Real Life Learning

Tag: coaching

Mentoring a Win Win

Four months ago in the middle of a really full intense period of work I was asked by another member of Otley Cycle Club  to be her mentor to support her to develop her own training business.  I wondered how I would find the time and agreed to do in exchange for tea and cake and on an informal basis because I really liked her and wanted to help. At the time my main focus was about what I could offer as a mentor and whether I would have the time and relevant insights to support someone else. I did not really see it as something that would benefit me.

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Mentoring Session One

After just two mentoring sessions I have realised that this is far from another burden.  A’s business is only a year old, mine is 10 years old. A is excited by all the diversity of the freelance role, she is enjoying the breadth of experience she is getting. I see her getting inspired by seeing one of my tweets from my work in Vienna to go and chase opportunities to deliver her training abroad via the UK Trades and Investment team (UKTI). She has all this energy and passion to just have a go, explore opportunities and find ways of marketing her products to others. It makes me realise how much I too still value these aspects of running my own business. Inevitably after 10 years you become a lot more ground down by the realities of navigating a business through the recession into recovery, you start to take for granted some of the aspects of owning a business that are so great. I sometimes take for granted all the learning I get from my international assignments and focus instead of how tiring it can be to manage the logistics of working abroad including missing luggage, cancelled flights and airport foods. Another insight has been comparing our home offices, this has made me realise that 10 years on mine is due for a makeover .  I could use that as a metaphor to describe the whole impact on me of mentoring someone who is a very different stage of their business development. You become immune to your surroundings and situation and hearing another perspective is such a valuable learning tool. When I have developed mentoring programmes I have often said “of course you as a mentor get benefits from this too”  as this great video which A was involved in but I am not sure I really understood what those benefits are. What I am learning is if you want to get something from being a mentor:

  1. Choose who you work with – I genuinely enjoy spending time with A so when the mentoring appointment pops up on my diary reminder I find myself looking forward to the appointment. Liking the person you are mentoring just makes the whole thing so much easier.
  2. Focus on Listening First – this is so easy with A, she talks me through all the latest projects she is involved in and I find it is so much better for me to pick out the themes at the end and not to force an agenda on the conversation.
  3. Share Experiences not Solutions – I avoid telling A what she should do but I do share my experiences of similar concerns and how I have dealt with this. One experience was about planning work and holidays into the diary so that you take time away from the business. I shared an experience of my worst holiday/work conflict  and my learning from this. A took that away and develop a solution that she felt would help her avoid the same problem.
  4.  Make Your Own Action Plans – usually the focus is on what actions the person who is being mentored will take but as a change why not think about what you are going to do. I have made a note of a number of actions I intend to take, including to stop moaning about the demands of international work and embrace the experience again!

So if someone asks you to consider mentoring them and you like them, say yes. The time you invest will be returned to you with profit!

Bradley Wiggins and the Power of the Why Question

Over the Christmas break I have been reading the autobiography of Bradley Wiggins “My Time” which charts his year of winning the Tour de France and the Olympic Time Trial. This has been a brilliant read for me as I love following road and track cycling but I as I reflect on the book I realise there are some great insights for my organisation work.

One of the powerful influences within British Cycling has been the sports scientist Tim Kerrison. He joined the cycling team from a background in performance swimming and had “revolutionised training in Australian swimming” (p.35) As a newcomer to the sport Tim spent a year just observing the cyclists as they went about their training and their racing. Only at the end of the year did he start to set out his training programmes. To create these programmes he asked a lot of Why questions. A big question was why road cyclists do not “cool down” at the end of their races, like other professional sports people would normally do. What became apparent is that there was no real reason apart from no one did it! The Sky team started to introduce “cool downs” and the other professional racing teams have started to follow their lead.

A Year to Observe

What got me thinking was how in organisations I have never known someone to have a year to observe, see the patterns and trends, and ask questions before they start to be expected to deliver the goods. When I have worked with some organisations on developing their induction and have explored how to support senior managers joining I have often shared the useful “Your First 90 Days”  http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1591391105 with senior teams and the reaction is often that 90 days of observation is too long! So imagine how a year of observation would go down! Yet without that year some of his observations would not be rooted in discernible patterns and trends, it could just be randomly observed events.

Asking Why

It was by asking why that Tim Kerrison was able to find out which of the observations he had made had a valid reason that perhaps he had not fully grasped and which observations were just because “that’s how we have always done it”. How often do we sit back in organisations and observe our normal processes and rituals and ask why we do that particular task in that particular way? I often use the 5 Why’s Technique http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_5W.htm when I facilitate team events on innovation. It is a technique that people really seem to struggle with and can often get really frustrated about the process. This tells me that we are not that experienced in asking why enough. If only we did what might we uncover.

Being Open to Change

The final aspect that needed to happen was that Bradley Wiggins himself needed to be open to change. He was candid enough to acknowledge that in the past when given a training programme he would adapt it to his own needs based on the belief that he knew better than others what would work. This time he said to Shane Sutton and Tim Kerrison that he would trust them to get his body ready for the challenge ahead “get this machine working for next July”. Often when I work with managers they get frustrated because their efforts to support an employee to improve their performance does not result in the desired end point. This insight shows us that without both parties actively engaged change is not going to happen because individuals can so easily sabotage their own chances of success, often without even realising what they doing. The critical change was that there was trust between both partners and this made it possible to make the type of incremental small changes which are the critical path to the overall success of the British cycling team.

So my learning to take into 2013 for my next management development sessions is:

  • Take Time to Observe
  • Ask Why and challenge the “way we always do things round here” attitude
  • Create a climate of trust so that your employees know that you are acting in their best interests and work with you in partnership.

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