Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Training, Counseling, Coaching or Mentoring: Finding the Right Path

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Thomas E. Poulin
October 10, 2021

In the pursuit of high-quality services, public sector leaders often seek to leverage the talents and capacities of employees. Leaders are responsible for building the organization of the future, which means managing talent. This can involve the training, counseling, coaching or mentoring of employees to prepare them for current and future roles. Sometimes these approaches are applied haphazardly. Following the right path might contribute to success, while following the wrong path might create new problems, stifling progress.

Training: Training covers a wide spectrum of activities, from on-boarding training for new employees, specialized training related to specific tasks or functions or on-going refresher training to maintain effective skill sets. In training, the presumption is the employee is limited in knowledge or skills. Within this narrow definition of training, the trainer (leader) must respect the characteristics of the adult learner (employee), but is working in a direct, active manner to present new information, and then having the employee demonstrate basic levels of competence. Training is about preparing employees to perform their work.

Counseling: Counseling is necessary when an employee is underperforming, requiring individualized attention to diagnose and address identified performance issues. The presumption in counseling is that the employee has been trained, but has encountered difficulty in performing effectively and efficiently in a consistent manner. When counseling, the counselor (leader) must combine their leadership and managerial roles, working with the individual employee and supporting them on a one-to-one basis, but also making it clear if performance does not improve to satisfactory levels that there may be consequences. This can increase the pressure and stress on employees, exacerbating performance issues, which the leader must recognize and manage in an empathetic manner. Counseling is about addressing identified performance concerns.

Coaching: With coaching, the employee is meeting or exceeding performance expectations, but might benefit from developing greater comfort and refinement in their performance. The presumption is that the employee has developed competence in all areas, but has not yet developed the mastery which comes from practice. In coaching, the refinements are often small, incremental, and provided in a continual fashion, which taken collectively supports the employee moving from journeyman to master. Coaching is about supporting proficient workers as they become experts.

Mentoring: Mentoring should be reserved for employees continuously exceeding expectations and who demonstrate potential for achieving success in higher, more complex roles. The presumption is that the mentee (employee) wishes to develop new skills, even if they are not yet ready to assume new roles. The mentee is focused on self-development for future challenges and opportunities. The mentor (leader) is there to provide guidance, advice and support for the mentee, but does not force the relationship. If in a position of authority, the mentor may engage in approaches such as job rotation, job enhancement or job expansion as a means of building new competencies and a higher level of self-confidence in their mentees. Mentoring is about creating the leaders of the future.

Before deciding which path to take, we need to reflect on the challenges we face. We must ensure any efforts to address potential performance issues are founded upon observable variations between performance expectations and actual performance. Remediation efforts must be premised on objective criteria, not personal preferences. The intent must be to make the employee stronger, which better prepares them to serve the community, not to create a loyal follower resembling ourselves. Attempting remediation without just cause can create motivational and performance issues within the entire workforce, potentially contributing to ethical and legal questions concerning the leader’s behavior.

It is critical that the performance concern be diagnosed. Performance issues might be tied to attitudes, training or the environment. If it is an individual’s attitude is an issue, training will be unhelpful. If the attitude issue is shared by many in the workplace, the concern might lie with the organizational culture or agency leadership. In such instances, seeking to address employee attitudinal issues might have limited benefit, as you would be treating the symptom and not the underlying cause. If the employees are motivated and trained well but are working with outdated policies, worn out equipment or in poor working conditions, these systemic concerns must be addressed, as training and exhortations to work smarter will be futile.

Leaders are typically selected for technical skills, not the soft skills necessary for employee development. Many develop strong skills in these areas over time through experience, finding means of developing employees to achieve their greatest potential, benefiting the employee, the organization and the community. However, it is unnecessary for leaders to become an expert in all these areas if they can find a means to leverage the talents of others in the agency. Many agencies have training and development experts who excel at training. There are many tenured employees in the workplace with the skills and demeanor to excel as coaches or mentors. To be successful, the leader must understand the importance of selecting the right path for each employee, then finding someone in the organization to serve as their guide.

Author: Thomas E. Poulin, PhD, is a training and development consultant and serves as Senior Adjunct Faculty at Grand Canyon University. He is Past President of the Hampton Roads Chapter of ASPA. He may be reached at [email protected]

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *