Generational differences have transformed the concept of workplace management. Ground rules that once seemed obvious and implied to many of today's managers have been flipped upside down. And, often, there seems to be no common ground to be found among a workforce that now spans across four generations. There is much to understand about each of the generations' perspectives, values, and priorities, and the differences among them. Armed with an improved knowledge of the motivators and disincentives that drive its employees, an organization is more likely to develop the recruitment and retention strategies that others only dream about. This post is not about any of that.
This post does not discuss the differences between the Baby Boomers and Matures as compared to Gen X and Millennials. But not because there is no value in that knowledge--there undoubtedly is. If you understand the "why," it is infinitely easier to understand the "how," (as in how to respond/react/prevent, etc.) Putting aside the value in being well versed in these sociological and psychological concepts, there is a way to press "fast forward" and jump straight to the playbook. In other words, there are a number of programs and policies that employers can implement that will silently effectuate improved relationships between generations--without the employer even having known about it in the first place. Although there are several such programs that come to mind, I will limit this post to just one--reverse mentoring.
What Is Reverse Mentoring?
Reverse mentoring is a type of workplace-mentor relationship. The mentor in a reverse-mentor relationship is younger than his or her mentee with substantially less seniority in the organization. Conversely, the mentee is the older of the two and is well-established in his or her position within the company. Reverse mentoring works in all industries but may demonstrate the most effective results in professional fields where technology is an integral part of the work environment but is not the central focus of the work. This environment is conducive to knowledge sharing between mentor and mentee using the mentor's deeply engrained familiarity and comfort with basic computer skills. Of course, many would agree that there is no industry in which the new would not have something to teach the not-so new.
What Is the Subject of the Mentoring Relationship?
Reverse mentoring works in all industries but may demonstrate the most effective results in professional fields where technology is an integral part of the work environment but is not the central focus of the work. This environment is conducive to knowledge sharing between mentor and mentee using the mentor's deeply engrained familiarity and comfort with basic computer skills. Of course, many would agree that there is no industry in which the new would not have something to teach the not-so new.
So, exactly what the topic is for the mentoring relationship will depend, in large part, on what it is that the mentor is knowledgeable about but the mentee is not. As long as those two requirements are satisfied, the topics are unlimited. Most commonly, the mentor offers to share his or her technological know-how and the mentee returns the favor by sharing broader-picture lessons that can be formulated only after a full career of participating and observing one's self and others in the workplace.
What Does Reverse Mentoring Involve?
As with any mentor program, there are no clearly defined requirements for an effective relationship. But there are guidelines that should be followed in order to receive the best results. First, there must be a clear set of objectives and they must be communicated to and understood by both persons. They can define the objectives themselves--no corporate branding required--but they must both come to the relationship with a defined target and set of goals.
Also, as in any relationship, both inside and outside the work environment, time matters. There must be a mutually acceptable time commitment to both parties if the relationship can be expected to produce real results. And the more time, the better. Up to once weekly or as little as once every quarter can be effective. The key, though, is to set expectations in advance and to meet them every time.
Why Is Reverse Monitoring Effective?
Reverse mentoring is a "win-win" relationship. The mentee gets to learn skills or obtains access to information that otherwise would be unavailable or unattainable. The learning environment is non-threatening, which means that it is much more likely to stick. The mentor has no incentive to make the experience a hostile or showmanship-like event. Not only does the student rank substantially higher than the teacher in the organization, but the student gets direct fulfillment from the relationship, as well.
The mentee is given a direct line to someone who is willing to share valuable insight, which Generations X and Y deeply value. The mentee is also given an opportunity to demonstrate his or her particular skill set, which, especially for the most junior employee, doesn't happen very often--usually because the skill set hasn't yet developed. Once the bond has been forged, both parties are more likely to an active interest in the success of the other.
For additional information on employee engagement through peer-to-peer training, see these prior posts:
As Further Proof that Training Is Key to Employee Engagement . . .
Why Top Performers Are So Hard To Please
The Connection Between Training and Employee Retention, According to Gen Y