Management literature is filled with different perspectives on what managers should do to most effectively influence the performance of staff members who report to them. Ranging from authoritative to collaborative, aspects of these various styles are appropriate at different times and in different situations. But the core characteristics of a mentor—a wise and trusted advisor and teacher—remain consistent.
Underpinning the philosophy of mentorship is a manager’s sincere care and concern about the individual success of staff members as well as the team’s collective success. When managers are respected and trusted by every employee, the direction and feedback they provide to staff—whether positive or negative—is better received. As a result, it’s more effective.
A Shift to Mentorship
If managers are to be mentors, there needs to be an organizationwide mind-set shift. First, senior leadership and middle managers alike must consider a manager’s primary responsibility to be supporting frontline staff and helping them to succeed.
With this change in mind-set, middle managers are empowered to rethink how they spend their time and prioritize their responsibilities. Consistent rounding—the popular “management by walking around” method pioneered by Hewlett and Packard in the 1960s—is the best place to start and helps to support the three pillars of the mentoring model.
Before jumping into more frequent and intentional mentoring, leaders should have conversations with their teams about the “why” behind the new practices. These conversations give staff the opportunity to ask questions, offer suggestions, and avoid the risk of employees believing that ulterior motives are behind the more frequent feedback.
Not All Feedback Is Created Equal
Providing staff members with consistent, frequent feedback must be a top priority for a successful leader. While giving feedback to every staff member every day is unrealistic—even excessive, managers should think of coaching and giving some type of feedback as part of their daily routines.
Effective feedback needs to be consistent, specific, and balanced. To assimilate these three related but distinct qualities, managers benefit from a structured framework that guides the way they approach mentoring staff members. To develop this framework for your managers, keep the following three types of feedback conversations in mind.
Daily coaching opportunities are brief, in-the-moment gifts of feedback—either positive or constructive—that reinforce and reward great behaviors and begin to reshape substandard ones. “Management by walking around” provides ample opportunities for these moments.
Customer comments are especially powerful springboards for daily coaching. When I walk around with managers on hospital nursing units, we frequently hear heartfelt gratitude from patients or family member for the compassionate care an individual nurse has provided. We’ve made it a rule to find that staff member immediately to convey that feedback and express appreciation for the difference he or she has made in that patient’s experience. The nurse often gets teary-eyed, both because it is meaningful and because he or she probably doesn’t get to hear that kind of positive feedback very often.
More frequent feedback is most powerful when managers remember a “5-to-1” ratio. This evidence-based practice recommends that leaders strive to provide five times the number of positive, reinforcing feedback comments they make to staff for every one negative, corrective comment. One innovative manager we worked with became more aware of how often she provided positive feedback by beginning rounds with five pennies in her right pocket and inconspicuously moving a penny to her left pocket every time she gave positive feedback.
Customer surveys, comments from colleagues, or direct feedback from customers are solid sources for feedback, but a manager’s most effective coaching usually comes from direct observation. With specific goals and intentional scheduling, observation opportunities become a valuable mentorship tool.
Real time observation offers several advantages over second-hand comments. First, direct observation circumvents any possible misconstruction of events. Second, it gives managers the opportunity to see how things might be improved for the entire team. Finally, observation coupled with positive feedback and constructive criticism sends the message that a leader appreciates and understands what staff members do every day.
Specific goals and consistent scheduling are foundational to implementing effective real-time observations. Generally, we recommend observation of each employee in the work environment at least bimonthly.
For the greatest impact, mentors must also address longer-term aspirations and bigger-picture topics. Development dialogues are meant to both receive ideas and feedback from employees as well as to provide support and guidance.
Development dialogues should occur at least twice per year, with more frequent conversations with employees who are at risk or at a particularly critical juncture in their career.
To make conversations with employees more beneficial, one leader at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis developed a list of 10 questions that he distributed to employees several days before their meeting. These questions provide a superb template for the nature and tone of the ideal development dialogue meeting. In addition to finding out what is going well and asking about successes and roadblocks, a mentor should hear about an employee’s longer-term goals and find out what he can do to help the employee achieve them.
To be most meaningful and successful, mentoring of staff is not something that can happen only occasionally or by accident. A comprehensive framework of daily coaching, real-time observation, and development dialogues ensures that mentoring becomes a leader’s top priority and increases the odds that a team collectively delivers outstanding results.
Burl Stamp is the founder and president of Stamp & Chase, a consulting firm that helps organizations improve their customer experience, build brand loyalty, promote a culture of safety, and increase employee engagement. Before launching Stamp & Chase, Stamp served in several senior management roles in healthcare organizations across the country, including St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Phoenix Children’s Hospital. His specialties include strategy development and implementation, leadership communication, customer experience assessment and enhancement, branding strategy and management, and employee engagement. To learn more about Stamp & Chase, follow along on the blog.