“Thank for a great experience from the time I walked in the door”

Ellen-Maree Gadd
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For more information:
Stephen Crowe

Managing Director

Ph: 02 8042 8907

[email protected]

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You will find that even the most successful people in the world have someone that they look up to for inspiration and guidance.

‘Mentoring is always one step removed and is concerned with the longer-term acquisition of skills in a developing career by a form of advising and counselling’ – Eric Parsloe, J “Coaching for Performance” Nicholas Brealey, Publishing London 2002.

For many having a mentor can be extremely valuable. Whether that mentor is your current manager, or someone in your family, or someone who trained you at work, we are always more compelled to achieve more when we have someone encouraging us to take the next step in our career.

When I was just beginning my career in the events industry I took advantage of a mentoring program organised by Meeting and Events Australia (MEA) professional association.  As the mentee I was responsible for:

• Attending the briefing workshop with fellow Mentees (a networking opportunity with other young professionals)

• Attending the program launch to meet my Mentor

• Coordinating meetings with my allocated Mentor a minimum of 4 times at a mutually agreed venue and time.

• Communicating with the designated MEA personnel twice a month throughout the program

• Attend a debrief workshop at the completion of the program to provide feedback for the development of future programs

From the moment I met my mentor I was at complete ease and was able to openly communicate with him. I understand that this does not happen as easily for everyone. However, I would recommend if you have not found the right fit with your mentor, do not give up but rather continue to search for the right mentor partnership that can help you develop your own career.

For mentoring to be successful the most important aspect is to show commitment to the mentoring program. The hardest part of the program for me was to arrange and commit to face-to-face meetings with both my and my mentor’s busy work schedule. Email would often be an easy fall-back position, however, I needed to show a level of discipline in setting meeting times and committing to deadlines so that I could gain the most value out of this program and time with my mentor.

Each mentoring meeting I allocated an hour, whether that was at my office or a local coffee shop, I always ensured I took a notepad and made notes during the discussion and confirmed specific action plan items. I learnt that if I postponed meetings, the more the connection separates and the important information shared can be put aside instead of being utilised for career development. For mentoring to be successful the other key skills I had to develop were:

1. Active listening – for many listening is a skill that we think comes naturally, but when we are being provided feedback on ourselves, we usually immediately go to a defensive frame of mind. I had to be open to the information that my mentor was sharing and asking open questions to elicit more information and increase my understanding of the feedback.

2. Goal setting ¬ the mentoring program was a specific period of time, so as to get the most out of the six months, I had to set clear goals and commit to achieving the action plan that I developed with my mentor. I also had to personally take responsibility for my own professional development.

3. Personal reflection – I had to reflect on my experiences and learn from the challenges I faced.

4. Delivering results – understanding that while my Mentor would provide feedback on how to deal with issues it is still my responsibility to take action and make the decisions.

5. Curiosity and enthusiasm – showing that I was interested in the program by turning up on time for meetings, responding with positive body language, building trust and rapport with my mentor.

So what did I gain from my mentoring experience?

As a young professional in the industry I was afraid of having a voice. I was afraid to speak up because I knew my expertise in the events field was limited compared to most and I was the youngest professional working in my department. My mentor helped me gain the confidence be able to express myself within my working environment not only to share ideas but to speak-up to address any issues within the workplace. By giving myself a ‘voice’ I was able to achieve results and progress in my career a lot faster than sitting on the sidelines and waiting for others to make decisions.

I also had the opportunity to complete the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, which looked at my personality preferences. By understanding my personality type I was able to better understand how and why I manage my work and communicate the way I do. I also learnt more about the opposite personality preferences and developed strategies on how I could most effectively work with other personality types. I shared this information with my manager at the time and it helped both of us to better understand how to work most effectively together. If you haven’t had the chance to complete the MBTI, I would recommend it as a great way to find out more about yourself and your key strengths and blind spots.

Most importantly I developed a strong connection with a valued and trusted advisor. Through this partnership I confirmed how important achieving a work-life balance was to me. My mentor was living, breathing proof that you could have a successful career, have a loving family and enjoy your personal interests and have them all co-exist to create a well-balanced life. I found it quite inspiring.

If you maintain a good relationship with your mentor, you can keep in touch with them for years, and as we are always changing and developing in our roles, the pursuit of knowledge and guidance is ongoing and essential.

Is there anyone in your life that you consider to be a mentor? If not, is there anyone that you look up to that you would like to connect to as a mentee? There is no time like the present to start making those connections, just remember it takes time and commitment to make it work.

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Latest online poll results:

Yes – 80% 

No – 20% 

First, I would like to convey my thanks to everyone who responded with comments this week – obviously this issue struck a chord with lots of you, and there was some very thoughtful, heartfelt feedback!

It is, naturally, a fact of living and working in the 21st century across cities, states, countries and time zones, that email communication has become a toll of communication that cannot be avoided.

And, as with all forms of communication, email is not an all-encompassing evil. Sometimes it is the best and most efficient way to convey information. However, when it is used to ask simple questions when it would be faster to pick up a phone, or when people hide behind it, or when they copy in huge contact lists of irrelevant people, it becomes silly and annoying.

I loved the anecdote shared by one poll respondent: “In my office, the IT lines went down for two days. Suddenly there were people at my door wanting to chat, and I had numerous marvellous conversations on how to do things better. People were walking around the corridors, having a laugh at the photocopier, and the whole atmosphere in the building lifted. Now with the IT lines restored, I sit in a silent space, no one chats, and even the colleague right next to me sends me an email with a simple question. Bring back the conversations!”

As another respondent said: “there is no substitute for having a conversation to stimulate ideas and creativity.”

Indeed. Getting everyone around the table, brainstorming, sharing ideas, laughing, asking questions, listening to each other, is unarguably more stimulating and fun than a series of silent, staid emails.

But, a single email sent to all participants afterwards listing the main discussion points and action items is, equally, an efficient and effective way to convey the ideas generated and itemise the next steps for everyone involved to take.

Email is also an excellent way to keep a record of an important exchange between colleagues, or between yourself and a client: “In the workplace, I prefer to communicate via email. I like that I have information in writing (both from what I have sent and received from clients) to refer back to.” Further: “Emails should be used as a confirmation of a conversation, and not as the main form of communication.”

However, there are some situations where an actual conversation, either face-to-face or via telephone, is supremely preferable to an email exchange. “Too many people rely on emails to issue orders, bad news and to address employee issues. Excessive email usage kills the art of spoken communication and removes the opportunity for someone to respond to a certain situation.”

No one enjoys difficult conversations, such as performance managing someone. We all have a client or contact we loathe speaking with. It is always so tempting to simply shoot off an email. But, of course, these are precisely the situations where a conversation is the best approach.

How many times have you changed the tenor of what you will say next because of the reaction to your last statement?

Would a problem with a customer be handled more quickly if the customer’s response was immediate? The nuance of the spoken voice includes information you would miss with electronic communication.

Some organisations have initiated “no-email Fridays” and encourage people to pick up the phone for a conversation on any day of the week or to see others in person. These organisations report they soon experienced better problem-solving, better teamwork, and happier customers.

I also found it interesting and somehow reassuring that listed amongst the dozens of titles in our new range of online skills tests is one that assesses Office Telephone Etiquette: “The focus of this assessment is on evaluating a test taker’s communication skills along with their ability to recognise proper telephone etiquette and the best way to handle calls.”

What do you think? Leave your comments below or, of you feel moved to do so, please give me a call! 

Our new poll is live! Tell us: Does your manager really care what you think and is their door really ‘open’? Results published in next week’s ChallengeBlog …

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Challenge Consulting has a Facebook page. “Like” us now to stay in touch re our new blog posts, weekly poll, links and more …

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Meetings. We all have to attend them. Sometimes we actually need to. But it is an incredibly common bugbear of most professionals that meetings get in the way of actually doing work. 

Our online survey last week asked: “What is the #1 reason meetings are a waste of time?” 

It ended up being a tie for first place. More than 20% of respondents selected both “No set agenda or purpose for the meeting” and “Meeting turns into a pointless gab-fest because no-one is in control”. 

One financial services manager I personally asked this question of did not draw breath for at least two minutes as he described (somewhat more colourfully than I will paraphrase here) his feelings about meetings: “I spend more than half my time in meetings on an average day. Frequently, the meeting commences and after about three minutes I find myself thinking ‘why am I here?’ There is no clear purpose, no set agenda, no notes are provided or taken, and no-one is assigned to any action items at the conclusion. Utterly pointless. 

“Another thing I hate is when people attending the meeting have not come prepared by reading any of the pre-meeting information provided. Half of the meeting is wasted bringing them up to speed. 

“It is also extremely annoying when the person who has called the meeting is unwilling or unable to maintain control over the pace and length of the meeting because they allow attendees to talk endlessly about the meeting’s topic or, worse still, get off topic altogether. Someone has to run the meeting, even with clients. Especially with clients. Some of the clients I deal with have all day to talk. I don’t.”

Right then. 

Knowing all of this, is there such a thing as a worthwhile meeting? Of course there is, but, as Dr Ken Hudson, author of the international series “The Idea Generator, The Idea Accelerator and Speed Thinking”, says: “I may be being harsh on corporate Australia, but making the most out of meetings seems to be lost on most managers.” * 

So, what can be done? Here are some tips for effective meeting management to guide you (or your organisation’s meeting organisers – pass this on!) through preparing and running a meeting that people want to attend and actually benefit from **: 

1 – Plan the Meeting: Effective meetings that produce results, begin with meeting planning. First, identify whether other employees are needed to help you plan the meeting. Then, decide what you hope to accomplish by holding the meeting. Establish doable goals for your meeting. The goals you set will establish the framework for an effective meeting plan. 

2 – Make Sure You Need a Meeting: You may find that you can accomplish the meeting goals with an email discussion or by distributing and requesting information through the company newsletter. Make sure the meeting is needed and not just convenient for you – you’ll get better results from attendees. 

3 – Ensure Appropriate Participation at the Meeting: If a meeting is the appropriate means to accomplish your goals, check with the participants who must attend for the meeting to succeed. The needed attendees must be available to attend the meeting. 

4 – Distribute and Review Pre-work Prior to the Meeting: You can make meetings most productive and ensure results by providing necessary pre-work in advance of the actual meeting. The more preparation time you allot, the better prepared people will be for your meeting. 

5 – Effective use of meeting time builds enthusiasm for the topic. It generates commitment and a feeling of accomplishment from the participants. People feel part of something bigger than their day-to-day challenges. Therefore, a well-facilitated, active meeting, that sets the stage for follow-up, will produce meeting results. 

6 – Effective Meeting Facilitation: An effective facilitator, who keeps participants on track, ensures the accomplishment of expected, desired results from the meeting. 

7 – Use the Pre-work in the Meeting: You reinforce the need for participants to spend the time needed upfront to review material that is integral to accomplishing the desired results. 

8 – Involve Each Participant in Actions: Every work group has various personalities that show up for meetings. You have quiet co-workers and people who try to dominate every platform. Whether facilitating or attending the meeting, you need to involve each attendee in the accomplishment of the meeting goals. 

9 – Create an Effective Meeting Follow-up Plan: During the meeting, make a follow-up plan with action items, including: the specific action item, the name of the person who committed to “owning” the accomplishment of the action item, the due date of the action item, and an agreement about what constitutes completion of the action item. 

10 – Publish Meeting Minutes: Begin by publishing your minutes and action plan within 24 hours. People will most effectively contribute to results if they get started on action items right away. 

11 – Effective Meeting Follow-up: Following the meeting, each person with an action item should also make a plan for their personal accomplishment of their commitment. Whether they write the steps in their planner, delegate the tasks to another staff person, or just complete the task, the individual is responsible for follow-up. So is the meeting planner. Your goal is to check progress and ensure that tasks are underway. Remember that what you ask about gets accomplished.

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* Too Many Meetings Hurting Business

** Effective Meetings Produce Results: Tips for Meeting Management