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Mentoring Remotely

by Jeff Gau on May 10, 2012

It’s no secret that I place a lot of value on mentoring as part of the leadership equation. So, when I received this question, I was compelled to respond. Dave asks:

“Mentoring is a personal one-on-one interaction. How would you recommend connecting and interacting with a mentor in a remote office location?”

You’re right, Dave; mentoring is a one-on-one interaction. It’s got to be personal. While it’s certainly easier to mentor someone when they work in the same office building, that’s not always possible as we expand our geography. This has created a challenge for our company to learn how to effectively mentor our remote team members; however, it does not mean that because you work in a branch office, you won’t get the coaching you deserve.

Although the tools and tactics may differ in mentoring remotely, the same principles apply. Here are a few steps I take to more effectively mentor from a distance:

· Leverage technology that increases engagement.
While I agree that face-to-face communication is the best method, new video conferencing technology gets you 80 percent there. It gives you some face time, allows you to see body language and makes you feel like you‘re almost in the same room. Connecting employees between our multiple locations is the primary reason why Marco has made a significant investment in Telepresence video conferencing this past year. (And, the ROI on this investment has been significant).

· Find extra eyes and ears.
When mentoring remotely, I find myself relying on a circle of people who can help keep me in the loop about the individuals that I am mentoring. They let me know when the person is working extra hard, facing business challenges, or sometimes even situations of a personal nature. They can be your eyes and ears to help keep you connected. 

· Keep notes on each visit.
I often jot down some points we covered during our routine meetings and highlight any action items to focus on before the next meeting. This allows me to quickly remember our previous sessions and pick up where we left off. It also shows the person you are mentoring that you are listening and you care.

· Send notes between visits.
When mentoring remotely, leaders need to be intentionally more consistent with their contacts. Sending a note, email or even a text message between your regularly scheduled meetings can go a long way in building a mentoring relationship. For example, I like to send links to relevant articles I think they may have an interest in. I also keep a stack of thank you notes and cards in my desk to send out when appropriate.

· Use social media.
We tend to mentor people we like so often those business relationships turn into friendships. Tools like Facebook and LinkedIn help me stay connected with the people I mentor. I learn about what’s happening in their lives and have an opportunity to make a comment on their wall, in an email or the next time I see them. When done correctly, social media can be an excellent tool for personalizing your business relationships.

· Cultivate a mentoring team.
You do not need to go this alone. After assessing the needs of the person I am mentoring, I intentionally seek out other team members to assist in coaching the individual. Often times that can mean having co-workers that are experts in their field connect with the individual to help them gain a better understanding of areas such as finance, technology, or client care. Providing the person with a well-rounded business experience certainly helps prepare them for future promotions.

· Participate in face-to-face opportunities.
Whether it’s a personal event, community fundraiser or client visit, I make it a point to travel to our other markets to personally spend time with those I’m mentoring. Although that requires some significant windshield time, I know they appreciate it and it has been proven to be a productive use of my time. This can take on an element of fun as it mixes a little bit of business with pleasure.

While mentoring remotely is a little more complicated; when done correctly, it can be leveraged as a best practice for employee development and retention.  Just the other day, I had a team member at a branch office make a point to tell me: “You know I’d never think about leaving without talking to you first.” That first rite of refusal is priceless.

Practicing intentional, consistent and personalized communication while engaging others to help in the coaching process are key to building strong relationships with the people you mentor – no matter where they’re located. 

Topics: Mentoring

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