Owner of 12 businesses’ tips on innovative ways to mentor staff

Nick Bell, a serial entrepreneur, five-time AFR Young Rich Lister, and owner of 12 global digital agencies

Training and upskilling staff has always been important to an organisation’s growth and an individual’s career progression, but more so now as businesses fight to remain open, bottom lines are suffering, more skills are needed, and top talent is at a shortage.

In fact, research reveals 87% of jobs now require digital skills and 156,000 new tech workers are needed to keep up. However, time-poor business leaders and employees alike often struggle to find time, and may see training as a burden over a benefit.

Now, an owner of 12 global digital companies with more than 1000 employees shares his tips for other business owners, leaders and managers on how they can train and mentor teams without spending hours, sitting down one-on-one, or it being tedious for both parties.

Nick Bell is a serial entrepreneur, five-time AFR Young Rich Lister, and owner of 12 global digital agencies, including Lisnic, First Page, Appscore and Removify.

“As a business owner, you’re often torn in different directions and there’s always a crucial task or deadline that needs your attention, but it’s important to also prioritise training your team.”

“I’ve learned over the years that being hands-off doesn’t work – you need to be actively involved. I know many companies still give employees formal training – often when they start or an annual day of learning – but the results aren’t always as effective as they might hope.”

“Regular shorter sessions over blocks of hours can be more valuable, in addition to a mix of formal and informal training with a range of team members across different levels of seniority. Remember, everyone has a different style of learning.”

Nick Bell’s tips on mentoring employees

An open plan office or sitting within ear’s reach of staff 

While many businesses now operate in an open plan layout, positioning the boss or managers within the centre of a room is valuable to both team members and leaders.

“I work in an open plan office right next to some of my team so they can overhear my calls and see what I’m doing during the day. From this they can learn tips on how to talk to potential leads, how to resolve issues, and how to structure your day,” says Nick Bell.

“I can also overhear conversations and give them tips as they go.”

Schedule daily check-ins over weekly catch-ups

Nick is a strong believer of troubleshooting issues as they arise, rather than waiting until the end of the week or a set allocated time.

Not only will employees benefit from having a sounding board as needed but it ensures they aren’t wasting time on a challenge that could have been solved quickly.

Nick does short 15-minute huddles with his senior management teams daily, which they then do with their own departments.

Peer-led training for an active learning culture

Everyone has an area in which they are knowledgeable on, regardless of their job title or experience. Leveraging this not only reduces time required by managers but it also fosters a better company culture of learning and shows trust and value in employees.

With 12 global agencies and 1000-plus employees to learn from, Nick organises peer-led Zoom training and collaboration on a weekly basis for his staff.

He had employees learn in overseas offices, prior to the pandemic. Nick has set up a buddy system for starter’s first month, so new employees can be shown the ropes by existing staff.

Give employees access to external mentors

It’s important for staff to be trained from those within the business. Learning from external experts offers a new perspective to help an individual’s personal or career development.

Whether it be a business perk or incentive when meeting a KPI, consider rewarding employees with access to external leaders such as business coaches.

Through mentoring platforms such as Lisnic, employees access some of the brightest and well-known stars of business, entrepreneurship, academia, and sport.

Have employees set their own KPIs 

Traditionally, organisations set employee KPIs, which they would then be required to achieve.

However, having employees set their own goals with managers and present their achievements, holds them more accountable for their performance, leads to an increased willingness to meet their own goals (rather than those set for them), and also gives time back to managers.

Provide ongoing access to online learning platforms 

With so many educational platforms now available at your fingertips, businesses can upskill employees by providing access to learning platforms relevant to their industry.

For instance, Nick gives new starters – and existing employees – access to Google training and Hubspot Academy two weeks prior to them starting. “There is no obligation for them to use these platforms, but it gives them the choice for self-learning and upskilling as needed.”