CHECK YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR
ASKING FOR HELP CAN BE DIFFICULT. EGOS CAN GET BRUISED IN THE PROCESS. YET THOSE WHO MANAGE TO CHECK THEIR EGO AT THE DOOR AND ADMIT TO NOT KNOWING EVERYTHING CAN NOT ONLY LEARN A LOT BUT ALSO SAVE TIME AND ENERGY AS THEY PROGRESS SWIFTLY IN THEIR CAREER.
Cue coaching and mentoring – two of the most underused forms of help that are widely available in Doha. Generally, both coaches and mentors are usually called upon in times of transition, fulfilling different roles that ideally complement each other. Having done many years of both and trained a multitude of mentors and coaches over the years, I define the differences as follows:
Mentors give more technical guidance and advice, they help their mentees to get access to the right resources, including introductions to their network, they advise them on processes and procedures they might want to think about or adopt, etc. In other words, mentoring is a business "how to" – how to start a business, how to expand it, how to fit in at your new company, how to master your job and the responsibilities you have, etc. So a mentor needs to have more experience and knowledge on the particular subject he or she is mentoring on than his or her mentee has. Mentors are volunteers, willing to share what they have learned from their own experience; mentoring is usually offered free of charge.
Mentoring can be found in a variety of forms: peer mentoring, career mentoring, business mentoring, etc. A form of peer mentoring, for example, that has been gaining traction in other parts of the world but is still virtually unheard of in Qatar is the Mastermind Group, a group that meets regularly to exchange knowledge and resources.
A coach, on the other hand, has a different function. It is no coincidence that the term "coach" was borrowed from the world of
sports. Just like Serena Williams' coach is probably not as good a tennis player as she is but rather has skills of observation and analysis that enable him to effectively help her improve and perfect her game, a business or executive coach doesn't necessarily know as much about the technical aspects of running the particular business or company their client works at but has the skill to see where the tweaking in soft skills is needed. Through working with the coach, the client learns tools and life skills that they can apply in many other situations too, like managing their emotions, seeing different perspectives, focusing on the solution rather than on the problem. As coaches are skilled professionals, coaching is usually paid.
Like so many things that ensure that employees are engaged and feel respected, developing a culture where helping each other is the norm rather than the exception is also highly beneficial to the bottom line. In his article “Givers take all: the hidden dimension of corporate culture” (McKinsey Quarterly, April 2013) Adam Grant reports: “Evidence from studies led by Indiana University's Philip Podsakoff demonstrates that the frequency with which employees help one another predicts sales revenues in pharmaceutical units and retail stores; profits, costs, and customer service in banks; creativity in consulting and engineering firms; productivity in paper mills; and revenues, operating efficiency, customer satisfaction, and performance quality in restaurants.” Across these diverse contexts, organisations benefit when employees freely contribute their knowledge and skills to others. Podsakoff's research suggests that this helping behaviour facilitates organisational effectiveness by enabling employees to solve problems and get work done faster enhancing team cohesion and coordination ensuring that expertise is transferred from experienced to new employees reducing variability in performance when some members are overloaded or distracted establishing an environment in which customers and suppliers feel that their needs are the organisation's top priority Yet far too few companies enjoy these benefits. One major barrier is company culture – the norms and values in organisations often don't support helping. After a decade of studying work performance, Podsakoff identified different types of reciprocity norms that characterise the interactions between people in organisations. At the extremes, he calls them “giver cultures” and “taker cultures.” He then goes on to explain that most companies don't fall into either of the extremes but are somewhere in the middle, which he calls “matcher cultures”, as where people help those who help them.
“Although matcher cultures benefit from collaboration more than taker cultures do, they are inefficient vehicles for exchange, as employees trade favours in closed loops. Should you need ideas or information from someone in a different division or region, you could be out of luck unless you have an existing relationship. Instead, you would probably seek out people you trust, regardless of their expertise. By contrast, in giver cultures, where colleagues aim adding value without keeping score, you would probably reach out more broadly and count on help from the most qualified person.”
The mastermind groups that I spoke about earlier rely on a similar culture of helpfulness. One element of many mastermind groups is the “hot chair”, in which each person gets a turn to talk about a challenge they are trying to overcome and then the rest of the group provides all the help they can to resolve the issue. Each person receives valuable contacts, resources, best practices and advice – and then they give what they can to the other group members.
As the rise of Wikipedia, crowdfunding, shareware, Creative Commons and so many other interactive platforms shows, many people are naturally inclined to give and share knowledge and resources for the benefit of others. Even younger employees can participate as givers, as a current trend demonstrates. It is dubbed “reverse mentoring” and describes a practice where younger employees help older employees understand new trends in technology and workplace practices.
Grant does warn us though that takers often do more harm than givers do good, so it is important to minimise the number of takers in the organisation, to make sure that matchers and givers prevail.
It might seem like a leap outside the comfort zone to seek out a coach or a mentor – but then we all know that outside the comfort zone is where growth happens!