Every organisation has mentors and coaches whether they are identified as such or not. Older, more experienced members of the structure help younger executives find their feet, learn the ropes, obtain the dirt on what matters and what doesn’t within the culture. It’s happening, and if you as CEO are not aware of it or don’t have it reasonably under control it can undermine and damage your business as much as help it. Unplanned mentoring is the cause of breakaway, rival start-ups. Pay attention – it can happen to you.

Like bad canteen food, crass coaching and meaningless mentoring cause lousy loyalty. They determine the culture of the business more certainly than a dozen team-building weekends. They can wipe out the effects of even the best training. They are a cyber-security risk both metaphorically and practically. Trust may be a fast-disappearing commodity but your business won’t survive without it. And trust won’t survive without decent mentors.

Most businesses are very lax about their treatment of employees. They talk the talk of “our most important asset” and ignore the reality of what it implies. I was once thrown into a job with the only brief from the Chairman as “The Management have walked out. Will you go and manage the place now, please. The Personnel Director will give you a map if you don’t know the way there”. I didn’t receive one hour’s induction then or later. Lots of people feel like that when pushed into a new job.

Mentoring and coaching in a business only work when the CEO understands what they are, what they are capable of achieving and how much time and effort is needed to make them work. There is no cheap and cheerful version of either that succeeds. Discredited attempts to run short versions of training only damage further what is already undermined by being regarded as optional. I liken it to the training of Supervising Engineers responsible for attaching Rolls-Royce engines to Boeing jetliners. Skimp on it and you will have a disaster.

There are six rules to ensure that mentoring and coaching work for and not against your business.

[1] Full, declared commitment by the boss who demonstrates it by being the first person to be trained.

[2] An understanding that the process is not a checklist of boxes to tick but a real study of who is capable of being a good mentor. This will be partly determined by how little they talk, not by how much.

[3] Adequate training of each individual who is to coach or mentor – and for each individual who is to be coached or mentored. Without this last input the process simply won’t work.

[4] Getting over the definition issue. Good mentors coach; good coaches are also mentors. Any further discussion is as relevant as how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

[5] A view about business that says we help people develop themselves for the long term, not to make an extra buck this week. Mentoring and coaching are not slot machines.

[6] Care for employees that recognises them as human beings not slaves.

But perhaps the most enduring message is “Attach the engines properly or the plane will fall out of the sky”.

And it’s your plane.

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