By Thomas Giles, founder and director at TG Consultancy
There’s an age-old acceptance that the longer you work in a specific industry or job role, the more you learn. As such, the traditional, linear career path dictates that as you rise through the ranks you take on more responsibility, training younger colleagues and passing on your experience. Managers mentor their more junior team members and teach them the ropes, then rinse and repeat.
As a passionate advocate of lifelong learning and an ambassador for the importance of staying on top of the latest best practice developments, I’m always looking at the best ways for team members of all levels to grow and learn. And what is becoming increasingly clear in the modern workplace is that top-down learning is not always the best means of achieving this.
Instead, increasing numbers of businesses are embracing the benefits of reverse mentoring – a system which enables more experienced staff to learn from their junior colleagues and apply new ways of thinking to their organisation. Through this system, millennial and Gen-Z employees can bring a real range of skills to the table which can help their more senior colleagues to grow and develop.
Reverse mentoring eschews the traditional premise that a mentor should be a more senior colleague taking a junior recruit under their wing. Instead, the mentoring relationship should be all about fostering a professional relationship in which skills and knowledge are shared, enabling both parties to think differently and develop their careers further.
The most rewarding reverse mentoring schemes encourage both parties to listen and understand the point of views of a colleague who is at a different part of the journey through their career and life and so holds a different perspective on the challenges set out ahead of them. Sharing thoughts and perspectives can help to create new ideas on how the business can adapt, change and thrive.
As digital natives, millennial and Gen Z employees most certainly know how to take and edit the perfect selfie for Instagram. While this might not be the most relevant skill for business, the fact that they are self-taught technology-trend experts means that many have transferrable skills which can give them the experience necessary to inform thinking on best practice and help businesses to realise the full value of software packages such as Hootsuite, Mailchimp and WordPress.
What’s more, the environment in which young people have grown up means that Gen Z and millennial employees are experts in data protection and privacy. They are clued up on how to maximise safety online with simple tips such as varying passwords and maximising the use of spam filters when using email communication.
But how can you implement a reverse mentoring scheme within your business and ensure skills are transferred to maximise the chance of success?
The process does not have to be difficult or take up lots of valuable business time – however, a few simple steps can help to ensure the scheme delivers benefits for your business.
To start with, ensure you set some clear objectives against which you can assess the progress of the scheme. This could be linked to anything from improving diversity and inclusion to boosting your training and development services and improving company culture. Aim to ensure these objectives are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) to enable the assessment of progress as the program develops.
Carefully consider how you’ll pair people together
The success of a reverse mentoring scheme is often highly dependent on the personalities you pair together when designing partnerships. Ensure that both individuals have complementary skillsets so they can learn from each other, and that both parties are fully invested in the programme with the required time to commit to ensure it is a success.
Set guidance on what you expect
It is vital to have parameters and guidelines on the input and outputs you expect from any reverse mentoring pairing. What are the key topics that should be covered and how often should they meet? What do you expect to see on the back of each session? Asking these questions should help to ensure everyone is onboard and pushing in the same direction when the partnerships are established.
Once a reverse mentoring programme is in place, ensure that senior individuals embrace feedback and encourage junior members taking part in the programme to do the same. This creates strong business relationships which enable both individuals to thrive.
With your SMART objectives set, it is important that you track progress. Speak to participants to learn how they are getting on and take learnings so that you can continue to improve the scheme for future participants.