By Diane Domeyer, Executive Director, The Creative Group
Unsure how reverse mentoring would benefit your organization? This might help: Remember when as a 20-something you taught your parents how to use the VCR? Now ask yourself, which of your employees do you think of when you want to discuss the hippest app for a marketing campaign, get a fresh perspective on a logo design or publish a blog today’s youth will actually read?
As likely as not, it’s that Gen Zer you hired a few months ago.
As some professionals are aware, knowledge transfer can be a two-way street. The skills and experience of veteran employees have long been invaluable to onboarding and mentoring a freshman workforce. And in recent years, junior staff’s upward training — or reverse mentoring — of senior employees on current social and technology trends has become more common. Still, most companies have yet to adopt the practice. In a recent survey by The Creative Group, less than half (45 percent) of creative executives said their company offers a formal mentoring program to support professional development. But the potential benefits are huge.
If you’re eager to stay ahead of the curve, read on. These tips for establishing a reverse mentoring program can build upon your organization’s current training and professional development efforts, and foster greater innovation and collaboration in the workplace.
1. Reverse Mentoring: Where To Begin
In a two-way mentoring relationship, both parties feel valued for their contributions while gaining tangible benefits, like greater insights and introductions to new ideas and people. And the more solid the bond, the more likely they’ll stay with the company long term. Yet the hardest part of any workplace program is getting the ball rolling. Here are some steps to get started:
- Gain upper-level buy-in. It’s not always easy to persuade busy managers to get on board with yet another optional program. In addition to selling them on the merits of reverse mentoring, encourage your most senior executives to set the example and then talk up the relationship.
- Create a plan. Mentoring in the workplace will be most successful when it’s formal. Organize meet-and-greet sessions for those interested in buddying and develop a timetable of next steps.
- Ease communication. Allow mentors and mentees to take occasional long lunches and coffee breaks together. As the organizer, be present and available to answer questions and address concerns.
2. Be Clear About Expectations
Since reverse mentoring isn’t as widely recognized as traditional mentoring, you may need to explain the program.
Outline what will be required of participants, the projected time commitment and potential benefits, and how management will support employees throughout the process.
- Set aside one-on-one time for younger workers to discuss their career goals, address concerns and provide reassurance. Remind them they are experts in their own right and that their knowledge and skills are valuable to your company’s success.
- Share wins. If you hear or read about a reverse mentoring success story at your firm, learn as much as you can about it and then promote best practices broadly.
3. Conduct Periodic Check-Ins
As with any relationship, mentorships need maintenance. Take regular temperature checks to make sure things are going well. If people haven’t gone beyond an initial meeting, provide gentle encouragement to get them back on track. Personality clashes? Try different pairings.
4. Explore Tech Trends
New technology is emerging constantly, many of which boomer and Gen X creatives may have heard of but never dabbled in. Reverse mentoring is a good way to keep employees of all generations current on digital trends. Gen Y and Gen Z employees can also give deep insight into younger consumers’ mindsets, likes and dislikes.
Reverse mentoring can be an effective method for shaking up the status quo, jump-starting innovation and making the most of your agency’s or department’s emerging talent. And the best part? It’s free!
Diane Domeyer is executive director of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing agency connecting interactive, design, marketing, advertising and public relations talent with the best companies. More information, including job-hunting services, candidate portfolios and TCG’s blog, can be found at creativegroup.com