Successful coaching and mentoring have been considered vital components of talent development and management for at least the last decade.
According to the Centre for Workplace Leadership, 71 per cent of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programmes because such investments improve performance, productivity and innovation. A growing body of research also shows that coaching and mentoring help companies engage and retain top talent more effectively.
However, Covid-19 may have taken the focus off such initiatives. The crisis displaced many individuals at the start. As such, most individuals prioritised simply staying employed or finding a new job, while companies emphasised just-in-time learning to simply survive.
As things begin improving in several parts of the world, it’s time to urgently focus on comprehensive talent development so that companies and the workers they employ are able to navigate an uncertain future and confront the next crisis with confidence.
After all, Covid-19 has, in fact, accentuated the need to upskill and reskill. Soft skills such as agility, adaptability, communication and leadership have become more crucial. Continued uncertainty has also made it necessary for every employee to be able to pivot swiftly when required. As such, beyond hard skills courses, coaching and mentoring programmes that encourage soft skills acquisition are more vital now than ever before and shouldn’t only be reserved for those who aren’t performing. They should be extended to all employees.
Many have bemoaned how remote work has reduced opportunities for spontaneous and observational learning. However, we all know that one-on-one sessions can be easily held virtually and other remote communication tools such as chat can be used deftly to make a positive impact. Remote work is certainly no excuse for neglecting coaching and mentoring. In fact, it should encourage companies to implement more comprehensive programmes to make up for the lack of spontaneous and observational learning.
In implementing such programmes, one also needs to consider the difference between mentors and coaches. Mentors are usually from a different department and their job is to help people learn about a new skill or a new area of the business. Coaches are usually managers who work closely with individuals who report to them. They have the capacity to bring out the best in them on a day-to-day basis.
In order for employees to have a rich growth experience, they should ideally have both.
Here’s how organisations can begin setting or resetting the tone for robust coaching and mentoring:
1. Communicate the “Why”
Explain why you are encouraging mentoring and coaching and why these initiatives matter. What are the objectives of such programmes? How will they help employees and the organisation? Communicating the reasons behind such initiatives and how each employee stands to benefit from them will make everyone more enthusiastic about the process.
2. Start at the Top
Being a manager is no longer enough. All leaders need to be coached into becoming effective coaches and mentors. They need to be equipped with the skills to have productive two-way career and professional development conversations with the people they lead and give them constructive feedback. They must also learn what motivates each individual, identify what it will take for each person to add the most value and help them do so.
As such, companies must support effective coaching and mentoring by providing training and resources to all leaders. They need to also be given the time and space to sharpen their skills.
3. Ensure Coaching and Mentoring are Enshrined in Company-wide Processes
Make coaching and mentoring part of your organisation’s processes, from onboarding and performance reviews to more casual interactions. Ensure that all coaches and mentors are aware of expectations and are consistently held accountable.
In order to do this, you’ll have to define the following:
a. What does effective coaching and mentoring look like? What are the goals of such sessions?
b. Who provides it?
c. Who receives it?
d. How often should it occur?
e. What methods should we use to provide it?
f. What should the agenda of such sessions be? (e.g. goals, obstacles, opportunities)
g. How do we measure success?
4. Have More Regular Career and Professional Development Conversations
Organisational and individual goals have likely changed drastically since the pandemic. Considering the ever-changing business environment, goals are likely to continue changing more frequently. Continued uncertainty means agility and adaptability will remain crucial. As such, planning long-term development and career goals and expecting to stick to them is unrealistic.
Annual performance reviews are no longer enough. More frequent touch-base meetings, self-evaluations and reviews are necessary to take stock of both organisational and individual career and development plans. Some choose to check in on a weekly basis. Others do so on a monthly basis. Whatever the case, more frequent check-ins are definitely necessary in the current climate.
5. Have Holistic Conversations
While career and organisational goals are vital, each person in the equation is also managing personal challenges. Checking in on overall well-being should be part of such conversations. How are employees coping with continuing to work from home? If they want to discuss how they are managing their familial commitments, make them feel safe enough to do so. Each person must feel secure enough to be a human being, not just a worker. This could also ignite discussions on how their concerns can be managed or resolved in order for them to become better workers.
6. Use Multiple Tools
Even if most of you are continuing to work remotely, don’t use the lack of face-to-face contact as an excuse for not having one-on-one sessions. While opportunities for spontaneous and observational learning have decreased, we all know that meetings can be easily held virtually.
But don’t restrict your communication to video calls. Texting, calling or sharing documents with annotations should be part of the mix to signal that connecting with each other doesn’t need to involve booking calendar appointments and sending each other meeting links. It can be spontaneous and casual too.
Also, being virtual doesn’t mean that you can’t connect more tangibly. Mailing or delivering items to each other is certainly a viable option. It could be a book that would help the employee meet his or her next goal or simply an afternoon snack as a friendly gesture.
All of this will help deepen the relationship and encourage more honest sharing and meaningful results.
7. Celebrate Wins Publicly and Nurture a Sense of Community
When goals are met, they should certainly be celebrated, but not just by mentors, coaches and the people with whom they work. They should be celebrated on a company-wide level.
Sharing ensures transparency. It allows people to assess the success of the programmes on a company-wide level.
Organise forums during which people can share lessons learnt and/or their accomplishments. Allow people to express gratitude to those who’ve supported them during the process. Coaches and mentors should share their experiences as well. What has coaching or mentoring been like for them? What have they learnt from the people they’ve helped? People should also feel free to share the challenges of coaching and mentoring sessions and discuss ideas to overcome them.
Sharing sessions help people realise they are not alone and allow them to be inspired by others’ stories while opening the door for them to connect directly to get more advice. This helps organisations cultivate a deeper sense of community.