Mentoring and Business Performance Improvement Programs

Business Performance Improvement Programs and mentoring, an interview with Jan Wilson, SPHR-CA, GPHR, President of Vital Assets

Business Improvement with Vital AssetsWe recently had an opportunity to catch up with Jan Wilson, MA, SPHR-CA, GPHR of Vital Assets. Jan has 30 plus years of business and people management experience, and her focus is applying a strategic approach, supported by the magic of technology, to develop creative solutions to real-life workplace problems. She wanted to talk about mentoring in the context of Business Performance Improvement Programs.  Jan Wilson is also a Human Capital Professor at Golden Gate University.

Q – Could you define Business Performance Improvement Programs, in the context of Human Resources?

Human Capital is the key to any successful Business Performance Improvement.  Recent research suggests that in today’s environment, where most of business value is created through the use of intellectual capital, 70% to 75% of the business’s assets are intangibles.

That is, the critical assets to the business are its people, its brand and its processes.  Once you see this, it is obvious that people are not just cogs in the wheel.  In the old school way of thinking, people were just bodies; their sole purpose was to create labor. They needed to be directed and controlled by supervisors.

In contrast, if you understand people and their processes are key to your business success, then your competitive advantage is understood to come from employees who are motivated, creative and innovative.  Engaged employees, who understand the goals and mission of the business, and whose own goals and motivation align with those of the organization because of shared values, become much more productive and efficient.  These employees create a competitive for your organization, especially when you consider that the entire world is now your market and competition.

Q – Firms already have processes in place.  How does Vital Assets implement change?

No matter what your company or your business, there is a need to be more agile, flexible, global and networked.  Every organization is striving for this and if your firm stands still, it quickly falls behind.  The key is to engage employees, so they are continuously improving the organization’s existing processes at all stages.  Done correctly, this improves sales and profitability.  This also means engaging people at all stages of the business process and at all levels of the organization, not just the front line. 

Too often, people go through the motions without thinking about the organization’s goals, “just doing their jobs”.  When this happens, companies lose their potential for competitive advantage and fall behind in sales, profitability and experience slower introductions of new products or services. 

Good managers are capable of sharing what the organization needs in a way that helps employees align their own goals with those of the overall organization.  They have good communication with their colleagues, and both sides feel heard.  Good managers also help their group understand that their co-workers in other departments are competent, despite having different viewpoints on achieving the organization’s overall goals.  Thus, good managers are constantly moving toward improving communication and collaboration, reducing competition, and effectively deploying all the resources. This includes the full contribution of the people with their diversity of experiences and ideas, to expand the range of options.  Resource optimization can be further enhanced by continually improving systems and processes through technology and process improvement techniques.  Such efforts will free up more of your people’s energies toward doing what only they can do, bringing more value to your organization. 

Studies have shown that the teams with the highest effectiveness are those with good collaboration, leveraging a diversity of people and perspectives, and a good leader, as defined above.   The least effective teams are those with significant diversity and a poor leader who is unable to encourage communication and cooperation.  The vast majority of teams fall in the middle, with homogeneous views, a propensity to fall into groupthink, (and a tendency to become complacent, believing that what worked in the past will continue to work now and in the future). Members of these teams often feel competitive with other departments and other members of the team.

Q – So what are the levers Talent Development professionals can pull to improve managers’ skills and create great leaders?

These are the so-called soft-skills, which can help in managers’ development by mentoring and coaching.  These levers are best utilized within a well-planned program of leadership development, fully supported by the organization’s executive team.

First, listen to your people.  You, as the manager, are trying to create a vision, but you also need to listen to your employees’ perspectives, reactions and ideas.  Try to hear the recurring themes, as this is what you need to address.  You are expected to recognize and provide the necessary clear guidance and resources for the team’s success, which will be the organization’s success.

Second, good communication requires transparency, consistency and follow-through, i.e. trust.  You, as the manager, need to know and expose yourself as human.  Keep in mind that all people want essentially the same thing – to do a good job, to work for a successful organization, to be well respected, and to like and trust their colleagues and leaders. 

Finally, create an environment where it is OK to speak up and receive a respectful response for input, whether action is taken on it, or feedback is given for future reference.  Your employees need to feel they are part of the solution and to do so, they may have to be supported in taking considered risks.

Q  - So Business Performance Improvement is a three part process?

Actually, I think of it as a five part process:

1. Know yourself
2. Listen to those around you
3. Hear the themes and know your organization’s goals.
4. Align your people’s goals with the organization’s goals
5. Make changes to increase the alignment and integrate the broader base of contribution.

This last step, listening to employees and making changes based upon what you heard, is the key.  It validates employees – letting them know they were truly heard.   This engages them and creates opportunities for conversation and collaboration and it drives innovation. Your employees will become more creative.  In addition, they will be motivated to spot duplication or wasted effort in a drive to help the organization reach the mutual goal of success.

Putting these five steps into practice is part of a longer-term cultural shift to a collaborative, high-performance organization driven by a clear goal. This is what Vital Assets calls a Business Performance Improvement Program. 

For this to work, you need mentoring at all levels.  It is essential that senior managers must buy in to the performance improvement program.  If it is introduced as another “HR Training program,” your performance improvement program is doomed to failure before it starts.   Senior managers need to buy into the program and agree to provide the coaching resources that will be necessary to help the whole organization. 

The Business Performance Improvement Program must be seen as the driver to achieve the organization’s performance objective.  If it is seen as training, or help for a dysfunctional group, it will not change the corporate culture.  It will discourage employee engagement and hurt performance.

Mentoring, then, becomes part of the bigger program to change the corporate culture and improve collaboration, communication and performance at all levels.  The champion in senior management needs to talk frequently throughout the organization about the Business Performance Improvement Program and share the successes.  The mentoring program is a tool for driving these changes through the entire organization, by reaching all the mentees.

A program like WisdomShare®, can be customized so the regular messages include references to the program goals, or the emails from the Mentor Program Administrator, can include aspects of the Business Performance Improvement Program.  These can remind the Mentors and the Mentees of the program goals.

Exactly.  A formal mentor program touches many managers and nearly all the high potential employees, so a mentoring program is a highly effective way to leveraging the message.  Protégées, across many departments, will be reminded to encourage communication, active listening and to look for opportunities to improve the business processes while validating employees.

Business Performance Improvement Programs are not short-term fixes.  These programs create sustained, long-term shifts in corporate culture.  Clients of Vital Assets have used this process to great success.

Jan, Thank you for your time.  I am sure our readers look forward to future dialogs with you.

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