Mentor Development: Mentor as a Mediator
Nobody likes to be stuck in the middle. Consult this case study to get some ideas for the role a mentor can play as a mediator.
Mentor as a Mediator – Case Overview
Having been a corporate executive for many years, Chuong is enjoying the challenge of mentoring his three Futurpreneur Canada entrepreneurs and their new restaurant business.
When he first met Tim, Gretchen and Russ, Chuong was surprised that they had gone into business together as they all had very different backgrounds and ways of working. He learned that they had all met in culinary school, each sharing an enthusiasm about starting a restaurant business. After a full year in operation, it’s now time to do the Annual Business Review.
It will be the first occasion in months that he has been in a mentoring meeting with all three owners. All the entrepreneurs respect the wealth of experience and knowledge he brings as a mentor, however lately he is beginning to be asked “what would you do” with growing frequency. Also, Chuong is somewhat apprehensive about the upcoming meeting because he feels like Russ is often trying to get him to ‘take sides’ in disputes with his co-owners over business issues.
Other situations that have occurred in recent months indicate serious issues in the business. Tim mentioned recently that Gretchen doesn’t ‘allow’ him to view the financials because he doesn’t understand them anyway. Russ seems to be working an extreme amount of hours at the restaurant and seems resentful of Tim’s new mountain biking hobby.
When Chuong suggested they use the Futurpreneur Canada Annual Business Review process, he was relieved that all three entrepreneurs readily agreed. He knows that this Annual Business Review meeting will bring out the emerging differences in how each entrepreneur sees the business developing in the future and there is likely to be heated debate. Chuong wants to be prepared and is not sure how he can support the entrepreneurs and the business during this process.
Thinking back to the mentoring meetings during the past year, Chuong doesn’t recall the old business plan being discussed on any regular basis. Perhaps he can help Tim, Gretchen and Russ to be more focused on using the plan as a management tool next year.
- Why is the Annual Business Review an important tool for entrepreneurs? How can the mentor prepare for and support the discussion?
- How does mentoring multiple business owners change the nature of the mentoring relationship?
- How would you advise Chuong respond to the question of “what would you do” in the future?
- What role does the mentor play during disagreements between business owners?
Mentor as a Mediator – Best Practice Solutions
Best Practice Solutions:
- An annual review is an important planning and review tool for business owners. It enables the entrepreneurs to reflect on progress made and celebrate successes before reviewing the opportunities and challenges facing the business in the future and creating a plan that details the priorities for the business.Chuong can prepare for this discussion by ensuring the entrepreneurs first understand the end-to-end review process that includes individual reflection and preparation prior to the group discussion. The Futurpreneur Canada Business Review template could be used for this purpose. Finally, the mentor should also complete the individual reflection and prepare some questions that can create dialogue and ensure that the entrepreneurs consider all their options before making a decision.
- Mentoring multiple business owners requires Chuong to understand the needs of the business and the styles and preferences of all the owners. In this way, Chuong can assist with the personal development of each entrepreneur separately however, in a way that contributes to the business overall. Chuong must understand the decision-making approach that the entrepreneurs share and should attempt to have all owners in each mentoring meeting. A group discussion of each individual’s “Futurpreneur Canada Communications Profile” results may assist each person to better relate to the others.
- Chuong may want to express his discomfort if asked the question again and revisit the role of the mentor and entrepreneur (perhaps by referring to the Mentoring Agreement which confirms the entrepreneur makes the business decisions). Chuong can confirm he wants to support the decision-making process but request the entrepreneurs ask questions that are focused on the issues they are concerned about rather than the open “what would you do” question.
- During disagreements between business owners, Chuong must be cautious to not appear to be taking ‘sides’ which would jeopardize the trust he has developed. Chuong could instead focus on helping the entrepreneurs to communicate with each other through mediation. This could mean ensuring the participation in the conversation is balanced, that everyone’s opinion is heard by the others, and that the owners find a way to deal with disputes that is respectful and focuses on the needs of the business.This situation may warrant Chuong initiating a candid discussion about the future of the partnership. Asking the question, “Do you see yourself working as a team in the future?” may encourage the entrepreneurs to express the underlying concerns that are causing the adverse behaviours and articulate their expectations of each other in the future. Mentors are not simply sources of ideas but must also raise and discuss issues that are impacting the business. The entrepreneurs must then want to solve the issue and occasionally be prepared to compromise with business partners.
Mentor as a Mediator – Key Learning Points
Key Learning Points:
- Ensure a balanced approach to Business Reviews. Encourage the entrepreneurs to begin the Business Review by reflecting on the accomplishments of the business and celebrating successes first. This will provide important context before completing a scan of the environment and agreeing what the priorities of the business will be in the upcoming year. Invite the entrepreneurs to complete the Mentor Assessment process as part of the Annual Business Review to ensure that you can adapt your mentoring approach as the needs of the business and entrepreneurs change.
- Ask challenging questions. As the Business Review occurs after nearly a full year of mentoring, the mentor should feel entitled to ask ‘tough’ questions. In the example above, the mentor may want to ask the entrepreneurs if they feel the shared ownership is meeting the needs of all three entrepreneurs. This will create dialogue that may surface and resolve latent issues or encourage the entrepreneurs to better articulate what they want and expect from each other as business partners.
- Be true to the role of a mentor.A Business Review discussion between multiple owners presents a great challenge to a mentor. Remember to focus on the role of the mentor:
- Don’t take sides – stay neutral and calm even during conflict,
- Ensure the entrepreneurs make business decisions,
- Ask questions that create dialogue and encourage participation, and
- Provide structure for discussions during conflict.
- Provide focus on monitoring and measuring progress to the Annual Plan. At the conclusion of the Business Review, the mentor can add additional value by challenging the entrepreneurs to define how they will monitor and measure progress to the plan. This provides a platform for the mentor to coach to during the upcoming months.