Friday, December 7, 2007

What professional support do junior advisors need to be effective?

Several junior advisors have organizational problems within their local organization from the start of their contract. Is the advice and coaching of a local senior the solution to these problems?

There are 4 options for junior advisors to receive professional support:
  1. Mentor- often another advisor who knows the country and culture of work. Can help the junior in personal and social issues. May also give advice when there are professional difficulties. Not a paid function.
  2. Supervisor - a person within the local organization who accompanies the junior in his/her work. Usually this a supervisor who holds regular work meetings with the junior and ideally also gives him/her feedback.
  3. Contactperson ('relatiebeheerder') - ICCO contact person who accompanies the junior in his/her work. Mainly monitoring of workplans and feedback on reports.
  4. There is an additional option to receive e-coaching from a PSO consultant paid from the training budget.

This is the theoretical support set for a junior advisor. In practice something is missing though. Even when all 4 categories of support are provided, at times, contracts end prematurely. Quite some juniors think about ending their contract prematurely. What's missing is a senior in the field of work of the junior with whom work experiences can be discussed and a learning process is catalyzed.

Some ideas:

The cases indicate the need for intensified face-to-face exchange between the senior and junior advisors. Once or twice a year, seniors and juniors can interact, listen to each other's stories and suggest intervention strategies for each other.

The term 'junior' may be problematic in combination with an advisory task. Juniors are not always taken serious in societies with higher power distances. That may delay the start of a productive advisory relation.

The need for a formal working relationship with someone who can provide technical support in capacity building, from outside the organization.

There needs to be a budget for capacity building efforts. When a budget is not secured, it is harder to take initiatives.

Juniors in consultancies companies in the Netherlands may also be "thrown into the deep". However, in the Netherlands you often have backup from your company or organisation, and start with few, small assignments. In the ICCO assignments you are on your own and assignments are long term and mostly complicated. Furthermore, there are the intercultural differences to cope with which needs new and innovative repertoires.

The intake by ICCO could be improved. The management of expectations of the junior is vital and starts by the definition of the placement and the job description. After the intake the placement should be monitored closely. ICCO should check whether a capacity builder is relevant and needed.

Did an evaluation take place? How satisfied are partner organizations with junior advisors? What went wel, what did not go well?

Be clear about the difference between coaching, supervision and peer learning systems. A good coach helps to distinguish in a question between different layers (technical, is the situation interpreted correctly, why this problem definition?). All the totally new experiences make the advisors fascinated, inspired, puzzled and frustrated. It will therefore be wonderful and useful to have a coach, simply to help understand what is happening. Without a coach it is logical that someone gets lost. The risk is running around in circles or not delivering quality work.

There are certain conditions to a successful coaching process, for instance there should not be a colleagial working relationship. It would hinder the necessary trust and independance.

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