Imagine a young professional named Zach. He’s 27 years old and looking for some perspective on his professional opportunities. When asked about his last job, he said he’d just quit his third job since graduating from college. He was dissatisfied with the companies that employed him and wanted something more compelling as a career. His résumé suggested he had a great deal of untapped potential and lots of promise. It was unfortunate there was no connection with the management in those three former organizations.
Probing revealed the exact nature of the employment “disconnect.” Zach’s life — and the one he envisioned building — was fundamentally different than the jobs he encountered. His entire world up to that point could be described by the characteristics that make up social media today: brief bursts; interactive, to the point, exploratory and relational. The development and onboarding he received as he launched his career was anything but that. Consequently, Zach continued his employment search.
Zach’s experience is a picture of what happens too often in corporate America when onboarding young team members into the workplace — learning and development efforts appear antiquated.
Emerging generations of employees interface less like one does with television and more like one does on Twitter. They want shorter bursts of content that invite interaction and are full of images. Further, it’s a two-way, not one-way, interaction.
Nearly 2.8 million employees had voluntarily quit their jobs in January, and that was up 17 percent from the year before, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Where are they going? Are they all starting their own companies? But when they do, they often enter their careers unprepared.
According to research from Millennial Branding and Beyond.com, millennials often arrive at job interviews with little information about the company, and recent grads are the least prepared. More than 73 percent of hiring managers said schools are “only somewhat preparing” students for jobs and interviews, and 4 in 10 said students simply arrive on the job unprepared.
Further analysis of surveys, taken between 2012 and 2014, report that 50 to 78 percent of employers who had job openings did not hire recent graduates because they weren’t prepared for the position. In short, the jobs were ready and the graduates weren’t.
The challenge is twofold. Managers need the talent young workers have to offer. And young team members need the job experience companies have to offer. Acquiring and retaining talent among this emerging generation will require that organizations drive forward in reverse.
It Goes Both Ways
Jack Welch, then-CEO of General Electric Co., made reverse mentoring popular some years ago. In an effort to equip managers in technology and current workplace trends, he created a win-win situation by pairing executives with younger employees in a two-way developmental relationship. The trend has since taken off in many industries, such as tech and advertising.
This keeps managers savvy with current trends, but there’s an unexpected benefit via increased retention of new talent. The elder managers share their experience on how to thrive at the company, and the recent college graduates share their completely different experience, perhaps introducing new forms of social media and digital workplace connections.
Employing this developmental method is akin to joining the old TGIF Generation — Thank God It’s Friday — with the new TGIF Generation — Texting, Google, Instagram, Facebook. This kind of change creates a different but accurate picture for modernrelationships at work:
- All employees are all lifelong learners.
- Everyone maintains their dignity.
- Each person has something to give and gain.
- No one is patronizing or patronized.
- Communication is two-way, not one-way.
In 2006, The Walt Disney Co. bought Pixar, then immediately turned around and said to them: “Teach us.” Disney was the parent organization, but it recognized how much it could learn from the young company about tomorrow’s animation.
There are many benefits in reverse mentoring. For instance, the practice fosters a healthy culture. It also:
- Sparks humility in team members.
- Encourages a teachable spirit.
- Accelerates collaboration and reduces division.
- Connects generations
- Ignites innovation.
- Provides perspective.
To implement reverse mentoring enterprisewide, organizations could hold a weekly session with teams to discuss practical insights on both life and leadership. Executive staff also could meet with interns to discuss a recent book on personal development. Senior leaders could ask younger employees and interns to coach them in social media, new apps they’ve discovered and what they see trendingamong their generation.
The development is dynamic and organic. It’s constant, short and interactive. It creates a transparent and engaged atmosphere where everyone, from interns to executives, attends meetings and feels comfortable adding ideas because they know that the best idea wins.
Whatever tactics are at play, whenever reverse mentoring — or mentoring of any kind — is effective, there are likely four elements at play. A well-rounded, mutual-mentoring connection to pass on a skill, includes an approach that spells IDEA:
Instruction:Learners need time for conversation. Find uninterrupted time to talk and share insights.
Demonstration: Learners need time for observation. Allow them to shadow leaders and watch them practice.
Experience:Learners need time for participation. Senior leaders should eventually delegate execution of skills and tasks practiced to the new team members.
Assessment:Learners need time for evaluation. Invest time debriefing and measuring what happened.
Harness the Power of Mentoring
Between 2006 and 2014, Angela Ahrendts served as CEO of luxury fashion brand Burberry. When she arrived, Burberry was in trouble, and Ahrendts knew change was in order. One of her first moves was to take reverse mentoring to a whole new level. She not only endorsed that seasoned executives should listen to their young team members but also empowered those young folks to advise the moves Burberry would make.
The results were dramatic. Instead of older vets making the decisions and having young staff implement them, it worked the other way around. The young guided the elders as they implemented the plans. Burberry’s value went to about $11 billion from about $3 billion.
David McAnally is a vice president at Atlanta-based Jackson Healthcare and has been part of the company’s mentoring initiatives for the past five years. He said that while the organization doesn’t officially sponsor reverse mentoring, nearly all of his mentees are millennials and the growth goes both ways.
“In every case, something has come up I never expected to talk about, and I ended up learning something valuable,” he said. “In fact, reverse mentoring often occurs automatically as both parties recognize how much the other has to offer. I believe every mentor would agree they have learned from their mentees.”
Massachusetts politician John Crawford Crosby once said, “A mentor is a brain to pick, a shoulder to cry on and a kick in the seat of the pants.” People never outgrow these needs, but they may lose sight of that fact. The big takeaways are as follows:
The value of veteran:
- To give context to the content they’ve acquired, and to interpret information.
- Accelerate ramp-up time, and enable new team members to avoid damaging mistakes.
- To furnish big picture perspective so knowledge can become wisdom.
The value of the young professional:
- Intuition about new customer markets.
- Fresh eyes and ideas; out-of-the-box thinking.
- Creativity and energy; passion for fresh progress.
Author and researcher Jim Collins described the Level 5 Leader in his book, “Good to Great.” He found that most Level 5 leaders were most often humble in demeanor, and prone to take the blame when something went wrong. They were generous with affirmations for their teams and full of perspective when it came to giving credit for growth. They were continual learners.
This is the spirit of a leader engaged in reverse mentoring. It’s paradoxical. It’s driving forward in reverse.Filed under: Leadership Development