Mentor the person, not the job

Mentor the person not the job

“What helps people helps business”. I love this quote from Leo Burnett. It sounds simple. It might be trite, easy to dismiss and eye-rollingly hackneyed, but I KNOW that few people really believe it’s true.

They say they believe in culture and developing people and all that stuff.
But they don’t, not really.

Look at the signs.

In a recent Gallup study in the US 66% of employees are dis-engaged and worse, tend to do the bare minimum. A further 16% is actively disengaged. “They feel negative about work and the workplace, and are doing more harm than good when they come to work”, said James Hartner (chief scientist for workplace management at Gallup).


But how could it be any other way? Here’s a common story I see often…

Someone new comes to the end of their 90 day trial period, and there is a hurried meeting put in the diary between their team leader and HR. They whip out the job description and go through ticking items where they think the person is good, and maybe where they are not so good.

Even this is a farce, because the manger has already decided subjectively whether the individual is going to make it through the trial period or not, based on whether they like them, they get on with clients or not and whether they look like they are going to be a problem or not.

In this environment the best advice to new employees would be: keep quiet, keep your head down, get on with the job as its laid out and be “nice”.

The very opposite of awesome. and the very description of BEIGE.

If we really believe that culture is one of the key differentiators we have in business, then we must do much better than this.

Here’s another example which I experienced personally, once, and it was amazing.

During my first 3 months I was given a 90 Days to Open Your Mind Induction Pack. In it there was information on what matters most to succeed in that organisation – the vision, values and how they made decisions.

There were questions I had to answer throughout the pack.

The team around me worked wth me and yes, assessed me throughout the period – based on the cultural aspects they observed in me. My attitude. The way I managed myself. My awareness of the team and my role within the team. My ability to see beyond just myself and my role. Also the questions I asked and how well I responded to feedback. Plus I was given lots of feedback – nearly blew my head off!

I loved it. I saw all the new opportunities and possibilities that would be open to me in this company. And I felt like they saw ME. Not someone who was filling a job they needed doing, but actually me, as a person.

During my 7 years there, I changed roles quite a few times, some worked, some didn’t. It didn’t matter. I found my fit in the end. I loved the place, the people and the company – every bit of it. And they got so much more from me by being open to mentor me, the person, not just the job.

Top 5 Points to Remember

Ask people honestly and with curiosity about their hopes/dreams/aspirations
Equally ask them about their fears/challenges/stretches
Check in to see if they are fully expressing themselves, or shut down
Are they speaking up about the values?
Are they letting people know when they are living the values?
Are they supporting people around them the way they’re supported?

The mentoring role isn’t really about the job – that’s on the job training. Mentoring is teaching, encouraging and giving feedback on how they’re living the vision and the values, and how they’re doing when it comes to being all they can be.

Because people in your organisation are just like you.
They want to be seen.
They want to be heard.
And they want to make a contribution that is valuable.

You can’t write that in a job description.

Sign up here for my FREE video series on how to mentor people using the TACOCA model for performance



  1. Sarah Hochholzer 3 years ago

    I love the Open your Mind Induction Pack idea. I agree that new employees should be well supported to understand the organisation’s vision and values and how their role contributes to the company’s purpose. Only then can they truly sing from the same song sheet.

    • sue 3 years ago

      I agree wholeheartedly Sarah. And it’s not a “we’ll do it if we have time” thing – that’s for people who are keen to stay in the reactive or responsive space. It’s about setting people up to succeed in the long term, so your business can focus on the important stuff (not the whirlwind)

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