Driving through France and Spain with my Godson, I have used our road trip as an opportunity for reverse mentoring. As someone who has just turned 18 Luke has a different perspective on life. According to popular social groupings he is part of Generation Z https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/17/where-millennials-end-and-generation-z-begins/
The key thing about this generation is that they have grown up in a world of technology, where swiping screens with their fingers, chatting via social media and photographing nearly everything all of the time is normal.
So I was keen to learn from my young friend, both from a practical point of view and from an intellectual standpoint.
From a practical point, his use of all apps assumes seamless links between different sources of information. For example, he expects to add different media files to messages, he automatically grabs links and copies images and more links as he moves through the internet. Whilst he helped me select the best printer to buy I could feel his pity as my reliance on paper is anachronistic to his generation and the concept of anything other than a digital signature mind blowingly pointless!
I think this natural pattern of work tells us how much organisations still have to do to achieve digital transformation. This was reinforced by my recent online shopping experience which concluded with a demand to take a printout of the email confirmation to the store to pick up my goods!
Future of work
Digital transformation is only part of the picture. Understanding how Luke and his generation see the world gives us indicators for the future of work and how organisations might transform in the near future to create this world. For more ideas have a look at this report https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/consumer-packaged-goods/our-insights/true-gen-generation-z-and-its-implications-for-companies
Making reverse mentoring work
What I learnt from my experience is you get the most out of reverse mentoring if you look at the bigger picture. It’s not just the new technical skills that our mentors have, but they have valuable insight into how our priorities will need to change to keep pace with new and crucially tacit expectations. Luke doesn’t articulate his assumptions because he doesn’t know that they are new and different. To him they are the norm. So we have to ask questions:
- What is important to you?
- What does good look like?
- How is that valuable?
- What do you like and don’t like?
- What do you need and not need?
To realise the most benefit from reverse mentoring we have to take a back seat and treat our mentors as the leaders. I might have 30 years more experience than Luke but in this situation it’s his experience and his views that carry the most value. So 90% listening and 10% sharing seemed to be the winning ratio!
Reverse mentoring is another way to gain insight from the perspective of others, so the important lesson from this is to think of ways that you can include diverse views into your transformational change, and that only using the upper levels of the hierarchy is missing the perspective of those that will be the future leaders in only a few years.