Are you a learning organisation?

Mentoring can be a frustrating experience, especially when progress seems to be slow. Here's how to ensure your organsiation encourages development.

Most of us want to belong to organisations that develop talent – but are we driving it?

“Professional communicators are moving from operational to managerial, educational and reflective levels.”(Allen & Eby, 2010).Professional development is perceived as crucial and there is a strong link to job satisfaction. But are we driving for professional development or are we expecting the HR department to step in?We expect other departments to embed communications into their work, so it is only fair that we take the initiative and drive for more professional development in our own communications teams.

My company works with organisations to help develop the management communications skills of staff from all departments. Here are some steps you can take to push professional development.

Step 1: Assess your organisation

If you belong to a learning organisation, these should be true:

  • Internal coaching is a requirement. Line managers, staff and the organisation are committed to developing the talent of staff. This is written in the operational manuals, the statues of the company, on the website - somewhere where staff can access it.
  • Coaching is built into job descriptions. Your job description includes professional development and standards that expect proactive internal training. Your junior staff job descriptions include at least one professional development duty.
  • You devote >10% of your time to mentoring staff. Mentoring, supporting, training, coaching – these terms overlap, but your role includes time to develop the talent of your junior staff.
  • You have operational processes that record the quantity and quality of internal coaching. Your performance management procedures include professional development plans and outcomes.
  • You are judged on the quality of your mentoring skills. As a leader you are expected to develop other staff.

Step2: Delegate so that staff learn and develop

So, you have decided to allocate time to developing your junior staff but six months down the road and the training doesn’t seem to be moving. Learning isn’t happening or is patchy at best. Some staff are responding, others are not. You feel like just telling them what to do (“this is how we do it here…”). It is frustrating – you tell them and they do it in a completely different way. They seem to be able to do specific tasks but on the bigger picture they are still dependant on you.

Ask yourself - what level of skills and knowledge are people developing? Are their core behaviours being developed? It is one thing to learn how to get quotes from potential contractors for an event but it is quite another to develop the analytical skills to assess value for money.

Principles of delegating in a learning organisation

  • Clarify your expectations.Take time to explain the big picture and to relate tasks to needs of the organisation as well as professional development. “We need the best quotes from suppliers, but we want you to develop your radar for good decisions.”
  • Define your role. Explain how much support you will provide. Be clear if they should wait for your instructions or make independent decisions.
  • Be clear about consequences. Describe how you see both successful and unsuccessful results. What rewards can they expect? What will happen if they don't achieve the expected results?
  • Frame the task with a clear example. Use examples of similar tasks. Concept check by asking questions to ensure that they understand the expectations.
  • Guided discovery. It is better if they work out the rules for themselves. You are delegating the results not the process. They may have to work a harder and longer to get to the same result. Use feedback to get them to reflect. This take longer but encourages learning.
  • Better if it is generative. Do they learn skills that can be applied to other areas of work? For example, they have to analyse quotes from suppliers – does this develop analytical skills? Can they apply these analytical skills to other task and projects?

Step 3: Give feedback that encourages learning.

Feedback is crucial to giving support but we often don’t give feedback that has any meaning or impact on the learning process. Organise a structured feedback through a guided conversation. Make the questions short and simple and let them do the talking (they should take up 80% of the interview time). Listen actively and take notes. This guided conversation is all about asking your staff member how they approached the tasks and what they learnt.

Feedback sessions consist of a series of questions – here is a structure you can use.

  • Open Question: Kick off with an open question or statement that is designed to get them talking.: “Tell us about the selection of contractors for the event”
  • Question for details: Ask ‘WH’ questions  (what, why, who, when and how) for more details: “What measures did you use to assess the suitability of suppliers?
  • Drill down questions: Dig further to probe more detail for insight into their performance: “So you said that you put everything on a spreadsheet, how did you design this?”
  • Evaluation questions to reflect on learning: Get them to reflect on how well it went, what they learnt, how they can apply the skills.

Take action to make your organisation fit for learning and development. It may be tempting to leave talent development in the hands of the HR department but by following these suggestions senior communicators can take control of training and coaching within the organisation and ensure that talent in communication teams is being developed.


Image: Thinkstock


Andrew Manasseh

Andrew Manasseh is managing director of Communicating Europe, a Brussels based company that offers management communication skills training for people who need to talk about their industries, associations, policy areas and interests. Andrew has over 25 years business management and training experience in Europe and Asia and devises management communications training programmes for public sector, government and corporate clients.