"mentor accountability"

Tue 21 January 2020
Participating in mentor relationships is extremely valuable and can open up opportunities for both professional and personal growth. 

But what happens when we don’t do the things we said we would do in our previous meeting or the person we are mentoring doesn’t accomplish what he said he would do the previous meeting?

You are faced with a crossroads. If you didn’t accomplish your goal, were you too ambitious with how you would spend your time or did you drop the ball? Can you be honest with yourself to recognize where you messed up?

If the person you are mentoring didn’t accomplish his goals, why did this happen? Do you feel comfortable with applying enough pressure to show that you care but not so much that you turn the person you are mentoring off? 

This article covers some helpful tips towards building a mentor relationship that is healthy and productive.

Set expectations upfront

When setting goals in a mentoring relationship, it is extremely important that you both set expectations. If you don’t put on guardrails for tasks not getting accomplished, the relationship has a high likelihood of fizzling out because if there isn’t accountability for the goals set in the relationship, there likely isn’t much accountability for the relationship overall.

It is great to set goals that are months or years away but the problem with this is that it is difficult to assess of you or the person you are mentoring is on the right track. Ideally, once you set a longer term goal, you set goals for you to accomplish between meetings that create a path towards your end goal. 

If you don’t accomplish these tasks between your mentor meetings, it is important for you to assess what is realistic and what might be too ambitious.

Challenge with questions not statements

If your mentor or the person you are mentoring doesn’t achieve his goals, it might be tempting to be frustrated. In a mentor relationship, you are investing your energy in seeing this person succeed. If they can’t accomplish the tasks they set for themselves, it can feel depleting or frustrating.

The key to properly challenging the person you are mentoring to ask poignant questions that help them come up with solutions. Saying things like “you need to do this...” or “I can’t believe you didn’t get that done…” doesn’t help you and may turn the person you are mentoring away. 

Asking questions like “since you weren’t able to accomplish this, is there something you can do this week/month to help you get back on track?” or “do you feel like you can still accomplish your goal even though you missed your task this week?” or “if you aren’t able to achieve your goal, what will be the outcome of that?” 

Once the person you are mentoring has answered these types of questions, the number one most important question to ask is:

How can I help you?

This shows empathy and your accountability to them achieving this goal.

Reevaluate the goal for changes

You or the person you are mentoring may determine that the goal set initially is not as important as it once was and that there is a new goal that has taken precedence.

This is completely fine and normal!

The key to properly handling this situation is sharing this information with your mentor. They will support you in this transition because they care about you accomplishing your goals, not that the original goal gets accomplished.

You aren’t letting your mentor down by changing your goal but you are letting your mentor down if you don’t share this new goal with him.

As a mentor, you can ask the question “is this still the most important goal on your plate?” or put another way “what is your biggest concern with the work you are doing right now?” Sometimes it is easier to answer questions about concerns than goals and prioritize them because people are more willing to do things to avoid pain than gain pleasure.

Overall, when it comes to mentor relationships and holding people accountable, it is key to be transparent, create protocols for not accomplishing tasks on the way to a goal, and be empathetic.

If you are interested in learning more about research on mentor relationships for companies, check out https://ambition-in-motion.com/companies.

Wed 24 June 2020
I recently joined an executive peer mentoring initiative led by Ambition In Motion (https://ambition-in-motion.com). A big part of the reason is that my coaching practice, (www.coachfortomorrow.com) is continuing to expand in leadership development, career development and management, and career transition. I’m now also part of another new initiative, Culture Fit 20/20 (https://culturefit2020.com), and I’m extremely interested in views from an HR executive’s desk on employee well-being, engagement, training and development.
 
What intrigues me about the mentoring focus is how the AIM team did a “work orientation” assessment as a key basis for pairing me with another leader, Geoff McCuen. We’ve been introduced, met again, and have discovered that we’re really closely aligned in our outlook on life and career. We each share a sense that the calling or purpose behind what we do as a career or job, is critical. So we’re both excited to be speaking together, and affirming of AIM’s process in connecting the two of us. A part of this was the power of story – the types of questions we asked each other nudged us to be open and authentic. As part of articulating the “why” behind what I do, I found myself remembering key people and conversations en-route to my deciding on coaching as my next career.
 
Another facet of this is the notion of “peer mentoring”. Most of us probably equate a mentor as a more senior, more skilled, more experienced sage, giving the benefit of his or her experience and wisdom to a younger, developing professional. Our thinking is shaped by centuries of tradition (the development of novice-apprentice-journeyman from the guilds of the middle ages) to the more recent Jedi Master-Padawan apprentice from the Star Wars franchise. I remember realizing with a shock years ago that I was no longer the “new guy” at IBM but had become one of the “veterans”.
 
But why not “peer” mentoring? One way to look at this could be “networking on steroids”. Or, think of this quote from the book of Proverbs - “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Each of us can both add value and perspective to another, and learn from the other.
 
Looking forward to our next conversations!
Wed 5 August 2020
This week I had my second meeting with my Peer Mentor and it was another good one.   Each time we meet Garrett has a recommended agenda that ensures each meeting will be productive and avoids the “So, what do you want to talk about today” condition that can be stifling.  However, he always gives us permission to deviate from “the script” and go wherever the moment takes us. The topic was “Collaboration” and this time we stuck to the agenda.  We were asked to share the biggest challenge facing us currently, but that wasn’t all.  We were supposed to ask our mentor to assist us with the challenge – not just give advice on how to deal with it.  

When I first read that I thought, “Since my biggest challenge is something I need to do at/for work and Mike can’t work on that, I better pick some other challenge that he can help with.”   Then, when I shared this thought with Garrett he pushed back.  “Why limit Mike and possibly miss a great opportunity for him to collaborate with you?”   That’s when I realized that this sort of pre-qualifying others for their help is something that I do a lot.   How many times at work, at home, at church, or elsewhere have I faced a situation that I could use some help but I tell myself, “(that person) can’t help you with that”, so I never ask.   Even when that person is there to help!   

I don’t know if this is function of pride (I don’t really need the help), or trying to save the other person from having to say, “Sorry, I can’t help with that”, or being afraid that they may reject me and refuse to help.   Whatever it is, I’m sure that it has cost me many many hours and dollars trying to struggle on my own.  Further, how many people have I denied the opportunity to be helpful to me.  When I do that it is truly lose-lose. 

After this session, I’ve decided that I would be more open with those around me who may have abilities that I’m unaware of that would be perfect for my present challenge.   Who is in your circle that would be happy to help you in ways that you didn’t even know they could?

Thu 20 August 2020
As a business leader, you are expected to be many things, but being a mind reader is not in your job description. You are not expected to know what is going on with your people at all times of the day and what’s going on in their heads from day-to-day.

But you are expected to have at least some sense of what your people are going through and how they are generally feeling about it. When you are out of touch and out of sync with your team, you risk losing your best people and not having any clue as to why or how you could have fixed things.

You may think to yourself “I know what is going on with my team and don’t need any help with this.”

The data suggests that this is most likely not true.

My team and I at Ambition In Motion facilitate mentor programs for companies and organizations to help improve their team’s communication. One of the key findings we have discovered is that 68% of engaged employees believe that there are communication barriers between themselves and other employees or departments at work – this issue affects everyone, including senior leaders and managers, and there are even greater reports of communication barriers from disengaged employees.

The point is this: if you are a senior leader at a company or a business owner, look around at the people you work with. Which of them do you think are engaged versus disengaged? The answer may surprise you.

If you think everyone is engaged, the chances are that you are mistaken (unless it is a one-person business). If you know people are disengaged and do nothing about increasing engagement, why risk letting those disengaged feelings grow stronger?

The data from Gallup clearly shows that disengaged employees are half as productive compared to engaged employees. That’s doubling your losses on lost time. Shoot, even if you increase engagement by a small amount, that could lead to a 20% increase in productivity from those that are disengaged.

This article is not meant to point out how blind you are in terms of your people. But it is meant to open your eyes a little bit and showcase one low-cost high-reward action you can begin doing today that will help you avoid your best people leaving.

And by the way, I am not immune to these mistakes either. I had to learn these lessons the hard way.

To showcase this, I will share the story of the first full-time hire I made. The first full-time hire I made was a brilliant developer who was getting his PhD in complex systems. He was the president of the technology entrepreneurship club at his university, and he and I had a prior relationship before I hired him. He also came highly recommended by multiple professors and previous employers. In short, he was a fantastic addition to the team. 

He also told me that he was leaving his PhD program because he didn’t like his advisor and wanted to join a startup (like Ambition In Motion).

The hire seemed like a perfect fit and when we first started, we made some incredible progress on our technology.  

Things were going smoothly until about 6 months in. I was noticing that he was getting less work done, so I asked him about it. He acknowledged my request and said that he would improve and so I took his word at face value instead of digging deeper. 

What he didn’t tell me was that he didn’t actually end up leaving his PhD program. He had a change of heart and didn’t want to let me down by telling me. So he held it back thinking that he could manage both at the same time.  

Eventually, we had a discussion and he told me. Fortunately, he recommended a friend that was helping with the code and we brought him on to pick up my original developer’s lost production.

My issue was that I had no idea what was going on with my lead developer. I initially felt betrayed; it just hurt a bit knowing that he didn’t feel comfortable sharing this big decision with me. If you are a seasoned executive, you might think that it was naive of me to not require a formal letter indicating he had left his PhD program. That might have alleviated that issue, but it also would have completely warped the trust we were developing at the beginning of the relationship. And more likely than not, another issue would have come up down the line and a similar result would have occurred.

I eventually realized it was my fault. Not that I didn’t ask my original developer for a formal letter declaring he was fully on-board, but that I never asked about him and what was going on with his world. And because I didn’t ask about him, we had fewer opportunities for him to dig deeper with me. We can point fingers and try to allocate responsibility all we want, but we can only control our own actions here and I should have done more.

After facilitating thousands of mentoring relationships, I have learned that the key to building trust is vulnerability and I believe that this holds true in work relationships as well.

When I was onboarding this new developer, I decided to do something different. At the end of all of our weekly one-on-one meetings, I schedule 10 minutes for vulnerability where both of us share something that is making us feel vulnerable that week. 

The result: we have been working together for over 2.5 years and have an incredible relationship. As a startup, we have made huge pivots, performed massive rewrites on our code, adapted our business model, and overall have really gone through some stressful situations. But, in the end, I still feel extremely in-tune with what is going on with his world and I think he feels extremely in-tune with what is going on with mine. Oh, and on a quick final note, we’ve never met in-person. 

I schedule these vulnerability exercises with everyone on my team during our one on one meetings, and so far, I haven’t had anyone quit since I started doing them (knock on wood!). However, I have had many hard conversations with people on my team and helped brainstorm solutions for tough problems so my team can live the life they want to live while also getting the work they need to get done accomplished. 

Prior to scheduling these vulnerability exercises, I rarely had these kinds of hard conversations. And that led to everyone on my team pretty much just telling me what they thought I wanted to hear. That works right up until they quit and I was left questioning what went wrong.

I am not saying I know everything about managing people, but I can definitely say that scheduling time for vulnerability in one on one meetings has had a massive impact on retention and productivity of my team. 

You may think to yourself that this can’t scale. And for you, it can’t. But if you integrate this technique across your whole team during their own meetings, it absolutely can. You can facilitate horizontal mentoring relationships between your employees and they can practice this technique in their one on one meetings. However, for this to happen, you must set the tone at the top and be willing to be vulnerable yourself.

Overall, if you want to avoid your best people leaving, be vulnerable with them and encourage them to be vulnerable with you. If you don’t know what’s going on with your team, you are missing opportunities to build deep, meaningful, and productive relationships.

Fri 19 February 2021
I recently met with my new peer mentor and really didn't know what to expect. I joined Ambition in Motion to stay vulnerable while continuing to grow personally and professionally, but I didn't really know how the journey was going to start off. It felt like I was jumping into the ocean, but not really knowing how deep the water was going to be or if there were any nearby resources around that I could use to stay afloat. Regardless, I jumped in with open eyes, and am glad I did! 
 
I learned that we have A LOT in common! Our paths and motivations were slightly different, but we both joined Ambition in Motion to grow as people and as leaders, and I respect her just for making that important observation and decision. We both have a passion for people, teams and helping them be effective and transform into different versions of themselves. 

I'm proud of how I've done this in the past and am excited to hear how she has done so as well. I tend to see my career as a "challenge" with milestones that I can accomplish along the way like building teams, structures, systems, programs, and other relatable items that improve or enhance a company's ability to attract, hire and retain the best talent. 

Accomplishments for me are "wins" that I can tout and be proud of along the way, only to jump right into the next challenge and "win" all over again. I'm a little competitive with myself! :) She thinks of her career as a "calling" as she was meant to do the things and career she has based on her passion in life. I think of life as a game with obstacles to overcome that I need to "win", but haven't thought of my career as a purpose before. A very interesting way of thinking! 
 
Needless to say, I'm excited to continue this discussion with my peer mentor as I believe different minds can come together to make beautiful things happen to those around you. Even though you may think differently, find the commonality that you have with someone and see where that takes you as a person or at work. Your approach may work, but others may work as well - and maybe better. 

Don't discredit those that are different than you, or think in a way that is not your own. When you do this, you close your mind to different possibilities that you would've never thought of or pursued before. Keep your eyes wide open when you meet new people. This is how you learn and continue to grow!

Building Mentor Connections Through Work Orientation

Kickstarting Mentorships For Fulfilling Careers