Throughout my career I have benefited from outstanding mentors and coaches. I was brought up in rural New Zealand on a dairy farm, one of seven children. In our home, the focus was on hard work and not academia.
As education was not a primary focus, there was no desire for me to attend university and I just wanted to escape school as soon as I could. I knew I could work hard from spending days on the farm helping make hay and milk cows, and so naturally when I started working it was in low skilled roles that required hard work but little thinking.
Reading books became the catalyst for a fundamental shift in my career. Growing up I had observed that my Dad was always reading books. He left school at 14 and started working on dairy farms, purchasing his first farm when he was 21 years old. I think he filled his lack of formal education by reading books, and so in his steps, I followed, even though reading wasn’t something that came naturally to me – I did not learn to read properly until I was thirteen.
At eighteen years of age, the father of my first serious girlfriend became my mentor (crazy, I know). He would show me how he had achieved his success in life and point out where I needed to change to improve my chances of success. This started a pattern of books and people mentoring me through my life.
In 2003 I was introduced to Microsoft CRM and from there began a career with this technology. I started my own company dedicated to Dynamics in New Zealand, and some years later moved to Australia to continue my career there with a Microsoft Partner who also focused on Dynamics.
It was in this more substantial company that I started to find more mentors to teach me. It was also here that I started to look for ways to mentor many of my team on how to chart their career paths, also formalizing a mentoring program for staff in the business applications practice.
Coaching & Mentoring
Fast forward to 2018 and I was at home in London, I know it was a Thursday, I decided to act. For the past year, I had been doing formal training on career coaching and talking to various people in the industry who were mentoring people. My observation was that mentoring is often not a formal practice, but ad hoc one.
I have always believed that systems are the best way to create repeatable outcomes. If I asked you if you could make a better burger than McDonald’s, you would most likely say yes. But could you create a better system to create them at scale all over the world? Maybe not.
First, I wanted to get clear in my mind the difference between mentoring and coaching. This led me to the following definitions.
For me mentoring is FREE. I do it at no cost, as inclusion is one of the values I hold. I offer to mentor people globally with my 90-Day Mentoring Challenge program.
I want to make sure that there is a way for anyone, no matter their education or background, to access guidance on how to chart their career in Microsoft Business Applications.
For me, mentoring is me showing what works based on my learning and experience and creating a model for others to follow.
As I have hired and led many consultants and had visibility across projects, customers and outcomes, I have found that there are many paths that someone can choose from.
My role is to layout those paths so that the individual can make informed choices.
For me to do this at the scale, I run the 90-Day Mentoring Challenge via webcam so that I can have the best communication connection possible without sitting in the same room.
In mentoring, I do most of the talking with the ratio of about 90/10 between me talking and the mentee talking. This is a major differentiator between mentoring and coaching.
I also balance this by setting many assignments for my mentees to complete, so they enhance their learning by doing. Mentoring seeks to pass on personal experience and make suggestions as to what might work for the mentee.
This is more directive than coaching and is not solely focused on the mentee accessing their resources and path. It’s more of this is what worked for me and if you want to be like me do this…
At the start of 2018, I started coaching. For me, coaching is a paid activity. When working with a client my goal is to ask questions and lead the client to the discovery of their own answers. As part of that process, there is no dependency on me as the coach – it’s more about helping the client grow to the point that they no longer need me. The communication is more 50/50.
The International Coaching Federation defines Coaching as:
“Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
The Association for Coaching puts in this way:
“A collaborative solution-focused, results-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and personal growth of the coachee.”
Or the one I like from Joseph O’Connor – a coach that said:
“like a magician, who takes the cards you have and helps you play your hand better”.
Coaching provides support, tools & strategies, and a sounding-board. Coaching is not: Therapy, Counselling, Consultancy or Mentoring.
90-Day Mentoring Challenge
Many of the people that come on the program have no idea of the options available to them for their career in Microsoft Business Applications.
They tell me that they have received mentoring from their employer but over time they have realized that the mentoring was more in the best interest of the employer rather than the employee.
I was told that it is hard to find guidance without the other party having an agenda. Note, they do not mean anything sinister, but when the mentoring is part of a formal company program.
I have found that the structure of the program is fundamental. Many do not know what they do not know.
Had feedback saying that they thought that one of the Cohorts would not be much value to them based on the title, but after completing they realized it gave them some of the best takeaways from the mentoring program.
Assignments after every Cohort has also added massive value based on feedback.
Engagement with the others on the program has allowed mentees to connect with like-minded people from all over the world and the killer ingredient for participation has been video.
All assignments are reported back on by the mentee using their phone camera or webcam to talk through their learning and areas they are acting on.
In 2018 I accepted 30 people into the 90-Day Mentoring Challenge, and in 2019, I increased this to 60. It has been an enriching process for me, personally. Below is what some of the mentees have said.
“This challenge is a MUST if you are serious about your BizApps career. A lot of experience and knowledge was transferred, which we would normally not have learned if we followed the traditional learning route. But the real eye-opener was the fact that Mark did not attend a university, but was still able to climb the ladder of success, through hard work and dedication. If he can do it, I can do it as well. Thanks, Mark, for this amazing experience.” – Clifton Lenne, Belgium
“Mark is a master at condensing massive amounts of his hard-earned knowledge and experience into bite-sized chunks. Even for someone who’s been involved in our industry for many years, the content was really thought-provoking. – Daniel Hesketh, Australia
“The training was a blast! I’m new to the Microsoft industry, and this provided me with a lot of insight into the working of Microsoft, the vast amount of products offered (of which I struggled with what to start learning first!) and provided me with a path to grow my career and myself. – Joe Unwin, Canada
“When I saw Mark was offering the 90 Day Mentoring Challenge, I jumped at the chance. Mark has given so much insightful, useful and actionable information and advice throughout the challenge. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to learn from his years of experience, and from fellow attendees within the challenge. I wouldn’t hesitate this to anyone regardless of where they are in their career, but especially for those working on what their next challenge should be.” – Megan Walker, United Kingdom
As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you have any questions or feedback on this post.