Reverse mentoring: Learning from the new generation Z

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LOOK around your workplace, different generations are collaborating in the modern workplace.

Generation Z, which l like calling the Zillennials, is relatively new to the workplace, but it is making its mark since it is more digital than any other generation.

Generation Z’s influence is undeniable being born into a world of peak technological innovation it has a lot to teach other generations which have been there through reverse mentoring. If you have not heard about reverse mentoring in the workplace, you need to have a glimpse of this article.

What is reverse mentoring

Reverse mentoring is where older executives are mentored by younger employees, it’s possible and it is a new concept which if done well can make the leader and the organisation more effective and productive. It pairs younger employees with executive team members to mentor them on various topics. Reverse mentoring extends far beyond just sharing knowledge about technology, today’s programmes focus on how senior executives think about strategic issues, leadership, and the mindset with which they approach their work. Reverse coaching breaks the myth that reportedly suggests that experienced employees are better at everything.

Who are the generation Z (Zillennials)

A new generation of influencers has come on the scene and they are the Zillennials or generation Z. It is just funny this generation is born into an online world and are now entering the workforce and compelling other generations to adapt to it, not vice versa. Members of generation Z are people born from 1995 to 2010 and are true digital natives. They comprise those who grew up deeply connected to technology, practically from the moment they became self-aware. Generation Z characteristics are interesting and specific, and they are known for being ever-present on the internet, on social networks, and on mobile systems. As generation Z enters the workforce, companies should create environments conducive to recruiting and retaining it.

Building mutually beneficial partnerships

Usually, a mentor is expected to be more senior and more experienced than his or her mentee. However, reverse mentoring recognises that there are skills gaps on both sides, and that each person can address their weaknesses with the help of the other’s strengths. For example, a younger team member can pass on new skills and ideas up the corporate ladder, and someone older can become a role model or a career coach. Businesses are now starting to realise that top-down learning is not always appropriate, particularly where social media and use of technology are involved, and “reverse mentoring” programmes are emerging as a result. This actually gives the Zillennials the opportunity to share up-to-date skills and knowledge with more senior colleagues.

Why have a reverse mentoring relationship?

Reverse mentoring can play an important role in bridging the gap between various generations currently in the workforce. We have baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), generation X (born between 1965 and 1976), and generation Y and generation Z. These groups have experienced different social and cultural situations, which has resulted in varied work ethics, mindsets and attitudes. A reverse mentoring programme helps mentors and mentees feel more connected to your organisation’s culture. By pairing a junior employee with a senior leader, you are giving new insight to your organisation. This helps them to connect with every facet of your culture.

Benefits of reverse mentoring

There are many benefits of reverse mentoring for the mentee (the more senior person in the partnership), the mentor (the less senior person in the partnership) and for the organisation too. The simple act of having a mentoring programme may result in improved teamwork and a better ability for employees to understand the perspective of others in the organisation. Entrusting the responsibility of showing the ropes to a junior employee lifts morale and boosts confidence in one’s own capabilities. Rather than reinforcing the ideology that the older you are the more likely you are to be an authority in everything, it encourages a culture where no one is too old to learn something new. Reverse mentoring helps your organisation to maintain fresh perspectives, reduce bias, and gain an advantage over competition.

Reverse mentoring gives a fresh and different perspective:

Getting to learn more about the viewpoints of another person can deepen your understanding of the values they uphold. It lets you find common ground and helps you put aside any differences, thus strengthening relationships that come in useful when collaborating in future. Senior executives, who are stumped by an existing bottleneck can get a cultural, technological or strategic perspective from someone younger or more junior to them. A junior or inexperienced recruit would know what helps consumers or an audience of their own age group relate to a business and can accordingly help businesses strategies and improvise on how to market themselves.

Creating a reverse mentoring programme

Reverse mentoring programmes should be tied to business needs and designed to close specific skills gaps.

To begin with, identify relevant skills gaps, define competency levels, and create a skills inventory to identify potential mentors. From there, employees in need of upskilling in a particular area can be paired with a suitable mentor. A process must also be developed to successfully assign mentors and mentees according to time commitments, communication preferences, learning styles, and personality types. The success of the programme will depend on its implementation, the ability to measure progress, and the commitment of participants.

Potential drawbacks of reverse mentoring

Even with all of the benefits above, reverse mentoring may come with some drawbacks. One of the biggest is that it should be implemented thoroughly to ensure that no one feels that they are being told or bossed around by the juniors. It also needs to be handled so as to not offend long-time workers who might think that someone junior was assigned to mentor them as an indication that they are either not doing a good job or they are going to be replaced.

Companies with challenging generational dynamics may encounter initial friction when implementing a reverse mentoring programme. Resistance by the elders to learn from someone younger and less experienced in handling a situation can be a stumbling block. To mitigate the risks, it may be easiest to implement a reverse mentoring programme as one component of a regular mentoring programme, rather than implementing it on its own.

People often think that the longer you work for an organisation, the more you know and the less you need to learn. However, younger members of staff, who are just entering the workplace often have new skills and expertise, and they can provide fresh perspectives and ways of working that can benefit their more established colleagues.