Mentoring to Lead Meaningful Cultures

Oct 04, 2021
Take the time necessary for reflection and consider the implications and importance of mentoring in leading meaningful cultures.

In the 21st century, work is busy and often distracted. This reality can deprive us of moments to stop, pause, and take the time necessary for reflection and consider the implications and importance of mentoring in leading meaningful cultures.

This situation has been complicated even further by the global pandemic, with the spaces between work and home becoming blurred. People working at home encounter more distractions that can interfere with their ability to focus. Plus, they often lack the time necessary to step away from their work periodically and give their mind and body the rest and recuperation they need.

As UX leaders, we must provide explicit opportunities for mentoring people and prompting conversations that can help people to see, plan, and move forward. We need to help people to share their stories, spot practices, and conduct exercises that enable them to learn how to connect and contextualize their learnings to insert meaning into what they do. We need to provide spaces such as our Sparkle Studio—a learning platform for developing 21st century, transferable soft skills.

Retaining Talent Is the Opportunity

Many workplaces have not changed their work environments to facilitate cultural improvements for people who work from home.

The strains and pressures of working from home, with limited opportunities for in-person social interaction with coworkers, is taking its toll on people. This situation has been compounded by the fact that many workplaces have not changed their work environments to facilitate cultural improvements for people who work from home.

As a consequence, people are tired out, fed up, and leaving their workplaces. Some are now calling this “the great resignation.” A recent work-trends index shows that 41% of the global workforce is considering a job change in the next year.

According to Gartner, retaining the high-potential, top talent in your organization “can be the difference between a weak leadership pipeline and a strong portfolio that will drive future business growth.” Yet while 62% of Human Resources leaders rank managing their top talent as a top priority, only 13% of companies are confident they do a good job of it.”

Finding talent has always been and continues to be a challenge. However, retaining talent is now arguably the greater challenge. Employers need to put more consideration into what is necessary for learning and development programs—particularly in connection with sustaining your talent’s personal growth, keeping your talent, and nurturing their well-being over a sustained period of time.

The critical implication is: companies do not invest enough in their employees’ growth, learning, and development. They should be asking employees: What are your dreams and aspirations beyond your current role?

They should also answer the following questions for their employees:

  • How can I experience disciplines outside my own function?
  • How can I record work observations and learnings in a simple, yet sustainable manner?
  • How can I gain sufficient energy to reactivate my potential and see the possibilities of the past, present, and future?
  • Who can I work with to sustain my personal growth, learning, and development plans? Can they help me track my progress to ensure I remain aligned with my hopes and aspirations?

For each of these questions, the primary considerations are the behavioral outcomes that employees seek within their workspaces—outcomes that encourage them to feel more engaged, present, open, active, and collaborative in what they do. This issue is becoming more pressing as the work landscape shifts and evolves, as it will continue to do over the next few years.

A Learning Platform for Developing 21st Century, Transferable Soft Skills

Motivate people to take responsibility for injecting meaning into their work and building, strengthening, and deepening healthy relationships and behaviors.

People prefer to work in places where they feel that their peers and the leaders to whom they report trust and value them and appreciate and recognize their work. They don’t want to feel they’re being watched all the time. People want to work where they can add value, with people who value meaning and see their work as time well spent. They want to live a life that is worth living.

To create meaningful work outcomes:

  • Be a catalyst for shaping healthy cultures for individuals, teams, and organizations.
  • Help people spot implicit practices and convert them into explicit practices by creating Practice Cards.
  • Motivate people to take responsibility for injecting meaning into their work and building, strengthening, and deepening healthy relationships and behaviors.

We are seeing a trend that indicates a gradual transition away from workplaces that focus only on productivity measures and deliverables to workplaces that provide opportunities for people to identify their transferable skills, build character, and inject meaning into what they do.

Transferable skills are those that you can connect with and contextualize into multiple roles. To collect transferable skills, you need to be able to spot them across many contexts at work and know where to apply them, at the right times and places.

10 Elements of Mentoring to Lead Meaningful Cultures

Mentoring provides explicit contexts for considering others’ improvement, in spaces without any distractions. It helps people to reflect on their areas for growth and improvement. Ideally, people should engage in reflection daily, creating moments for observing, fine-tuning, and learning useful practices without the need for any mentors. However, mentoring can certainly provide opportunities for fostering improvement.

Mentoring definitely plays a role in other domains such as leadership and facilitation. All of these terms imply the need for people in leadership roles to be generous in giving their time and attention to others, to help them to be successful and do significant work in their role.

Let’s consider ten elements of helping, caring for, and supporting others through mentoring that lead to meaningful cultures:

1. Engendering Trust

One way to start building trust between people is to begin trusting others before you have their trust.

In our Sparkle Studios, goals and roles are clearly defined, and we always endeavor to establish trust. People often perceive trust only once it is already present. Thus, the way we build trust is often unconscious and instinctive. Our ability to build trust comes directly from our ability to be vulnerable and accept others’ ways of doing things. While this may sound counterintuitive, one way to start building trust between people is to begin trusting others before you have their trust.

The SCARF model for collaboration can help you to engender trust:

  • Status—Ensuring that others feel respected and heard.
  • Certainty—Setting clear intentions, including the durations of goals.
  • Autonomy—Creating personal options and being open to others’ options, too.
  • Relatedness—Connecting at a human level.
  • Fairness—Aiming for win-win solutions.

Consider the following questions when assessing how well you’re doing in engendering trust:

  • Are you actively listening to other people rather than imposing your opinions on them?
  • Have you considered other contexts that would be more conducive to better conversations?
  • Have you framed the conversation around shared beneficial outcomes?
  • Have you structured people’s learning portfolios to help them better clarify what topics and themes are important for their own learning and development?
  • Are you taking the time to let people vent and describe the problems they are currently facing?

2. Fostering Structured, Explicit Reflection

Running Sparkle Studios regularly and using the Make Meaningful Work tools enables you to record the outcomes of your reflections, making them practical and immediately actionable.

Consider the following questions when working to foster reflection:

  • Have you prepared some questions to help encourage conversations and probe for seen and unseen possibilities?
  • Have you given people opportunities to share a range of stories that better represent their character?
  • Do you open up people’s reflections to help connect them forward and widen their perspectives beyond what they can or cannot see now?
  • Do you take moments to reflect on what you are observing to help people gain clarity on moving forward?
  • Are you recording practices in the form of Practice Cards, so people can connect and contextualize these practices to exercises in their day-to-day work?

3. Character Building

Character development continues … throughout your whole work life and contributes to your success and the significance of your impact on others and your entire organization.

It is important to bring your authentic character to your resume and job interviews. Character development and moments for learning and improving are an integral and should be a sustained part of the employee experience. In fact, character development continues, whether implicitly or explicitly, throughout your whole work life and contributes to your success and the significance of your impact on others and your entire organization.

Consider the following when focusing on character building:

  • What character traits represent how you generally interact with and relate to others?
  • What impacts are your interactions having on the people around you?
  • How can you insert meaning into what you do—for yourself and others?
  • How do you want to affect your workplace?
  • What moments present themselves for experimenting with character traits that push the boundaries of your character development?

4. Being Interested in Others

Body language, eye contact, and tone of voice are manifestations of people’s behavior in the presence of others. They can tell you so much about whether people are taking the time and making the effort to be interested in others. Being interested in others implies that you would like to learn more about them, ask questions with a curious mind, foster high-quality relationships, and even invest the time and energy to solve problems in a cooperative and collective manner.

Consider the following in showing your interest in others:

  • Have you prepared some questions relating to recent events in others’ lives?
  • Are you checking in on their health and emotions?
  • Do you try to observe what may have changed between your interactions with certain people?
  • Are you interested in others’ longer-term and sustained success?
  • Do you have a sense of other people’s narrative and what is meaningful to them and why?

5. Self-directed Learning

In mentoring to lead meaningful work cultures, much of the learning happens outside of the sessions between a mentor and mentee. Both parties are responsible for their own self-directed learning and should take an energetic stance on exploring a deeper and wider range of topics. To help stretch one another’s’ motivations, intentions, and directions, people can explore the boundaries of their roles and consider the implications of pairing with people from other parts of their organization.

Consider the following questions that relate to self-directed learning:

  • What topics interest you and why?
  • In what soft skills and practices would you like to gain deeper experience?
  • What person, book, or show would you recommend to your colleagues to help broaden their perspectives?
  • What engenders your curiosity and why?
  • What do you do to develop your conscience and encourage similar growth in others?

6. Cocreating and Iterating on Value and Values

It is important to keep values and beliefs present in the interactions and relationships between people.

Values are closely tied to people’s beliefs and become embodied in the ways people interact with and relate to each other in their work cultures. Unfortunately, values and beliefs are sometimes ill defined—for example, by a small group of people on a leadership team who are disconnected from day-to-day activities, tasks, and routines at work.

Therefore, it is important to keep values and beliefs present in the interactions and relationships between people. Consider whether specific values remain relevant and continue to add value or something has shifted. If there has been a shift in values, consider how great that shift has been. It is also important to draw a distinction between the values that you and others are adopting and those that you embody. How do your values manifest themselves in your day-to-day work?

Consider the following when cocreating and iterating on value and values:

  • Are your values clearly defined and well understood?
  • Does your organization embody any values with which you do not agree? Why?
  • Does your organization have values with which you agree? Why?
  • Who best embodies the values of your workplace? Can you describe that person’s characteristics?
  • If your organization needs to revise or completely change certain values, who would you expect to address such issues?

7. Practice Spotting Explicit and Implicit Practices

Let’s begin with this question: What explicitly or implicitly happens or does not happen between people?

Explicit or Perceivable Practices

Once you derive your practices through Practice Spotting and make them explicit by recording them on a Practice Card, you can endeavor to adopt these explicit practices and engage in continuous learning with your colleagues at work.

Explicit practices are highly visible and are often transactional activities such as tasks we need to do, processes we need to follow, outputs we need to deliver, or KPIs we have to meet.

Implicit or Unseen Practices

Implicit practices derive from people’s underlying values, beliefs, mindsets, attitudes, soft skills, and motivations and manifest in their behaviors and outcomes.

Implicit practices are complex and multilayered. While they are constantly and continuously in play in our interactions and relationships with people, they are harder to recognize than explicit practices. Implicit practices derive from people’s underlying values, beliefs, mindsets, attitudes, soft skills, and motivations and manifest in their behaviors and outcomes. People typically acquire most implicit practices without ever acknowledging them and use them unconsciously.

Some implicit practices can have positive or negative impacts on the people who engage in them. Since the smallest of behaviors can have big impacts on people, we need to pay more attention to them. We need to remain aware of our implicit practices and those of others, which are part of our day-to-day work and interactions with people. We generally do not call out or record such practices and may not practice them on our own or with others.

Practice Spotting is a way of acquiring knowledge about what is really happening under the surface, from both positive and negative perspectives.

Consider the following when Practice Spotting:

  • What practices are meaningful in your work?
  • What practices are meaningful to the organization in which you work?
  • How do you capture your learnings today?
  • In what spaces do you provide opportunities for reflection and practice?
  • What implicit practices are either contributing positively to or causing harm to your cultures at work?

8. Writing Practice Cards to Connect and Contextualize

Writing a Practice Card is one of the key activities in Make Meaningful Work. In traditional learning contexts, we must often complete exercises that do not relate to our own contexts and needs.

In Make Meaningful Work, you come up with your own contextualized exercises and outcomes that are relevant to you. Therefore, these contextualized exercises are useful, practical, and relevant to your needs and your own work context.

When creating a Practice Card, select a practice that you feel is relevant and connected to your context. The practices that you select could be

  • practices in which you are already proficient, but would like to enhance
  • practice gaps that need to be filled
  • new practices to which you would like to pay more attention

Capture your outcomes on Practice Cards. Often, we see leadership practices that are distributed across or necessary to different organizational functions and roles. Their intent is to keep an explicit, focused eye on the organization’s strategy, direction, values, and vision.

Consider the following when writing a Practice Card:

  • What is a practice that you might apply today?
  • What practices give you clues regarding other areas in which you could improve?
  • Who are the practice leads who could help you with the practices you’ve spotted?
  • Where do your greatest practice gaps exist and why?
  • What practices speak directly to your own or others’ leadership capabilities?

9. Enabling Leaders to Zoom Out and Describe Culture

We all get caught up with being busy and intimately involved in our day-to-day interactions and relationships with people at work. So it can be challenging to clearly see and accurately describe how a culture is playing out. The Sparkle Studio affords us an opportunity to zoom out and describe a culture as it’s actually manifesting. It also provides an opportunity to help people ground themselves in that culture and clarify the roles they play within it.

Consider the following when describing culture:

  • What moments at work have recently captured your attention and why?
  • Who best represents the culture at work and why?
  • What are the best and worst of behaviors that you have observed?
  • How do you impact the culture and why?
  • How do you think you might you describe the culture a year from now?

10. Planning to Define Future Aspirations

Helping a person to define clear aspirations for the future is one way to build hope. This does not mean encouraging blind optimism, but goal-directed energy and agency, in which people believe that their goals are achievable and make plans to achieve them. Rational optimism moves people away from a feeling of helplessness toward actually mentoring others to encourage active participation in achieving defined future outcomes.

Consider the following in defining future aspirations and making plans to achieve them:

  • To what do people look forward and why?
  • Who best supports you in defining your plan to move yourself forward?
  • To whom do you turn when you feel stuck and why?
  • Where do you record your plans for yourself?
  • To whom do you speak about your plans and how far out do they stretch?

The Sparkle Studio: Encouraging Deeper Conversations

Ensuring that diversity exists among your mentors is critical to helping you widen your perspectives

To encourage deeper conversations, you should consider the following:

  • mutual interests and questions to explore—People who are taking the time to be part of a conversation want to gain a mutual understanding of each other. They have prepared some questions that stimulate their conversation and advance their understanding of each other.
  • topics and scenarios—They prepare a range of topics for discussion and scenarios that are pertinent to their roles and explore other perspectives on what their role might demand.
  • shared intentions and outcomes—Ensuring that the people who are having the conversation have a common understanding of the outcomes and deliverables that relate to their roles can help set them up for success from the beginning.

When we play various roles in the Sparkle Studio, their goals become clear. We contribute to people achieving their goals in a fun environment. Taking ownership and responsibility comes naturally as people play different roles. In the Sparkle Studio, people play many roles with which they may not be familiar. By trying out new roles, they can push their boundaries and rewire their brains.

Giving thought to being a mentor to others and receiving mentoring from others is a very important part of learning and developing. Ensuring that diversity exists among your mentors is critical to helping you widen your perspectives and to identifying gaps or areas in which you need further practice.

Learning Adventures for Experiencing and Sustaining Meaningful Work—Join us on the MMW Show and try out a complimentary Learning Adventure Card for yourself.

Daniel Szuc

Dan is a co-founder and principal at Apogee and co-founder of Make Meaningful Work, as well as the co-founder of UX Hong Kong.

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