Mentoring & Me

mentoring

I owe a lot to my mentors. So far, i’ve had a career that i’m proud of and I am convinced that this is in no small part due to the mentoring that i’ve been fortunate enough to receive.

It’s very clear to those who have known me throughout my career that I have changed over the years and that my management style has developed. I think this is down to a number of factors;-

The industries in which I have worked

I think it’s natural to adopt some characteristics that are cultural within your industry and to take some of that with you to the next industry, where you’ll adopt some more.

The experiences i’ve gained

We all change through life in accordance with how life changes us. It’s no different with the experiences we gain in work. A major behaviour change programme that occurred in one of my past employers taught me the importance of a vertically integrated business strategy, and a closure programme in another employer taught me the importance of clear communication and partnership working for example.

The leaders that have influenced me.

I’ve taken some skills from all of my previous managers, of which i’ve had a couple. Their style, technique and the experiences  they shared with me, all helped me learn key areas of leadership and management.

Some of my line managers and previous colleagues influenced me so much, that I continued to seek their support on various occasions even after I left their teams. It is these managers who became my mentors.

Mentoring has given me someone I could call upon in difficult times to seek advice, reassurance, expertise and probably most importantly to use as a sounding board. My mentors know me exceptionally well. The key to our relationship has been me knowing when it’s ok to ask for help and knowing that I should give suggestions to resolve my issue, and my mentors knowing that its not right to simply give me the answer, but guide me to reaching the correct conclusion, with the thought process being just as important as the result.

I’ve often thought ‘what would my mentor do?’ in certain situations and that has helped me considerably.

But this is where this relationship has really proven fruitful – i’ve mentored other professionals too and given advice to those who once worked for me, in the same way I have sought support from my mentors. It’s extremely refreshing, and fully embraces what we know to be the correct way forward in HR. This cycle helps continuously develop both my mentors, me, and those I mentor.

The HR support circle of life I suppose.

To anyone who is considering working with a mentor I have some advice.

1.Know what you want to get out of it

You should decide why you want to be mentored and what you hope to get out of it. If you are looking for someone to make decisions for you, think again as this is not a supportive and empowering mentor relationship but actually a damaging one.

2. Choosing the right mentor is vital

In order for mentoring to work, the relationship between you and your mentor has to be effective, and as such, I would suggest, it should be a relaxed relationship. It needs to be someone you are comfortable talking to and whose opinion you respect. I’d suggest it’s best not being your line manager as that could blur the lines between the employer/employee relationship that also exists. Don’t be upset if your mentor can’t commit to helping you – it’s usually not personal and there can be a wide variety of reasons why they are unable to do so. Better to have someone who can and wants to support you.

3. Knowing when to seek support is key

What will you learn if you rely on your mentor for everything? Very little, and what will you gain out of a mentoring relationship where you are spoon fed answers instead of logically discussing the route to the correct relationship? Again, very little. Effective mentoring for me has been knowing when I shouldn’t seek help from someone else but think about whether I can reach the correct decisions on my own. However key to mentoring is knowing when its perfectly fine to seek support and advice, after all, what good is having a mentor if you aren’t going to use them.

Realise that this is a process primarily for you , and not your mentor.

Hopefully from what you have read so far you will have determined that the type of mentoring i’m encouraging here is a form of self-directed learning and is a self-managed process. Don’t expect anyone else to be more invested in your development, than you.

You own this, its for your own good. You should manage the process.

Mentoring has been really important for me and I’ve used it sparingly and informally for many years. Perhaps I will for many years to come. Its something that i’ve had the benefit of reaping the rewards from and so when others who need my support come to me for help, I feel a responsibility to support them.

I recommend this to everyone, and go in with your eyes wide open.

Whatever Happened To The HR Generalist?

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Whatever happened to the HR Generalist, or put another way, does the HR community by way of emphasising as strongly as it does the importance of being strategic thinkers, undervalue HR generalists who aren’t empowered to make long term strategic decisions?

I believe there is a strong argument to say that the answer is ‘yes – partially’. I cannot help but feel that the HR community, or at least those that commentate on the HR profession, may have forgotten the importance of this type of HR generalist. Or if they have not forgotten their importance, they do not promote their support of it strongly enough in my view.

As we all know, the differing job titles that are utilised within this profession can often be convoluted or misleading to say the least, and so I think it’s important that I define what I mean by the term HR Generalist.

A HR Generalist to me is your all-rounder. A role which can utilise a broad range of HR skills operating in a fashion that adapts itself to the circumstances of any given situation. A HR Generalist will be someone who can support the HR interactions with an employee or employer through all stages of a working relationship. A HR generalist is typically not a specialist in any one particular area, but operates across lots of areas. My experience of generalists are that they are versatile, carry out as much strategic activities as they reasonably can, but generally support their organisations with the day to day activities that arise. These activities are typically not things that can be fully ‘strategised for’ and some actions are reactive. They can impressively adapt and plan a response to situations that have occurred unexpectedly. They have recruited, inducted, supported and possibly exited an employee throughout their entire career with their respective employer.

I would have thought that it is at this stage that the growing supporters of strategic thinking will shudder and potentially shriek in horror, but please don’t. We are not as far away from each other as my introduction might have suggested.

Thinking strategically is of course important. I fully accept and endorse that. Medium and long term activities that support the development, implementation and review of business improvement that enhances employee engagement and adds value to business is extremely important. Designing strategies which create positive change are, in my view, mind-blowingly sensational. OK there’s no such word/phrase as ‘mind-blowingly’ but let me have that one.

But here’s the crux of my point. So is the ability to be versatile, to be able to operate under pressure whilst maintaining clarity of thought. So is the ability to strategise the reactive situation that the generalist finds themselves in. HR generalists in local authorities who have to respond to unexpected political changes, HR generalists in small businesses who are supporting every day issues to help the business survive on a day to day basis. HR generalists in larger organisations who are perhaps sheltered from strategic activities due to the make-up of their HR departments and the employment of strategists do that type of work.

Surely we should all agree that you cannot strategise for everything. You simply can not. We, and I use the royal ‘we’ in terms of us in the HR community, can and have devised impressive strategies to attract and retain talent, but that hasn’t stopped some of our key talent leaving. We can and have implemented vitally important learning and development practices to try and support with the management of people, but that has not stopped some managers making a decision outside of the band of reasonable responses in a disciplinary case because generally what is reasonable to them, might not be reasonable to you. Whilst we can introduce impressive wellness strategies, staff will fall ill unexpectedly and might not wish to follow the carefully designed and thoughtful policy and process that has been put in place.

When I started writing this article I wondered whether the pedestal that HR strategists have been placed upon has been created by business or the profession itself and so I thought i’d do some research in current job adverts to see what type of HR roles are being advertised at the moment. I clearly identified that there is a want for HR professionals who are recruited to act strategically and operationally, and to help with strategic projects, with the knowledge and skills required often pointing in the direction that there is a dual focus to the role they seek.

I write this article as a cautionary reminder that strategic thinkers and generalists, whilst are not mutually exclusive, should work hand in hand and are as equally as vital to business success as each other. I raise this point as I feel there is likely a silent proportion of HR professionals out there wondering ‘what about the work that I do’ when they read how they must think more long term strategically, but simply can’t or are limited to do this in their current positions. Is their contribution being seen as less valuable? I certainly hope not.

So don’t forget the generalist, or else there might be some engagement we will have to do in our own field.

My Experience As A HR Introvert

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I recently read an excellent article called ‘An Introvert’s attempt at networking showman’ on HR Zone from a HR practitioner called Paul Carter. In this article Paul gives an overview of his experience and how he has to discover or use items of his personality at these events to gain more out of them than he ordinarily would if he remained within the usual comfort zone of an introvert.

Paul, I share your pain, or at the very least, your discomfort. Being a HR practitioner who has also tested as an introvert, and with someone with some very obvious introverted tendencies (recently described by someone as shy but confident) I thought i’d look at taking this further.

I’ve worked in senior positions within HR now for the last 5 years, having worked my way through entry and junior positions in a fantastic organisation that invested in my development and of which I will always be eternally grateful. However, I have become more introverted with age. I’m 30 by the way.

As i’ve got older, the roles i’ve operated in have become more senior. Yet I don’t draw the distinction that the more my career has developed, the more introverted I have become. I don’t accept that the correlation is a factor, but an inevitable consequence. By that I mean, if I got older and did not progress my career into senior positions I remain convinced that I still would have become more introverted over time.

I’m the type of moderate introvert that doesn’t lack confidence, shy away from a difficult discussion or be afraid to speak up in a room full of others.

I’m the type of moderate introvert that doesn’t lack confidence, shy away from a difficult discussion or be afraid to speak up in a room full of others. Some of those who know me might, in fact, be entirely surprised that I am an introvert. Those who know that up until very recently in my spare time I was a musician who sang and played guitar in a rock band but did not know that I am introverted might be even more surprised. But it’s true.

What I do find difficult sometimes is networking, which involves starting a conversation with a random person out of nothing. I also don’t find the need to say something for the sake of saying something. Extroverts might be able to charm and perceive to be competent through their confidence (as well as actually being competent) but as an introvert I demonstrate competence through my contribution, successes and output. 

My biggest weakness – I struggle to maintain eye contact and the fact I am conscious of it and try to overcome it, makes it even more difficult for me. As I warm to people, this issue tends to go away.

So has this ever held me back? For the most part, no.

Whilst it is probable I might not have been selected for a role because of a false opinion of being introverted meaning that I am limited or am lacking a certain something, I have generally found that it has allowed me to be more respected. I have been told by some colleagues in the past that when I say something, people listen more, because it will be of value.

PsychologyToday.com state that introverts are “energized by solitary, often creative pursuits”.

This is certainly me.

I am at my most enthusiastic when i’m developing a policy or strategy, preferably in isolation but not complete isolation. “Thinking time” to reflect or ponder a situation is extremely valuable to me. Designing something that will add value to my employer has always been a particularly motivating factor which ties in with the creative element.

What do I not enjoy, aside from the networking side of networking events and conferences? Large scale meetings, larger groups of training courses and big staff meetings. But I don’t avoid them by any means and I try harder to be heard in these environments because i’m aware that i’m potentially out of my comfort zone.

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I made a choice, many years ago, to either allow my introversion to hold me back and prevent me from being as fully effective as I knew I could be, or front up and be conscious of how being an introvert would affect me so that I could act in contrary of it to be effective.

In reality, I chose an alternative option. I opted to be mindful of my introverted tendencies, assume the extroverted skills I would require in certain situations as was required of me, but to embrace my natural personality as much of the time as I possibly could – warts and all.

Doesn’t work all the time, but no one’s perfect.

So Paul – there’s at least two of us!

Mark

@MarkSWHRF

You Know Nothing – My Favourite HR Memory

“To Know, Is To Know That You Know Nothing. That Is The Meaning Of True Knowledge” (Socrates)

I thought a fitting way to start my blog site was with my favourite HR memory, which as it turns out, was also the day I learned that I knew nothing.

OK, not quite but it was certainly an enlightening episode and an experience that probably taught me more than several “courses” that i’ve attended.

I had recently been appointed in my first Advisor position which was a promotion within an international manufacturer, and one of the areas of the site that I was responsible for providing a HR service to was an engineering workshop. We had a vacancy for a welder in the workshop and I had designed a suitable selection process. At least I thought it was suitable. We didn’t have any issue attracting candidates as our total remuneration package far exceeded those of our competitors and so we were always inundated with applications for our vacancies. As such, our selection programmes had to be optimal so that we could shortlist the best talent for interview and ultimately appoint the best person for the role.

I was very new in this position. I had worked for this organisation since I was 17 years of age and had grown up in this company. I was promoted into this position after having worked my way up through various junior positions including that of being a HR Apprentice – a novel way to start my career and one I am so massively proud of. I did however have something of a chip on my shoulder which emanated from my fear of not being taken seriously. I was very aware that I had matured during my time in the company from the teenage joker, who lived for the weekend and counted down to 5pm so that I could head straight to the beach and go surfing after work, to someone who cared deeply about developing myself and progressing my career in the profession that by this stage I had grown to love. More on that later i’m sure.

So I was out to prove something. I wanted to do things properly. I wanted to set my stall out to show that I deserved the role I had been appointed into and that I could put my qualifications to good use. I wanted to demonstrate my credibility to the internal customers I was responsible FOR supporting and so I had arranged a competency based final interview for a handful of candidates shortlisted. A panel of 3 interviewers had been arranged, myself being one, accompanied by the workshop manager and a senior planning engineer.

On the day of the interviews, the workshop manager informed me that he was required elsewhere and so an experienced welder was going to take his place on the panel. This slightly disappointed me as I wanted to impress and build a relationship with the manager but these things happen.

I also thought it felt fundamentally wrong. I had this preconception that those who are interviewed for a role should be interviewed and selected by someone in a more senior position than that of the role being interviewed for. A preconception that you’ll be glad to hear has been marked in my brain as ‘remember that thing that you were really wrong about?”.

I met with the other assessors half an hour before the first interview and we prepared the room. I outlined the process that we would follow and we agreed the question set that we would use. I explained the need to stick to the questions as much as possible and I explained the scoring matrix that I had drawn up, including how the matrix connected to the questions. I noticed one of the assessors clutching what appeared to be a postal tube but I didn’t think too much of it.

The first interview went really well. All questions were asked and the assessors broadly stuck to the  question set, only slightly deviating with pertinent and inquisitive questions. It was becoming clear that the candidates strengths and weaknesses were coming to the fore and I could see the process working. At the end of the interview I explained that we had asked all of our questions. Then I could see the ‘substitute assessor’ who was a very well experienced welder reaching for his postal tube. i looked over to the senior planning engineer who was expressionless, on the basis that he was unsurprised by what was happening. I didn’t know what was going on.

In the interests of professionalism and I guess to save face, I didn’t ask what was happening. I went with the flow.

The assessor popped the lid off the postal tube and pulled out a rolled up piece of paper which was marked and smudged as a result of it being handled by dirty hands, an occupational hazard in the workshop. He rolled the paper out across the desk in front of the candidate and I could see written at the top of the page ‘Engineering Drawing’.

He asked the candidate whether he had seen one of these drawings before, to which he confirmed he had. The assessor then asked the candidate to name 5 things that the drawing was telling him. The candidate remained quiet. Very quiet. What felt like an eternity passed, but it was probably only about 30 seconds. The assessor broke the silence with a question.

“What is the scale in this drawing and where does it confirm this?”

The candidate took another look at the drawing and explained the scale and pointed to a box in one of the corners where this could be translated from.

“What else can you tell me?”

The candidate pointed out the degree of the angle that the weld would need, the chemicals that the welder should be aware of and other key elements that would appear to be hidden in the engineering drawing from those who were not suitably qualified to understand it.

In summary, this test, was an essential element of separating those who would be substantially ill-prepared to carry out the role that we needed. And I hadn’t factored it in at all.

Throughout the interviews, some candidates sailed through the question set and couldn’t understand the same drawing at all, whereas others answered the questions poorly but knew everything there was to know about the engineering drawing.

When it came to scoring at the end, we decided that those who couldn’t interpret the drawing should be discounted from the process as understanding these drawings was a critical requirement within this particular workshop. We applied the scoring matrix to those who could interpret the drawing and we appointed the welder we needed.

I learned a few things that day. Not least, that I should never operate in isolation when designing HR programmes. I learned that I had so much more to learn and that HR professionals could learn a great deal from those we supported. I realised that I needed to understand as much as I could about the work of my internal customers so that I could operate as effectively as possible. I realised that if the activities I was working on wasn’t enabling my internal customers to be successful, then I was acting unsuccessfully.

OK, it wasn’t that I knew nothing – it was that I still had a great deal to learn.

Mark

@MarkSWHRF

Where Am I, and What’s This Blog All About?

Hello and welcome to my blog.

Here you will find my thoughts, comments and hopefully, occasionally, some humorous views on the profession that I have chosen to earn my living from – Human Resources.

I hope you like it, I hope you come back to read my new blog articles, and I hope you’ll help spread the word to others who might be interested in reading.

Thanks

Mark Hendy

@MarkSWHRF