Friday, November 6, 2009

Mentors - Filling in the Experience Gaps

Fresh out of school I started my career at one of the icons of Canadian business - Bell Canada. Included in the icon group were other national brands such as IBM, Xerox, Petro Canada and Imperial Oil. At the time the world was still thinking about starting and finishing your working life with the same company. These organizations were legendary for Leadership Training, Skills Development and Coaching programs that included "a new job every 6 months".

On my first day on the job, I was given a team of 12 individuals who I had to coach, motivate and manage. To support my efforts, I was sent to leadership training courses every 6 months to fill in the gaps. In hindsight, I now realize how fortunate I was to be part of a New Graduate Training program - my education and practical on the job training has been part of my fabric ever since.

In today's world a lot has changed. Clearly, the concept of "employment for life" has a new time horizon and companies are spending less on their graduate programs. Company training and education services have also been severely cut back. Gone are the days where companies would hire you for your ability to learn and proceed to train you to fill in the gaps. Recruitment today is looking for the individuals who can do the job with their existing tool sets and hit the ground running.

Working with our new breed of Entrepreneurs has a different twist. A full 50% of entrepreneurs fall between the ages of 19 and 30. How and where do these individuals get their training and skills development in today's environment?

In a recent study conducted by OI Partners ( a number of key items were identified that were consistently lead to the failure of newly minted leaders. Five of these factors include:

  1. Leadership & Delegation - the ability to get results through others.

  2. Motivation - the ability to rally the troops to higher levels.

  3. Communication - the ability to provide clear and concise messages.

  4. Personal Skills - the ability to relate on an interpersonal level.

  5. Recognition - the wiliness to celebrate the successes no matter how small.
When you scan this list you conclude these factors can be "theoretically" studied, but the realty is that they have to be "experienced". So where do Entrepreneurs get the experience to fill the gap?

In a previous blog,we chatted about the importance of Advisory Boards and their impact on improving company success. These boards are helpful to gain traction in the marketplace - but today's young Entrepreneurs will need more. To supplement the experience & training gaps, a strong prescription of Mentorship from a seasoned "been there done it" Coach is clearly warranted.

Coaches will come in many forms and range from a "certified" professional, to a relative or simply a trusted friend. Often coaches are joined together in business forums, where the Entrepreneur can open up amongst a group of peers in a "risk free" environment. Regardless of the background or format, the coach will need to add value by identifying and filling critical experience gaps. Rounding out the theoretical with practical experience, will clearly enhance the probability of commercial success.

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