the issue speedily.

Mentoring may never become entirely remote and there is, we hope, no reason for that to be the case. Still, it is undoubtedly a productive and valuable addition to mentoring services that we see staying around.

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A great leader understands the importance of communication. Communication skills can undoubtedly be learned to make success easier. No matter how big or small your business or organisation, you need to excel at communication for the sake of your business.

Does It Matter As Long As The Job Gets Done?

In short, the answer is yes. Poor communication leads to low morale, lost sales and missed goals and that hits your bottom line. On the other hand, get communication right and you will rally teams, empower employees and build trust amongst colleagues. 

What Are Essential Skills?

  • Active Listening– hearing and understanding what is being said to you. Knowing when to speak and when to listen, ask questions and listen to what is said. Employees who feel heard, have a chance to express ideas and give feedback feel more valued, are more actively engaged, leading to higher morale and productivity. Keep your focus on the employee and eliminate any distractions. If you want to win them over, they need to know they are an essential part of the company structure.
  • Identifying your leadership style and adapting your communication style you need to understand how employees perceive you and tailor your interactions to influence them to respond. Whilst you may feel you are an authoritative leader, this may not be the best approach to win over a strong employee seeking autonomy. The ability to adapt your communication style will make a difference.
  • Transparency – Leaders build trust through an environment where employees understand the company goals and challenges. Every individual understands the importance of their role within the company and transparent leaders helps make this connection. 5 Powerful things happen when a leader is transparent; this Forbes article shows changes a leader can make to get results.
  • Empathy– this quite possibly should have been listed first, as it is a leadership skill must for success. Acknowledging employees feelings and experiences will help them feel valued. Showing you may not be able to change things, but you hear them will build a more robust, more productive culture that every leader needs for success.
  • Body Language– How you carry yourself can undo thousands of words. Make eye contact and take control of your mouth. Know when to give a smile or grimace and convey warmth with your movements. 
  • Questioning style– Practice asking open-ended questions and how to elicit thoughtful and thorough responses. Clarify and probe when you need to. In doing so, you will get more considered answers and clarity on what is required for all to succeed. Closed questions will shut down opinions and employees feeling that they have no right t be heard.
  • Feedback– Ask for it and be prepared to act on it. If you never implement changes from feedback or are not transparent about why changes cant be made, you will lose employee faith. Let employees know you hear them and inform them of any progress you can or have made if you want them to take you seriously.

Alongside the tips above, we recommend you check out these top 5 leadership books of all time to give you even more strategies for communicating well within your business.

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Mentoring always creates expectations for both parties involved, and it is important as both a mentor to understand which of those expectations you should reasonably expect to fulfil. While many believe that having a strong mentoring program within your business is most beneficial in improving workplace culture, how can you be sure there are no misunderstandings or disappointment, when it is felt by either party that expectations are not being met? 

We look at some tips to help you work out what is reasonable or unreasonable and how to set boundaries.

In the beginning

Before clarifying your mentor relationship with the person you’re mentoring, you should seek to answer some basic questions yourself. Entering into the initial mutual discussion understanding your own expectations and what you hope to achieve, as well as defining what you expect to be offered from the mentoring relationship will give you a good starting point. Once done you will be better placed to have the critical mentor meeting as you embark on the program. 

Understanding Expectations

Seek to answer these questions:

  • What do I expect of the other party?
  • What do I think they expect of me?
  • What are my expectations of the mentoring program?
  • What should the mentor expect of the mentored person’s immediate manager to support them to succeed in the program?

Once you have the answers, you have made progress to understand your own expectations. You should then seek to align these with your counterpart.

At the outset of the mentoring process sit down with the person you’re mentoring and discuss the expectations you have from the relationship, before you progress any further.  As the mentor you should lead the conversation, but you must allow space for the other person to articulate their needs and expectations.

Following these three steps will help you cover some of the key areas you need to clarify:

  1. As the mentor, state your expectations, and allow the other person to ask questions and clarify what is offered and what your expectation means.
  2. As a mentor you are seeking agreement on the expectation. Agreeing a common definition and understanding for every aspect of the mentoring partnership in advance will avoid potential confusion or feelings of resentment later through the mentoring program.
  3. If you cannot agree on any of the expectations or feel that they are not realistic at this time or are not appropriate, you can mutually decide to put them to one side to be revisited at a future time. As the program moves forward there may be a chance for agreement later on or for a mutually agreed adjustment.

As the mentor you are there to guide the person you’re mentoring through the targets and make progress as expected. This role is often used to foster career development, which is of benefit to both parties enabling them to grow within the business and as a person. However, sometimes employees may not progress in as short a time as you think they should, which could cause anxiety on both sides.  Understanding how to mentor an anxious employee is a useful skill to have, allowing you to manage their expectations and your own, so that things do not become problematic.  

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Effective leadership is arguably the holy grail of business and makes all the difference in whether a business thrives or merely coasts. Many books, papers and articles have been written on this topic over the years which creates the dilemma of which is likely to be informative and inspiring and which is destined for the recycling bin.

Read on for our selection on which leadership books are, in our opinion worth reading for insight and inspiration, whether you are an experienced CEO or just starting out on your leadership journey.

1 Learning to Lead by Ron Williams with Karl Weber

Growing up in segregated Chicago was no barrier to Ron Williams getting to the very top of his field in health care and this book sets out to share his personal philosophies as well as useful tips on how to put yourself in the right place at the right time to progress your career.

2 Excellence Wins by Horst Schulze with Dean Merrill

The hotel business is more than most subject to the vagaries and whims of passing trends and a successful hotelier is all too aware that the hotel business is only as good as the quality, enthusiasm and ideas of their employees. Former Ritz-Carlton president Schulze understands the power of a fully committed and engaged staff who contribute towards the success of a business when their ideas and experience are taken on board by managers.

3 Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

The two ex US navy seal officers who gained valuable leadership experience and more when they led special operations units during the Iraq war bring their unique perspective on how to structure your team for success. Strong leadership is essential whether in the field of war or otherwise and the authors illustrate perfectly how to lead under fire whether real or metaphorical.

4 The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

How many of us have worked for a company or organisation where the management and leadership was at best sporadic or even non-existent and how many of us have been the ones gallantly struggling to keep things together for customers or other stakeholders. The Fifth Risk offers an insight into how much better and more successful an enterprise can be with the right leadership and support.

5 Leadership is an Art by Max De Pree

This book by the former CEO of the highly successful home and office furnishings company Herman Miller Inc is probably the definitive work on how to build the success of your business through not only hiring the right creative minds but also through placing trust in your employees and nurturing relationships. He makes the point that great leadership is not just about ‘wielding the big stick’ but instead building solid foundations from top to bottom.   

Whether you’re just starting out and unsure of your talents or whether you have innate, instinctive leadership skills we feel sure that there is always something to be gained from the wise words of those who have mastered the art. 

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According to the HSE, in 2018/19, there were over 600 thousand employees suffering with anxiety, depression or stress in the workplace. Whether they're a new recruit or an old hand that's suffering, looking after the mental health of your employees is as important as their physical health.  Wiht this in mind, what can you do within your business to help anxiety levels in the employees you mentor?

Clear Company Policy

One of the first and perhaps the most important factors is to ensure that your entire business is open to mental health awareness. Maintain a clear visible strategy to show staff that both mental and physical wellbeing is important and they can be confident to speak, through established channels when they need help or believe another member of staff may.

Mentoring junior employees can help greatly in reducing their stress levels, which in turn gives them more confidence and ultimately leads to greater productivity and help them to settle into their work.  

When handled sensitively, a mentor can be the difference between an anxious employee succeeding in your company or crumbling under the pressure.

Mental Health Awareness

Managing mental health in the workplace requires a strategy that promotes wellbeing for all staff. It is important that staff who require additional mental health support feel they can speak out, be listened to and receive support. It is important to focus on what employees can do, rather than what they cannot. 

Providing a mentor for an anxious employee will provide them with the security of support from someone who will get to know them and be able to personalise the support they give.  It can be as simple as giving feedback on a task more regularly than they would normally receive, or simply an ear to discuss concerns they are having whether it is in work or their private life.  

Action Plans

Mental health can affect an employee differently from one day to the next. By supporting your managers to work with those suffering, developing an action plan in advance with tailored support ready for the times they feel they are not coping so well, will ensure you are able to respond quickly as issues arise.  Creating practical and agreed steps in advance gives both the employer and the employee a basis for review and monitoring. It should cover triggers and warning signs, so that both learn to recognise the onset quickly. Is should also recognise the impact an occurrence may have on their performance and what support can be offered to reduce the effects and lastly cover what workplace changes may be needed to facilitate the support. 

It should also identify positive steps that the individual can take to safeguard their wellbeing, and manage their anxiety.

Changes

Many of the changes required are often small and inexpensive, but will require some thought. Perhaps scheduling a catch up meeting to help prioritise workloads, offering flexible working to facilitate causes of anxiety outside the workplace, allowing adjusted working hours or an additional break which can help some individuals cope, especially those on medication. 

Your company will benefit by fostering a caring attitude for staff and reduce the number of staff that may be unable to continue working if no support could be offered.  Anxious employees will often thrive, grow in confidence and ability and provide many years of loyal service if the right support is given by their emplpyees and those that mentor them.