BLOG

Mon 31 May 2021
INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - With many people working remotely because of coronavirus, it can be easy to lose connection with coworkers. This lack of connection builds a lack of empathy for what others are going through.

Garrett Mintz, who helps companies break through employee communication barriers, explains how we can keep a company's culture while working remotely.

For Employers:
• Company culture is based on connection and a sense of identity employees have of being a member of the company
• Creating time for employees to have horizontal mentorships can help keep that connection while they are remote
• Horizontal mentorships are when two people are constantly curious, open to the idea of learning from each other and providing wisdom and sharing the obstacles they face on a regular basis, creating empathy and connection between two people

For Employees:
• Carve time to intentionally have conversations with other employees, especially outside of your department, to learn about the obstacles they are facing and share the obstacles you are facing in your work
• Create an agenda and share that agenda with the other person about what you would like to discuss - it can be work-related but shouldn't be task-related
• Keep the conversations going every month - you will feel a greater connection to your company and fulfillment from your work when you have more people who understand the obstacles you are facing and you will have less frustration with other people when you understand the obstacles they are facing
Wed 20 May 2020
In the business world there is a difference between what outsiders or customers believe about the internal operations of a company and how employees view the reality of how things actually operate. I believe knowing who actually makes the decisions, upper management expectations, and what characteristics promote upward mobility in a particular company, are the things that make a mentor invaluable. Mentors can see where you fit in best and where you need improvement. They are able see attributes as well as faults that we may not see or be willing to admit. Mentors are those who are there to provide the truth and not worry about padding your ego; this is all to make mentees better. 

I believe my career would have progressed much differently and faster if I had the benefit of a mentor. I learned the unsaid protocols and the importance of making contacts, and how you deal with individuals the hard way. I later learned that sometimes who you know is just as, or more important, than what you know in some industries. I also learned over time that the way you communicate with people varies by the individual. Personalities vary; therefore, your approach toward each person may also need to vary. This is true for peers as well as for supervisors. These are known as soft-skills, which also include decision-making and networking. I wish I had someone to fill those gaps during the beginning of my career. I later met others who had mentors, or influential individuals, during their career and every response seemed to be similar. They all believed their mentors, or influencers, had a major impact on the success of their careers. 

Here is an example of when I wished I had a mentor. I was working at my agency headquarters and I knew I wanted to get promoted to a position outside of headquarters. I thought all I needed to do was work hard and create quality programs. I eventually found out that I needed to go beyond this by improving my networking skills within the building and within the outer offices. I needed to be known by the “right” people and have a good reputation among those same individuals. I learned you have to have  allies among the decision-makers to get anywhere within my organization. If I had known this earlier, my approach to navigating my career path would have definitely been different.

In order to get and keep mentees on the path to their self-defined success, mentors are there to be encouraging, a sounding board, a trusted advisor, and to nurture the mentee’s personal growth and leadership qualities. Mentors should help mentees realize their potential through candor and tough love to promote self-motivation, self-realization, confidence, and self-discipline. Most of all, mentors are there to share their experiences and keep the mentee from making the same mistakes the mentor made along the way, which become learning lessons without the pain. Mentors are there to help mentees succeed and in return the mentors also benefit because their own skills may improve as a result of the interaction with their mentee. I believe one of the most important aspects of a mentor/mentee relationship is the long-lasting connection that may result from the interactions. A bond that fosters consistent guidance and trust. 
Fri 15 May 2020
I recently wrote an article about the importance of mentorship for executives, and I wanted to write another article specifically about why HR executives should have mentors.


If anybody has ever seen the American version of The Office, they may associate HR with Toby. If you haven’t seen The Office, Toby is a well-intentioned HR professional but is hated by Michael Scott, the branch manager. Their acrimonious relationship is because Michael perceives Toby as the “killer of fun” or put another way, the killer of innovation and new ideas.


We watch the show from Michael’s perspective because he is the boss and the main character, but let’s take a second to put ourselves in Toby’s shoes.


Toby is an HR team of 1 where he has to manage all of the HR functions of the entire branch. If Michael comes up with an inappropriate, or even illegal, idea and Toby doesn’t step in to stop it, the company could get sued and Toby is at fault. For comedic relief, we laugh at the antics and the angst between Michael and Toby. 


But if we put ourselves in Toby’s shoes, I think the dilemma becomes clear. How do we handle novel HR scenarios and issues without having the experience and information necessary to be sure we are choosing the right action? 


After interviewing over 50 HR executives in the past 3 months, I have learned that most companies have more HR projects that their HR team can possibly handle. Their work turns into a process of constantly taking care of what is most pressing right now while deferring an ever-growing list of lower-priority tasks for a later date “when things calm down”.


HR executives must understand what’s going on within their own company while also monitoring other companies to assess how they are doing to see if they are falling behind in any way. 


HR teams can end up isolated from other the broader HR professional network, save for the occasional SHRM conference or HR networking event. This lack of professional connection can be an obstacle to handling all of the work thrown at HR executives. An experienced network of like-minded colleagues can greatly improve your work and can help you avoid the emotional toll of not having somebody you relate and connect that can console you on how to balance the load of everything being thrown at HR executives.


So, why should HR executives have mentors?


1. Learn about what other HR executives are doing


If you are getting your guidance on what innovations you should consider pursuing at your annual SHRM conference or planning organizational changes and innovations years in advance, you are probably reacting to old advice. For example, let’s say you find a promising new Learning Management System at a conference in August. It seems valuable so you bring it up to your HR team in September, and you focus on ironing out all of the kinks in the plan before presenting the idea to the other company leaders. Now it’s December. But, budgets are approved for January in November/December meaning that now you are waiting until the following January for implementation. Now, your innovative idea from 18 months ago is finally being implemented and it’s already a bit out of date. 


With a strong network, a fellow HR executive mentor could have informed you about the Learning Management System back in March. You could have brought the idea up to your team and ironed out the kinks in preparation for the conference in August and been ready to implement it by the initial January. You’ve just cut your time-to-implementation time by half from 18 months to 9. 


2. Expand your network to other HR executives who can relate


When people don’t know each other that well, they have a tendency to only share the good things in their world – e.g. “My company was listed in the top 100 places to work”, or “we have made 30 new hires in the past month and are growing exponentially.” These conversations are pervasive at conferences or networking events. Brag fests and casual banter are fun pleasantries, but no one should mistake these for the deep, meaningful conversations that drive innovation and professional development. 


A fellow HR executive mentor from outside of one’s own company allows you to open up, share, and relate to another executive that shares your mindset, but has their own experiences. These connections, and the vulnerable conversations that occur in these mentorships, make HR executives not only better at their jobs, but most importantly, happier at work. 


3. Get advice on how to handle unfamiliar scenarios


The world changes all of the time. People are not antique toys that can be put in plastic boxes and held in place until they retire. There are actions and reactions that HR executives cannot control, and when uncertain situations strike, you have decisions to make. Here’s the most important decision: do you keep it to yourself and try to handle it alone for fear that asking for advice will make you seem ineffective at your job? 


A fellow HR executive mentor might have faced that type of situation before. At a minimum, they can ask relevant questions and share their thoughts based on what they have experienced before. And at best, they can share their wisdom and help you find the key to solving the problem. 


As an HR executive, you are whom your company turns to when they have an HR question, regardless of whether you know the answer. Mentorship provides HR executives with their own team of informal advisors, and a fellow HR executive mentor makes life easier because they provide balance, insight, and perspective that you cannot find from your current network. 

Wed 13 May 2020
I have been a mentor for the last two semesters and have had a total of 3 mentees. Each mentee approached the relationship a little differently but always from a positive standpoint. Each had their own interests and their own perspectives. I found it very rewarding to be able to provide my perspective on many, if not most, of their interests. I think I was able to provide some guidance on going forward with both school and career. One thing I stressed was balancing school and personal interests. Both are needed in my opinion. Too much emphasis in either direction is not the best way to proceed. While in school, schoolwork needs to be the primary interest but it also needs balance with personal activities.

One area that seems universal with all 3 mentees was where to go after graduation. We would discuss their interests and why. Some would have a very good idea of what interested them and what they wanted to pursue while some did not. One thing I stressed to them was that whatever direction they decided to go they had to be able to make a living and pay the bills. It is great to pursue your passion as long as it will result in getting a job that will pay the bills. If your passion will not result in a job that will pay the bills, pick another area of interest that will result in a good paying job.

All 3 mentees were interested in how I decided to become a chemical engineer. In my case it was very logical – I was good at math and science and I was told that being an engineer could utilize my talents. I decided on chemical engineering after entering college when I again looked at what I was good at – math and chemistry. All 3 asked about my co-op experience and my view of co-op. I am very positive on the co-op experience and would definitely recommend it to anyone in engineering school.

Two of the mentees asked about my finances. I do have a limited amount of experience in that area as I studied and took the exam to get a limited broker’s license (Series 6). I did pursue that for a short time but decided it wasn’t for me in the long run. I was able to recommend what I would do if I were them going forward after getting a job from a financial standpoint – first order of business is to put 6 months of living expenses in savings for a rainy day. Second order is participating in a 401(k) savings program thru their employer (if available) and maximizing the company match.

I was able to provide resume review (thru a friend of mine that has a lot of experience in that area) for two of the mentees which both thought was helpful. Other topics were discussed as well depending on the interest of the mentee but the most important ones from my standpoint are listed above. All calls for all the mentees lasted a minimum of 45 minutes with most over an hour. A positive attitude on the part of the mentee and the mentor makes this program very worthwhile for both – it certainly did for me and I would venture to say you would get the same response from the mentees. None of the calls were limited by time – on either end.
Wed 6 May 2020
Engagement has become a popular metric for measuring satisfaction of employees, productivity, and, to an extent, the health of a company’s culture.
But is engagement a truly accurate metric for measuring satisfaction of employees, productivity, and company culture?
Engagement has clearly shown a correlation to greater productivity and workplace happiness, but how accurate is our method for measuring workplace engagement? Are their leading indicators that might serve as a better metric for how engagement will change?
This article outlines some of the issues with solely measuring engagement and identifies some additional metrics that may provide stronger evidence for when engagement is volatile or calm.
The three issues with only measuring engagement are as follows:
1.Engagement can change in an instant
When an engaged employee becomes disengaged, it is often instigated by one event rather than by some extended sequence of events over time. Most people enter a company excited to get to work and get started, thus are highly engaged. But as they spend more time with the company, they get to know more people and become more accustomed to the workplace. They formulate ideas and expectations about who their coworkers and bosses are and how they are expected to act, and these expectations are compared and contrasted with their own internal compass for how the workplace is expected to operate. 
But, when this new and engaged employee is confronted by someone strongly deviating from the expectations in a negative way, this negative event can muddle their expectations and disengage the employee. 
This is more than simple conjecture; I’ve heard this same story again and again. For example, a friend of mine works at a company where 1 employee (Director) became frustrated at another employee (Accountant) because the accountant consistently asked the director to redo his expense reports. The director’s frustrations stemmed from the fact that it took him 15 minutes to redo the expense reports. In all fairness, there were mistakes, but the director thought that they were immaterial and insignificant.
So, the director goes to other people in his department to share what a pain in the butt it is to redo the expense reports. He subtly inserts his frustrations into conversations to see if anyone else can relate. If somebody bites, they enter a conversation and begin venting their frustrations about the accountant.
The issue is that word travels fast. The accountant learns about these conversations and doesn’t feel comfortable approaching the director with his thoughts or feelings. He is then posed with the question, “does he do his job properly or not because he knows the director is going to complain?”
The accountant learns about his treatment and switches from engaged to disengaged in an afternoon.
2. Work status changes can temporarily impact engagement away from the average
Similarly to starting a new relationship, there is usually a brief ‘honeymoon’ period when taking up a new role or position. Whether it’s a promotion or a new job altogether, taking over new responsibilities feels awesome at first. We feel eager to learn new things, jump on tasks that need to get done, and are open-minded to the feedback we receive.
Within the first 3 months of starting this role, our engagement is artificially elevated because we are “drinking from the firehose”. There are so many amazing opportunities and interesting new responsibilities that it would be difficult to not be engaged.
If a company measures engagement every 6 months or once per year and their survey includes people within those first 3 months of starting a new role, the results are likely skewed positively. If leadership is relying on this information to make informed decisions about how to best manage their team, they are going to be relying on falsely inflated engagement scores which diminishes the need to positively develop the company. Why provide new activities for their employees when engagement is already high when instead, you could double-down on quotas and operational goals and try to squeeze some extra productivity from their “highly engaged” workforce? 
If the engagement numbers are skewed, this type of scenario could put engagement and workplace morale into a tailspin. These artificially engaged employees might become overworked. And when they leave the honeymoon stage and revert back to the mean, their dwindling engagement could reach a critical threshold because leadership pushed when they needed to support. 
3. Daily engagement measures lead to survey fatigue
Some companies may claim they eradicate the first two issues because they measure engagement daily.
However, this approach brings a new problem: survey fatigue. If employees are asked the same questions every single day, they are going to grow accustomed to consistently responding a certain way, regardless of the underlying truth. Instead of capturing their engagement, we are simply building a pointless ritual into every employee’s day: the daily survey that only truly measures how quickly they click the “moderately engaged” button.  
In this case, gathering more data does not mean necessarily gathering better data. The previous two issues, 1) engagement can change in an instant and 2) that work status changes can artificially inflate engagement are very much still a concern. In fact, daily measurements might be worse than 3 or 6 month measurements because the daily habitual answers could override honesty right up until that event that “flips” the engagement switch. 
However, there isn’t all bad news about measuring workplace engagement. As mentioned earlier in this article, there is a direct correlation to productivity and work satisfaction when engagement is high.
There are leading indicators that can help companies better understand whether or not engagement is susceptible to change.
The leading indicators our team has identified are 1) Communication Barriers between employees and 2) Dysfunctional Turnover.
We define communication barriers between employees as the lack of understanding for the obstacles another employee faces, and we define dysfunctional turnover as turnover from employees that do great work and are engaged but are susceptible to leaving because of something going on in the company (e.g. not due to personal events).
Our team has identified that 68% of engaged employees believe that there are communication barriers between themselves and other employees at work. This is critical to understand because it means that people are forming assumptions about others’ work, but only rarely get chances to find out if these assumptions are based in fact. When employees don’t understand the obstacles faced by their coworkers, they form assumptions about what other employees do. These assumptions can create a lack of empathy, and this lack of empathy creates a high susceptibility for them to become disgruntled and disengaged by someone else’s actions in coordination with their assumptions.
If you can understand how many of your employees experience communication barriers at work, you can begin to gauge how quickly engagement might change.
Dysfunctional turnover also involves communication, but as opposed to the focus being on what other people are doing outside of an employee’s control, it involves the communication an employee receives for their specific job function. When employees feel like they are not getting adequate feedback or communication from their boss, they are susceptible to becoming disengaged. Employees are also susceptible to becoming disengaged when they don’t perceive that their colleagues respect the work they do.
Measuring dysfunctional turnover is not the same as measuring the TIS (Turnover Intention Scale) as the TIS asks for feedback on pretty black and white statements like “I don’t envision myself working for this company much longer.” We measure dysfunctional turnover via factors like communication quality with colleagues and bosses during multi-person tasks and their perception of the respect they receive for the work they do.
In essence, engagement metrics do have a lot of value, but measuring engagement only shows where engagement is at now, not where it will be. Measuring leading indicators like communication barriers between employees and dysfunctional turnover can provide a lens into where engagement is going.
 

Wed 6 May 2020
An encouraging message from Brandon Gaydorus, giving an illustration on how mentors can guard you from making the same old mistakes and learn from others.
Sat 2 May 2020
Steph Curry has mentors that help him with his shot. Can you believe that? The best basketball shooter on the planet has mentors to help him shoot better!? You would think he should be mentoring other people, right? 


Steph has coaches too. And he plays on a team, meets with other players from around the NBA to discuss basketball and life. But he also has mentors.


If you are an executive reading this article, compare yourself, as a leader in your company, to Steph Curry leading his team.


You may have a coach. And you may have an executive team that advises you on company matters, and you may participate in an executive advisory group. But do you have mentors?


This is not meant to offend, but chances are that you aren’t as good of an executive as Steph Curry is a shooter. And even if you were, you should be taking every advantage you can if you want to be the best at your game. So if 2-time MVP, 3-time NBA champion, 6-time All-NBA team Steph Curry thinks he needs a mentor to achieve greatness, then you could probably use one too. 


So, what is a mentor?


A standard definition would say a mentor is simply an experienced and trusted advisor.


But there is clearly more to mentorship than that.


Does being experienced mean they must be older than you?


Does trusted mean that you have worked with them for many years?


Our research indicates that those assumptions about “experienced” and “trusted” are incorrect.


The best mentoring relationships are horizontal. Horizontal mentorships are mentoring relationships where two people are open to learning from each other and being constantly curious, giving their insight to the relationship, and approaching the personal/professional relationship as equals. In this mentorship paradigm, experience and trust are measured in more than just “years”. 


Great horizontal mentorship is built on a mutual perspective on the relationship between work and life. We call this work orientation. Some people view their work as a job (meaning their focus is on work/life balance), career (meaning their focus is on professional growth) or calling (meaning their focus is on personal/professional mission alignment). There is not a right or wrong work orientation and it is fluid, meaning it can change throughout your life.


Work orientation is an important factor in building great mentor relationships. When potential mentors are matched strictly on age, years of experience, status, or area of expertise, the likelihood that the relationship will last for 6 months and be considered productive and quality is 18%. These factors simply aren’t enough.


What if, instead of using superficial features, we matched people based on a deeper connection? When mentors are matched with aligning Work Orientations, the likelihood that the relationship will last for 6 months and be considered productive and quality jumps to 72%.


These relationships become even more successful when work orientation is combined with horizontal mentorship, particularly for company leaders and executives. Horizontal mentorship between executives is a powerful tool for improving yourself and your company. You can relate to similar decisions faced and strategies to consider – even if you are in completely different industries. You can emotionally relate to the stressors of the work and can take a smarter approach when challenging you to grow professionally. Their outside, yet equal perspective provides something that an individual executive’s team or coaches won’t (because that executive controls their pay and job status).


Why should executives have mentors?


1. Have somebody else to help balance the mental load of what an executive is normally carrying.


As an executive, you are faced with a lot of decisions and plans. Even if you are the most organized and well-planned person, your team is spending their full-time working with you in the office, and your only guidance is from your team. It’s difficult for someone to bring a new perspective to you when they are seeing the same things you see – even if they feel comfortable challenging you. Also, you have probably split your team into departments and you or a combination of you and your executives orchestrate the entire operation. Not everyone can relate and help you prioritize what is most important. Someone with a shared work orientation and has similar responsibilities in a different company/industry can help you ease the mental load of what you are facing.


2. Look at challenges from a different lens from somebody completely outside of your industry.


Success leaves clues. But it’s up to you to find them. What was successful in one industry might work in another. If you are an executive and your network is insulated and rarely expanding, you will only surround yourself with the same thinking. Finding new mentors and continuing to build relationships with current mentors will help you expand your problem-solving abilities.


3. Be able to emotionally attach and disengage.


A mentor is not a spouse. A mentor is close enough to you that they can understand and empathize but distant enough from you that you can make mistakes with what you say or how you phrase something without it backlashing. You can technically fire your spouse, but that’s a relationship that you probably don’t want to fire if you don’t have to. It is okay for you to have a mentor relationship with somebody for 6 months and then if you decide you don’t like their advice anymore begin to grow distant. You can always pick that relationship back up again if you would like. 


What are common objections from executives for why not to have mentors?


1. I don’t have the time for mentors.


Are you working in the business or on the business? Executive mentors can help you work on the business. As a leader, you need to be thinking ahead and willing to do the work now so that your job will be easier later. If your job is to cut down trees, going at it day after day with a dull axe isn’t working hard, it’s working poorly. Mentorship helps you sharpen your metaphorical axe; neglecting your toolkit means you are neglecting your work, even if you think you can’t make the time.


2. I already have mentors.


How did you find your mentors? From the circles you actively connect with and run in? If you all hear the same things, are given similar advice, and trying the same strategies, are your mentors giving you anything new? Or are they just confirming what you already know? Finding executive mentors outside of your circle will make you see your blind spots. 


3. I don’t need mentors.


This sort of response typically comes from a place of ego. Anyone who says this is conveying that they have learned everything and there is no room for them to grow. Which, paradoxically, is proof that they in fact still have plenty more to learn. The knowledge and experience gained from an executive mentor is simply irreplaceable. As I stated at the opening of this blog: chances are, you are no Steph Curry (in your field). The best of the best are that way for a reason. Success leaves clues and this one isn’t buried that deep.      


Every executive will benefit by cultivating a group of strong, diverse mentor relationships, especially ones outside of their industry and normal sphere of influence. The diversity of thought that comes from these types of relationships lead executives to make massive breakthroughs in their businesses, and within themselves mentally and emotionally. What’s your excuse?
Wed 29 April 2020
Mentors Help Mentees!
The Scottish author and government reformer, Samuel Smiles, said in 1855, that Alexander the Great valued learning so highly, that he said that he was more indebted to Aristotle for giving him knowledge than to his father Philip for life.

Mentors Are Versatile
Mentors are trusted advisers who train and counsel new employees, or students, in a company, college, or school (Capellini, 2018). Alternatively, they are called a mentor, coach, guide, counselor, teacher, instructor, sponsor, or wise adviser. The descriptions signify many different connotations so that it might be necessary to consult a dictionary for specific clarity. Mentors embrace all aspects of a mentee's life. Whether in college on an educational journey, in search of a career, or merely negotiating life's path, individuals need mentors to provide guidance and leadership. As a substitute, coaches, counselors, or immediate supervisors provide wisdom as needed. Also, college students seeking graduate degrees have advice-givers like a Supervisory Committee, headed by a Chairperson. In all, trained advisers offer support when and where required to help mentees attain professional goals. 

Mentors Are Dynamic
Mentors are specific and straightforward toward mentees. They carefully explore and help develop a mentee's professional leadership qualities, inspire them to assume progressively higher responsibilities for themselves and others they might be associated with, and encourage career pursuits. The mentors' vision and efforts generate mentee improvement and growth. They learn to act on a personal and professional level with their peers, set enhancing performance goals, boost the ability to be candid and honest with themselves and others, and learn how their feelings impact their actions. Mentors also seek positive feedback, a talent essential to strengthening desired behaviors, by controlling or redirecting disruptive impulses and moods, displaying poise and composure, and creating an environment of trust and fairness. 
Mentors use guidance feedback, to help eliminate undesired behavior–aptitudes and reinforce mentor–positive impulses. They listen for whole meanings of statements, look for generalizations or threads of meaning derived from facts, and carefully listen to events to distinguish truth from opinion. Mentors show empathy for the mentee's perspective, emotions, wisdom, concerns, put themselves in the mentees' shoes applying similar experience, never confuse tolerance with sympathy, or feel sorry without understanding the full context. Mentors recognize when a mentee changes the tone of voice, rate, or volume of speech, that it may indicate a lack of assurance about something, or they wish not to be forthright about certain information. Mentors observe issue indicators, the mentees' nonverbal clues, eye contact avoidance, slumping or clenching fists.

Mentee Accountability
Mentees should cultivate resourcefulness, accountability, and the responsibility to be active and productive learners. They should show a desire to learn, objectively access and develop needs, establish clear growth-related goals, openly speak about them, and be responsible for their progress and personal growth. Mentees should take the initiative to schedule advising meetings with their mentor, be receptive to coaching and feedback, maintain a positive and constructive attitude, take advantage of training and growth activities, the assistance offered, and retain confidentiality. Mentees should seek a mentor with similar experience, personality, and availability, and prepare questions to ask their mentor.

Five Mentor Goal Values a SMART Acronym 
  • Specific: Goals should be accurate, straightforward, and begin with action words like coordinate, direct, develop, plan, etc.
  • Measured: Goals should show sizeable criteria for determining progress toward attaining set purposes and measuring results that answer the question, how will I know when the mission is complete?
  • Achievable: Goals should be attainable and challenging but possible and programmed to reach commitment in a reasonable time to prevent disinterest. 
  • Realistic: Goals should be essential and true-to-life but represent an objective toward which both mentor and mentee are willing and able to meet.
  • Timed: Goals should be scheduled, set within a specific timeframe with an endpoint that allows practical work towards a distinct, attainable target. 


Dr. Colonel J. Solis, USMC, Retired
BSBA, BSBA, MBA, Mphil, DBA, Ph.D.(c)
SVA, Executive Director, U. S. Marine Corps

References
Capellini, J. (2018). Final Report, 2018 Marine Corps Community Services Education Center Program Assessment.

Samuel Smiles, December 1812 to April 1904
Thu 23 April 2020
When a company implements a new employee-to-employee horizontal mentorship program, this can feel like a big first step towards progress! However, impactful mentorship is not Field of Dreams; just because you built it, it doesn’t mean that employees will see ‘magical’ changes overnight. It takes more than a basic mentorship program to develop engaged employees and achieve the desired goals you have for the mentor program and the company as a whole. 


This article offers my perspective on the importance of semi-structured meeting agendas as a driving force for effective, impactful mentorship, regardless of the personalities of the people participating.


Our conventional wisdom tells us that “if two people are extroverted, they are naturally going to hit it off. Structured meetings will just get in the way of natural conversation!”


This conventional wisdom is wrong.


Extroverts get their energy from being around other people. We expect two extroverted people to have an easy path to conversation, but this doesn’t account for a key issue: how productive is what they are discussing? Is their discussion casual, like sports, weather, or family? Or, is their discussion about the obstacles they are facing at work and having a dialogue about how to make their work more productive and personally fulfilling?


People may be able to gain value from any conversation, true. But, more likely than not, these casual conversations are superficial and not particularly substantive. The reason for this is because people feel comfortable discussing things that they either see on a daily basis or that they don’t have control over but are generally interested in. We are used to these conversation topics. When anyone ever asks, “how are you doing?” it is typically followed by these superficial talking points. 


Casual conversations are low risk, low reward. Few people have revelations when discussing whether the Lakers will make the playoffs. These conversations are comforting and valuable, but they are simply no substitute for challenging discussions and self-reflection. 


On the flip side, deep conversations are rarer for a reason. Talking about work obstacles and challenging your fears about what’s possible in your professional career is uncomfortable! We are forced to be vulnerable. These conversations do drive profound outcomes, but without an agenda keeping people on track, we can unintentionally deviate back to those comfortable, superficial topics.  


Falling back to comfortable conversation isn’t just a risk for extroverted people; introverts can face their own challenges during a mentorship program. One might assume “if two people are introverted, they can figure out a mentor meeting without an agenda. They are professionals and their introversion will make them more comfortable.”


Again, this conventional wisdom falls flat. Ask introverts if they would feel comfortable with this and most will say no. This is typically the assumption extroverted people have about introverted people.


The issue is that the people that are most interested in starting company-wide mentor programs are typically extroverts. Introverts just typically don’t share that same type of self-sustaining drive for more social interaction; they recharge their ‘mental energy’ in different ways. 


But, this doesn’t mean that introverts are disinterested in mentorship!


Instead, when an introvert participates in a mentor program, they might be more likely to have some anxiety or skepticism about meeting somebody they (typically) have minimal interaction with. They need to feel confident and come to the meeting with a plan: How long is the meeting? What are the topics for discussion? How can they be sure that this meeting will be impactful to them? 


Meeting agendas accomplish this goal. Meeting agendas give introverted people the safety net of a plan of action. They know that the discussion will be meaningful, that the conversation won’t be open-ended without a set end time, and that the other person (their mentor) shares this plan.


Implementing a mentor program is a huge first step towards building a stronger, more positive company culture and breaking through communication barriers.


But just having a mentor program doesn’t mean that the company is accomplishing their goals. Improvement takes active effort; the communication barriers and dysfunctional turnover are not going to magically disappear overnight. Employee engagement and positive company culture doesn’t appear by flipping a switch.


Unfortunately, many companies start (and end) these efforts with the idea of “let’s start a mentor program!” and simply call it a day. They might ‘match’ employees, but randomly. They might give suggested topics, but not meeting agendas. Instead of creating an impactful mentorship program for their company, they simply checked another box for their year-end review and assumed the benefits had already materialized. 


Providing mentor meeting agendas is one very important piece of building a strong, thriving employee horizontal mentorship program that connects with every employee, regardless of personality. 



Wed 22 April 2020
A CEO is presented with a problem. The CEO, already too busy with a full schedule, re-assigns this problem to a subordinate under them. That person then passes along to their subordinate. That person, usually supervisor or manager, then re-assigns it to the final individual who is expected to tackle the problem…and unfortunately, that employee doesn’t get the full picture, because they have been kept out of the ALL the prior conversations, from the CEO to their manager. Those conversations are the “meat and potatoes” of the project: the CEO’s expectations…the realizations of what might work and what won’t…Or even how the problem incurred in the 1st place.  They were just instructed to take care of the issue and now have the weight of figuring out the “how” on their own.
 
Effective Leadership is Hampered by Ignorance. TV’s “Undercover Boss” demonstrates this problem very well. Executives go undercover in their own organizations and see first hand how their decisions (which many believed would be beneficial to their organizations) have impacted the workers at the bottom. To put the saying kindly: The garbage always rolls downhill. You can’t accurately assess the performance of a task from the top if you don’t know the process at the bottom. There are people who KNOW things, and there are people that KNOW HOW to do things. Top-Level Executives need to be able to function as both. It is, after all, why they were given the top-level positions they have. But how can they do both? It’s impossible for a top-level leader to KNOW HOW all lower-level employees do their job…and the problem is only magnified in larger companies. So, how can you effectively manage your team if you don’t know the work? 
 
We should forget the days of a Manager / Supervisor / Dire you should have an inside track to your lower-level employees and understand how your decisions impact them. Don’t be afraid to ask the right questions! Run your own progress reports, understanding information is often sanitized by the time it reaches your desk. Ask questions you would not be expected to ask. Expect to hear the good and the bad, and welcome that information. Your company's health is your responsibility. When you purposely ignore these responsibilities, the result can be worse than the individual who created the problem at the lower level. This is how a disaster explodes to take out an entire company. Little communication from the top causes fear amongst the lower level. Fear grows and eats at company morale. Silence from the top affects everyone because we’re all connected.  
 
Inspect what you expect