Stuart Pearce discusses the value of mentoring, giving his top tips to contact centre mentors and mentees, as well as much more.
There are many different definitions of mentoring. But when it comes to the contact centre, the following definition seems to be ideal.
“Mentoring is a process by which a more skilled or experienced person serves as a role model and assists a less skilled person in their professional development.”
Keeping this definition in mind, it becomes apparent that there are many situations where mentoring can be very useful in the contact centre. From the top to the bottom, its simplest form would be to use it to assist a new employee in the transition from induction to live calls.
Mentoring does, of course go all the way up the ladder to senior management. Any change-management project should include some mentoring, as not everyone copes easily with change and mentoring can therefore ease the process.
The relationship between mentor and mentee is massively important and can actually make or break the success of the person being mentored. It’s a very fine line between just telling them what to do and actually mentoring them – by this I mean taking the time to encourage and develop the other person.
It’s a very fine line between just telling them what to do and actually mentoring them.
When trying to find a mentor, you should consider a couple of things. Who are my role models? Or, to put it another way, who’s doing what I want to be doing in the future? Who has helped me face or resolve a difficult situation or challenged me to acquire a new vision or skill?
What Types of Mentor Relationships Are There?
There are many different types of relationships that a mentor and a mentee can have. These include:
Open – the ability to discuss any topic
Closed – specific discussion topics
Public – everyone is aware of the relationship
Private – limited people know about it
Formal – set and agreed appointments
Informal – more of a casual approach to the where and when
However, there’s no real ideal mentoring relationship in terms of who the person is. For example, I find that a ‘brainstorming’-type session tends to work for me (my mentor forces me to think things through more than I often do!), but it could be a team member, a peer, someone you know very well, or indeed someone you’ve not met yet.
Who Should Be a Mentor?
I’ve always seen the benefit of having a mentor or just someone to bounce ideas off, and I still do it now. It’s great to be stuck in the “can’t see the wood for the trees” situation and then have someone with a fresh viewpoint give you some clarity.
There are no hard and fast rules for who should be a mentor, although certainly in the call centre environment it tends to be senior agents or team leaders that take on that role.
What Is the Difference Between Mentoring and Coaching?
There’s often a comparison between mentoring and coaching and even training, and there’s no real exact definition, as it can rely quite heavily on opinion.
But in theory, coaching tends to have a more specific focus on a certain skill and training tends to be work related and concentrates on specific tasks, whereas mentoring is more about support and advice and can on occasion encompass all three.
Coaching tends to have a more specific focus on a certain skill, and training tends to be work related and concentrates on specific tasks, whereas mentoring is more about support and advice and can on occasion encompass all three.
Mentoring is about helping someone to understand what is expected of them and then helping them to meet that expectation.
For more about contact centre coaching, read our article: How to Structure a Quality Coaching Session
What Tips Can Be Given to Mentors and Mentees?
Having been a mentor and a mentee, the following tips have worked well for me over the years.
- Don’t expect to have all the answers
- Avoid being judgemental
- Be clear about expectations and boundaries
- Maintain regular contact
- Respect the confidentiality
- Accept the challenge
- Be active in your own development
- Build the relationship/trust with your mentor
- Have open discussions
- Don’t expect everything to happen overnight
The Strategic Development Implications of Mentoring
Mentoring can have strategic development implications: it can make a contribution to the company mission statement, it can help people understand the company values and develop within the organisational framework.
Think of it like this: what are you aiming to achieve from the mentoring process and what end result are you hoping to get?
For example, your aim could be to gain a set of skills that would allow you to move up in your career. Therefore, your desired result would be to gain a promotion as a result of your new-found skills.
The Benefits of Contact Centre Mentors
There are any number of things that can come from the mentor/mentee relationship, such as:
- Gaining a better understanding of the appropriate behaviour in certain situations
- Being aware of organisational politics
- Overcoming obstacles and setbacks
- Gaining new knowledge and skills
- Adjusting to change, or quite simply
- Personal development
There is no set timescale for this type of activity, it very much depends on firstly, the ability of the mentor and secondly, the speed with which the mentee takes on board what they learn and consequently acts on it.
The Three Stages of Contact Centre Mentoring
The overall process is fairly straightforward and can very often be approached in three stages.
As the mentor, you need to take the lead, develop the relationship, clarify the aims, objectives and hoped-for result and offer support. You also need to listen, ask open questions and negotiate an agenda going forward.
2. New Understanding
As the mentor, you need to offer support, give constructive and useful feedback and coach/demonstrate skills. This stage is similar to exploration, except you add in some priorities and development needs, recognise your strengths and weaknesses and share your experiences with your mentee.
3. Action Planning
As the mentor, you should examine the options for action, pay attention to the mentoring process and negotiate a plan of action. You need to encourage new ways of thinking, monitor the progress and, of course, evaluate the outcomes.
What Makes a Good Mentor/Mentee?
The most successful mentors are those that understand that they have knowledge, experience and personal qualities that could benefit others. They understand organisational politics and culture. They need to be enthusiastic, motivational, open, empathetic, positive and, of course, an excellent listener.
The most successful mentees are those that want to be active, they want to develop and will see learning as a continual process. They also learn to recognise when the relationship is reaching its natural conclusion – this happens when mentee is comfortable that they have the required knowledge/skillset.
Key Things to Remember
If you’re going to be a mentor, preparation is paramount. Get to know your mentee and understand that the relationship will change over time.
Be aware that things may go wrong and there may be setbacks, so set some ground rules. Just be confident that you can commit the time to do it properly.
But above all, confidentiality must always be top of your mind. It’s also very useful to record the meetings that you have – a simple diary or journal is perfectly adequate.
My advice is, if you get the opportunity to mentor someone, take it. It’s firstly very satisfying to see someone reach a goal with your help, and secondly, it will, without doubt, make you look at yourself and allow you to develop personally too.
Equally, if you get the chance to be mentored, grab it with both hands and run with it.
This article was written by Stuart Pearce, Head of Global Training & Development at IP Global
For more on this topic, read our article: Making Mentoring Work in the Contact Centre