They make bookstore shelves sag and they all promise to make your organization more competitive, your employees more productive (and satisfied) and your bottom line sweeter. But when the economy’s booming, employees are hard to find, and work-life balance means a scheduled family lunch in the middle of the 60-hour work week (did we mention employees were hard to find?), who has time to pay attention to management trends?
Here’s a cheat sheet for Alberta entrepreneurs: the five critical management ideas you should be paying attention to no matter how hot it gets in the trenches, plus a few brain teasers to help you get to the next level. The common thread that binds them together is simple: to succeed in today’s business environment, your business and its people have to be flexible and adaptive. Being rigid went out with the corset and the boiled shirt. But you already knew that.
Peer mentoring programs link entrepreneurs and managers with colleagues at similar levels of experience (and thus similar challenges) and help them learn from each other’s experience. Often deployed in large organizations as a tool to connect people and share information across departments, peer mentoring groups are becoming increasingly popular among small business.
The Business Group’s Bonnie Elliott facilitates several of these groups for Alberta entrepreneurs. Each group consists of five to six entrepreneurs, each from a different industry, to ensure members see themselves as colleagues, not competitors. This diversity of industry also encourages out-of-the-box thinking and cross-pollination of ideas. Group members meet once a month to discuss their business challenges under “action-learning” ground rules that ensure groups provide constructive feedback to specific problems and, most significantly, that members actually take steps to implement solutions.
“The process makes people accountable for their actions,” explains Elliott. “A member clearly identifies the situation facing him or her, the group comes up with ideas to address it, the member decides what to do, and the next month, reports what they have tried, what has worked, what they haven’t tried and why. It’s an ongoing, collaborative process.”
Lesley Colburn-Swartz, sole proprietor of Professional Plant Care, has been participating in peer mentoring for six years. She uses her group to test-drive her marketing ideas. “It’s such a valuable tool,” she says. “It gives you a shot in the arm every month…. You need information and guidance at every stage of your business, and even when things are going well, you run the risk of becoming complacent and getting stagnant.” A structured and effective peer mentorship program, she says, imposes a discipline on the small business owner “to deal with the issues” instead of just talking about them.
Peer Mentoring resources:
Browse through the Peer Resources Document Archive at www.peer.ca/docs or check out www.mentors.ca/mentorprograms.html for the variety of peer mentoring programs out there. Harder to find (amazon.com, not .ca, is your best bet) but particularly worthwhile for professionals seeking informal peer mentoring within larger organizations is Eric De Haas’ Learning with Colleagues: An Action Guide for Peer Consultation (VHPS Palgrave, 2005).