4 Reasons You Need a Mentor Who Is Younger Than You
The reverse mentoring trend can help older employees stay up-to-date on skills and trends, and introduce new ideas to your company.
When we think of "new ways of working," what often comes to mind are visible examples like flexible work schedules, new technology to enable remote working and open office space centered around collaboration spots. But, the new way of working involves a mindset shift, not only in how people work together and where they work, but in whom we work with -- and, more importantly, learn from.
The benefits of mentorship are clear: greater retention, skill-building and higher company engagement. In fact, according to a Gartner study, retention rates are higher for mentees (72 percent) and for mentors (69 percent) than non-mentoring participants (49 percent). The same study also found mentors received promotions six times more often than their peers.
As working models are disrupted, so are the ways we influence each other. In my early years of working, I relied greatly on experienced mentors with years of wisdom under their belts who could teach me about what they'd learned from their mistakes and what it took to be successful. But, what I've become wise to, as I reflect back, is that often the most impactful mentors can be found in the most unlikely places.
In fact, over the last several years, I've learned key lessons in life and business through my "reverse mentors" -- a concept that has recently become more formalized as the benefits of learning from a younger generation are becoming more tangible. But, reverse mentoring came organically to me. The average age of public relations professionals is under 40, and Ruder Finn is no exception. In fact, we have a history of fostering and growing employees from the very start of their careers into management positions within the firm. That means I have worked with some of the most creative, motivated and ambitious young professionals, who have inspired me in new ways. While the benefits of reverse mentoring are both tangible and intangible, there are some clear takeaways I've learned and observed through the process:
1. Hierarchical decision-making is depleting.
While management by consensus doesn't work either, people want to feel like they're part of a greater mission and are empowered to influence change. Millennials embrace this mindset twofold, and often have an interesting perspective that traditional management may not have thought of. As an experiment, try placing a younger-generation employee on a steering committee and see where the ideas may lead. You're likely to find that not only will a more flat structure bring new, fresh ideas, but it might do wonders for your culture and creating an engaged, empowered workplace.
2. It's worth it to take a risk on a rising leader.
Millennials often get a bad rap for not being ambitious and driven. And though they may not have as much experience in years, I've found that many Millennials are idea machines -- they love to brainstorm, think differently and be disruptors. They will likely need guidance in bringing those ideas to life but, if given the chance to lead a project, they often rise to the occasion. While it's easy to fall back on your "go-to team," pulling unlikely mixes of team members can lead to unexpected ideas and creativity.
3. The value of a speak-up culture goes beyond words.
No matter what business we're in, change is inevitable. But, we all know that what differentiates us from our competitors is how we navigate that change. One of the things I enjoy most about reverse mentoring is that I have one-on-one time with someone who has the complete opportunity to speak her mind and share ideas and thoughts in a safe and nonjudgmental environment. Often people feel most comfortable speaking up in "microenvironment" settings, but I've learned this setting can be replicated with opportunities like open office hours, mentor programs and small peer-group meetings that provide a safe and encouraging platform for people to not only speak their mind but, collectively, talk about solutions to business challenges.
4. Technology is still at the center.
Let's face it, the faster we learn a new technology, the faster it seems to be outdated. For those of us who grew up in a tech-free world, it can be overwhelming to not only stay up on the latest social platforms, collaboration tools and tech trends, but figure out how to make them applicable to your business. Reverse mentoring has helped me find that sweet spot. My millennial coworkers are more than excited to talk about the latest tech trends with me, and then I get to bring a seasoned strategic view on how we can use that technology to stay competitive and differentiate. These can often be the most fun brainstorms -- pick a technology and think of 50 ways you can use it in your business. You'd be surprised that some of the craziest ideas can often lead to something really innovative.
Some of these steps may seem obvious, but they are difficult to implement. Deloitte research shows that only half of millennials say their current business culture encourages employees to come up with better ways of working, and only 23 percent think their senior leadership prioritizes developing new and innovative products and services.
As I've seen firsthand, embracing reverse mentoring can make a huge impact. I am grateful that the organization I lead has many thoughtful and smart young people. I highly value their input and their role in our business. This is a generation that grew up on social networks, technology and collaborating at all hours. They are always "on." Reverse mentoring has been a way to harness that "always on" mentality, channel it toward the growth of the business, and build a highly engaged and enriched employee base. It has also opened my mind to those intangible new ways of working that actually have the most potential to change the way we do business in the future. Beyond open floor space and flexible work arrangements, reverse mentoring could be the key to opening new opportunities for our industries to push boundaries in the way we ideate, create and collaborate together.
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