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Managing or Mentoring

blog Jan 17, 2017

Do you remember when your business consisted of nothing more than you and your dog? Maybe even your spouse was involved. And then one day, it doubled in size because you hired your first real employee. How did you manage that person? Most likely, you tried to give them autonomy in how they operated and relied on their skills to get things done. At this stage, most small businesses get by through the heroic efforts of individuals. Fast forward to today where you may have anywhere from ten to fifty or even one hundred people in your organization.

How do you manage them now? Of greater importance - are you mentoring them? It common to hire someone and think that if you've hired the right person, they will be able to perform and accomplish everything you need them to with little or no help or input. Most companies will simply show them the products and services, tools and methods, and then let them go. But I'm telling you, that's not really how it works.

A small fledgling company hires warm bodies they can afford and does the best with what they have - again, relying on the heroic efforts of the few to drag the many to the top of the pile. As your organization grows, you get more selective of who you hire and hopefully pay accordingly for better talent. Then you seemingly (logically) expect that those people you hire will require even less management, as they are of course more qualified. But as these highly qualified people step in, they do still end up needing more mentoring from you. Managing them is easier as they are smarter, more skilled, and more experienced. But they still need clarity in what is expected of them and how to help bring the culture and compass of the organization down to the ground level. This is where mentoring comes in.

Think of mentoring as you cloning yourself. You are infusing into this new person not only what is specifically expected from them as to performance in their position, but also how you would like to translate the organizational culture and compass to the lowest level in the organization. If you get it right, they are an extension of you wandering the halls. They perform at the top level because there is absolute clarity about what they are expected to do and how they are expected to support the organization's business roadmap and strategy. Get it wrong and you have someone wandering the halls trying their best but not performing as "expected". This latter group are often let go or demoted or side-shifted as non-performers who couldn't get the job done.

Solution? Provide crystal clear roles and responsibilities for your people. For the top level, mentor them by over communicating with them - not on how to do their job specifically, but on how the business operates and how the business strategy is translated down to the ground level. Discuss, daily if necessary, what is on and off track and provide insight and guidance as to how to get it on track. Let that person manage in their own way but help them with the translation of your business vision, values, etc. As time goes on, you'll know when the need for mentoring can be backed down or redirected to more important aspects.

The most successful I've ever been in being managed or in managing was where there was a very close mentoring relationship with the supervisor or the supervised. We talked almost every day about strategy and methods, and sometimes we discussed metrics, but mostly it was about being "in tune" with the business vision, mission, values, roadmap, and strategy. And sometimes it was just about analyzing our successes, failures, and pain points, but it was never a waste of time!


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