by Stormy Friday — A new year provides the perfect opportunity for facility managers to affirm their intent to implement a mentoring plan for their staff. The concept of mentoring often is seen as a “shuttering moment” for managers, even in the perfect work environment where staff are physically interacting with each other and their bosses daily. What should they do when remote working has become the standard and staff rarely see their bosses, let alone each other except in the virtual word? The shuttering moment may turn into outright panic.
The most frequent complaints from facility management staff associated with remote work activity include:
- Limited communication one-on-one with other staff and their boss.
- Limited networking with client groups that are not familiar with staff skills or customer service orientation.
- Limited opportunity for inexperienced staff to display skills/talents in settings where their boss can evaluate; and
- Limited exposure to new positions or opportunities for promotion and advancement.
While mentoring cannot fix all the above issues, it can significantly mitigate them and help strengthen the overall distance work environment, but only if a manager is willing to devote the time and effort to the mentoring process.
CCC/The Mentoring Company research revealed mediocre mentoring relationships occur when there is an unstructured process and no specific attention to mentoring skills applied by managers. Participants become frustrated and disappointed in a distance mentoring program that does not work. When mentoring skills and a structured process are applied, there is a positive result for staff and the organization.
Creating a mentoring plan
The four steps to creating a mentoring plan are important and should be followed by managers.
Step 1: Define the Mentoring Goals. It is important to limit the number of goals for the mentoring plan or it will be a set-up for failure. The plan needs to focus on a few targeted goals, such as:
- Developing middle managers;
- Developing new managers;
- Exposing inexperienced staff to customers and corporate culture; and
- Strengthening intergenerational sharing of skills and ideas.
Step 2: Do Not Overthink the Program. A simple program is the best program, particularly when the bulk of participants (both mentors and mentees) are working off-site. Make sure the program does not try to become “all things to all staff” or it will be so complicated no one will want to participate. Mentoring must be based on a personal relationship which means matching mentors and mentees is crucial.
Step 3: Build Time to Manage the Process into the Plan. Unless a facility department manager assumes the role of process manager, the mentoring process will deteriorate over time. Everyone is busy. Mentees specifically complain their mentor does not contact them, and mentors report mentees do not show up for Zoom meetings to discuss activities and review progress. The mentoring process needs oversight, reporting and an occasional tweaking of the mentor/mentee relationship when it is not optimum or producing the desired results.
Step 4: Articulate “What’s in it for Me” for both Mentors and Mentees. Often overlooked is the need to establish rewards for mentors that agree to participate in the program. It is essential to create rewards for mentors that are willing to commit their time to helping achieve the FM organization’s mentoring program goals. Mentors external to the FM organization need to know they are recognized for their efforts. Public recognition through the manager or corporate website, personal thank you notes and tokens of appreciation such as gift cards or lunch delivered to their workplace help solidify the commitment mentors make to helping their mentees’ success.
For staff internal to the FM organization that agree to mentor others, including strategic goals related to mentoring is paramount. Mentors acquire new and additional coaching, managerial and communication skills that should be included in their performance expectations and then evaluated.
Types of mentors
Facility managers also need to hone their own mentoring skills and determine what type of mentoring is needed. There are numerous types of mentoring relationships, and it is the job of the FM manager to know which one to use depending on the goals and desired outcomes established in the mentoring plan.
- Group Mentoring: In the existing work environment, group-based mentoring can be a desirable approach. Group mentoring is readily adaptable to virtual meetings and provides a venue for new and seasoned staff to interact with one another and a mentor or mentors. Group mentoring involves more work, however, to ensure mentees feel they are getting personal attention, even in a group. It also can be a successful tool for mentors in organizations outside facility management that are willing to mentor more than one staff member. Group mentoring can be used to develop skills such as presentations, project management, customer service and team building.
- Paired Mentoring: In instances where staff need more individual guidance and development, paired mentoring usually is the answer. If staff feel isolated in the current work environment, pairing them with a mentor that can devote more personal time and attention may be the best mentoring tool to use. One-on-one coaching is an excellent way to build confidence for staff members and often is the best venue for staff that are uncomfortable expressing themselves in a larger group setting.
- Situation Mentoring: Just as facility managers need to observe how staff handle certain leadership situations, pairing a staff with a mentor for a specific activity is a valuable tool. A situational mentor arrangement works well when an individual needs to learn an innovative technology or system, or a targeted skill such as commissioning a new building. This type of mentoring also works in reverse when new staff enter the FM organization with a specific skill related to software or a piece of equipment. These individuals are paired with an established FM organization staff member to mentor the individual until the skill transfer has taken place.
Being an effective mentor is an art form as well as a prescribed process. For some individuals, the talent comes naturally, while for others it takes training to perfect the role.
Successful mentors all have traits and skills in common that are essential for a facility manager to recognize throughout the mentoring program. Noteworthy talents include:
The ability to know when a mentoring match is appropriate. There are two schools of thought regarding the matching of mentors and mentees. One is that mentees should select the individual they feel would be the right match for them. Based on the goals that have been identified in the mentoring plan developed by the manager and the staff member, mentees identify an individual (or individuals) they believe would best help them achieve their goals. The other school of thought is that the senior manager (in this case the facility manager) should select the mentoring arrangement, again based on the goals that have been created.
There is no right or wrong way to establish the mentor/mentee relationship and in many FM organizations the selection and matching process may be different for each staff member. A new addition to a FM organization may not know enough people within the organization or throughout the company to select a mentor, while a long-term employee may have a sufficiently robust network to be able to target someone to fill the roll. Regardless of how the match is made, the most important aspect of the relationship is the establishment of trust and understanding. No amount of technical skill a mentor imparts to a mentee replaces the foundation of mutual respect and rapport between the parties.
Understand active listening. In most mentor training programs, the first lesson taught is how to be an active listener. Although the purpose of being a mentor is to advise and counsel mentees, the most effective method to accomplish this is for mentors to listen more than talk.
Forming a strong bond where mentees feel sufficiently comfortable to discuss issues and challenges, as well as reveal anxiety they might be having about their future in the organization, requires mentors to be practiced listeners. This means watching body language, maintaining eye contact, and observing signs of emotional stress. The mentor/mentee relationship is all about listening.
Provide feedback on a regular basis. Being a good listener does not mean mentors should refrain from providing feedback to their mentees. Remember one of the loudest complaints from FM staff was that their mentors did not contact them. Feedback requires reviewing a mentee’s plan versus actual progress against the goals established to tweak or revise the course of action the mentee is pursuing.
When the mentor/mentee relationship is first established, it is important to create a workplan that addresses not only activities targeted to achieving mentoring goals, but also incorporates regular feedback sessions where the mentor and mentor meet, either in person or virtually. The mentor may also find that a mentee needs a little more handholding than the workplan stipulates, so random “how are you doing” calls may be in order.
Open doors to gain access to others. Working in a remote workplace limits access FM staff have to others in their own organization as well as others within the company. Without the ability to build a network and display knowledge, skills and abilities to others, staff members worry they may not be able to advance within the organization or have many opportunities to be considered for plum assignments and leadership positions.
Having a solid relationship with a mentor gives employees an additional avenue to meet and impress a wider corporate audience. For new employees, having a mentor that is well known within the greater corporate community or a FM staff member who is considered a top performer in the eyes of clients is an essential component of growth and development that is even more significant in the current virtual workplace.
The work environment may have changed, but the basic framework for mentoring really has not. It is the implementation of the process and adaptation of mentoring skills that needs to be refocused. While it is not easy, the rewards from mentoring are satisfying and important to the productivity of the FM organization.
About the Author
STORMY FRIDAY is founder and president of The Friday Group, an international facilities services consulting firm. She is a member of the ProFMI Commission, a governance body that serves as an advisory committee for the Professional Facility Management Institute’s (ProFMI) activities.