Turn The Tables On Talent

Last week, I delivered the opening keynote presentation at the AHRI (Australian Human Resources Institute) National Convention, talking about the “bright sparks” in your organisation – and how to get the most from their skills and talents.

I was interested to see this was the most-shared slide from my presentation:

This shows the results of some recent Harvard University research about what makes up “the best workplace on Earth”.

Contrast that with Gallup employee engagement research from a generation ago, and you can see just how dramatically workplace expectations have changed:

I’ve already blogged recently about the best workplace on earth, so I won’t go over that ground again. But let’s zero in on one idea – and I’ll highlight an incredibly valuable tool that most organisations just don’t use right now.

Turn the tables on talent.

You might already have a mentoring program in your workplace, but do you embrace reverse mentoring? If not, it’s one of the most useful things you can do – and it costs almost nothing.

In a nutshell: With reverse mentoring, the younger, more junior, people in an organisation provide the mentoring for older, more senior, staff.

For example, Janet Wilson, CEO of Brisbane law firm Cooper Grace Ward, has an agreement with younger members of her firm to mentor her every month. She says:

“The conversations are inspirational, sometimes worrying, and always refreshing! I make them as casual and friendly as possible. We have fun and lots of laughs… at each other’s expense!”

With a traditional mentoring arrangement, the more experienced, more senior, (usually) older person shares their experience with more junior people to fast-track their development. The mentor offers something – their experience – that nothing else can provide, and in turn that helps the mentoree build their judgement and eventually gain wisdom.

Reverse mentoring turns this idea on its head. This time it’s the more junior person in the mentor role, and their biggest contribution is perspective rather than experience.

That’s not to say they don’t have experience or expertise – far from it. Younger and more junior people often do have more expertise with, say, social media, mobile devices, and technology in general. But don’t stop at those obvious areas – they also might have expertise in other areas – such as:

  • Consumer behaviour: They know how people of their generation buy.
  • Recruitment: You can find new staff through their networks.
  • Talent management: They value different things from a workplace.
  • Money: They have different attitudes towards saving, wealth, and retirement.

But their biggest contribution is their different perspective on the world, which helps senior people shake up their established viewpoints, which are often difficult to break down by themselves.

It cuts both ways.

If you’re the more senior person, reverse mentoring accelerates your learning curve, gives your team members new opportunities, enhances morale, boosts productivity, and creates a closer team.

The Hartford, a financial services group in the USA, leveraged the power of reverse mentoring to reach a new kind of customer, understand the new workforce, and improve their bottom line. Across the organisation, 50 mentoring pairs participated in the program, and they achieved outstanding results:

  • 97% of the mentees (the senior people, remember) rated it extremely effective for their personal development.
  • Just as importantly, 11 of the 12 mentors (the more junior people) in the project’s first wave were promoted within a year.
  • For bottom line results, the business implemented new business practices that saved time and money, increased social media engagement, and boosted internal knowledge within teams.

If you’re not doing this already, engage a smart, savvy younger person to be your reverse mentor for the next three months. Listen to their insights, follow their advice, and resist the temptation to think you are smarter just because you’re older and more experienced.

Then extend the concept of reverse mentoring to other parts of your organisation, so everybody has the opportunity to be involved in it.

Thinking Ahead

  • Who could be your reverse mentor at work?
  • Who among your peers could you connect with your more junior team members (with the junior people as the mentors)?
  • How are you using reverse mentoring in your personal life (with your own children or other young people)?

The Best Workplace on Earth – Find Out More

The best people have a choice of places to work. Why will they choose you?

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