KEVIN LOWE from Campbelltown City Council shares his experiences of mentoring staff and younger board members over the years, and offers some advice for successful staff development.
Whatever industry you are in, if you are in a role where you need to work with or lead staff or colleagues then you need to be a coach or a mentor and have the appropriate skills. These can be acquired through experience over time or through training, or a combination of both, but the crucial point is that, either way, you need to put yourself out there to obtain these skills and have a genuine interest in working with people and seeing them succeed.
When working in a service industry, as we do, your attitude to your work, your workmates, those to whom you report and those that report to you is key to your success and the success of the business you work for. Customers will always pick up on unhappy staff and workplaces.
In my current role as general manager urban planning and leisure services for Campbelltown Council in South Australia, I am responsible for business units covering planning/development/building approvals, economic development, regulation, environment, leisure facilities, master planning, major projects and libraries. Outside of this, I am the national president of both Parks and Leisure Australia, the industry association for the parks and leisure sector, and Environs Australia, the national association representing sustainability officers in local government.
Across these areas I work with, supervise, direct and take direction from all sorts of people from different disciplines and with different industry experience and qualifications. I don’t need to be a technical expert in all these areas, but I need to have strong skills in listening, speaking, problem solving, negotiating and facilitation to work with people with the technical knowledge and to help others succeed in achieving outcomes for the organisation I work for or the boards that I am on.
These skills have been developed over years of experience coupled with good training and professional development along the way through TAFE and university. Continual 360-degree reviews of my performance, where I am challenged and confronted about my performance and how I impact on a workplace, have also been of great use.
What continually comes to the surface is how your performance affects others and how you can support them in achieving their goals. You can only be responsible for your own attitude and performance, but by leading by example, being supportive and willing to listen, and coaching staff to come up with a solution using the various tools available to them, employees are empowered to achieve.
My experience has been that this leads to staff deriving greater satisfaction in their work or role and that this is, in turn, reflected in their attitude, leaving customers with positive perceptions and experiences, which is fundamental for success in service industries. This particularly relates to those that are leisure or retail focused, where customers are unlikely to come back after a bad experience.
I commenced my career as an apprentice in horticulture. I then moved in to supervisory roles in parks and recreation facilities management, where, at times, I was younger than those I was responsible for. To succeed in this or any environment, you need to gain the respect of the staff you work with. You can only earn this respect through being genuine, consistent, supportive and willing to use the skills and knowledge of your staff, no matter what their role or experience, and by empowering them to make decisions.
Having advanced to areas of sustainability management, staging major events and, finally, my current general management role, along with representing organisations on boards, I have found that these skills are still critical. They are probably more important now as I mentor new, young staff in the organisation or on boards as they grow their careers, and test and develop their skills. Being on boards is a great way for those starting their careers to gain wider experience outside of their day job.
CONSTANT REVIEW AND DISCUSSIONS
Support through mentoring and coaching should be extended to staff in new roles where some skill sets need developing. You need to seek out opportunities for them to develop these skills, such as participating in management challenges, taking them offline for a project or encouraging participation in project teams with other staff.
Development is also obtained through training, constant reviews and discussions. I encourage:
- regular contact – both formal and informal
- making use of 360-degree reviews
- having development plans linked to training in place that are regularly discussed, and
- general catch-ups over coffee where staff can get things off their chest and where you get to know your staff better and they get to know you better, thereby building relationships.
It is important to develop a roadmap with your staff to map out their development and to set milestones to check off on their progress over the year.
Remember, discussions are a two-way exchange and you need to participate and be open as well. You need to allow for your performance to be tested and challenged, and be willing to take on comments so you can improve. Often, although hard, tough conversations are the most worthwhile. If they are approached right, then respect and trust will be built, and you will be on your way to being a successful coach and mentor.
Kevin Lowe is the general manager of urban planning and leisure services at Campbelltown City Council.