New-age companies like Uber, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Swiggy have changed how we consume and interact with media, music, travel, education, retail, transport, and food. Data analytics and social media have become essential tools for moving in alignment with customer preferences and thinking out of the box. Change was always a given; however, technology has hastened the pace of change, imposing pressure to make decisions quickly. To navigate and brainstorm through transitions and uncertainties, we need experienced and trusted advisors on our side, like a parent, teacher, guide, or mentor.
When we hear the word mentor, there is a higher likelihood that the image of an older person comes to our mind. But, does a mentor always have to be someone older? This stereotype has been broken down by young professionals who are experts in technology or new disciplines. Many organizations buddy a senior leader with a younger executive to assist them in technology initiatives. Notably, organizations like GE, PepsiCo, Apple, IBM, Vodafone, Godrej, Jubilant Foods, and Forbes Marshall are actively inculcating a culture of reverse mentoring.
Is reverse mentoring an option or a necessity?
Technology has changed the way business is conducted. A sense of immediacy has been created, thereby giving little time to reflect and respond. Similarly, business tools such as data analytics, robotics, social media have become dominant with current technological advances. Social conversations and preferences too have changed over the last couple of decades, making it essential for leaders to be in tune with the ground reality.
Thus, agility with technology has become a necessity rather than an option. The delivery upon expectations of the society and consumers calls for a partnership of learning. Senior leaders provide the benefit of a sense of stability due to their years of experience of riding waves of change, and younger millennials carry the advantage of exposure to new-age technology.
Initiating reverse mentoring
In reverse mentoring, a younger person can feel intimidated by the success and seniority of a leader. It is the responsibility of the leaders to integrate people from diverse age groups culturally. Acknowledging the talent, expertise, and experience for which a person has been hired sets the tone for inclusion and respect. Thus, while launching such initiatives, organizations need to sensitize both the mentor and mentee, match the pairs based on needs and personality, have an introductory session to set expectations and keep the door open for feedback.
Transactional analysis theory is an effective way of influencing relationships between different age groups. By creating self-awareness in the diverse age groups, the interaction can be influenced to be an adult-adult interaction rather than a parent-child interaction. When a person lives with self-awareness, they can identify their uniqueness and that of others and mindfully collaborate, irrespective of age or gender. Reverse mentoring benefits the younger executive as well, as the executive gets exposure to the mindset of the seasoned leader. The senior leader too feels youthful and stays abreast of current trends.
Openness to learning facilitates excellence
Learning is an attitude that has no age and being curious keeps the mind agile and innovative to new ideas. There are infinite disciplines that we can choose to get a taste of and apply those lessons to our everyday life. I was speaking to Mr Adil Malia, ex-Group President, HR of Essar Group, and he shared several instances where senior management executives had embraced the opportunity to learn from the younger executives who they had been mentoring on business issues. Some of the areas of learning were how to play the guitar; how to use ERP and excel programs; how to understand about Formula 1 races; how to register and browse through Netflix; how to choose and enroll into Edx and Coursera online courses; how to use Paytm; how to stream music. In another instance, a large technology company has a reverse mentoring program running successfully for over 1,000 employees. For businesses to grow in the dynamic and technology dominated environment,it has become essential to blend the maturity of leaders with the freshness in thinking of the youth.When we make ourselves vulnerable and curious, we feel alive and open to new perspectives and which in turn, facilitates creativity in our expression.