Could this unorthodox technique harvest senior execs’ ‘banks of intellect’ by forming unlikely relationships?
We spoke to Andrew Lafontaine, senior director of human capital strategy and transformation at Oracle’s APAC division.
Lafontaine asserts rapidly changing technology has given a twist to traditional mentoring concepts.
“Today senior executives are looking at the young generation for understanding new technology,” he said.
“Reverse mentoring has started finding its way into enterprises. Experienced executives are turning to their juniors to learn about the latest technologies, new and collaborative tools that make work life easier.
“At the same time, this process can help the gen Z with valuable experience while having conversations with their seniors. We are seeing adoptions increase within firms and expect this method to benefit more and more senior managers.”
He added that although reverse mentoring is an unorthodox method, it has the potential to harness the hidden talents of both junior and senior employees.
“Reverse mentoring harnesses the talent of rising stars – and increases how connected the organisation is – by forming unlikely relationships and exposes employees to areas of the company outside their normal daily routine,” he explained.
“This exposure to senior leadership teams is invaluable to millennials, executives are able to impart their knowledge and skills to a generation who shine in the digital and social arena, but have not yet had the time in the workforce to acquire skills that can only be gained over time.”
Lafontaine – who has an impressive portfolio of experience ranging from senior management roles to organisational development at companies including ANZ and Telstra – claimed that reverse mentoring has helped him to bring together junior and senior staff members to share their knowledge, which ultimately improves the quality of projects being worked on at all levels.
“Many organisations find that their senior level staff members aren’t contributing to collaborative work – it tends to come from peers or line managers,” he said.
“Reverse mentoring isn’t limited to one-on-one mentoring,” he added. “Its reach becomes more significant and broadly affects the organisation.”
The perks of reverse mentoring
“I’ve used [reverse monitoring] at a few organisations,” he told HC. “Essentially, it works by bringing two very different people with very different mindsets together.”
He explained that although senior executives can be savvy and know how to navigate the technology space, they tend to have mostly spent many years within organisational operations, and have worked with constrained systems that affect their thinking and approach.
“[Senior leaders] have an enormous bank of intellect,” Lafontaine said. “But millennials use technology socially, and expect to use it at work – they don’t have a preconceived idea about how and why tech is being used or the legacy ‘baggage’ that many more experienced workers have.”
“Technology is moving so fast that it’s made things possible that even 12 to 18 months ago we didn’t think would be possible today,” he added, emphasising the importance of having tech capability at all levels of a corporation.
Implementing a reverse mentoring scheme
“One of the ways I’ve seen it work best is by really ensuring that there is an alignment between the objectives of both parties,” Lafontaine advised.
“Some of the younger generation workers coming through will probably be overwhelmed by being paired with someone so senior and talking to them on a regular basis – so being clear on what the desired outcomes are is key.”
This alignment can be determined by looking at the participants’ career objectives.
“Are you pairing someone in a senior role in finance with someone coming through the ranks in that, or are you trying to achieve something different?” he said.
“For example, what you might want is to pair a finance executive with a junior IT member.
This could be a better option as it takes some of the intimidation factor away because the junior employee isn’t trying so hard to impress – they’re more likely to see it as a way to leverage their skills and experience.”
He also advised those considering reverse mentoring not to conform to the way things are done within the organisation as a whole.
“Be clear that the entire reason it’s being done is for fresh thinking,” he said. “Make sure that those expectations are really clearly set out.”
Lafontaine added that the person being mentored also has to be aware that they need to leave certain ways of thinking behind.
The way forward?
“I don’t think reverse mentoring would ever replace traditional schemes entirely – it’s just a method of getting some disruptive thinking from an organisation’s junior levels to the higher ranks,” Lafontaine told HC.
“It’s an opportunity for HR to bring that to their organisation in a very quick way.
“For professional mentoring, there is still so much organisational knowledge that senior executives need to share; it’s about making these two skillsets work together.”