Archive | September, 2014

The dangers of wall to wall coaching

29 Sep

It’s common for coaches to be so concerned about the well-being of their clients that they become oblivious to their own. Coaching, when done well, is frequently emotionally draining and intellectually demanding.

Every now and then, there are comments in the coaching social media about how coaches (and especially those working by telephone) can earn more by cramming more clients into a day. All it takes is some personal discipline and effective client management. It’s hard not to cringe at this self-serving myopia. The reality is that coaching all day, with multiple candidates, (and especially telephone coaching, with its relatively lean communication environment) is poor practice and damaging to both coach and client, for the following reasons:

1. The human brain has a limited capacity for concentration. Our ability to attend fully to the client wanes as the brain loses energy — then we need time to recuperate. If we try to pack in too many sessions across a day, we become less attentive and less caring (neuroscience research suggests that the areas of the brain related to empathy actually shrink over time when people don’t moderate the intensity of their intellectual concentration). Creativity, productivity and the quality of our intuition all suffer when our brains are tired.
2. When we deal with lots of clients, their individuality tends to blur in our minds, increasing the likelihood that we will objectify them (that is, they become more clients and less human beings). A consequence of this process in health care is that nurses and therapists can become desensitised to the feelings and needs of patients.
3. An effective coach experiences, through Gestalt, the powerful emotions felt by clients. If those emotions connect with traumatic experiences, which the coach has met in his or her own life, the impact is even greater. We need time between coaching sessions to confront our own demons — to acknowledge our feelings (both our own and those felt vicariously) and purposefully let them go. Saving them up for the next supervision is not adequate, because it gives too much time for them to fester.
4. Sitting down too long isn’t good for our physical health. It’s not something our bodies were designed for. Standing up activity (preferably reasonable vigorous to get the blood pumping) helps with our thinking and speeds up the process of topping up blood sugar in our brain.
5. Our sense of ethicality suffers, too, when we are not fully refreshed. We are more likely to go along with ethically dubious opinions or assumptions by the client, and less able to distinguish our agenda from theirs.

So what can the coach with a heavy caseload do differently? Here are 10 practical steps:

1. Manage your caseload so that you have frequent gaps of at least 45 minutes to reflect, refresh and take notes between each session
2. If possible, create a coaching environment where you can walk about, or at least stand — but make sure you do so in a way that does not distract the client
3. Plan how you will conserve your mental and physical energy across the day
4. Take your “emotional temperature” regularly — build into your day a few moments of self-honesty
5. Ensure you have opportunities to laugh (laughter is a powerful energy restorer)
6. Meditate for a few minutes before and after each coaching session
7. Select your clients, where possible, for their diversity — variety helps maintain your curiosity
8. Let go of the need to help the client find a solution — it’s usually your need, not theirs and it leads you to focus on the goal, instead of on the client. Have confidence that solutions will emerge when the client is ready for them! Letting go in this way greatly reduces the stress that comes from worrying whether you are being helpful enough.
9. Be grateful to your clients for the learning you acquire from them and tell them this the case. Gratitude is yet another energy restorer!
10. Monitor your coaching sessions in terms of positive and negative stress. (Positive stress is energising; negative stress is energy sapping.) Use these insights to adapt the way you coach.

The bottom line is that, if we aim to be client-centred, we need to look first to ourselves and how fit we are in body, mind and soul for the coaching dialogue.

© David Clutterbuck

Contextual intelligence in mentoring

3 Sep

Two articles in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review (September 2014) provide food for thought about developing talent in a multi-cultural organization. One, by Tarun Khanna, explores the concept of “contextual intelligence”. His studies indicate that:

• Most universal truths about management play out differently in different contexts: best practices don’t necessarily travel
• Global companies won’t succeed in unfamiliar markets unless they adapt – or even rebuild – their operating models
• Mental models that are rooted in the HQ culture aren’t obviously single perspective – and lead to simplistic assumptions about how things work in different cultural contexts.

One of the classic examples I encountered of this phenomenon at work was a US-based multinational, which told all of its subsidiaries around the world to implement mentoring programmes, if they had not already done so. Most dutifully reported in a few months later that they had complied. Then an HR dignitary from HQ visited Europe and was horrified to find that each country had created its own version of mentoring programmes, most of which were very different from the US approach. Instructions were rapidly distributed for everyone to fall in line, despite the act that the European programmes were by and large delivering much better results than the North American. A standardised, inflexible programme was rapidly rolled out. The Europeans reacted either by losing interest (doing just enough to keep HQ off their backs) or resorting to subterfuge to keep doing what they thought was right. More than a decade later, that company struggles to achieve credibility amongst line managers for coaching and mentoring.

In the second article, senior executives from around the world talk about how their companies are trying to develop greater cultural sensitivity. Luc Minguet, of Michelin, points to the differences in how Americans and French people give and receive feedback. Eduardo Caride of Telefonica looks at the practicalities of moving executives between countries and concludes that “the biggest predictor of success is the person’s attitude to learning: Is he or she willing to listen and understand rather than impose personal views?”

All of this has relevance for the design of mentoring programmes. There is often an assumption (supporting by much of the advisory literature) that part of the role of the mentor is to acculturise mentees to the dominant cultural norms and ways of thinking, so that they can learn to work within them. Mentors are also assumed to bring with them a perspective on what constitutes effective leadership and to groom the mentee to align themselves with this perspective. Yet there is ample evidence that different cultures value different qualities in a leader. Moreover, the context of the HQ culture can be very different from that in subsidiaries in other countries. (Khanna points out, for example, that much of the data executives in developed countries take for granted isn’t available in less developed economies.)

In a more modern view of mentoring as a space for co-learning, mentoring someone in a distant land is likely to be much more beneficial for both parties and for the organization, if a core purpose of the relationship is to explore and capitalise upon contextual and cultural differences. The mentee can use this knowledge to become more politically aware and adept at managing his or her career in cultural interface between the local environment and the expectations of the global organization. And the mentor can use their new understanding both to better manage relationships with colleagues and direct reports around the world; and to help the organization centrally developed more sophisticated ways of thinking about policies and practises in culturally and economically diverse contexts.

This latter perspective – mentoring as a vehicle for equipping organizational leaders with greater cultural and contextual sensitivity and insight – is largely unexplored, although we know from anecdote that it happens frequently within individual relationships. Making “contextual agility” a core objective of multi-country or cross-cultural mentoring programmes makes sense as a way to maximise the value of the mentoring intervention, and hence increase the return on investment.

© David Clutterbuck, 2014

Are you getting value for money on your investment in mentoring?

3 Sep

You’d expect most companies with established mentoring programmes to give an unequivocal yes, but the reality is that most organizations don’t know. So here are some basic indicators to consider. Highly effective mentoring programmes:
• Deliver substantial learning for at least 95% of mentees and at least 80% of mentors
• Lead to at least one third higher retention amongst people mentored than peers, who are not
• Demonstrate measurable improvements in mentee job commitment, engagement and relationships at work (particularly with their bosses!)
• Improve and reinforce mentors’ confidence and ability in coaching their own direct reports
• Provide useful insights into people management undercurrents – broader issues that can lead to improvements in HR policies and processes
• Give leaders greater confidence in succession plans
• In the context of diversity management, have a clear and substantial contribution towards the achievement of equal opportunity targets and have a measurable impact on cultural awareness

The issue becomes more complicated, when there are numerous mentoring programmes across different divisions, regions and cultures. Achieving consistency of mentoring quality, while allowing adaptation of programmes to the local context, can be a tough challenge.

The experience of a wide range of international organizations indicates that getting right this balance between quality (as measured by outcomes and by overall value for money) and local adaptation requires the following steps:

1. Understand and acknowledge what is there already. Typically, there is a wide variation in:
a. Programme purpose and audience
b. The professionalism of approaches
c. The mentoring model used (for example, from highly directive to highly person-centred and non-directive)
d. Mode of delivery (face to face or virtual)
e. Duration of relationships
f. The amount and quality of training mentors and mentees receive
g. The level of formality/informality of programme structure
h. Understanding of the role of mentoring programme manager
i. How people are matched
j. What continuing support is available for participants
k. How success is measured (if at all)
It’s important to recognise that this diversity is both a strength and a weakness – and to re-assure the HR and leadership communities in each area that the intention is to build on an update what they have started, in line with international good practice.

One simple way to understand what is there is to commission an expert survey, which will pull out all of these themes and many more. Another, which can also be used in parallel, is to ask the manager of each programme to complete the self-assessment guide for the International Standards for Mentoring Programmes in Employment.

2. Re-affirm the business case and role for mentoring
Mentoring may be seen (sometimes by both HR and line managers) as a nice-to-have rather than a significant contributor to achieving business objectives. Defining clearly how mentoring should contribute to the business creates a platform for helping people understand how to get the most out of mentoring programmes and relationships. It’s also essential in creating robust measures of mentoring return on investment.

3. Create a clear template for mentoring programmes.
This should cover all processes, from recruitment and selection of participants, through matching and re-matching, training, on-going support, through to winding up and evaluation.
Key questions here are:
• What is it important to be consistent on?
• What can be left to the discretion of local programme managers? (In which, case, what additional guidance do they need?)
• How can we ensure we incorporate learning from global experience and good practice?

A steering group really helps here. Ideally, it will be represent different cultures, different mentoring applications and both HR and other stakeholders.

4. Create a flexible but robust training programme for mentors and mentees.
Good practice here involves having a core of generic materials and messages, plus a portfolio of optional materials, which can be used according to how well they fit the programme purpose and context. This ensures that:
• There is a common understanding of what mentoring is about, what mentor and mentee should expect of each other, and the competencies of being an effective mentor or mentee
• The level and duration of training can be adapted to the participants and the programme purpose
• The presentation of training can be adapted to the local cultural. (For example, the Mentor story is a European construct; other cultures often react better to myths more deeply rooted in their own cultures.)

Effective training materials tend to be very straightforward and designed so that they can easily be adapted to other languages and contextualised.

5. Develop and support a training resource and a programme management resource with a real understanding of mentoring.
It’s easy – and wrong – to assume that mentoring is pretty simple. Yet some of the leading lights in coaching refer to mentoring as “coaching plus” – meaning that effective mentors need all the skills of a good coach, plus a number of others. A train the trainer programme for mentoring trainers is essential in achieving consistent quality. Alternatively, the global network of Coaching and Mentoring International provides an external resource of highly professional and knowledgeable mentoring trainer-consultants.

Good practice also includes educating mentoring programme managers. A basic course takes two days and equips them with an understanding of all the processes required to design and maintain a high-functioning mentoring programme.

6. Provide continuing support for participants and programmes
This is where a centralised database of additional resources comes in. Typically, this will include self-diagnostics, tools and techniques, more detailed explanations of aspects of mentoring, as well as materials specific to different mentoring applications. It may also include video demonstrations of effective mentoring and application of mentoring techniques. This resource may be supplemented by local materials (including in other languages), as long as they are consistently “on-message”.

The support resource can usually be integrated with any IT platform used to manage matching and programme logistics; and with products, such as Mentormaster, designed to steer new mentors step by step through virtual mentoring conversations. Note particularly, like any other piece of IT, automating a set of poorly functioning, inadequately consistent mentoring processes is unlikely to lead to greater value for money from mentoring. Better first to get the mentoring processes right, then import a platform to support these.

Recommended good practice includes appointing an overall international manager of mentoring, tasked with guiding local programme managers and acting as a focal point for communicating with senior leaders about mentoring.

7. Monitoring and evaluating programme quality.
Good practice here is to have a relatively unobtrusive generic process for measuring what is happening at both relationship and programme level. To this, each programme or region can add specific measures that relate to programme purpose or context.

The ISMPE award, as a measure of programme quality, can be applied for either company-wide or for specific programmes.

8. Sharing learning and experiences.
One of the downsides of imposing a “one model fits all” approach is that it decreases innovation and runs counter to the learning environment that underpins mentoring. Creating a forum for exchanging experience in delivering mentoring programmes and training harnesses the diversity of initiatives, while maintaining the integrity of the company’s overall mentoring philosophy and practice. It can be useful to have within this community one or two people who are linked into mentoring research and evolving good practice internationally.

The bottom line
Mentoring is typically part of the answer to difficult business and people management challenges, rather than the whole answer. So it tends to be one element in a wider package of interventions. The problem is that this piecemeal, case-by-case approach isn’t very cost effective and leads to a lot of confusion about mentor and mentee roles, skills, boundaries and expectations of each other.

The following mentoring questions help to put the issue into perspective:
• What would be the financial impact, if all your mentoring programmes resulted in at least 33% higher retention of mentored employees?
• What’s the cost of duplication of effort between mentoring programmes?
• What’s the cost of people not having access to a mentor when they need one (in terms of retention, motivation, performance and so on)
• What’s the wastage cost of mentoring relationships that don’t work? (Taking into account time of all parties; and potential for disillusioned mentees to become less committed to the organization)
• What’s the value of line managers using mentoring as a safe place to practice development conversations outside their teams?

The investment in bringing coherence and cohesion into mentoring provision isn’t huge (for a global corporation, the external costs are typically about US $100,000 and internal costs about the same) but the pay-off in terms of return on investment typically exceeds this within the first year. Implementing all the eight items above will greatly increase the chances of ensuring that all your mentoring programmes, wherever they are in the world, consistently deliver a high level of outcomes, with resultant financial benefits for the organization.

© David Clutterbuck, 2014