Posted by Robert Half on 12 October 2015
Age brings experience - and this can be invaluable in your career. Often there is no substitute for spending years on the job and learning every trick of trade on the frontlines.
As a result, employers have been keen to pair off newer recruits with their more long-standing colleagues, so they can tap into the wealth of knowledge that they offer. By mentoring younger members of staff, they can provide valuable insights and support to help them hit the ground running in their new job.
But it's also true that more senior employees can learn from younger people too, particularly when it comes to making the best use of technology and finding out a different ways of adding value to the business.
As a result, companies are increasingly introducing reverse mentoring programmes, with younger colleagues sharing their experiences and insights with highly experienced professionals.
It's a fascinating strategy, as it ensures that ideas and viewpoints don't just flow from the top down. By expressing a desire to draw on this expertise, company bosses are showing they are receptive and willing to adopt innovative ideas and a different perspective.
A fresh point of view
Technology, of course, is an area where young people are especially likely to have different insights as they have grown up in a world where resources such as mobile apps and social media are commonplace. And they will be aware of consumer trends like how people research the market online and are guided by customer reviews more than a multi-million pound marketing campaign when choosing who they transact with.
But younger people can also offer other useful insights for managers. For instance, attitudes towards what people want from their job have drastically changed in recent years. Whereas once the priority was simply earning a competitive salary, today there is a much greater onus on job satisfaction and work-life balance.
Flexible working opportunities are highly sought after, while others might value perks such as subsidised gym membership and health insurance. By finding out what younger employees not only want but expect from their employer, businesses can make sure their job offering ticks all these boxes and compares favourably with what their rivals can provide.
As a result, they can not only boost their chances of attracting top talent, but also keeping hold of them.
A less hierarchical structure
Another benefit of reverse mentoring is the fact it fosters a stronger bond between colleagues that don't depend simply on how long they have worked together and bridges the gap between different generations. This in turn establishes a more open and less hierarchical environment, where young people feel happy and confident in expressing their views to more senior colleagues and getting insights into the problems and issues they face further up the corporate ladder.
Conversely, senior managers will engage with new starters that they would otherwise never meet or substantively engage with on a day-to-day basis. A far more even and open culture will be fostered and employees will feel far more valued as a result.
To start mentoring, try these three tips:
- Take the lead: Often younger employees might be nervous to reach out. All that is required is two willing participants. Proactively engage younger employees and for their opinions and advice.
- Set an example: Many people dislike the idea of learning from someone younger. But by showing initiative, you are setting an example in the business. Consider it a business case, is reverse mentoring going to help create new strategic ideas or improve processes?
- Don’t be judgemental: In any reverse mentoring relationship there is always a danger of making incorrect assumptions about people skills and abilities. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised at the knowledge they can provide and what you have in common.
Work out what you want to achieve
A final recommendation before setting up a reverse mentoring programme is to decide specifically what you want to achieve. Is it an exchange of knowledge in a specific area that's your main focus, or do you want to concentrate on boosting wider skills that can apply across the whole business?
By having a tangible goal in mind, you can measure the success of the programme in a way that goes beyond the benefits we've discussed. It strengthens the case for pressing ahead with this approach and creating a business where everybody can learn from someone else, no matter how high up the organisation they are.