Managers must learn to be mentors

Many leaders require a mindset shift towards coaching and mentoring so they can better support their employees

“Managers need to be taught the differences between coaching, mentoring, advising and instructing,” according to Bard Pharmaceuticals’ head of learning and development Mike Mair.

Speaking on day two of the CIPD’s Learning and Development Show, he said: “They also need to be shown that each of these ways of dealing with employees is OK to do at certain times. There is of course a time for instructing – the problem is that most managers overuse it.”

Also speaking at the conference, BAE Systems’ UK head of learning Emma Smythe agreed that managers need to be equipped with coaching and mentoring skills. However, both she and Mair described the challenges this poses in traditional organisations where coaching and mentoring are not common forms of training.

Smythe recounted arriving at defence company BAE Systems and finding that it had a “lot of silos – businesses within businesses”. It was “paternalistic”, “hierarchical”, “process-driven” and “risk-averse,” she reported.

“This meant our people were very talented, committed and long-serving but not naturally good at giving and receiving feedback, having difficult conversations, or taking on different perspectives,” she said.

Coaching and mentoring is “something of a journey” now at the organisation, Smythe continued, citing the creation of executive coaching frameworks and a mentoring guide, briefing and coaching toolkits, peer coaching, and reverse mentoring between graduates and senior leaders – all designed to help train line managers on coaching.

“We have had to change the concept of what coaching and mentoring is,” she explained. “For example, many had the idea that junior staff can’t coach. So we needed to shift that mindset as that is a fundamental misunderstanding of what coaching and mentoring is.”

Citing the 70-20-10 model of learning, Smythe said that “most people were used to formal learning and didn’t recognise the other 90% of learning”.

Mair spoke on shifting line manager awareness of mentoring and coaching at Bard Pharmaceuticals. “Managers needed to be shown what the difference is between high-performing and high-potential individuals,” he said. “These types of people need to be developed in different ways.”

Mair recounted how he worked with managers and the leadership team to create a two-day internal event called the ‘People Development Philosophy’ to try to solve the organisation’s coaching challenges.

Part of this, he said, was about “ripping up the current PDR approach” which was a long document, and instead creating a one-page document, which means now “80% of the development conversation in the PDR comes from the employee not the manager”.

He added: “This has been a significant change from the manager being used to giving instructions – they have now learnt the right type of questions to ask to find out how they can better support and develop their employees and prepare them for future roles.”