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Mentor Like a Master

March 20, 2013  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.


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

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

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

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

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
  • 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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