Things Leaders Do

an article by Barb McEwen & John Agno
PowerPoint images
by Profound Backgrounds

Today, we are all "knowledge workers." Yet, few companies have figured out how to share knowledge among employees whether to quickly integrate new staff, develop high potential employees or to fill the gap when workers retire or change assignments.

Progressive organizations are recognizing the critical importance of allocating time and resources towards developing their people – for present and future success.

The sad reality is that most employers aren’t prepared.

Given the fact that the oldest of the 80 million-strong baby boom generation have begun to retire and collect Social Security, it is time to take this knowledge gap seriously. As boomers retirees and head out the door, it is important that they share their tacit knowledge of the company culture with those employees who will remain active in the business.

The majority of Baby Boomers say they want to work in retirement, but U.S. companies are only just beginning to try to figure out how to accommodate that, according to a survey conducted for financial services firm Merrill Lynch & Co. They found that 71% of adults hope to work in retirement, with many looking for part-time jobs or an opportunity to move in and out of the work force---perhaps, during a period as a long as 10 years. Asked how prepared their companies were for boomers reaching retirement age, just 24% said their companies were "on track" to deal with the retirements. Some 27% said they were "in the midst of preparing," 17% said they were just getting started, and 31% said their companies hadn't given it much thought.

To help organizations retain the Boomer generation's valuable knowledge, mentoring programs are linking older workers and retirees with current employees to help them understand the corporate culture. Some companies are using mentoring, social networking techniques, phased retirement programs and other innovative methods to link older knowledgeable workers and retirees to the company and its current employees.

What is mentoring?

Mentoring can occur naturally, informally or formally. It can be part of a formal program with a mutually agreed upon contract for meetings or other arrangements or it can last a lifetime.

Mentoring most often includes an exchange of wisdom, support, learning or guidance for the purpose of personal, spiritual, and career or life growth. In the workplace, mentoring is sometimes used where people are teamed up to achieve strategic business goals, or to retain a rising star, or to enhance leadership succession planning.

Early in a career, John Agno, Business Coach of Signature Inc. and Barb McEwen, Master Executive Coach and founder of 20/20 Executive Coaching, Inc. recommend an individual access mentors in three specific areas – an operational mentor, someone who is familiar with the operations of your specific industry, a financial mentor to give you a strong foundation in the industry’s requirements and a marketing/sales mentor to round out the company’s opportunities and challenges.

In addition, they recommend using an executive or business coach. One who is often less visible but very much present. Someone who works in concert with you to gain personal mastery, prevent blind spots, and improve all round leadership and management skills .

Mentoring takes on many forms. Mentoring can be a one-shot intervention or a lifelong relationship. It can be carried out informally, as relationships develop on their own, or formally as part of a highly structured program. One of the most common problems, especially with formal programs, is simply that the mentor and mentee are incompatible. Even the best intentions and most thorough questionnaires can't always identify what might really irritate you about the other person. Many companies have discovered that it is best for the mentee to choose his or her mentor rather than having the company do the matching.

Mentoring programs can be very helpful in achieving corporate objectives:

  • Developing emerging leaders
  • Retaining highly qualified employees
  • Used as a recruitment tool
  • Assist in getting new staffers up to speed
  • Provide guidance on work-life balance, navigating company culture, handling conflict resolution and learning specific skills

What is Coaching?

Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The coaching relationship is a strong, resilient, dependable and safe vehicle in which change can take place for the person being coached. It differs significantly from training, in that the focus is on the needs and desires of the person-being-coached. The coach uses purposeful dialogue and open-ended questions to pull information from the client in order to find out what is interfering with accomplishing their goals and then proceeds to provide the necessary guidance to enhance performance.

Coaches are trained to listen, to observe and to customize their approach to individual client needs. Our job is to help organizations and individuals launch the type of changes that will keep them ahead of the pack instead of being buried under the onslaught of issues. Coaching focuses on what corrective action needs to take place. They seek to elicit solutions and strategies from the client; they believe the client is naturally creative and resourceful. The coach's job is to provide support to enhance the skills, resources, and creativity that the client already has.

All areas of coaching are most often characterized by one-to-one interactions that often are provided through face-to-face or telephone conversations. These interactions share three essential core competencies: connection, clarification and commitment.

The mentor and mentee relationship is one of mutual benefit.

The mentor gains the satisfaction of helping develop the talent and mentees get access to "someone who has been there" as knowledge and experience is shared from one generation to another. Many successful people believe a key factor in their success was and is having a mentor or coach. Mentoring programs continue to emerge as a popular way for organizations to groom "high potential" employees for future leadership positions.

Here are FOUR TIPS

  1. Identify your vulnerabilities. Create an age profile of your workforce by work unit or by function. Determine the average age of employees in each unit and identify who's likely to retire or leave the company for other reasons.
  2. Identify types of knowledge at risk. Use interviewing and social network analysis software to find out what knowledge is most valuable. This will help you decide where to focus your knowledge-retention efforts.
  3. Identify high potential employees. Ensure that each have a Personal Development Plan and the type of support required to get them to the next level.
  4. Choose your tactics. Consider establishing both a mentoring and a coaching program to support the organizational objectives.


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BARB McEWEN is a well-known Master Executive Coach and Organizational Development Consultant who works with senior executives from around the world to help identify and assess developmental opportunities for both organizations and individuals. Her unique, practical and powerful strategies make her easy to talk to and she has a way of demystifying what it takes to become more effective. Barb is accustomed to coaching both high-potential individuals and those requiring new skills to help them enhance their leadership competencies. Her coaching deepens the client's awareness of his or her unique strengths as a foundation for improvement. She helps them to gain personal insight and to recognize the requirements of the organization in which they work. Barb capably leads her clients through a process of setting realistic goals and then demonstrates how to achieve those goals in common sense and practical terms. Her toolbox of sensible strategies guarantees success.

JOHN AGNO coaches senior executives, business owners and their management teams on how best to lead the company to where they want it to be. Previously, he had a successful corporate career in general management and management consulting. His behavioral enhancement focus allows the leader’s perceptions to evolve through increased self-awareness while building upon what he or she does best to pull employees, peers, free agents and volunteers toward becoming comfortable with the language of personal responsibility and commitment.

Agno is a certified executive coach (CEC) by the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches---the highest designation for business coaches. He is also a certified business coach (CBC) through the International Consortia of Business Coaches, a founding member of CoachVille and founder of the Coach-to-Coach Network, a virtual peer-to-peer community of 1,400 personal and business coaches worldwide. Within the coaching industry, Agno is a recognized thought leader, infomediary, facilitator, and guest speaker on the importance of effective leadership.