Building Great Leaders

Mentor, Coach, Advocate: Why spending time with your employees is so important

Spending time with employees pays off—not just for them, but for leaders and the entire organization. According to Fast Company, there is an optimal amount of time to spend with each employee, less than 6 hours and you are a disengaged leader, more and you are a picky micro-manager.  

At ELM, we take this seriously and every manager is mandated to have weekly 1:1 meetings with each of their employees. In this time they try to understand what is going on for the employee in a  mentor role. How the employee is feeling, what’s going on at home and any challenges they may be facing. The manager then takes on a coaching role,  focussing on wins and motivating and encouraging the employee in their work capacity. The tone then changes and the manager prepares to do something that is very important here at ELM. They take what they have learnt from the interaction and prepare to go out and become the employee’s advocate. 

These meetings are highly anticipated and all employees look forward to their weekly one on ones, as do the managers. Ideas are exchanged and it often leads to changes in process or the implementation of new initiatives. Employees feel valued and the small amount of effort it takes pays off a thousand-fold in terms of productivity and job satisfaction. 

What makes a great mentor, coach, advocate?

In terms of leadership, most of the greats mentored, coached and advocated on an unprecedented level.  What is even more interesting is that many great leaders have mentors themselves and contribute this to their own success. In this article where five business leaders discuss the power of mentorship, it states that “no one learns in a vacuum”  and most entrepreneurs credit a mentor or mentors.  It seems to go around in circles, as you are mentored so you have your opportunity to mentor someone else to greatness. As Andre Malraux said, “To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less.” As managers spend time with their employees they are not only improving and working on the present situation but making a big difference in their employees lives and career journeys, perhaps even creating great leaders of the future.  

Spending time with employees in a mentorship role

A mentor is someone who walks with you, not ahead of you. At ELM, part of the onboarding process is to schedule 1:1 meet and greet sessions for new employees to meet each member of the leadership team.  This fosters and builds mentoring relationships.  Basically all of the nuts-and-bolts stuff.  This is important, as nothing’s more intimidating than being the new kid.  At this early stage, new hires need solid mentors to put them at ease.  Mentors first help familiarize mentees with company culture and then give sound advice as for how to get the most out of their careers.  An amazing example of effective mentorship is the relationship between Marc Parker, CEO of Nike and Kobe Bryant. In a 2016 Complex.com article, Kobe Bryant was quoted as saying: “Even though he has a pretty large business to run, he still finds time to mentor me…” Bryant left Adidas in 2003 to sign with Nike and stayed with the brand until his death in 2020.  Mentorship creates a healthy corporate culture based on mutual respect and loyalty.  When employees believe their employers will take the time to hear and advise them, they stay.

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Investing time in coaching employees

Great coaches lead by example. They bring their teams together and do the best they can  for them. Typically, when an employee masters the job they reach a decision point: settle in or look for another challenge, even if it means leaving the company.  In a 2016 Gallup report entitled: How Millennials Want to Work and Live 59% of the millennial respondents said that “opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them.”  Coaching is highly nuanced, for employees it’s not just about how they should perform the job, but how they can make the job into a career.  By sitting down with employees one-on-one, coaches can properly understand what employees want and need and provide them with customized growth opportunities, like seminars, eLearning opportunities  or special projects.

Advocating for employees

What good is all of this great mentoring and coaching if it’s never applied?  Once you know what is going on for your employees, what they want and need, it’s time to take action. Advocating for employees implies action. Advocating is time not spent with employees, but for them. Effective leaders hear and discuss employees’ new ideas with them, and afterward, work to put them into action.  When employees receive new training or knowledge and are eager to apply it to their jobs, advocates make that happen.  Advocates inspire their employees to keep learning and contributing, as then they feel like  their contributions are valued and applied.  Without this final investment of time, employees feel undervalued and underutilized and the process falls flat. According to a study, managers must be consistent and effective advocates for their employees in order to increase engagement and performance levels. Cited as a great way to advocate for your employees is finding out what blockers they face through effective listening and using your leadership skills to solve their problems.  Great advocates should also consider career growth and internal recruitment for roles an employee may be better suited to.    

On a final note, spending time with employees is great for business.

A small investment of time and following up with action creates a positive, supportive company culture.  Millennial employees, making up the bulk of the workforce, value jobs that allow them to grow and develop in their careers. It’s fact that effective advocacy improves employee engagement and mentorship creates great leaders. Companies that train leaders to invest time in employees with mentoring, coaching and advocating create a healthy working environment beneficial to employees and integral for the success of the company.