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People Trends – Reverse to Go Forward

Posted on September 17, 2012

Much has been written about Generation Y’s adoption of new technology, attitudes to work and how organisations can attract and retain this generation. But how can organisations optimise the knowledge these open-minded, tech-savvy new recruits offer?

Another question: are senior executives willing to learn from younger and less ‘experienced’ employees? Flipping the idea of traditional mentoring, ‘reverse mentoring’ places the junior person as the mentor to the senior executive.

The old mentoring paradigm says the mentor guides the mentee, which can be draining on the mentor if it is a one-way information dump. While reverse mentoring implies that the older, more experienced person in the partnership is the mentoring recipient, the truth is that both parties benefit greatly, as long as there is a genuine willingness to listen and learn.

Benefits of mentoring in reverse

Reverse mentoring has many benefits, including:

  • engaging staff and bringing different employee generations together;
  • bridging the knowledge gap – younger employees are shown business practices while older employees are exposed to new technology and social media; and
  • identifying emerging leaders and empowering existing leaders.

The key to reverse mentoring’s success is the ability to create and maintain an attitude of openness to the experience while dissolving status, power and position barriers. ‘TEC-CO’ must be established:

  • Trust – an understanding that open dialogue might extend comfort zones
  • Expectations – must be clearly defined
  • Commitment – both parties need to commit to listening and learning
  • Communication – must be transparent and able to overcome differences in styles
  • Outcomes – an agreement to implement agreed outcomes in a timely manner

Knowledge flows in a two-way street

Reverse – or, in truth, reciprocal – mentoring should be an integral part of your company’s learning and development programs.

It can be as simple as matching compatible employees and enabling them to meet during lunch to discuss topics in which they’re interested. Or it could be a more formal, Human Resources-directed program.

The important aspect is to facilitate a two-way dialogue between newcomers and experienced personnel to encourage sharing of useful skills and knowledge.

Internal social media experts

Social media is here to stay. However, Australian pharmaceutical, medical and life science companies are still unsure how to best use this new form of communication, while remaining within ethical and code guidelines.

Rather than hire a social media expert, the Managing Director of an Australian life science company recently used reverse mentoring. Here, the MD tapped into a Gen Y staff member’s knowledge to gain an understanding of how this media is changing, what people are interested in, and how the company could benefit.

All it took was the organisation’s senior leader’s willingness to see things from a different viewpoint. Communication style differences were overcome and the MD dedicated time to learning from someone with whom they wouldn’t normally interact on a regular basis.

Reverse mentoring is not new, but it could be a new way for you to optimise the performance of your people and your company.