Corporate Learning Strategies
Daniel R. Tobin, Ph.D.
Mentoring and Coaching
Copyright ©1998 Daniel R. Tobin
Having a mentor and/or a coach can be very helpful to your career development in your company. Many people confuse the two roles. In this article, we will talk about the differences between the two roles, discuss how you can use a mentor and a coach, and talk about your own role as a coach for your employees.
The roles of mentor and coach differ in several ways. The mentor acts as your counselor, providing advice on career paths, development opportunities, and an overview of what it takes to become a leader in the company. Typically, the mentor is a senior manager, at least two levels above you in the organization. The mentor must have broader experience in the company and the ability to place you into assignments that will help with your development. A critical element in the mentoring relationship is a mutual respect between you and your mentor.
For example, the publisher of one of my books told me that he had a mentor when he first joined a large publishing company. "Once a month, I had lunch with my mentor, a senior vice president in the company. I learned more about the publishing industry and how the company really worked at those lunches than I could have in years if I had to discover all of it myself."
The coach is more of a tutor, observing your work and actions, providing comments on execution, and teaching skills which may be lacking. Coaches can come from many sources. A coach can be a colleague, a manager, or an employee, and doesn't have to come from the same function or division in which you work. For example, a coach may come from the company's personnel or training function. Some senior executive hire an outside consultant to act as their coach. It is critical in the coaching relationship for the coach to have opportunities to observe your work and for you to respect the coach and be open to feedback.
Both mentoring and coaching must be viewed as long-term relationships -- a commitment of two years should be obtained before the relationship is established. These two roles, whether performed by one person or two, are an essential ingredient in your career development. No matter how much education and training you receive, and no matter how excellent that instruction may be, the incorporation of new skills and knowledge into your work takes time, practice, and feedback. The mentor provides guidance and opportunities for practice. The coach observes and critiques the performance and provides you with an outside perspective on your skills.
Your Role as a Coach
As a manager, you should also be a coach for your employees. When you act as a coach, you are giving your employees your time and attention and, more importantly, you are helping them master their work and grow their own knowledge and skills. You are also showing respect for their individual capabilities and providing what I consider the most important motivation a person can have -- the opportunity for self-development.
Coaching is not telling your employees what to do or providing simple answers to their questions. Coaching is helping your employees discover the answers themselves. It is unlocking an employee's potential to maximize their own performance, helping them to learn rather than teaching them. Coaching is must more time-consuming than giving orders, but is also much more satisfying to both the employee and the manager.
When you hold a coaching session with an employee, you guide them through a thinking process, helping them to discover the answers to their own questions, rather than imposing a solution. The questions below are designed to guide you through this process.
A. Questions Related to the Employee's Goals
1. What is the goal of this discussion? What goal or activity are you working on? (For example, you may be talking about a project the employee has undertaken or about the employee's routine work, such as customer relations.)
2. What do you want to accomplish, both short-term and long-term? (The length of time will often affect what can be accomplished.)
3. Are we talking about something you want to produce, or about how you work (an end goal such as completing a product design or a performance goal such as improving your writing skills)?
4. If the goal positive, challenging, attainable, and measurable? (If none of these criteria are met, you should question whether the goal is worthwhile.)
B. Is the Goal Realistic?
1. What is happening now related to your goal? (Few goals are isolated from other people and plans within the company, and it is important to be aware of what else is happening that will affect your plans.)
2. Who is involved and how do those people view your goal? (Most goals involve other people, and you need to ensure that those people are aware of what you are doing and support your efforts.)
3. What have you done about this so far and what results did your actions produce? (You need to know whether the situation you are discussing is about a future plan or is trying to fix a problem that has already arisen.)
4. What is happening, both inside and outside your group and the company, that will affect your goal? (No one works in isolation, and you need to recognize that other programs and events, both locally and in the larger world, may affect what you are doing.)
5. What are the major constraints to finding a way to more forward? (You cannot overcome barriers to your goal unless you recognize what they are and deal with them.)
C. Questions On Options for Action
1. What options do you have? (Getting the employee to consider alternative actions can not only help to broaden his perspective on the situation, it can also help you discover options that you may not have considered in the past.)
2. What are the costs and benefit of each of those options? (This gets the employee to think through each option in a larger context.)
3. What if ...? (If the employee has not considered all of the options you can think of, you can help to expand his thinking by raising other possibilities in the form of "what if ..." questions.)
4. Would you like another suggestion? (If the "what if" questions don't help the employee to consider other options you would like him to consider, ask if he would like another suggestion. It is important to ask the question in this way, rather than imposing your own solution on the employee. Imposing a solution does not help the employee learn. Of course, there are times when you must impose a solution, such as when the employee's plan will be dangerous to himself or others.)
D. Questioning the Employee's Will to Succeed
1. What are you going to do, and when will you do it? (Get the employee to commit to a plan of action.)
2. Will this meet your goal? (If not, why do it?)
3. What obstacles do you expect to face, and how will you overcome them? (This is also a reality test.)
4. Who needs to know what you are doing, and what support do you need? (Make certain the employee recognizes the other parties that need to be involved or who will be affected by his work.)
5. Rate yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, on the likelihood of carrying out this action. (If the rating is low, why bother continuing with the planning exercise?)
These questions are meant to serve as a guide, not as a fixed list that you must go through in every coaching situation. But using questions such as these will provide surprisingly positive results, whether you are using them with an employee, a peer, or your own manager. I have also used this method very successfully with my teen-aged daughter to get her to consider the thoroughness of her plans and the consequences of her actions.
Coaching your employees will make you a better manager and a more valuable company employee, and can only help you in your own career development.
Dan Tobin welcomes your reactions to and comments on this article. To send him e-mail, click here or send email to DanielTobin@att.net.