Reverse Mentoring: A Powerful Tool for Skill Development

The growing population of millennials at the workplace presents unique challenges and opportunities. This is a generation that is tech-savvy and does not fear failure. They are willing to make something of themselves, alongside and at par with senior veterans. They understand that organizations today are ever-changing, and hence are flexible and adaptable in their thoughts and actions. These are a skill set that organizations must tap into and percolate across its people by utilizing a concept called reverse mentoring.

Continuous learning is a necessity for employees, if they wish to keep pace with the rapid changes that occur in organizations today. However, mere training programs and e-learning cannot meet the whirlwind of changes; we must innovative in the learning space to create a sustained learning impact. Some of the key learning needs include being technologically savvy, having an open mindset, and adopting a flexible and shared approach to keep ahead of times. A good way is to tap into the talents of our very own people—the millennial workforce, which is a ready pool of these skills and behaviors. This is possible through reverse mentoring—a cost-effective and effective means for bridging this learning gap.

Reverse mentoring is especially relevant in the digital age that we live in today. As businesses are on the brink of digital transformation, they demand more digital-friendly people who can drive the digital transformation. This is where reverse mentoring fits well—it is not the senior employee doling out professional advice to the fresh college grad, but quite the reverse. In this model, the young generation shares know-how about how to embrace new-age skills such as digital, collaboration, social and media, and so on. The objective of reverse mentoring is two-fold—to equip older workers with the current and future-ready skills, and to provide young professionals who are starting out with the much-valued leadership exposure. Reverse mentoring is thus not only about meeting business needs, but is also a great employee engagement tool.

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HR must leverage the power of reverse mentoring by putting together a structured program around it. In the first place, HR must understand and outline the core objectives of initiating such a program. A one-on-one relationship must be defined by allocating a set of mentors and mentees at the outset. A typical arrangement consists of monthly one-on-one meetings for a period of six months to a year. A formal monitoring mechanism to check on the progress and achievement of desired outcomes is essential. Communication is an important part of making this a success. Not only must HR celebrate success stories widely with employees, but it must also encourage employees to “enrol” in the program by inviting participation. A push from the employee-end can be a great boost to make such a program succeed. This can be encouraged by allowing employees to select their mentors (to some extent and in a scrutinized fashion).

However, the paramount consideration for a reverse mentoring program is whether or not it helps senior leaders gain skills that are in line with the business strategy. For this, the program must be co-owned by the business leaders as much as it is by the HR department. A skill learnt is useful only if it can be applied to propel the intended goal. Hence, it becomes important to analyze progress by measuring the program outcomes in terms of business metrics and performance of the mentee. HR must thus act as the custodians of the process, but the onus of the success must be shared equally by business leaders and by employees. This will be possible only if HR is able to convince business leaders about how they will benefit from reverse mentoring, and also make them set aside their pride and accept new ideas and learning.

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Reverse mentoring demands a huge shift in mindset on behalf of the mentor and mentee. Only when both approach the intervention with an open and accepting frame of mind will they truly find value in the concept.