FROM THE BLOG

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week Four :: Culture :: Mentor Mindset

Management guru Peter Drucker reminded us that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Even the best strategies and tactics, when unleashed into a company with a toxic culture, are headed for certain death. All of you that have worked in a place with a toxic culture just offered up a hearty “Amen”. We’ll visit the topic of culture multiple times during The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge and this is one of those times. During the course of a consulting engagement, I’m occasionally asked if I have a list of cultural imperatives, that is, attitudes, approaches to work and actions that should absolutely be baked into the DNA of the organization. I do and one of those imperatives is a Mentor Mindset.

Without question, every leader in the organization should have the Mentor Mindset. But I’d advocate for screening for the Mentor Mindset when hiring even the most junior associate. The Mentor Mindset is that baked-in concern an employee has for making the people around him/her better. It’s the opposite of the person who hoards what they know so they can leverage it for more power.

So, here’s this week’s exercise. We’re going to focus on two things – helping you practice the Mentor Mindset and prepping your staff to develop and practice the Mentor Mindset.

Helping you Practice the Mentor Mindset

Below, write one “why” you’d like everyone in the organization to understand. It might be why you forego cheaper raw materials for your product and insist on a specific high-quality input, why you insist that every customer be greeted in a specific way or why you only promote from within.

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For the “why” listed above, identify how understanding that “why” will change the way your team approaches their work. Will they be better able to explain to current and potential customers why your widget is better than your competitor’s? Will they have a new-found appreciation of every customer that comes in the door? Will they better understand your goals for the organization? Will they gain insight into an existing process and now be able to make suggestions as to how to improve it since they understand the endgame?

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Design a way to “mentor” by disseminating this information to your team. Is the best medium a company-wide meeting? An email to everyone in the organization? A series of departmental meetings? A series of one-to-one meetings? A video posted on the company intranet? Whatever it is, make it happen by the end of this week. After you share the information, gather feedback. Was this new information? Did this correct an errant perception that they had? How will this change their approach to their everyday work? Will this operationally change their work?

If this returned positive results, look for other “whys” you can share.

Here’s a second exercise for you to try. When the next problem lands on your desk that only you can solve, identify someone else on your team that could solve it if they had more training, more experience, more perspective, more information and go find them. Let them know that you don’t want to be the only person in the organization that can solve this kind of problem and you want them to carry this responsibility with you. Then start at the beginning and walk them through the process of solving this problem. Show them how you gather information, explain your thought process in deducing the best course of action, show them the resources you use, show them how you communicate the solution and anything else involved. I realize this will take a lot longer than solving the problem yourself. The next time the same problem surfaces, pass it off to your team member and sit by them as they solve it. Over the course of several instances, let them take the lead. Soon, they will be proficient, and you’ve multiplied the problem-solving horsepower in your organization. And, who knows, they might even find a better way to solve the problem. I’ve written about this approach more thoroughly here.

Helping your Team Practice the Mentor Mindset

When you model this behavior, it’s a strong motivator for your staff do likewise, but here a couple of deliberate ways you can encourage your staff to practice the Mentor Mindset.

  • When you send a team member to a class or conference, ask them to prepare a written recap or short presentation of what they learned. Disseminate their recap or let them make their presentation to the rest of the team.
  • Ask each of your direct reports to share a specific operational task (how they prepare for their staff meeting, how they order raw materials, how they prepare for a sales call, etc) with one of their team members and have them ask that team member if they see any way to improve their work on that task.
  • Ask each person on your team to document one of the tasks they do regularly. Collect all the documents and redistribute them to other team members. Have the team members critique the documents, looking for steps that are unclear or lack a “why”. Send them back to the original author to be updated.

Doing every one of these exercises requires humility. Someone might find holes in your processes. Someone might identify a better way. But, humility is a good thing and, in fact, ought to be one of the attitudes and approaches baked into our culture. This exercise is a good accelerator.

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