After just a five minute discussion with Kris, it was clear that his assertion he didn’t know whether he needed coaching, mentoring or being left alone (with his deep confusing thoughts – his words) was correct. ‘Trust your instinct’ I told him, ‘once we find it’.
I met Kris because after advising the city office to ‘fumigate’ the scandal ridden marketing team (another story for another day) I was instructed to salvage the 16 ‘least bad’ members of the original group. There had been 28 of them when the management decided that the toxic department needed to be decimated. Their own investigations lead to discoveries of gambling, pilfering & medium larceny (presumably to feed the gambling debts), clandestine ‘love’ affairs and a cover-up by a team leader of another person’s continued absences and tardiness.
The hotel/hospitality industry is infamous for its high staff turnover and I was conscious from the beginning that in addition to trying to keep the ‘ best’ people, I also needed my definition of ‘best’ to include people we would be able to hold onto. Especially with the bumpy road ahead.
Ian, the CEO and I spent two grueling days interviewing everyone that hadn’t been dismissed and who wanted to return to the group. Kris was the last person to come to meet me and began by telling me that he’d be happy being redistributed to another department and that he wouldn’t miss anyone from the Marketing team. When I asked why, he responded by saying ”They’re bitches and bullies”. The idea of a 6’ 6” tall, broad shouldered man with a thick red beard and size 11 shoes being bullied was to say the least, intriguing. I reminded myself to avoid making assumptions based on his stature and opted to find out more about him.
Having read his dossier and the tiny shreds of poorly executed performance appraisal (more like 3 degrees than 360) it was clear that Kris was a talent the business needed to keep. He was a highly adept graphic designer (so good he could even use pencils and fine point ink pens) and able to get under the skin of any wobbly IT system. He was an artist, a technician and a brilliant thinker. He was the go-to guy for all manner of technical issues and fixed things calmly and quietly. No drama.
He did though lack self confidence especially in his personal life. A man of 35, he lived alone (not an issue but a signpost) and judging by his own terse self-personality summary was not a people person. My interest piqued, a man who was a very good artist and on some levels therefore, a communicator yet with little self belief with regards to his ability in connecting face to face. You may ask yourself why he’s in hotel marketing if he cannot be sure of his communications skills, but it’s such a broad industry, there’s room for many personality types within it.
The bullying was an important issue. When I asked him to describe it he told me that sometimes colleagues, who were mainly women, would comment on his clothes, sometimes giggle when he spoke and had a habit of taking things from his desk. When I asked what had happened to these desk items after they’d been snatched he told me that they were returned, but always ‘dumped’ in the wrong place. You’ll notice that by putting these events as facts they seem potentially harmless and that bullying is not always clear cut. What was clear however was that he had a level of sensitivity that although it could be over sensitivity, I had to decide what was really happening in that department. It’s too easy to write-off accusations of bullying as a mere misunderstanding.
And so, to the matter in hand. In my first one-to-one with Kris, I gave him the choice of whether he wanted to only discuss work-related issues or whether he wanted to dovetail into his private life too. I pointed out that the private thing, even if off-agenda, invariably sits there like the proverbial elephant, but that he wasn’t compelled to discuss anything he didn’t want. He said he didn’t mind going through personal issues which surprised me (but I kept this reaction under wraps).
I said above that the choice was what kind of intervention was required and that the third option of leaving him alone had already sailed and this person was keen for intervention/support.
People have argued into the small hours about the differences between coaching and mentoring. For the sake of simplicity I define them as follows:
Coaching can be summed up by the coach saying ’Describe what’s going on. When I can see areas that you want to improve I’ll ask you what you think could do better.’
Mentoring can be summed up with ‘ Watch what I do. When it’s your turn, I shall observe you doing it and point out where you can do better’
These definitions are quite extreme, but I felt that with Kris I needed to focus on where he was confident before exposing his weaknesses. He agreed that we would use the more hands-off coaching approach especially as this can be used without expert knowledge of the process, whereas if I had taken a mentoring stance, I would not have been able to support him with two of his areas I know little about; IT and executing design.
The story continues.