Organizational Transformation and Mentoring

Get a hand from a mentor

Developing the capability to execute on organizational transformation efforts is something I’ve spoken on at great length in my writing, speaking, and with clients. I’ve also talked of my belief that you can prepare your organization to thrive in the midst of change by focusing your organizational development efforts on the skills and abilities that apply to this capability. Mentoring is another way that organizations can help facilitate this type of professional growth for staff. One of the great drivers of value for mentoring is that it usually spans a longer period of time than traditional corporate training and educational offerings. It is often more responsive to specific needs and tailored because of the personal nature of the interaction. I have discussed in my previous post, “Mentors: Identifying & Leveraging Mentors,” the qualities which make a great mentor for you. In this post I’ll be more focused on the main forms of mentoring; essentially paid and unpaid, and the positives and negatives associated with both.

Unpaid mentoring

Unpaid mentoring is the type that most people will have had experience with over the course of their careers. If you have been fortunate enough to have a senior staff member, family friend, or other person provide you with advice and insight that is focused on improving you and helping you to succeed in achieving your goals, you’ve had a mentoring experience. The greatest part about the unpaid mentor experience is that often they are driven out of a very genuine concern for you as an individual. They can be an outgrowth from, or lead to life long relationships that greatly enhance your personal development and professional growth. On the negative side, the quality of the advice provided by unpaid mentors may very greatly because this is not something they have developed as a professional service. Availability may also be an issue because the mentoring needs to occur during times in which the mentor is free, which may or may not coincide with your timing and need for advice.

Paid Mentoring

Paid mentoring is more rare and usually reserved for more senior executives. Sometimes mentoring will be included as part of training or educational packages, as a mechanism for ensuring that participants are able to leverage what was learned in class on behalf of the organization. I am a great believer in this type of pairing in terms of getting value from training dollars. This usually leads to a greater training ROI because the mentor can help the you put your training to use in your context, but this is usually not long term enough to foster professional growth over the long term. Paid mentoring, or coaching that is of the more traditional nature, can be an enormous benefit to individuals working within an organization because they are looking specifically at how to support and enhance your professional development. They are generally more available given that they are being paid to support your requirements and you often have the opportunity to more specifically tailor the characteristics you are looking for in a paid mentor than you would in an unpaid situation. I want to focus on this last characteristic because it is important. One of the single greatest advantages to paid mentoring is the ability to choose from a much larger mentor pool and get someone who specifically meets your needs. This may mean domain expertise relevant to your field, executive experience in environments like the one you are working in or similar career arcs to what you are hoping to follow. On the negative side, all of this choice and the generally high quality of the product comes with what is usually a hefty price tag. Full time executive coaches may charge by the hour or provide packages on a quarterly or other time unit basis that roughly ties back to contact hours plus research.

Conclusion

As expressed in my earlier post on mentors, “Mentors: Identifying & Leveraging Mentors,” I am a real believer in mentoring as a means of professional development. Depending on where you are in the organization and how your organization approaches organizational development, you may or may not have access to paid mentoring. If not, it may still be worth looking into paid mentoring on your own as there is real power in having access to someone who is an expert in your field, has fought the battles you have yet to fight, and who may be able to provide real insight into how to maximize your potential. For all the same reasons you should always be on the lookout for unpaid mentoring opportunities. I have always been amazed at the willingness of so many people to play a real role in guiding people forward in their careers without any compensation beyond the satisfaction that comes with working to help someone else move their career forward. As someone who has personally benefited from the willingness of others to give freely of their time to move my career forward, I think everyone should be receptive to opportunities to receive mentoring. I also enjoy playing the mentoring role to others where I have had the opportunity and I try to accommodate this to the degree I’m able because I have received so much from so many over the years.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

What do leadership, writing, and charity have to do with performance?

I had the opportunity last night to attend an event put on by 826DC. In their own words “826 centers offer a variety of inventive programs that provide under-resourced students, ages 6-18, with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills. We also aim to help teachers get their classes excited about writing. Our mission is based on the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.” As someone who has spent years 6-to now aspiring to be a writer, it was a powerful event; and one that made me think about the many people both real and literary that inspired me and shaped me into the person I am today. One of the readings was done by a 16 year old student at the Duke Ellington School in Washington, DC. The student commented on the dramatic improvement the program has made not just in her literary skills, but across all her subjects and in her life in general. Maaza Mengiste, an Ethiopian writer whose works include “Beneath the Lion’s Gate,” also spoke of the power of literature in shaping not just her world view, but her own character.

826DC Event

One of the great things that programs like these do for kids is inspire them to imagine themselves in a different light or see themselves as able to transform into something else. Tapping into this creative side of ourselves can be a powerful mechanism for personal transformation. I have written in 3 Ps to Meeting Success about the power of visualization in setting the stage for successful meetings, but I think more generally that this is a skill that is critical to success in daily life. One of the most powerful ways that 826DC touches under privileged children is by engaging them in using their imagination and thinking of the world as something that can be shaped. These skills are just as applicable in later life as they are with the 6-18 year olds engaged in this program.
One of the best things you can do for the people within your organization as a leader or executive is encourage them to see themselves as the next and better version of themselves. It is very hard to become the person you want to be if you can’t imagine yourself in that light. I don’t know if people often make that connection despite how often visualization has come up in recent literature regarding performance improvement. Visualization skills depend in large part  on our imaginations. Fostering creativity and imagination not only helps helps people to visualize themselves in a positive manner moving forward, but bleeds over into many other areas of our professional and organizational performance. Wonder why your organization isn’t as innovative as the next? You may want to ask yourself what you are doing to foster creativity and imagination. These are tools that will help you and those within your organization move towards their organizational, career and life goals. I think you can really begin to understand the power of this when you pair it with one of my favorite quotes from Dale Carnegie, “There is only one way… to get anybody to do anything. And that is by making the other person want to do it.” (How to Win Friends & Influence People) As an executive, manager, or leader a big part of your job is getting others to get things done. This is made a great deal easier if those who are charged with doing the doing actually want to get those things done. Part of getting people to want to do those things can be facilitated by working to understand who they imagine they will be in the future and helping shape that image to be something that is both achievable and desirable for the organization.
What last night hammered home for me was just how important creativity and imagination are to me as an executive. It’s something I hadn’t really thought through before, but as we drove home I couldn’t help but think about how important these things are to every organization and the many ways that what 826DC does ties directly to what most organizations want from their employees. I know that my wife and I were inspired by the evening and we will be working to help make this service available to more students in our area by donating here. Please join us in helping to inspire children to imagine themselves in a better light and remember that the journey doesn’t stop when you enter adulthood.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

The 3 P’s to Meeting Success

Most meetings are won or lost before they ever start. Whether it is a job interview, client presentation, or a date, most of what you can do to be successful occurs prior to the first words being spoken in the actual meeting. I have seen quite a few detailed methodologies for having successful meetings and while I think many of these “systems” have real merit and could be valuable, I’ve had problems adhering to anything that requires too much discipline or time. Over time, I’ve developed a cut-down approach for getting ready to attend meetings that I can scale from 5 minutes to a week depending on what’s at stake and the time I’ve been given. The fact is that if your complex 14 step meeting preparation process requires 24 hours and you only have 10 minutes before your meeting, you are likely to fail.  Since I am often on a tight timeline, I have scaled the many approaches to meeting preparation that I have tried down into three simple actions.   I can scale these actions to the intensity of the requirement and the time I have before the meeting occurs.

  1. Positive – Get yourself in the right mental state. Visualize success. Run through the opening to the conversation in your mind and visualize things going perfectly. People can sense confidence, so spending a little bit of time visualizing yourself succeeding can help you go into the meeting in a positive state of mind. Try to set up some down time in advance of your meeting.  During this time, you can prepare yourself mentally and ensure that you are in a positive state of mind. I try not to place two tough meetings back to back without at least a 15 minute break in between.  I want to ensure that I have some time to regroup if the first meeting is contentious. Moving from one difficult meeting to the next increases the likelihood that there will be negative bleed over.
  2. Visualize Success
  3. Prepared – Know the scope, participants, and context for the meeting.  Too many people enter meetings cold, armed only with the information that is important to them. You have to know what you are going to talk about and be prepared for logical deviations. In order to do this, you need to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Without  doing this you not only risk alienating the other participants by  focusing only on your concerns, but you also risk missing the point of the meeting as a whole. Just like the date that can’t stop talking about themselves, make sure you listen during the meeting.   Make sure you prepare yourself to listen and understand by doing some basic research on “their” point of view. Successful meetings, partnerships, and relationships are bi-directional.   It allows  multiple participants to feel that they have achieved what they set out to achieve in the meeting or encounter. Putting yourself in their shoes enables you to help them meet their objectives, while you are ensuring you meet yours.
  4. Be prepared. Get the right data.
  5. Plan – Provide an agenda, even if it is only for yourself. Most meetings are held to get to specific decisions or drive an action. Structure your meeting so that it leads towards that conclusion. I make between 20-60 calls every day to talk to existing customers, prospective customers, employees, partners and other stakeholders of Millsapps, Ballinger and Associates. Prior to every one of those calls I try to make sure that at a minimum I have set a mental goal for the call. I treat each one like a meeting and I try to plan for the result I want. Without that step, I’ve noticed that calls have a tendency to drift into the social area.  While this is fine from a relationship-building standpoint, if you don’t set specific goals you generally do both parties a disservice. Recognize that every meeting participant’s time has value and structure your meetings to derive the most value from that time. Internally, we do not hold meetings without agendas – period. Even our daily scrums (15minutes) have a specific agenda and formula that is designed to get to value by the close of every meeting.
Make an Agenda or a Checklist

If you follow these three P’s, I guarantee that you will get more out of your meetings, calls, and conversations. None of the above should take so much time that the time invested isn’t well worth the results. After all, having an unproductive meeting ensures that any time you spent was wasted. In order to take my own medicine on a compressed schedule, I keep the tools required to do a quick version of the 3 P’s by my desk at all times. I keep a pad of paper on my desk where I can sketch quick goals for a call and I’ll often simply do a quick scan of a person’s LinkedIn profile, last few e-mail exchanges, or other biographical information directly before the call. Finally, I always put myself in their shoes. What are they looking for? What do they want to talk about? If you aren’t prepared for those, you cannot expect to get the results you are looking for out of your meetings.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Mentors: Identifying & Leveraging Mentors

Most of us don’t have all the answers, particularly when it comes to how to advance ourselves within our chosen career. Most of us know generally where we want to end up, but whether our goal is to be the next CEO or just the next rung up the ladder, most people are confused as to how to make the jump. If you are confused about what to do, don’t think you are alone. While the modern world has transformed how we keep in touch with friends, find information, and listen to music, it still hasn’t come up with a great solution for providing tailored advice that is specific to us and where we want to go as people and professionals. That is the role of the mentor.  The good ones are really hard to find, worth their weight in gold, and may be just the thing you need to get from the corner cube to the corner office. That isn’t to say that modern tools like LinkedIn and Facebook can’t help you along your path.  It’s just that they haven’t quite been able to replace the advice a person who has once walked in your shoes and is perhaps wearing the ones you want to wear’s advice.
The term mentor comes from Greek mythology.  Odysseus placed Mentor in charge of his son when he left for the Trojan War. The goddess Athena disguised herself as Mentor when she visited Odysseus’s son and provided him with advice on overcoming the obstacles in front of him. So many years later we still depend on mentors to help us develop ourselves both personally and professionally. Chosen wisely and properly cultivated, mentors can be game changing relationships that help remove barriers, show the right path to progress, and help you make the right connections you need to succeed. It is for this reason that simply choosing somebody with a few more years of experience isn’t the right way to choose a mentor. In fact, most people do not go to the trouble at all of formally choosing their mentors. They simply go with the flow and if they run into someone that they get along with, has a few more grey hairs, and is a few more rungs up the ladder, they take their advice. This is the absolute wrong way to go about something that can be one of the most valuable resources you will find within your personal and professional career. I believe there is a real process that should be followed to ensure that you find a mentor that compliments your unique requirements and goals.

Step1: Decide that having the right mentor is important and treat it that way, find the right person. 
Most people don’t spend $50 anymore without extensive online research, but they are willing to take advice from somebody whose primary qualification was being born in the typewriter era. Choosing a mentor represents at a minimum, a major investment of time, which is everybody’s most valuable resource. At some point in the not too distance future you will be the result of what you have spent your time doing, so invest it wisely. Finding the right mentor is very much about who you are and what you need to grow. This doesn’t always mean focusing in on specific weaknesses and then finding someone who has strengths in those areas. For one, a laser-like focus on specific issues is usually not the role of a mentor, although a mentor may raise some specific issues that need to be addressed. Your mentor should be looking at the whole you and help you work through larger “path issues.”  Path issues essentially are how to get from where you are now, to your ideal end state. Finding people who can help you navigate the path between your present and desired future means finding people who are close to where you one day want to be, have advised those in that role, or who have spent a long time studying or watching those in that role. Ideally, this means finding people who embody where you want to be one day AND who have characteristics that you aspire to emulate.


However, finding an introverted CEO at a Fortune 500 firm may be a tall order. You may have to get a bit creative when where you want to go is a long way from where you are now. Maybe you can find someone who once held the right position, who has written about the person, studied them, or simply set your sights a bit lower.  You could find a mentor that is a little closer to where you are now, but is on the path to where you want to go. Besides, choosing a mentor simply based on their success in achieving similar goals to yours isn’t enough to be successful anyway. Having a shared value system is critical not only because it will increase the likelihood that you will have a rapport with that person, but also because it increases the likelihood that you will want to embrace the approaches they put forward. You may also want to take a look at the personality traits of the person you are evaluating as a mentor. If you are essentially a reserved and quiet person it may not pay to choose a gregarious person. Their strategies, insights, and strengths may be too different to be applicable. In short, you are looking for the you that you want to be in N years. Just don’t be afraid to look outside your immediate circle. You will be amazed at the interest people have in being a mentor and not knowing “the right person” shouldn’t stop you from approaching them.

Step 2: Close the deal and get the most out of your mentor. Make it official. 
Sure it’s a little cheesy and embarrassing to ask somebody to mentor you, but it is critical for both parties to make it official. There is something about saying “yes” to mentoring somebody that makes you feel kind of responsible for how things turn out. Maybe it is the flattery of having somebody think highly enough of you to ask you to mentor them. Maybe it’s because over time you start to feel like a parent or older sibling.  Whatever it is, the end result is usually a real bond between mentor and mentee.  This drives the mentor to put the mentee in position to succeed. Whether it’s setting up a meeting you could never get on your own, or putting in a good word for you with a friend, it comes more naturally once the mentor has overtly agreed to the role. As for the mentee, making it official means that you now have an obligation to succeed, a personal cheering section, and someone to help you work through the problems along the way. Closing the deal also means setting realistic expectations on both sides. You don’t have to get the following in writing, but it does help to have a good understanding on the part of both parties of what is expected with regard to meeting frequency, topics covered, and level of effort (time). This could range anywhere from telling your potential mentor that you are hoping to have lunch once a month for about an hour to a weekly meeting or phone call. Think about and explain what the format of the meeting will be. Do you expect this to normally be a casual conversation, or will you have a formal format. Give your potential mentor some insight into the types of topics you plan on covering.  This way they have an idea of what they are potentially in for and can politely decline if they are uncomfortable working with you or set boundaries in advance in some areas. Setting these mutual expectations in advance is critical because it sets up the entire execution of the mentoring process for success or failure. If you have spent the time in step one to have identified a really great mentor that you believe can help you get where you want to go, spend the time working with them to come to some type of reasonable agreement about what your mutual expectations are for the effort. This is also a critical first step in developing the framework, rapport, and working relationship that will exist for the duration of your mentorship. Like any other self-improvement program, mentoring requires dedication, discipline, and patience on both sides.  Getting a schedule and expectations out in public is sort of like announcing you are quitting smoking. The announcement itself increases the likelihood of success by formally and publicly setting the goal and creating personal and peer pressure to meet your goal.

Step 3: Make your own decisions and do your own work. 
A mentor isn’t a personal assistant, sales associate or a surrogate parent. If you chose wisely, they are probably somebody that could be spending their time more profitably by continuing to do all of the things that made them successful enough to be your mentor. They chose to help you along your path, not carry you. The more you can do for yourself, the more inclined your potential mentor will be to work hard on your behalf.  Too often people expect the world to be handed to them and there is no more sure way to kill a mentoring relationship than to push your mentor beyond their comfort zone. I do not personally believe in asking a mentor to make calls on your behalf, make introductions, or otherwise positively affect your growth beyond helping you develop personally and professionally. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask for advice on how to approach someone, but try to firmly separate the advice from asking for a service. In the end you will only stunt your own development if you allow your mentor to do the doing for you, rather than asking for help in developing the appropriate approach and doing the work yourself. In many cases the mentor probably can do a specific thing better than you can at this point in your career and if you let them do it for you, they always will. A more appropriate approach would be to ask the mentor to listen to the approach you plan to take and then get feedback. I’ve often found that the simple act of framing the problem statement to someone else helps me get my arms around the situation a little bit better.  If the person that is listening to you can provide some advice and feedback, then so much the better. One of the most critical roles a mentor can play is as a sounding board. They are someone who has played through similar scenarios on a multitude of occasions and can perhaps give you some insight into a potential outcome that you might not otherwise have anticipated. This can be particularly critical with issues like complex organizational politics.  Someone who has seen a similar situation play out dozens of times may have insight into the range of potential responses to a particular action. In the end, it is critical that you try to shape your interaction with your mentor to help you frame your decisions and not to make your decisions. There is a fine line between developing a mentor relationship that becomes a career accelerator by helping you choose the right paths and a crutch that advances your career but not your personal and professional development.


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Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.