Debate Over Coaching and Mentoring in Today's Workplace

by Moya K. Mason


Why Do We Need Coaching and Mentoring Programs?

Primarily because they build stronger organizations. New studies have found that the quality of reference librarians' service to the public is unchanged since the mid-1980s when McClure and Hernon found that librarians were unhelpful approximately 50% of the time (Dewdney 1994,218). This is increasingly problematic considering the technological facilities within libraries, such as numerous online indexes, databases, and the Internet. Librarians are expected to become specialists in electronic resources. Since coaching and mentoring programs result in increased work performance and enhancement of job skills in corporate and non-profit sectors, we believe these techniques can help library staff become better at their jobs, and provide higher quality service.

As managers in a library system, it is up to us to guide and direct employees. We are ultimately responsible for the performance or lack of performance that exists in the workplace. Prior to the catastrophic recession of the 1970s, jobs were much more secure than they are today, and libraries were safely ensconced under the umbrella of the nation state, getting large grants and big book budgets. There was no Internet, nor were cable companies offering hundreds of channels about everything from how to make the perfect golf swing, how to make a gourmet meal, to indepth analysis of health and financial matters. Libraries had their fingertips on the information pulse, and they were considered important, necessary, albeit expensive centers of knowledge.

Libraries are in flux, shifting to a Post-Fordist paradigm, leading to a fundamental reconceptualization of the library in a market society. As Harris and Marshall emphasize in Reorganizing Canadian Libraries, "financial restraint and technological change are resulting in marked changes in organizational structures and work patterns in libraries" (Harris 1997,1). Conceivably, libraries are currently global information sites, with librarians sifting through and disseminating information for their clients, but there is a lot more competition out there. As managers, we must help employees expand their individual skills and help them reach their full potential.

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a form of consulting and is a new and rapidly growing profession. Many coaches are freelance consultants who can attribute the recent explosion in coaching to the downsizing of human resource departments and the trend of working at home (Canadian Business 1997,205). Helping clients set goals, work more efficiently, and become more focused and motivated can be a lucrative career (Canadian Business 1997,205). Coaches identify strengths, weaknesses, goals, and needs, typically through a series of prearranged sessions. As Troy A. Waugh stresses, it is better to only coach a few people simultaneously, with consistent hourly sessions every week (Waugh 1997,145). The four core elements of the coaching process are support, modeling, step-by-step development, and encouragement (Bentley 1996,121).

The key is to make sure that employees receive instruction on how they can more effectively use the skills and expertise they already have (Bentley 1996,112). Coaching assists in "improving or developing performance" (Lewis 1996,109). An example would be a fine-tuning or a reminder course on the reference interviews' five microskills, which includes the all-important follow-up question, which librarians often overlook. Coaching focuses on results, specific problems, and opportunities to develop better skills (Megginson 1995,30). This differs greatly from training, which involves teaching new skills (Bentley 1996,112).

The coaching process is more about eliciting information, asking questions, and examining details, rather than about telling people what to do. For example, in its coaching methodology, the Odyssey Group stresses that a coach's fundamental job is to LISTEN, PAY ATTENTION, PROBE RATHER THAN CONDUCT AN INQUISITION, DON'T JUDGE, and "help people learn and grow through experience rather than direction or advice giving" (Supervision 1997,4). Coaches may be managers within the system. According to John Kotter, professor at Harvard Business School, the best coach is most likely your own boss (Nakache 1997,208).

Library systems are becoming more and more decentralized, creating huge networks of interconnected databases. Fundamentally, a global virtual library. The organizational pattern of individual libraries has been broken down, creating large departments within libraries, which are often merged with the technical services branch (Harris 1997,14). Emerging from this restructuring process is the creation of teams. Team work is considered a panacea for today's workplace. Coaching can increase the performance of individuals and teams by maximizing potential. As the article Coaching: The New Way to Manage Corporate Success points out, teams have in many ways replaced traditional management systems and need good coaching to be successful (Supervision 1997,3). A good coach will "expand on principles of leadership and empowerment . . . because it is practical and it works (Supervision 1997,3). As Casey Stengel once said, "It is easy to get the players. Gettin' 'em to play together, that's the hardest part." Overall, the aim of coaching is to offer suggestions for improvement and to empower people.

What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is a process of aiding another with transitions; it is about one person helping another (Megginson 1995,14). It involves one person, the mentor, helping another person or mentee reach their goals, through coaching, counseling, guidance, sponsoring, and the parlaying of knowledge (Stueart 1993,144). Mentoring is usually "a three-way beneficial process," which helps the mentor, the mentee, and the organization (Stueart 1993,144). The primary function of a mentoring relationship is to further the career of the mentee; however, the person being mentored is not the only one who benefits from the relationship.

Mentors are benefited in a number of ways: 1.) the prestige of developing such a relationship; 2.) acquiring an ally; 3.) getting job assistance from the mentee; and 4.) learning more about the organization themselves (Stueart 1993,144). Workplaces will always enjoy success from such relationships by experiencing "increased productivity, reduced turnover in staff, and properly socialized employees" (Stueart 1993,144-145). A solid management team is another outcome.

The mentoring process can advance employee careers, solidify relationships between managers and staff, deepen commitment to the goals and values of an organization, and enrich personal connections (Gilley 1996,40). What mentoring also does is help the mentee avoid the typical hazards that go hand-in-hand with today's workplace, or as Gilley and Boughton put it, mentoring develops "employees' political awareness and savvy" (Gilley 1996,40). Mentors provide their protégés with invaluable information on the mission and philosophy of the organization and serve as confidantes (Gilley 1996,40). They show them the ropes and offer encouragement.

In Managers as Mentors, Chip R. Bell describes mentoring as an uplifting experience; a spiritual coming together of mentor and mentee (Bell 1996,x). Mentoring requires a synergy between the players, in a "power-free facilitation of learning, through consultation and affection, rather than constriction and assessment" (Bell 1996,x1). Finally, mentoring has become an effective method in helping employees become orientated with the workplace setting, gives them support, and shows them how to make informed decisions about their career (Murray 1995). Mentoring increases employee retention, particularly of the best and brightest people, and acts as an anchor of stability. As Margo Murray writes in Mentoring the New Masters:

The key to mentoring is to closely link it to the mission, goals, and priority strategies of the organization. Only an integrated, facilitated process which is linked to current and future mission or business imperatives can be expected to stand the buffeting of the winds of change. Of course, mentoring must be monitored and tracked to measure its impact (Murray 1995).

Differences/Similarities Between Coaching and Mentoring

Both coaching and mentoring are great opportunities for learning. Both use "effective questioning that brings insight, which fuels curiosity, which cultivates wisdom" (Bell 1996,68). Both require you to be an excellent listener and communicator. Asking questions, rather than telling or ordering is the fundamental component that typifies both mentoring and coaching. But in most ways, they are very different concepts. Mentoring actually encompasses coaching; it also focuses on the individual, and his or her performance, within a context of objectives (Lewis 1996,33). Mentoring is unique "in that it does not exclude other methods, but exists alongside them, complementing them and adding value" (Lewis 1996,x). In an article entitled Developing Employees, Steve Truelove makes the following distinctions:

1. "Coaching [is] taking someone through the experiential learning cycle in a systematic way with the intention of improving the capability to apply specific skills or deal with problematic situations."

2. "Mentoring [is] assigning a respected and competent individual (other than the direct boss) to provide guidance and advice in order to help someone cope with and grow in the job" (Truelove 1992,279).

Mentoring has a long history, with its roots stretching back to the 8th century B.C. It got its name from the elderly friend and counselor of Odysseus, a man named Mentor, who also offered guidance and acted as tutor to Odysseus' son, Telemachus. It continued to be the basis by which commerce, craft, and art were carried out from ancient times until the inception of capitalism. Coaching, on the other hand, has only been around for the last few decades, and only received a lot of attention in the 1990s (North 1997,206). Mentors can fulfil the role of a coach, and is usually someone who works in the same facility as the mentees. Coaches more often come from outside the organization, but not always (Judge 1997,72).

The primary distinctions between mentors and coaches may be summarized as follows:

1. Coaches focus on a specific set of problems, or the "results of the job," exploring solutions and opportunities for the employee to use (Megginson 1995,30).

2. The mentor, on the other hand, zeros in on the individual, focusing not only on the present, but with an eye always on the future. Mentors do provide some of the same services as coaches, but they are built into a complex, ever-evolving synergetic relationship that is based on mutual respect and a friendship of sorts (Megginson 1995,30).

How to Prepare Yourself for the Role of Coach or Mentor

Considerable commitment is required to fulfil the role properly. Exceptional communication skills are a must, and the art of listening is a critical component. And you must have patience! Bell believes mentors are part wizard, comic, motivator, sergeant, and partner, and that great mentors are "effective at surrendering, accepting, gifting, and extending" (Bell 1996,11). Surrendering in the sense of not controlling; accepting or including rather than judging; gifting, not using manipulatively; and extending, pushing the relationship to grow beyond any preconceived boundaries (Bell 1996,12).

From research on mentors compiled in the early 1990s, we know there are three integral qualities that are very highly valued by learners: 1.) they have a keen understanding of management practices; 2.) organizational know-how; and 3.) credibility (Lewis 1996,40). Letting employees benefit from a mentor's experience, knowledge, and success will result in a win-win situation. Expect to become exhilarated.

What to Have in the Coaching/Mentoring Understanding

Without guidelines and expectations, no relationship can succeed. Before anyone agrees to become involved in a coaching or mentoring partnership, an informed decision should be made by both facilitators and protégés. Since no one wants to waste time, Gilley and Boughton recommend that you choose:

Employees who are willing to assume responsibility for their own growth and development, who are receptive to positive and negative feedback, and who are willing to accept suggestions and advice (Gilley 1996,177).

Such employees are usually very positive about their jobs, the workplace, and their colleagues. They are people you could envision as organizational leaders of the future (Gilley 1996,177). After choosing a good candidate, especially one for a mentoring relationship, you may want to develop a formalized plan of action, which outlines respective responsibilities; goals that the employee would like to achieve; strategies that can help; and target dates for the completion of specific activities (Gilley 1996,181). A mentoring plan can also be beneficial because it is a visual representation of progress made, and can act as a motivator (Gilley 1996,181). Not all mentoring/coaching relationships are formalized ones; some remain as spontaneous discussions and meetings. Regardless of the commitment level, boundaries should be established to avoid problems (Bell 1996,60).

Gilley and Boughton have suggested a series of activities employees are responsible for if they want to be involved in a successful mentoring venture. Taking responsibility for their own development, trusting their mentors' suggestions and advice, expecting both positive and negative feedback, and be willing to accept challenging assignments are the most important ones (Gilley 1996,175). Finally, make sure to include a stipulation that results are expected, and an agreed method of evaluation is in place before a coaching or mentoring relationship begins. With the number of employees wanting to be coached or mentored, facilitators need to invest their time wisely. Considering that there are only so many available mentors and coaches, if an employee is not taking proper advantage of the opportunity, choose someone more worthy.

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Bibliography

Bell, Chip R. 1996. Managers as Mentors. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Bentley, Trevor J. 1996. Bridging the Performance Gap. England: Gower.

Dewdney, Patricia, and Catherine Sheldrick Ross. 1994. Flying a Light Aircraft: Reference Service Evaluation from a User's Viewpoint. RQ, Vol. 34, pp. 217-230.

Gilley, Jerry W., and Nathaniel W. Boughton. 1996. Stop Managing, Start Coaching!: How Performance Coaching Can Enhance Commitment and Improve Productivity. Chicago: Irwin Professional Publishing.

Harris, Roma M., and Victoria Marshall. Reorganizing Canadian Libraries: A Step Back from the Front. Library Trends, Vol. 46, pp. 564-580.

Judge, William Q., and Jeffrey Cowell. The Brave New World of Executive Coaching. Business Horizons (July-August 1997), pp. 71-76.

Lewis, Gareth. 1996. The Mentoring Manager. London: The Institute of Management.

North, David. Have Your Coach Call My Coach. Canadian Business. (June 1997), p. 205.

Megginson, David, and David Clutterbuck. 1995. Mentoring in Action. London: Kogan Page.

Murray, Margo. Mentoring the New Masters. IMA Newsletter (Spring 1995).

Stueart, Robert D., and Barbara B. Moran. 1993. Library and Information Center Management. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited.

Supervision. Coaching: The New Way to Manage Corporate Success. (January 1997), pp. 3-4.

Truelove, Steve. 1992. Handbook of Training and Development. Oxford: Blackwell Business.

Waugh, Troy A. Coaching for Success. CPA Journal (August 1997), p. 15.


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