How To Be A Great Mentor: 5 Traits to Cultivate Now

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“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”

~ Robert Frost ~

Randy is more than a little anxious. He’s been moving ahead rapidly on the fast track with his company and he knows that his C-level managers see him as an emerging leader. Now, however, his boss has just presented him with a new challenge: mentor two employees who have just joined the firm. Randy has had a few good mentors in the past, but there’s a big difference between having one and being one. And he hasn’t been one since he tutored his girlfriend in math when they were high school seniors. He needs to be ready in two weeks. What to do first?

Like all creative leaders, Randy begins to brainstorm and research. Within a few hours, he has the outline of a game plan and knows exactly what he needs to do to become a great mentor:

  • Develop a servant mentality
  • Ask the right questions
  • Cultivate their strengths
  • Model executive presence
  • Put them in the spotlight

1. Develop a servant mentality. The mentee is the star of your little show, so always keep him or her in the limelight. They may not be comfortable there, at least in the beginning. Every actor has butterflies on opening night, after all. Your job is to cheerlead, comfort, and encourage. And stay in the background.

2. Ask the right questions. Robert Ridel, in his book Critical Thinking for Everyday Life, says that “to question is to understand.” Probing, open-ended questions often lead other people to discover answers and ideas that they didn’t know they had. Always approach questioning from the positive point of view:

  • Why do you think that worked so well?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • If you were the client, what questions would you ask?

3. Cultivate their strengths. Being in a new position, or with a new company, is challenging in itself. Fear of failure may lie pretty close to the surface. Now is the time to remind your mentee of what she or he has already accomplished. They landed this job, didn’t they? And that was based on a track record of prior successes. Get them to talk about those successes and how to translate them into the current environment. This doesn’t mean you should ignore the downside. As George Lucas said, when discussing Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, “Mentors have a way of seeing more of our faults than we would like. It’s the only way we grow.” You can see both sides but always accentuate the positive.

4. Model executive presence. You already have the right skills and attitude. That’s why you were chosen to become a mentor. You are not only talented, you create an impact when you enter the room. You know how to influence others, and you consistently provide added value to every project you manage. Always demonstrate these traits when working with your mentees. Come from a place of teaching, not from ego. 

Good approach: “We just made a really successful presentation. Why do you think it worked?”

Not so good: “Wow! That was fantastic. I just love it when I knock it out of the park.”

5. Put them in the spotlight. When your mentee scores a win, give him the credit. Let him know when he hits a home run. Don’t hesitate to brag to your peers and C-level executives about what a great job he’s doing. Then use that win as a foundation for continuing to grow.

Six months after Randy took on his first two mentees, he was asked to develop a mentoring model to be implemented company-wide. Today, mentoring is a way of life, based on the initial plan he put together.

Are you about to become a mentor? Or are you already a mentor and need some new ideas to motivate your mentees? Email Joel today for his suggestions.

Talkback: Have you successfully mentored employees or others in your industry? What tips would you like to share with our readers?

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Workplace Conflict: Blessing or Curse?

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“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph”

~ Thomas Paine ~

Client Martina Asks: Lately, my office has become Conflict Central. We can’t have a meeting without someone leaving in a snit because his or her idea was rejected. There’s a lot of door slamming and loud voices. People who used to socialize together after work aren’t even speaking. Worst of all, our productivity is in the tank. As a team leader, I feel some responsibility to do something about this. I’d like to be the person who turns the team around and gets our projects back on track. What do you suggest?

Coach Joel Answers: Conflict has become a way of life in many organizations. In fact, a whole industry has been created around training people how to resolve conflicts. Just Google “conflict resolution” and you’ll see what I mean. But a lot of these tried-and-true, theoretical methods are not particularly effective. Some people thrive on conflict and love to create more of it. If you have one or more of those on your team, your job is going to be challenging.

How about this? Instead of seeing conflict as a negative, a big problem to be solved—how about looking at conflict as an opportunity to become even better than you are?

Martina seemed unconvinced but willing to go along—for a while anyway. Here’s the outline of actions steps that Joel and Martina put together.

  • Step 1: Develop an internal support team. Gather around a table with a few team members who you know are not happy with the current situation and would welcome an opportunity to be part of turning it around. Look for people who are open to using conflict as an opportunity to get better, not just a problem to be solved.
  • Step 2: Clearly define the problem. The problem is NOT that Joe’s a jerk who won’t go along with anything; or the work load is too heavy; or the boss’s expectations are unrealistic. Just as married people seldom fight about the budget, work teams seldom fight about the work load. What they both want is control. The problem is that nobody yet is able to see conflict as an opportunity and share control to build a better organization. It’s your job to show them how.
  • Step 3: Make your adversaries part of the solution. Not everyone will see the possibilities. However, you must, first of all, respect those whose opinions differ from yours. Invite them in. Give those who are willing to work together a seat at the table and get everything out in the open. During this kind of communication, the key ground rule is “no argument.” The key tool is listening and letting the other person know he or she has been heard. My book about Difficult Conversations provides a lot more detail about how this technique can work for you.
  • Step 4: Capture ideas and pick the top 5. Every person at the table will have ideas. Some will have merit; some will not. Make sure that your brainstorming session doesn’t deteriorate into an “us against them” free-for-all. Choose ideas from all different perspectives, ideas that are positive and will forward the action, not short-term solutions that will put a band-aid on an open wound.
  • Step 5: Team up to move up. Take your top five ideas and let each team member choose to be part of an implementation team that puts one of those into action. Develop a timeline for completion and an interim schedule for progress reports.

In short, the secret to conflict resolution is not “Can’t we all just get along?” The secret is giving people a project to work on where their ideas and creativity are respected and where they can see the results of their efforts.

What’s the biggest conflict in your workplace right now? Start making a list of steps you can take personally to turn this conflict into a big step forward for your team and for the company. Joel has helped many of his clients do exactly that. Email him today to discuss possibilities.

Talkback: Have you successfully turned a conflict into an opportunity? We’d love to hear how you did it. Share your experience below.

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8 Skills for Mastering Conflict Resolution

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“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.”

~ Margaret Heffernan ~

Anna has always been a competent and conscientious employee, but she couldn’t figure out how to really shine as a leader. Her mentor suggested she evaluate what skills her office needed most and work to fill the gap. Anna realized that office conflicts were wasting valuable time and energy. Coworkers were avoiding conflict at all costs until it came to a head, and several of her coworkers had left the company because of the negative atmosphere. By honing her conflict resolution skills, Anna knew she could really get noticed.

Conflict resolution is an invaluable skill that will make you shine as an employee, because few people do it really well. Helping conflicts to happen in healthy ways will boost ingenuity, foster harmonious relationships, and increase job satisfaction. Whether you’re mediating conflicts for others or resolving a conflict with a coworker or even with your boss, these tips will help you to master this skill.

1. Predict conflicts.

Conflicts don’t always have to catch you off guard. Look for personality clashes and underlying tensions that could surface during a challenging moment. That will help you to circumvent them when possible by curbing bad behavior before it gets out of hand, and to anticipate how to handle tense situations.

2. Let both parties cool down.

Don’t attempt to find a solution while everyone is boiling mad. Give people time and space to cool down and reflect on the situation. Let them know you’ll help resolve the conflict after everyone has had some breathing room.

3. Articulate the conflict.

Clearly state what is happening and why it’s important to solve the conflict. Ask all parties if they agree with your summary of the situation. You can’t solve the problem until you know what problem you’re solving.

4. Get to the root of the issue.

Personality clashes and past disagreements that flare up might cloud the issue. If you’ve taken the time to predict what types of conflicts might arise in your workplace, you’ll have a better idea of their root causes. Ask yourself if you’ve seen a pattern at play.

5. Make sure both parties feel heard.

Schedule one-on-one time with each party, if possible, to make sure they’ve each had the chance to fully air their concerns and feel heard. If you’re involved in the conflict, reach out to a colleague who can help you understand the other party’s perspective, and ask your advocate for advice if need be.

6. Foster collaboration or compromise.

Solutions that involve collaboration or compromise are the most productive, because they ensure everyone’s needs are met. They’re far more productive than having one party accommodate the other’s wishes completely, or having both parties compete head-on to show their solution is best. While negotiating the solution, consider whether one party is more domineering or vocal than the other. If so, work to draw the more reserved party out to make sure no one’s needs are being overlooked.

7. Communicate expectations with everyone.

Communicating expectations clearly will help avoid future conflicts. Clear communication also makes people feel valued. If the office already has formal protocol related to the issue at hand, communicate it to the entire office. If not, assemble a small team of people to develop a protocol that coworkers can look to in the future.

8. Solicit solutions

Ask for potential solutions from all parties involved in the conflict. If other coworkers have investment in the issue at hand, ask the whole office for solutions. When the people in conflict see its resolution as a joint effort, they’ll be more likely to feel acknowledged, supported, and treated fairly.

Working to build positive relationships with coworkers on a daily basis will help them trust your methods of conflict resolution. Making this effort will poise you to take leadership in the conflict resolution process. Like Anna, as you hone stellar conflict resolution skills, your boss will come to see you as a leader in your workplace.

Anne purchased my book Difficult Conversations which provided her with the practical tactics for some of the crucial communication she was prepared to begin having.

For the next week, take notice of any tension brewing in your office and predict what conflicts might arise from it. Take action each day to address a potential area of conflict, such as asking a coworker what might alleviate her frustrations with fellow team members. Take notes on what worked and what didn’t, and email Joel for feedback.

Talkback: Have conflict resolution skills gotten you noticed? Have you seen them benefit your coworkers? Share your experiences here.

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Setting Work Performance Goals
with Your Employees

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“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment”

~Jim Rohn~

Setting Work Performance Goals with Your Employees

If you are in a leadership position, you are constantly faced with the challenge of keeping your employees motivated and productive. Most companies use work performance goals as a means of evaluating employees. However, from the employee’s point of view, they are often looked on as an arbitrary and rigid means of doling out raises. That is because many organizations fail to use goals properly.

Goals are most effective when the individual expected to meet them has a part in setting them. As a manager it is important to put yourself in the place of the employee and ask yourself these basic questions:

  • What kind of goals would motivate me in this position?
  • What sort of goals would make me happier and more productive in this position?

With these two questions in mind and with the help of the following pointers, employees will no longer view goals as mere management tools but rather as they should be: personal motivators for success that can help your employees succeed.

1. Include employees in the process

But give them guidance along the way. As their manager, you know best what they need to achieve in order to meet company objectives. But having them contribute to their own goal setting in a meaningful way will also help motivate them to meet the performance goals for their jobs. Failing to reach a goal we set for ourselves is always harder to swallow than failing to reach a goal we think leadership arbitrarily set for us. On a side note, having the employee help set goals will give you valuable insight into what motivates each individual.

2. Set deadlines

Open-ended goals promote procrastination. Many companies employ quarterly goals in conjunction with long-term annual goals. However, short-term goals will also provide an ongoing metric of the employee’s progress.  Deadlines should also be set according to the rhythm of the metric they measure. For example, if you are servicing clients on monthly contracts then the goals should naturally have a monthly deadline. In such a case, weekly or bi-weekly goals will help the employee keep on track with reaching their objectives.

3. Make goals measurable

For goals to work they must be tied to some quantifiable data. That way when the deadline arrives there is no question whether the goal was reached or not. If you are unsure of how to measure success, enlist the help of your employee.

4. Give feedback

Regular feedback is vital in helping your employees reach the goals set for their work performance.  When speaking to them, look for opportunities to give encouragement. But don’t allow the feedback to be one-sided. Listen to any concerns or suggestions the employee may have. Open communication may make the difference between a goal that is simply reached and one that is blown out of the water.

5. Reward success

Make the reward worth the work needed to obtain it. Again, consider what the employee will value. Some employees respond to cash incentives, extra time off, or gift cards. Others may prefer the public recognition of receiving an award. Who wouldn’t like to display an art glass award on their desk? Allowing the employee to help determine the reward will motivate them to work toward achieving it. Get creative and change rewards frequently so they don’t become routine.

6. Tweak as needed

Some goals will remain the same as long as the company is in business. These strategic goals reflect the core values of the company. But many goals are dynamic and should reflect the changing responsibilities and talents of the employee. Pin job performance goals to areas where the employee can improve. Finally, as the employee gains experience and additional responsibilities, make sure their goals grow with them.

 A note on failure:

If an employee fails to meet their goals, it is not the end of the world. Of paramount importance is the attitude of the employee. Did their failure result from a lack of activity, or did they give their best but simply come up short? If an employee has put forth noticeable effort and still failed it would be counterproductive for a manager to humiliate or punish them. Failure from inactivity is what should be punished.

Performance goals are a benchmark of success. As long as an employee continues putting forth effort to reach them, they should continue to receive support from their managers. If you are having a hard time with this idea, consider some of the great failures in history. These would include the likes of Einstein, da Vinci, and Michael Jordan. Although known for their successes, these individuals had greater failure rates than their peers. But they kept striving toward their goals and eventually reached them.

 Dennis Phoenix is a human resource specialist and avid business writer. He writes primarily on topics ranging from business relationships to employee satisfaction for Able Trophies.

Talkback: How have you increased the effectiveness of your employees work performance goals? List your ideas below. 

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Why Did They Leave?
How to Retain Workers by Surveying
Employees After They Resign

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“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do that.”

~Lou Holtz~

Client Charles Asks: I have a real problem with attrition. I ask my team if there’s anything wrong. They all say everything is fine. But then then resign and leave for another job. The cost of training new hires is just killing me.  I have to find out how to retain my employees.  Can you help?

Coach Joel Answers:  Charlie, I’m pleased that you have several things right.  You are aware of the high cost of replacing good workers.  Not just the cost of hiring and training, but also the cost of lost productivity while the new employees learn.

And you are looking for a real solution to the problem of employee retention.  It’s often hard for employees to feel free to open up about a problem.  Here are some reasons workers might not be free to share concerns or problems with the company.

The company culture does not encourage free speaking.  It might be that any criticism of the company is met with repression.

  • The boss may not really encourage criticism or negativity.  If employees have an issue with the leadership style of the boss, it’s unlikely they will be forthcoming with reasons why they are leaving.
  • Co-workers or other leaders may be caustic and unhealthy for workers and it’s easier to leave than try to change the system.

Charles, since you have not had success with asking your employees for honest feedback, try asking those that are leaving.  Many companies have success with a survey about employee retention after their resignation.

Here are some ways to do that.

1. Create a written survey. First, you want to set a program in place.  You can’t just say, “Jack, on your way out the door, do you want to tell me why you’re going?”  Talk to HR.  Make a list of questions you’d like answered. You want your questions to be easy to answer and to invite an honest response. They might be something like this.

  • What motivated you to seek a different job?
  • What elements of our company or team could be improved upon?
  • What changes might have encouraged you to stay?
  • If you had been the manager, what would you have done differently?
  • What three (or more) things would you recommend to create happier employees?

2. Hold an exit interview. Second, after the resignation, you need to structure time for an exit interview.  I would recommend giving the employee the retention survey before meeting with him.
And I suggest reviewing it and having a little time between seeing the survey and talking to the employee.  Criticism is always tough to take.  Your initial reaction will likely be defensive.  This is not productive.

If you want to solve your retention problem, you need to find out why your employees are resigning.  The purpose of this exit interview is to find out more.  Do the answers to the survey leave you needing more information?

Suppose Jack says, “Everyone was so negative”  Wouldn’t you like to know who “everyone” is and how that negativity was demonstrated?

3. Collate results. Just because Jack says it, doesn’t mean it’s true.  But if several of your departing employees mention a problem, you have some answers to your retention problem.

Charles, you will not solve this problem overnight.  But if you survey employees about their retention after their resignation, you are more likely to get truthful answers. Even if the results are uncomfortable, you have a starting point to change and improve.

Are you struggling with employee retention? Executive coaching can change organizational dynamics and make great changes in productivity.  Contact Joel to see if coaching might be an answer to your team’s attrition.

Talkback: Have you ever used a survey for employees after their resignation? How has it helped you to retain your workers?

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