This is the third of a three-part series about what people face after training. The first section discussed the concerns employees have once training is done. The second article reviewed management challenges, and this third piece will look at what experienced employees, who often serve as ad hoc trainers, have to deal with.
Whenever a new person joins your team or a long-time employee steps up to take new responsibilities, there’s probably an experienced colleague helping out. These informal mentors show new people the ropes and help others learn skills they already have.
They may actively coach others or just set a good example. They may naturally reach out to help or reluctantly share their expertise when asked. They’re often the source of key feedback for those just learning a skill.
And they hold in their heads your company’s “tribal knowledge,” all the information about “how we do things” and “what works best” that isn’t written in a manual somewhere.
Theses ad-hoc mentors drive much of the learning in your company, but most managers don’t know the extent of their influence. And most companies don’t measure or reward their efforts beyond a checkbox on the annual competency review, such as “helps others when needed.”
So let’s take some time to consider what these folks deal with when they find themselves in the role of temporary teacher.
Does my manager know I’ve been spending a lot of time helping trainees?
Informal mentors do a great service to your team by helping others become productive. But it’s not easy to know how much time they spend on it. And if their efforts aren’t measured, their contribution goes unnoticed.
Many people coach others because they like to, but they still have to get work done. Even when employees log hours, they may not have a “mentoring” category to use, or they may record that time against a project to stay billable.
Does my manager know that I take training seriously and support the process?
Companies large and small today strive to create more pro-active and engaged teams. And employees who share their knowledge with others help foster that kind of culture.
But they probably don’t drop by the manager’s office to discuss organizational learning theory. So leadership may not perceive their dedication to keeping the whole team sharp.
Do other trainees know who I am, or how to reach me?
Informal mentors don’t have a system for finding those who need help. Some are in a good position to meet newcomers, but most often they learn about struggling colleagues by chance.
And new employees may not feel comfortable asking for help, especially if they came to the job with prior experience and feel they should already know what to do.
Do new colleagues know my areas of expertise, or that I’m able to help them?
New team members don’t know the network yet. They don’t know who’s the local expert in various skills, and crucially, they don’t know who’s willing to help them.
Even new managers who transferred in from another department will face this confusion. Informal mentors, who want to help, don’t have a channel to express their ability and willingness to do so.
How are my “mentees” doing?
Because informal mentors often help others out when they have time or when there’s an urgent need, they don’t stay in touch with the people they helped to make sure they’re coming along ok. They don’t know if there are additional questions or if they need to review. New people may not come back for fear of “bugging” the mentors, and mentors may not ask for fear of offending the new folks.
After all, it’s not part of their jobs to follow someone’s progress, but if they knew whether new folks needed help, they would step in.
Improve mentors’ effectiveness with a learning structure.
In between training classes, your unofficial mentors help keep learning going. And you can support them with a simple work-based learning program that guides and rewards their efforts.
Everyday these experienced people bring so much value to workplace learning because they do their coaching right there amid the chaos. So any structure you provide to help them needs to go with them into that chaos. Here’s what a work-based “mentor” program needs:
- Clear, actionable objectives for learners
- A way for mentors to “sign up” to help with specific objectives or skills
- A way for learners to ask for help with specific objectives
- A channel for mentors to provide immediate feedback to colleagues
- A way to “sign off” a learner who’s mastered an objective
- A view into how learners are doing with their objectives
- A report of the people and objectives mentors have helped with
Ad-hoc mentors are the unsung heroes of work-based learning. They’re providing much of the guidance and feedback crucial to development. With a little support, they could become the stars of your program and the bedrock of a creative, innovative learning organization.
At Pract.us, we’re dedicated to helping the unsung heroes of your company get the recognition they deserve. Learn more.