Workplace MentoringEntrepreneurs are smart, creative, energetic, and driven. “Driven” is what gets it done. They are the CEO, the technical expert, the marketing department, the supervisor, the customer service rep, the accountant, and they take out the trash, too. They do everything, and they are so good at what they do their businesses thrive and grow market share. They add employees, locations, product and service lines. They are still entrepreneur-ing, but on larger scales. Then, they hit the wall. There is absolutely no more of their time and energy to be had. Their personal capacity starts to limit their business’s capacity. But, must the vigor of the business be compromised because the entrepreneur is spent?

What if employees could take on some of the entrepreneur’s work? What if employees could increase their expertise in general? What if employees took co-responsibility for the business’s success?

Entrepreneurs hire talented people, who share enthusiasm for the business. They feel a stake in its success. Each employee makes unique and valuable contributions towards that success. What if the entrepreneur ratcheted up using and developing employees’ talents and levels of accountability? What if the entrepreneur could do that with minimal expense? The business would develop a competitive edge.

The answer is: delegate and mentor. Entrepreneurs are famous for not wanting to give up the controls. Even when exhausted, entrepreneurs tend to hold on to the reins tenaciously. A workplace mentoring system provides a structured method for delegating according to needs of the business, strengths of the individuals, and coaching for success. Mentors, whether the entrepreneur or other staff members, pay close attention to mentees to make sure control is everyone’s issue rather than just the entrepreneur’s. The more control is shared, the less the entrepreneur has to hold those reins.

What are common results that entrepreneurs get when they install a workplace mentoring system in their businesses? They expand the capacity of the organization–employees take co-responsibility for success. They develop leaders and build teams. Mentors gain leadership skills as they learn to communicate effectively, plan and measure performance goals and give feedback objectively. Learning curves are faster, as mentees are given individual attention, and are coached to think through challenges themselves. These entrepreneurs differentiate themselves from the competition because the whole staff is focused on teaching and learning from each other. Knowledge capital stays with the organization, even if key people leave. And key people are less likely to leave, when given the opportunities to grow that a mentoring organization offers. June Juliano, owner of Acapello Salons and the Men’s Room, is a role model for successfully using delegating and mentoring as fundamental strategies for her business’s growth. Her Southern Maine business remains entrepreneurial even as it expands, thanks to her creativity in developing her employees.

“People call me successful. I’ll call myself successful when the business is running without me. I’ll be just sitting under a palm tree reading the reports.”  June certainly fits my definition of a successful entrepreneur, if not her own. She opened her first salon in 1995 and has expanded to three Acapello Salons and the Men’s Room, with a total of 40 staff members. Her business has won national and local recognition. Acapello has been one of the Salon Today's (Vance Publishing) Top 200 salons in America for the last two years, and has just won a local “Best of the Best” business award for the fifth consecutive year. June plans to expand to still more locations where the market needs the exceptional quality her salons provide.

She is an industry expert, a technical expert, and a business expert. With the growth of her business, she has realized that she cannot be the only expert. June has hired top quality “partners” with great potential.  It made sense to her to mentor her employees to realize their various potentials. She has recently shifted the structure of her business to develop selected staff members to become effective mentors themselves. June says “It motivates me as much as the new coaches to see how quickly they grow.”

June is an accomplished mentee, as well as mentor. She uses the Aveda organization to continue her own learning, which she brings back to the staff. She connects with owners of other larger and more successful salons for inspiration and guidance. She still turns to her original mentor, with whom she has worked for years. He has helped her most by asking direct and simplifying questions. She talked about a time when she was waffling about opening a salon in Scarborough, Maine. She approached and walked away from the idea three times, then asked for his help. She says “He asked me if I wanted to grow my business. I said ‘yes.’ Then he asked me if I could do it in my current space. I said ‘no.’ Suddenly, the choice was clear. He cut through the complications I’d created, and I knew exactly what to do. I opened the new salon. He never tells me what to do, even though he is an extremely successful expert. He just asks questions.”

Until recently, each Acapello and Men’s Room location had a manager, but the role seemed heavy for people who gravitate towards artistry and guest service. They have been trained in cosmetology, not business management, and the manager structure ceased to make sense. June would have had to hire “managers” from outside her organization. Instead, she transformed the leader role to one of “salon coach.” Individuals applied for the coach jobs, and were carefully selected according to their strengths and aspirations. June says “The goal is to get everyone to where they want to be. I partner with people who want to be successful.”

Learning to be a salon coach is a rigorous process. Their job is to oversee their individual locations, learn the business, how benchmarks affect the business, and then take responsibility for reaching goals. They do not do bookkeeping, although understanding productivity goals numerically is critical. They coach and lead the salon staff to achieve those goals. June describes the role as “super cheerleader.”  They must become as knowledgeable and skilled as June in delivering world class guest services, creating corresponding goals, and leading the staff members to exceed ever-shifting guest expectations.

The coach role supports June in running the business. She leads and coaches the coaches. “The coaches are in boot camp. There’s no crying in hairdressing.  I have to be honest with them. The team that wins is the one that practices together.” Acapello Coach Boot Camp requires coaches to reach far beyond their current world. “If you want to know more, hang with people who know more than you.” is June’s motto. The coach team meets once a month as a group. They plan new projects, report back on prior projects, and evaluate each other’s work.  June designs project challenges to build on the coaches’ strengths and at the same time pull them beyond comfort. She roots every class session in Acapello’s vision and mission, and how to live them. The mission statement: “Our mission at Acapello is to explore our every gift and talent, never wasting our potential to bring goodness, beauty, laughter and light to our guest and the world around us.” Not only do staff members have performance and professional educational requirements, they also have community service requirements.

One significant project has been for each coach to choose an aspiration and set corresponding goals, identify a mentor, ask to be mentored, and talk with the mentor in weekly sessions. They could select anyone they wanted. One coach chose a locally prominent restaurateur, whose own staff admires him. Another chose her father, successful in real estate. One chose the head of Aveda aesthetics, another, a Matrix artist, a person famous in their industry. One chose June, and another chose a peer who has achieved every goal she has set for herself in the company. The coaches have shared their learning with each other, and built alliances with their mentors that not only benefit them, but the business in general, such as these relationships with Aveda and Matrix.

The coaches are learning to think critically and give feedback for performance improvement with another creative project. They did a “Tabatha.” “Tabatha’s Salon Takeover” is a television series wherein Tabatha Coffey rescues salons in trouble. The Acapello coach team swapped salons for a week, and reported back to each other the areas they saw that could use improvement. The experience was so valuable that the group has chosen to make it routine.

“They have to keep their heads in the game. They have to learn to be fair, listen, look for opportunities vs. problems, and find solutions. They are learning to delegate. They are such experts that they often feel it’s easier to do it themselves. But others must have the chance to develop, too. I’m teaching them leadership skills.” At this time, there is one more coaching class left. The coaches will write an essay on “why this is for me,” and June will evaluate their essays. Based on the entire Acapello Coach Boot Camp experience, the coaches and June will plan next steps. June says “They are all young. They have so many opportunities and choices. “

Jen Gammon is smart, talented, ambitious and successful. When she joined Acapello six years ago, at age 18, she didn’t feel that way. High school teachers did not see her potential nor give her the learning opportunities she needed.  June has. At age 21, she bought her own house, which she shares with a dog bigger than she is. At age 21 she also earned her status as a Master Colorist. She has been the top producer at Acapello each year since 2006, the top colorist each year since 2004, and top in Aveda retail sales. Now she is working towards teaching color in the international arena.

Jen credits June with mentoring her not only to develop her skills, but also her confidence. She knows what she wants, defines clear goals, and achieves them.  Jen is Acapello’s color coach. She is a member of the coach team, but hers is a different role from the salon coaches, as she works with all newly hired stylists in all of the locations. She says “I won’t be the authority for people. I don’t want that role. But I’m learning how the business runs and how my role fits with the other coaches, and how I contribute to overall success.” 

June is Jen’s day-to-day mentor, so when Jen needed to choose a mentor for the boot camp project, she reached outside Acapello to find an additional role-model. When she was 18, she had met Sam Lavella at a training session in New York City. He was co-training one of the classes she was in. Sam is the owner of Moxi Salon in Philadelphia, on the Matrix design team, and is a Matrix Platform educator. He is also a winner of the “Going the Extra Mile” award. She had never been out of Maine before; she was nervous and not at all confident. That apparently showed, but so did her talent and eagerness to learn. Sam singled her out, saying to her “Don’t just make this what you do, make it what you are.”  Jen says “I didn’t at the time understand what the words meant, but I knew he said something important to me, so I wrote them down.”

Sam is now famous in the industry. Jen has taken other classes with him since then, and there has been a connection. “He always remembered me. When June told us ‘Find a mentor, someone you admire, set learning goals and learn,’ I knew I wanted him to be my mentor.” Sam is not only famous; he is very busy balancing his life. Jen says “He has a wife and children, he owns and operates a large salon, and travels worldwide to train. I wanted to learn about balance.” Connecting with him initially was not easy, but now he is available to her whenever she needs his guidance. “He said he was honored by my request for mentoring.” He has committed to helping her learn, and spent a lot of time with her at a recent training session, sharing his thoughts, approaches, and asking her about hers.

Even though the mentoring project is officially finished, Jen and Sam still have a mentoring relationship. Her most important goal is to learn to be a trainer, and she recently got her first opportunity to teach a class at a cosmetology school. She knew there would be 47 students. She was nervous, very nervous. Jen is a technical expert, is very confident as such, but not as a teacher. She asked colleagues to help her be creative, and came up with a training design she knew would work. But she was so scared that she called Sam on her way to the class. She feared she wouldn’t keep the students’ attention, they’d be bored, they wouldn’t listen, they wouldn’t …..  He responded “You’ve just got butterflies. You know you’re alive when you get butterflies.”  At that moment, she needed someone to believe in her more than she did, and it worked. She loved it, the students loved it, and she is one step towards becoming a famous trainer herself. And having the balanced life she wants, too.

How does June, with her growing business scope, find time to mentor the coaches so closely herself? Eleven years ago, her father retired from the seafood industry. Tina Preble thus lost her longtime job doing payroll, paying bills, and doing the human resources work. Tina says “June asked me what I was going to do, and hired me. Not in that role, though. I worked at the desk, greeting guests, taking telephone calls, payments. A lot of face-to-face contact was very different for me. All of the cultural differences were large. I had worked with all men. Now mostly I work with women. I wore jeans all the time, and now I had to dress up. At the seafood company, I didn’t see people. Now I saw them all the time. I was the face of the salon, instead of behind the scenes. I’ve worked hard, and now I feel good about all these changes. Acapello has made a difference in my whole life.” 

Over the years, Tina has taken on the human resources, payroll and bill paying for Acapello. June was performing all roles at the then sole shop. She was running the desk, doing hair, and all of the employee and administrative management. She wanted to grow the business, but couldn’t unless she freed herself up. Tina recalls “June was so used to doing everything herself. Then she said to me ‘I don’t know why I have you if I’m not going to use you.’ She oriented me towards procedures and expectations. We worked side-by-side for a long time. June would say ‘You can do this now.’ Over the course of a year, she said ‘I don’t need to do any of this anymore.’” June was able to come off the floor as Tina grew her expertise.

June took Tina to a lot of classes to learn the business. They often spent transportation time debriefing, as June helped Tina evaluate learning. They would pick something they particularly liked out of a class, and implement it at Acapello, sometimes together, sometimes separately.

June still mentors Tina, who continuously takes on increasing responsibility, but not side-by-side any more. Tina says “I still second-guess myself sometimes as I work with the very different personalities. I do scheduling, for example, and it can be frustrating for both the staff and me. I hear all of the issues from the coaches, the people on the floor, and June. June helps me stay calm and confident.

Not surprisingly, Tina mentors others, and uses her own example to help them deal with different personalities. She works with them to learn how to talk to each other and the guests. She coaches on communication and cheers success.

Tina is creative in providing hands-on learning opportunities. Tina says “I invite people to set their own goals, and find their own answers.” She is working with a couple of people who are learning how to do inventory, manage the desk, and assign non-guest tasks, such as cleaning. She and June both train and mentor them. They role play, with Tina and June taking the roles of guests and co-workers. The mentees practice their greetings, telephone interchanges, etc., six to ten times with Tina and June before they graduate to actual guests. Tina works side-by-side with them as they polish their skills.

Tina reflects, with a big smile, “June has made me what I am today. I couldn’t go to a different environment. I couldn’t work behind the scenes again. I love it here. We have fun and we make everyone happy.”

By definition there is no “cookie-cutter” approach to mentoring.  I’ve worked with and researched many different types and sizes of businesses that have evolved their mentoring processes according to the organization’s and learners’ needs.  Their mentoring content is significantly different from each other. I have discovered, though, that all of these businesses have fundamental components of mentoring in common.  These six steps must all be present to have a true workplace mentoring system. Clearly, June’s delegating and mentoring system encompasses each.

1.  Evaluate people’s strengths, needs and aspirations individually. 

We learn uniquely.  No two people bring exactly the same qualities to a job.  The development process is much more effective and efficient when it is shaped to the individual.

2.  Create opportunities to learn on the job.

We learn by doing.  Use the workplace as the classroom.   Learning is retained at a higher level when just-in-time and directly applied to the work.

3.  Define teaching and learning roles.

We learn with clear expectations.  Set clear goals and responsibilities for the mentoring process, including content and pace.  Review and revise continually to reflect progress.

4.  Give direct feedback.

We learn with encouragement.  Mentoring is a two-way process.  Both people need to exchange feedback, with emphasis on what is working well, openly and continuously to stay on track with each other and the learning goals. 

5.  Measure learning.

We learn when we build on success. Set incremental measurements, both formal and informal, to give the mentee and mentor frequent, meaningful marks of success.

6.  Reward the team effort.

We learn when we feel energized.  Imbed a culture of mentoring by recognizing mentee and mentor efforts and successes.  Make it rewarding and fun to teach and learn.

How can you start? Just the way June did. Select one person with high potential. Delegate work that will develop that potential into high performance. Mentor him or her, using the six steps of a workplace mentoring system. Watch the strengths multiply. Then ask that person to mentor someone else. Give yourself and the new mentor the training needed to mentor skillfully.  Watch your workplace mentoring system grow and strengthen, and with it, your business.

June is not under that palm tree yet, but is getting closer as she delegates to and mentors people like Jen and Tina, and teaches them to delegate and mentor, in turn. Perhaps you will be under the next tree, with your own delegating and mentoring system in place and paying off.

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