What is an Advocate? What is the difference between an Advocate a Mentor or an Advisor?
We have all too often seen “mentoring” programs as ill conceived, ineffective, underutilized and in many cases counterproductive in terms of overall parent business or program goals and objectives. Many who claim to be mentors or provide “mentoring services” are not “qualified” to do so and as always it is the responsibility of the business owner to identify, qualify, direct and monitor all suppliers of goods and services. This process of “vetting” (often defined as …”a thorough and diligent review of a prospective person or project prior to a hiring or investment decision) is a critical component of this selection process and should be a standard in many business development and operational applications.
In the process of seeking support resources for our initiative let us get right to the question “Where do I start?”
Let us start this discussion with some definitions that we will use throughout our process. There will be others who might have different definitions but for the need of consistency, we will retain these definitions our start with structure and then add other inputs and considerations. The intent of these definitions is to create a clearer understanding of needs, expectations and sources for the business understanding that it is all about what you need rather than what they offer!
We should think of “support” in terms similar to “management” structure. Throughout an organization, there is a hierarchy of seniority, roles, responsibilities and expectations along with risk and liabilities at each level. There may, for example be a “Lead” on a production floor who reports to a “Supervisor” and we would expect a “chain of command” to continue the higher level of “Manager”, “Director”, “Vice President” and “President & CEO”. Each has a specific area of responsibility within the organization and there should be transparency as to all aspects of their position – a job description. We identify the key roles to provide level support to these organizational positions in our Advocate/Mentor/Coach/Advisor (AMCA) structure where we make the following distinctions:
- Advocate – The Advocate is the highest-level resource and provides overall strategic and operational inputs to the President & CEO. The role of the Advocate is to collaborate with the President and CEO on overall Business Goals and Objectives and to assure that all other support services are in alignment with them. The Advocate is typically experienced in Business Development and Executive Management.
- Mentor – The Mentor provides similar services but at a “departmental” level. While the department would have relative strategic and operational requirements, Department Goals and Objectives as well as performance must be contributing to overall Business Goals and Objectives. The Mentor is typically experienced in a specific discipline (Sales, Marketing, Finance …) and Senior Departmental Management.
- Coach – The phrase we often associate with a Coach is “… practice, practice, practice …” and we see the coach as providing very specific instruction and guidance on a clearly identified component of the business operations. This might be in areas including production process or sales training but might also be broadened to areas of SEO process or e-commerce where a unique set of objectives and requirements require very selective competencies and experience. The Coach is often experienced as a Departmental Manager or might have specific education, certification or licensing in a specific discipline (CPA, APICS, Six Sigma …) and may be restricted by other factors, such as geographical location (for example, not all licenses are accepted in all states).
- Advisor – Too many operations seek Advisor inputs but unwisely consider them as coming from a Mentor or Advocate. While we strongly encourage business people to seek inputs from all sources, Advisor question and answer sessions are typically more generic in nature. Answers to questions are valuable but we must consider that these are often out of context relating to a broader need for inputs. We also must consider that advice is often sought from or given by providers who have their own proprietary perspective as well as goals and objectives. They may have extensive knowledge of their products or services but limited exposure to other sources or resources that might be considered competitive – and even if they do have the expanded view, they may not disclose it! We take inputs from Advisors as answers and opinions, treating the inputs appropriately. Advisors come from all walks of life and often provide valuable inputs but we suggest the general utilization under the doctrine of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).
Please note that many highly competent and respected professionals have titles that include some direct or indirect Mentor, Consult, Advisor or other “label”. We look at the suppliers of all goods and services in the context of our definitions not our or their “labeling”.
There are of course other sources of inputs, formal and informal that we all should be investigating. I all cases there should be the process of understanding what our want/need is, the input sources available, the vetting process and the transformation of the inputs into information that we will implement into our businesses and processes.
Our programs and services revolve around Advocacy concepts and methods but where our competencies are in alignment, we do engage in other contribution areas. Of course, we work closely with the Mentors, Coaches, Advisors and other input sources whenever appropriate and authorized to do so at a level where the overall entity goals and objectives are understood and integrated into the entire process. This Advocacy level focuses on successful implementation and execution of business goals and objectives and addresses critical collaboration factors including:
- Effective implementation and execution of tools, programs and services.
- Validation and verification of business objectives.
- Collaboration with service suppliers and program developers. No program is perfect and the business environment is constantly changing. Improvements or enhancements are necessary to maintain the edge in successful outcomes – not to mention competitive challenges.
- Oversight of member “suppliers” in terms of alignment with program goals, objectives, values and methods.
- Driving the programs to an identified “successful” conclusion. “Success” may be defined in a range from “fail early” to a second level in the overall program. By this, we mean to include options such as incubator participation, the completion of a successful funding initiative or the transition from “launch” to sustainability in a different program. In any event, the readiness of program graduates to the next identified step in their development process.