By PETER LAM
Traditionally, mentoring is when a seasoned person meets with a younger or new team member to educate him or her in areas where the veteran has more solid experience.
In recent years, however, spurred by the rapid advancement of technology, an alternative version of mentoring has gained prominence and is commonly referred to as reverse mentoring.
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In quite a revolutionary twist, this trending practice reverses the hierarchy of traditional mentoring – the senior person becomes the primary learner and draws on the experience and knowledge of the junior person in such areas as social media, tech applications, buying and communication styles, and other millennial or even Generation Z business traits.
If implemented well, reverse mentoring can help mid- and late-career workers become better versed in new tools and processes and gain insight about a rapidly growing segment of the workforce.
In Malaysia however, a quick dipstick survey shows that awareness of such a concept remains very low and organisational plans to embark on such a programme are almost non-existent.
Where is reverse mentoring most useful?
This practice is generally more likely to suit mid-size companies and companies at the forefront of technology (telcos, gadgets and smart devices), communications (digital marketing, advertising and public relations agencies) or consulting firms.
Reverse mentoring can also help educate leaders about diversity issues – deepening senior leaders’ understanding of the younger generation to assist in retention efforts and enrich or enhance the company culture.
As with anything new, there are pitfalls to watch out for, such as preventing the senior manager from slipping into dominant behaviours and ensuring junior members are empowered and feel comfortable about “speaking the truth to authority figures”.
Here are some suggested guidelines before embarking on a reverse mentoring programme:
1. Be very clear about the purpose. What learning do you want each party in the relationships to acquire and why is this important?
2. How will you gauge and evaluate the results of the programme?
3. Provide training to both parties prior to the programme. Junior mentors need to learn how to confront and challenge someone more senior in ways that stimulate reflection and open dialogue. Senior mentees need to be trained or coached to be open and to confront their own assumptions and beliefs, and to encourage the junior mentor to be honest and forthright.
4. Select suitable candidates for both the mentor and mentee groups, and pair or match them based on their compatibility.
Finally, my advice is not to rush head-long into it. Do a small pilot, say, with six to a dozen pairs. Allow yourself room to make and learn from mistakes, and to control damage, if any.
Questions to consider before selecting an executive coach
- What is the challenge faced, or what are the developmental goals for the executive?
- Is it worth the time? Coaching and behavioural change take time and support.
- Are there other developmental options to consider?
- Does the executive know his or her behaviour is not what it should be?
- Is the desired outcome something the person is capable of? If the person is not suited for the position, coaching probably won’t help much.
- Are there obstacles to success that are beyond the person’s control? It may be necessary to change the system instead of the person.
- Can trust and confidentiality be ensured by all participants in the process?
If the answers to the above questions affirm the coaching solution, the next step is to choose a coach. The coaching results will only be as good as the match between the coach and executive. Finding a coach who has the necessary expertise and a connection with the executive is not always easy.
Several questions to ask when choosing a coach
- What is this coach’s approach or process?
- Have you seen an example of a developmental plan created by the coach with a previous client?
- Does the person have a style that is compatible with the executive’s?
- Does this coach have the skills and business background required to meet the coaching objectives?
- Is the coach a person of integrity and does he or she appear to be one who can deliver the truth to the organisation and the executive?