Mentoring isn’t just for newest managers - Trade Only Today

Mentoring isn’t just for newest managers

We all stay abreast of the news, and many of us also read such business publications as the Wall Street Journal, Business Week and Fortune and marine industry publications.
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We all stay abreast of the news, and many of us also read such business publications as the Wall Street Journal, Business Week and Fortune and marine industry publications.

Some watch Fox News; others may watch NBC. Some follow the news on their smartphones or tablets, and some rarely hear about national and international events.

Industry publications usually share trends in the evolution of an industry and have a heavy emphasis on marketing issues. This is normal for industry publications. The national media are focused on national economic trends and the effects of these trends on profits and the national economy.

Is anything missing in these sources of important information for business decisions in 2015? Are the people who do the reporting knowledgeable about business and the pressures you feel each day, especially as a manager of people?

To get this perspective, senior managers may turn to members of their board of directors or advisory board. They’ve been selected to serve on the basis of their industry and business acumen. You may invite industry or selected professional specialists for help or even to speak to the management team.

University students are told they should seek out mentors in their workplace and profession. Anti-poverty agencies sponsor enrichment programs that purport to offer stand-in mentors for youngsters in “at risk” communities. Many large business operations have mentor programs to speed the inculcation of the organization’s values in new entrants in particular job settings.

Mentors have proved to be good vehicles for furthering the stability of an organization. The selection of people to be mentors is a dicey process; bad selections can be quite damaging to the organization and the new entrant. Senior managers and the human resources staff must monitor the mentor-mentee relationships and behavioral changes in the mentee.

Mentors for supervisors and managers are in some larger workplaces in the broad boating and marine industry. Yet mentors can be valuable for all supervisors and managers, whether they’re newly minted or established. Over the years I have worked with many people who may have been labeled “problem managers” — they needed to change or they would be exchanged for someone else. It seems more productive to consider what a mentor might share with a new manager or even a long-term department head, or even vice presidents. (Even presidents can listen in here and may find a tidbit of food for thought.)

During the past two years I have had the opportunity to communicate with many managers and executives shortly after they retired from paid positions. Many are now active in similar positions in non-profits or volunteer organizations. In preparation for video interviews, each has been asked several questions about what strategy or tactics or behaviors they found most valuable when they were in managerial positions.

If you do not have a mentor to offer ideas about how to be more successful as a manager, continue reading and get the rundown from the voices of experience. There seems to be little correlation of responses to the position held or the type of industry. Yes, front-line supervisors’ counsel may be valuable to upper-level management.

Consider these voices of experience: Which one is speaking directly to you? How would you respond if your mentor were to ask you these questions?

  • Do you know how the overall organization works — its history and perhaps some key individuals who have made the organization what it is? What areas of your company seem to run the smoothest overall? Why do you suppose that is true? Can you learn anything from that department’s managers?

Especially for newly minted managers, knowing the overall operation of a company and how their department fits into the overall system should be seen as an important piece of information. Meetings of all managers on a periodic basis, with a different department chairing each meeting, can help achieve this goal.

  • What is your style of getting things done? Perhaps stated differently, what is your ”personality profile?”

You have to recognize that your preferred style of getting things done may not be a good match for the people with whom you will be paired. If you find that you are not enjoying your job, it is often because there is a mismatch between the way you want to do things and the way your staff is accustomed to doing them or prefers to do them. Often this is not visible to all.

One mentor admitted he sometimes did not understand his own behavior until a consultant that his company hired used a popular personality profile/“test.” It was in the debriefing from that exercise that he gained insight about himself and could see why he was not happy in his job. A good mentor will help you find greater satisfaction in your own job and learn to achieve greater performance from your people. Do not laugh, but work should be fun or it can be hell.

  • Most managers seek to enjoy a family setting. However, management is more like an artificial relationship. Your job is not to please others; your work may create negative feelings with those you manage.

It is not important that your staff likes you; it is important that they respect you. Do they understand why you are doing what you are doing as a manager and why it is important they buy into the needed actions? In today’s world, most employees seek job security and their security usually depends on the success of the business. As part of this respect development, the manager must be willing to admit openly that an idea did not work or that “I was wrong.” This can help to humanize the environment.

  • When was the last time you told staff members they had done a specific thing really well and thanked them for their extra effort?

It is sad to learn from many successful mentors that they often would hear that the manager did not remember the last time they had truly recognized the quality efforts of others. Managers, too, often may fall into the mindset that any success is because of their own actions.

  • Do not reward poor performance! You are responsible for poor performers!

If you still have poor performers after a series of cutbacks, you are responsible for their poor performance. Make sure you find appropriate ways to reward only quality performance. Across-the-board pay increases may appear desirable for equity purposes, but you will, in essence, be rewarding poor performers. Selective rewards should be directed to above-average performers. (For exhaustive suggestions about rewarding such performance, invest $15 in Bob Nelson’s “1501 Ways To Reward Employees,” a paperback at Barnes & Noble).

  • For senior managers, get up from the desk and go where the action is. Walk around (or manage by walking around or getting into the trenches).

It is true that the higher people go in any organization, the less information they have for responsible decision making. What is happening at the point of contact with the customer? Do not be surprised when it is too late to take remedial action. Although I object to much that is done in the TV series “Undercover Boss,” the underlying idea is one to emulate. Get to know what is happening in implementing the desired customer focus.

Now, will you tell your associates across the nation what a mentor has asked or told you in the past to improve your managerial skills and behavior? Your responses will be used in a coming column.

No names will be mentioned unless the individuals approve. Send your responses by email to Dr. Robinson at jfr@vt.edu by May 1 to ensure that your experience can be shared.

Jerald F. Robinson, Ph.D., is professor emeritus, international management, at the Pamplin College of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. He can be reached at (540) 449-5870 or by e-mail: JFR@vt.edu.

 This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue.

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