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  1. What makes a good mentor?

    August 2, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Mentoring is a buzzword in today’s workplace, with over 70 per cent of Fortune 500 companies offering their employees professional mentoring programs. The concept is ancient, however – the term ‘mentor’ comes from Homer’s Odyssey, which dates back to the end of the eighth century BC.
    Mentor was left in charge of Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, when Odysseus left for the Trojan war, and later, the goddess Athena disguised herself as Mentor and encouraged Telemachus to stand up to his mother’s suitors and go searching for his father, who had not returned from the Trojan War. (Yes, it’s complicated. Reading the whole work is a deeply rewarding experience and is highly recommended.)
    Mentoring is not the same as coaching, which we wrote about here. It is also not the same as training, which is formal and structured, and designed to teach particular skills and competencies.
    Dr John Kenworthy of Leadership AdvantEdge defines mentoring as: ‘A working relational experience through which one person empowers and enables another by sharing their wisdom and resources’.
    At a recent session at the Australian Institute of Management (AIM) mentoring trainer Toni Greenwood said that the best mentors know about the specific company, the industry it operates within and the big-picture issues of strategic importance to both. They have a range of great interpersonal skills, including active listening, the ability to give good feedback and the courage to have difficult conversations – and then let the issue go. They will be good at challenging the person who is being mentored and reframing the issue they are facing to allow them to find their own solution. Emotional intelligence is crucial; they must show empathy, resilience and the ability to read emotions in others.
    Let’s turn again to the Odyssey for some ideas about what a mentor does.
    1. A mentor is a more experienced person who shares their wisdom with a less experienced person.
    As Mentor did for Telemachus, a mentoring relationship provides a safe space for the person who is being mentored to share the issues that are holding them back with somebody whose experience is greater. Creating a long-term relationship over time, so that both people can learn about one another, build trust and feel secure, is a foundation of the mentoring process. While there is no perfect time for the mentoring relationship to last, generally around a year is recommended. In Deloitte’s Emerging Leaders Development Program, mentoring relationships last at least two years.
    A connection with a mentor can help a high-potential employee to learn from a leader, making them ready to take on a leadership position in the organisation more quickly, and with more organisation-specific knowledge than if only skills training or coaching were offered.
    2. A mentor works alongside the person who is being mentored.
    A mentoring relationship may start out with specific goals and set competencies to achieve, but its scope usually grows beyond the initial issues to encompass anything that impacts success, such as dealing with work–life balance or developing self-confidence. Nevertheless, agreeing on areas of focus, adopting a mentoring model and the all-important business of choosing a mentor are vital in setting up the relationship and deciding on its strategic purpose.
    3. A mentor encourages the person being mentored to step outside their comfort level
    Because an important part of the mentoring relationship is directed at the person’s future in the company and not only for the immediate job, it is different to the role of manager. Companies use mentoring programs to develop leaders and to keep star performers engaged, increasing retention rates. The mentoring relationship is most productive when it is separate to the manager–employee relationship (unlike in the coaching relationship where the manager can play a more direct role).
    Just as Mentor became Telemachus’ teacher, coach, counsellor and protector, developing a relationship based on affection and trust, organisations can adopt mentoring programs to build leaders and create organisations that engage and retain top talent.


  2. How a mentoring relationship helps with career choice

    September 8, 2015 by Alison Hill

    By Alison Hill

    You may be coming towards the end of your studies, or planning resource use in your organisation for 2016. Whether you’re entering the workforce, managing young employees or thinking about a career change, it’s time to think about career choices.

    Making a career decision is hard. We all hope for a satisfying job that pays well, makes us feel valued and takes us to the next step, but none of us is 100% sure how to do that. It doesn’t help that the world of work is changing faster than ever, and nobody really knows how it will look even five years from now.

    Occupations that have been secure in the past are disappearing due to technological change and outsourcing. Forbes magazine predicts the disappearance of farmers, the postal service, data entry, fast-food cooks and loan interviewers and clerks, to name a few. We’re told the future is in medical and health services (especially aged care) and software development. We’re told that the future belongs to the millennial generation, but that they are lazy, narcissistic and entitled. What do we do?

    Both those looking to start a career and those managing the new generation of employees can benefit greatly from entering into a mentoring relationship around career choice. Let’s look at how.

    Starting out on your career?

    Whether you are in a full-time paid position, working as an intern or volunteering, find somebody in your workplace who will act as your mentor. Some workplaces have formal mentoring relationships set up. If not, find somebody who is willing to give you advice and be interested in your professional and personal growth.

    Here’s some advice from a 23-year-old sales professional: Find a position in a growing organisation where leaders are striving to improve themselves and their people. Managers should excel at providing honest, critical feedback. Crave this feedback – it’s what makes you grow.

    Remember, too, that you can give back. Whether it’s sharing your millennial world view with a Gen X or Baby Boomer manager or simply showing them how to work an app or use social media effectively, you bring value to the mentoring relationship.

    Managing those starting out?

    If you are managing those starting their careers, you are privileged to have the opportunity to cultivate future leaders. For companies to thrive, the next generation of employees must succeed, and you can help them. Offer to guide and develop a new employee. Give them plenty of feedback and stay connected. The millennial generation have grown up in a connected world and they genuinely want to know what you think, and for you to listen to and respect their views too. Accept that you will not be their one and only mentor, or their guru – they have a few. You are also entitled to expect something in return, and a motivated new employee will be pleased to contribute to your goals and take on some of your burdensome tasks.

    The same 23-year-old would tell you that they aim to be surrounded with people smarter and wiser than themselves – in everything they do. ‘Discussing ideas with really smart, wise people is the quickest way to get smarter and wiser yourself. You’ll learn skills that aren’t taught in traditional education. If you don’t come across people like this in your daily routine, use the internet to find articles and videos from such people.’

    So whatever stage you are at in your career, consider a mentoring arrangement. It will benefit you in surprising ways no matter which side of the arrangement you are on.

    Has your career benefited from being in a mentoring arrangement? Tell us about it in the comments below.


  3. You want the best people to work for you, but why would they want to?

    August 23, 2011 by Jenna

    Challenge Consulting has a Facebook page. “Like” us now to stay in touch re our new blog posts, weekly poll, links and more …______________________________

    So, you’re a company. 

    You want the best people to work for you. Really talented people, unique even, with experience and skills and personalities that will bring even greater success to you. 

    But why on earth would they want to work for you? 

    Do you know why? Can you articulate it? Does your company have a strong brand, an attractive brand? Do people perceive you as a leader in your industry? Are your existing teams filled with people who actively share their skills and knowledge and expertise for the betterment of the whole? 

    Understanding a candidate’s expectations of your company and its culture is critical from the very start. If a disconnect exists between a candidate’s expectations and the reality of the situation, it can quickly lead to problems with engagement, performance, and business productivity. The candidate needs to know what is expected of them as well as feel a sense of strong company culture that is not only clear but inviting. 

    So, how do you go about building and leveraging a positive talent brand? 

    Brands are a powerful combination of symbols, messages and beliefs about a product or employer. You need to think about your potential candidates like a marketer would think about their potential customers. Take a look at the current advertising your company conducts. How does it come across? What are the key messages being put out? Who are you trying to attract? 

    The objectives that a good brand will achieve include:

    – Delivering the message clearly

    – Confirming your credibility

    – Connecting with your target prospects emotionally

    – Motivating the buyer

    – Concreting loyalty

    In terms of attracting the best performing people to work for your company, your branding is about getting them to see you as the only one that provides a solution to their problem, ie, working for an exceptional company, and industry leader, that satisfies their professional needs and provides an arena in which they can contribute their skills and talents, make an impact, and continue to learn and grow. 

    To succeed in branding you must understand the needs and wants of your customers and prospects. As the thrust of this blog entry is about attracting high performing candidates to your company, our most recent online poll asked: “High Performance Employees: what is the #1 thing your organisation offers to attract them that works?” 

    The results were:

    #1 – Providing opportunities for continued learning, both formal and informal – 25.0%

    #2 – Having a confidence-inspiring company “brand” that ensures high-performing people want to work for you – 16.6%

    – Providing a leadership and mentoring program – 16.6%

    – Paying above-market rate salaries – 8.3%

    – Having a defined career progression plan in place – 6.2%

    – Being decisive and quick to make job offers so the high performers don’t go elsewhere – 4.1% 

    It is interesting that money was fourth in our respondents’ list of priorities. Perhaps this reflects the fact that it is a given that high performing people will be appropriately compensated for their contributions and competencies anyway, and that exceptional people are seeking more than just monetary reward? 

    Clearly working somewhere that has a gold-standard reputation as a top employer is very important, but a culture of continued learning is number one in people’s list of priorities when seeking employment opportunities, something for all organisations to bear in mind when formulating brand strategies and during recruitment exercises. 

    This week’s Challenge Consulting News features two articles on this topic – for your free subscription, click here


  4. Staff Retention: How will YOU keep your top talent in 2011?

    April 19, 2011 by Jenna

    During a lively discussion forum last Wednesday morning, Challenge Consulting explored trends in employee retention with a group of clients.  

    Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines retention as “1. the act of keeping someone or something, 2. the ability to keep something”. In the context of business when we talk about retention, we talk about ‘keeping’ employees as the direct opposite to ‘losing’ employees or employee turnover.

    Employee turnover is one of the most largely measured and reported statistics in business. But given that we know that on average 20% of the Australian Labour Market will change jobs each year[i], how significant are these turnover statistics, really?

    During our discussion forum we explored this question and more, including:

    • What is retention?
    • What are the motivational drivers that keep our participants with their employer?
    • How do we or how should we measure retention drivers?
    • What retention strategies are smart organisations implementing in an attempt to keep their top talent?

    Consistent with organisational research and theory on retention[ii], we identified common themes in what ‘retained’ our participants with their employers, including: job satisfaction (i.e. interesting and challenging work), job embededness (i.e. a feeling of belonging to a team or social network in the organisation), employee voice (i.e. feeling that their opinions are heard), and role clarity (i.e. understanding role and responsibilities and how it directly relates to the organisational purpose). What we also found were a range of individual motivators that were influencing retention of the ‘top talent’ in the room, including: flexible work arrangements, career development, training and mentoring, and a range of company values.

    It was clear that a one-size-fits-all strategy for retention would be impossible to retain each of our discussion forum participants, so how can retention drivers be measured at the larger organisational level? According to industry research[iii], 95% of Australian companies conduct Exit Interviews, an emerging trend is that 45% of Australian companies are now conducting Stay Interviews (periodic in-depth interviews with existing employees to measure key retention drivers, starting right from the first 3 months), not to forget the common practice of Organisational Surveying.

    During the discussion forum we debated how well organisations were utilising these and other sources of retention data, i.e. was the right information being captured to measure retention drivers and then once the data was collected was the data being used strategically to manage retention initiatives? Google’s Project Oxygen[iv] provided us with an example of an organisation analysing all available employee data to identify common retention drivers and more specifically develop their Google Rules for managers.

    By the end of our discussion forum, there was agreement from participants that not all turnover is negative and not all retention is positive. In fact, some turnover can be a positive and some retention can be a negative! But as Australia already shows the signs of another deepening skills shortage, there is no doubt that when their key motivators are not met, talented employees can find other employers that will meet these drivers. Does your organisation need help identifying the key retention drivers for your most talented people? Challenge Consulting can help you measure retention drivers through our Organisational Effectiveness Profiling and Exit Interview Consulting services, help you develop managers with a focus on retention with our Effective Supervision Workshop and help you build a strategic approach to managing retention in your organisation.

    What do you think smart organisations should be doing to keep their most talented people and what motivates you to stay with your current employer?


    [i] Sweet, R. (2011). The mobile worker: concepts, issues, implications. NCVER Occasional Paper, Adelaide.

    [ii] Mardanov, I., Heischmidt., & Henson, A. (2008). Leader-member exchange and job satisfaction bond and predicted employee turnover. Journal of Leaderhship and Organizational Studies, 15, 159-175.

    Ramesh, A., Gelfand, M. J. (2010). Will they stay or will they go? The role of job embeddedness in predicting turnover in individualistic and collectivistic cultures. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 807-823.

    Siebert, S. & Zubanov, N. (2009). Searching for the optimal level of employee turnover: A study of a large UK retail organisation. Academy of Management Journal, 52, 294-313.

    Swider, B.W., Boswell, W.R., & Zimmerman, R.D. (2011). Examining the job search-turnover relationship: The role of embeddedness, job satisfaction, and available alternatives, Journal of Applied Psychology. 96, 432-441.

    [iii] Lambert, L. (2010). All aboard: Identifying flight risks in probationary staff can help retain promising talent. Recruitment Extra, Nov 2010, 26-27.

    [iv] Bryant, A. (2011). Google’s quest to build a better boss, New York Times. 




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