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ATD Blog

Making Way for Mentor Managers

Thursday, July 1, 2021
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How many times in your HR career have you been tasked with checking the pulse of the employee base? Have you run any surveys to understand the current climate? Are you working on any large-scale culture change initiatives or employee experience endeavors? Yes, you’ve done all of those things and more. I have too. It’s what makes our work challenging, fun, and valuable to the organizations we contribute to, no matter how large or small the company or the industry it belongs to.

But what if the answer to those questions wasn’t so complicated after all? What if the strategies we use to tap into those employee sentiments were simpler than we think? What if some conversations between managers and their employees could tell us everything we need to know about their engagement level and more?

Striving for an “I Love It Here” Culture

I’ve been working in talent and organization development for nearly 30 years, and during that time I’ve learned some simple truths. One of them is that “everything old is new again.” Nevertheless, sometimes we a need a fresh voice on an longstanding topic.

I ran across one of those fresh voices recently during a Forum ConnectSpark meeting with Clint Pulver, who is often referred to as the Undercover Millennial.

Pulver is gaining recognition as one of the leading authorities on employee retention. For his book I Love It Here: How Great Leaders Create Organizations Their People Never Want to Leave, he interviewed more than 10,000 workers from nearly 200 companies to collect data about employee engagement and retention.

Among other highlights, Pulver’s research tells us that employees place elevated value on managers who demonstrate consistently high standards while also maintaining high connection with their team members. Why? Because it makes them feel tasked and seen, challenged and heard, valuable and valued.

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Enter the Mentor Manager

Pulver identified that managers who employ the mentor management style are more focused on development and advocacy and creating an experience for employees that makes them want to stay.

Pulver identifies the five Cs of mentoring as:

  • Confidence. Mentors believe in themselves and are confident in the skills they are teaching.
  • Credibility. They have the background knowledge and understanding to know what they are teaching.
  • Competence. They have the hands-on experience of having done what they are teaching.
  • Candor. They can be counted on to offer fearless, empathetic honesty.
  • Caring. They have a genuine concern for you as a person and are invested in how things turn out for you.

If you are a manager or support the work of managers, you can probably see where you measure up to the 5 Cs or perhaps where you have a gap or two to close. And chances are high that every manager has at least one gap on that list that they should be concerned about trying to improve upon.

I’d wager a guess that the more likely gaps managers will have to encounter and try to improve upon will be in the areas of confidence, candor, and caring. Being under-skilled or even demonstrating too much of any of these Cs could certainly influence a manager’s ability to be a successful mentor manager and achieve high levels of employee engagement with their team members.

Let’s put each of these under the microscope to see how:

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  • Confidence. A lack of confidence will raise team members’ doubts and cause them to be concerned about whether or not they should be following their leader. But too much of a display of confidence can look like arrogance and be off putting to the members of a team.
  • Candor. A lack of candor can interfere with trust relationships and give employees cause for concern about a manager’s authenticity, believability, and trustworthiness. But too much candor can feel inappropriate and awkward for employees. Or perhaps that overuse of candor can come across as hurtful, blunt, and edgy even if the spirit and intent behind it is honest.
  • Caring. And a lack of caring can simply make us feel unimportant and invaluable rather than people with personal lives and feelings at stake. On the other hand, it is possible to be a little too caring or invasive in the interest you show in someone’s personal matters. And caring too much can get in the way of making good, solid business decisions at times as well. If you are a caring type and have ever had to take someone out of their job, you know exactly how difficult it can be to balance the scales on this attribute.

The Role of Talent Professionals in Cultivating Mentor Managers

If Pulver’s research is right, and if mentor managers can significantly increase the chances of creating an “I Love It Here!” culture—where employees are highly engaged and never want to leave—then the talent professionals of the world have a clear charter on our hands. We have our own C to conquer. It’s the C in cultivate. Our great challenge in this employee engagement equation is to start (or continue) cultivating more mentor managers in the organizations we serve.

The starting point to achieving this is to keep it simple. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow says, “In character, in manners, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.” So if you are starting from scratch and have limited resources, then consider these alternatives for cultivating more mentor managers in your organization:

  • Use manager discussion groups to start raising awareness of the 5 Cs.
  • Facilitate your managers in self assessing or perhaps in soliciting some peer manager input on how they measure up on the 5 Cs of a mentor manager: confidence, credibility, competence, candor, caring.
  • Once they’ve identified their mentor manager strengths and potential gaps, support them in choosing the most critical gap they have and structuring some development work around that one.
  • Align some of your skill-building or learning resources to the Cs in such a way as to make it easy for your managers to reach out and leverage those resources for themselves.
  • Host practice sessions for groups of peer-level managers and facilitate paired practice exercises so that they can experience what it looks and feels like to be a mentor manager (and to be led by a mentor manager).
  • Practice using candor to share feedback with one another during practice sessions and being caring in how you carry out the development work with one another throughout. This will create a safe learning environment for your managers while also helping your managers build those two critical Cs up through your practice sessions.
  • Encourage the use of action-reflection learning techniques, which allow your managers time to capture reflections and to come back together from time to time to talk about what’s working well for them, what’s not, and how they want to proceed in their learning journey toward becoming a more accomplished mentor manager.

Measuring Success

How will you know when you’ve arrived at the destination in this journey of employee engagement? As a talent professional, how will you know when the goal has been met and when your work here is done? Keeping it simple, I’d say just ask. Ask the employees how they’re feeling? How many of them can and will honestly say “I love it here?” Either way, your employees can tell you when your work here is done. When more of them are staying than leaving, you’re on the track. When most of them are saying “I really do love it here,” then perhaps your work here is done. Or maybe you’ll never want to leave because you love it here too.

About the Author

Maria Garrett is an experienced talent developer, learning leader, and leadership coach. Her three decades of experience working successfully with corporate teams, front-line managers, and high-potential leaders, including those preparing for C-suite roles, have given her a business-based perspective from which to help individuals confront common performance challenges, identify and modify disruptive behaviors, and achieve their greatest potential as they are navigating through their own personal leadership journeys. She is a recognized thought leader in the field of corporate learning and a regular contributor to ATD.

12 Comments
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I am inclined to agree with Maria on using both results-based leadership and mentoring to achieve goals. Understanding goals will help employees achieve them, and mentoring will help bring clarity of goals.
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If everyone in the company has a common, objective goal, mentoring and a variety of other positive behaviors happen naturally. This Inc article provides more background: https://www.inc.com/bill-fotsch-and-john-case/understanding-measurement-that-matters-most.html
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Hello Bill,
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Krishna
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Hello Bill,
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Krishna
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Hello Bill,
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Krishna
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Hello Bill,
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Krishna
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Hello Bill,
I see a "404- page not found" error when I clicked the URL.
Could you please share new URL if you have access to new location?
Thank you,
Krishna
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Hello Bill,
I see a "404- page not found" error when I clicked the URL.
Could you please share new URL if you have access to new location?
Thank you,
Krishna
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Hello Bill,
I see a "404- page not found" error when I clicked the URL.
Could you please share new URL if you have access to new location?
Thank you,
Krishna
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Thanks for your comment, Bill, and for the article included as well. I completely agree that results-based leadership is key to inspiring the right performance behaviors and a culture of achievement. Clarity of goals and objectives is a must. Mentor management can also help our employees not only be clear and aligned on desired outcomes, it can also drive the kind of discretionary effort needed to achieve those outcomes which so many times can feel just beyond reach. I favor a use of both!
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