Mentor Like a Master

March 20, 2013
Written by Andrew Hind
Contributing your time and resources to develop your employees’ skills and competence will increase morale and improve your bottom line.
Contributing your time and resources to develop your employees’ skills and competence will increase morale and improve your bottom line. This is a fact, though many retailers, especially those employing seasonal youth, tend to put low emphasis on it because of the time involved. The reality is, coaching and mentoring doesn’t have to be difficult and is worth every minute, every dollar invested.

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You expect a great deal from your employees. And you should. They’re on your payroll and representing your company, after all. But you also owe them – and not just fairness, a competitive wage, and a safe work environment. You also owe them coaching and mentoring. Consider it an investment. Contribute time and resources to helping your employees do their jobs better, and you’ll boost your bottom line.

Mentoring is vital. Everything you teach your staff reflects on you, your business, and your skills. It is perhaps the key to having a motivated and knowledgeable staff – and therefore success – in the modern retail environment. Think that’s an exaggeration? Consider this.

Wal-Mart Canada has 80,000 associates and an advanced employee support system befitting a 300 plus store retail giant. Think online training courses, an in-depth education program for assistant managers, even an executive MBA program in partnership. But even with all this educational firepower, limitless resources and a huge workforce, Wal-Mart still knows that one-on-one mentoring and coaching relationships matter. Managers invest a great deal of time in building mentoring relationships. Why? Wal-Mart recognizes that coaching and mentoring is important for sharing corporate values and culture, ensuring associates understand the business and its strategy, and ensuring they understand how their contribution makes a difference in the company’s overall success.

The result isn’t merely phenomenal financial results, but also one of the lowest staff turnover rates in the Canadian retail industry and one of the highest percentages of internal promotion. That’s a model any garden centre should seek to follow, even if on a much smaller scale.
One of the goals of a mentoring relationship is skill-transferal. Managers have knowledge and skills and these should be shared among employees. Though it sounds counter-intuitive, a good manager doesn’t hesitate to train others to perform his job.

Just as important is the opportunity to model the behavior you would like to see among your staff. It’s often been said that employees are your first customers. If you win them over to your vision and direction, they will pass this passion on to customers. You can’t hope this transformation will naturally occur; you have to inspire staff to want to emulate your behavior, and insist that it become part of the workplace culture.

Working closely with an associate allows managers to practice just-in-time coaching, where they can discuss situations with an associate immediately after they occur. This is an invaluable teaching opportunity that shouldn’t be squandered. Just make sure you’re not always coaching about a negative experience. Pull staff aside to praise them for a great sale or for initiative. Celebrating is part of coaching too.

Conflicting personal priorities and work ethics are the biggest concerns many employers have. Many of these conflicts are born of generational differences. These form barriers that a coach or mentor must learn to overcome. It’s important, for example, to curb one’s judgmental tendencies and accept that you view the world through a different generational lens than many of your workers, then learn to understand and accommodate differences

“Managers need to find new ways of influencing young workers, as they will vote with their feet if they are not treated well and given stimulating opportunities.” stresses Barbara Moses, PhD, a work/life expert, bestselling author, and president of BBM Human Resources Consultants Inc.

Determining how exactly to relate to today’s youth and by extension how to coach them is where many managers get derailed. To succeed, one needs to understand the mindset and values of the current generation.

 “Today’s young workers feel they should be able to express themselves, that their feelings should be respected, and that they should be given challenging opportunities,” she explains. “But despite their self-assuredness, they are still kids and they need guidance and structure.”

That’s why communication is critical: write out store policies and responsibilities expected of your employees. Provide a written list of priorities or tasks that can vary from mundane retail chores to more creative ones that can motivate employees to work harder to get through the list. When lists are not provided, productivity and energy levels almost invariably decrease noticeably. Weekly or biweekly meetings can foster a strong team, ensure everyone is on the same page, communicate important business matters, and help empower employees to take greater initiative. The clearer you can be, the more secure and content your young staff members will be.

Beware of talking “at” an employee as opposed to having a real dialogue. Coaching is not about talking, it’s about teaching and a two-way, interactive conversation is important. Ensure associates feel free to ask questions and express viewpoints.

Finally, don’t wait for behavior to change by itself. It won’t. You need to be proactive, get in there and coach. At the same time, it’s important to be realistic. Don’t think you’ll make a difference for someone who doesn’t want to be coached. You won’t. An employee has to be in the right frame of mind to be coached.

Coaching and mentoring is an investment. It doesn’t have to be difficult or even particularly time-consuming, but it does need to be consistent. Taking the time to develop your employees’ skills will increase morale, improve your bottom line and lay the foundation for a successful business.

Tips to Successful Coaching and Mentoring
Coaching and mentoring requires a continuous effort to make it a part of your management practices. The following tips will help:
  • Delegate: Articulate the results you want to see, set guidelines, determine what support the employee needs, and set times to conduct progress reviews along the way.
  • Give performance feedback: On a regular basis tell employees what you observe, be specific, show sincerity, and communicate face-to-face. Feedback should be provided for both positive and negative results
  • Assess employee performance: Meet one-on-one with each staff person at least once per quarter to review performance. Adjust plans accordingly to keep priorities current.
  • Set meaningful goals: Define the results that need to be achieved and how the goals will be measured.
  • Aid career development: Work with your employees to set plans that define how they will prepare themselves – from training to work assignments – to grow in their skills and capabilities.
  • Deliver training: Give hands-on instruction on skills or procedures identfied by yourself and the employee to be of relevance to their job.

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