I Don’t Have Time to Coach Everyone!

Posted on October 4, 2011.

No doubt you've said this before, if only to yourself. Every manager is or should be expected to spend time coaching their employees- even the really good ones. But let’s be real, between putting our fires, strategic planning, mediating disputes, and responding to unhappy customers, coaching is not always at the top of your To Do list.  I’m not suggesting that you delegate all of your coaching responsibilities; it ‘s too important a job, but finding mentors can help.

In a study by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson in the Harvard Business Review, they found that coaching your “tails”, the highest and lowest performers does little. While their study was focused on sales reps, I think the results are applicable across many disciplines. If you have a limited amount of time to coach, focus on the middle 60%, your core performers. So what do you do with the other 40%?

  • Find a senior leader to mentor your high performers. High performers want recognition and accolades.  Finding someone in your company or executive leadership team to mentor them kills two birds with one stone. The high performer can learn how the executive got to the top and he or she is getting “known by some important people.
  •  Find a peer inside or outside your group to mentor the low performers. Poor performers may be just the wrong fit and cannot be coached, but if you want them to have some kind of chance, set them up with a mentor that has been doing the same job longer or someone at the same level in another part of the company.  This will create a safe environment where low performer can admit what he or she doesn’t understand and find out where to get help.

In both cases, mentor/employee conversations have to happen on a regular basis, preferably monthly, but at least quarterly.  Topics are not limited to the task or job at hand, but can include any information that helps the mentor “coach” their mentee. The conversations must be confidential, unless some transgression is revealed.

Make sure you check in with both parties to see how it’s going and if it’s not working, don’t wait to switch out the mentors or counsel the employee.

Creating great mentoring relationships can last a lifetime and often benefit both parties.  The added bonus for you, the manager, is that you can spend your valuable time coaching the core performers who will benefit the most from your guidance.

Tell us how you’ve benefitted from having or using mentors in your career?