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Mentoring: In Reverse motion

Date: 16-Sep-2014

Amit Malik, CHRO, Aviva India

The Economic Times

Reverse mentoring is a topic, which excites many and at the same time, eludes many. My personal reverse mentoring experience has clearly shown me that the days of traditional mentorship wherein information flow was unidirectional with a older or senior person telling a younger or junior person how to succeed and helping the mentee to network with a few other seniors folks, are over.

Today’s business challenges need the young millennia’s ideas. These cannot be overlooked and reverse mentoring is one of the ways to bring those ideas at the forefront.

Before you embark on the ‘reverse mentoring’ journey, here are a few pointers you will have to consider: The need to be ‘ready’: The mentee (the senior person in this arrangement) has to know that it is not only about learning, but can also be an opportunity to solve real world problems in non-traditional ways.

It requires the mentee to be open to being challenged and also to be able to critically view his/her approach to things and thoughts. 

Simply put: the mentee should be ready to be pushed out of one’s comfort zone. Choose a curious mind as a mentor: Identify bright people with a curious bent of mind who are voracious readers with a quest for knowledge.

People like these are generally good at sharing and take pleasure from discussions - someone who is not afraid to ask the old mentee “to dissolve the box, let alone break it.”

Be honest: Both the parties need to be absolutely clear of what they are in for and why. It is important to talk about differences since different generations have different views, paradigms and even different communication styles.

State the rules of engagement ‘openly’ and ‘talk’ about things that are difficult in the relationship and work towards establishing ‘trust’.

Business challenge: One has to be cognizant of the fact that this relationship needs to bring in ideas to solve business challenges.

Reverse mentoring needs to be productive, add value and move in a positive direction of building new perspectives for both parties; otherwise, this has the potential to quickly degenerate into a fad that is good to only talk about.

Be prepared to teach: Make sure that the mentee also teaches the mentor (young person) through his/her experience, thus making sure that both parties are benefited.

The mentee needs to bring experience and build perspective for the young mentor. Ensure that the young mentor gets business knowledge, learns how to distill it, values the connections and is able to build the picture by translating the information into a valuable strategic capability.

Don’t make it too formal: It should start with a conversation and build into a relationship characterized by respect, sharing and fun.

It should definitely not be made into another HR exercise, which is about documenting, capturing ideas in a format, etc, for we run a risk of over structuring it and killing the essence.

Cut the ego: Ensure that the ego is cut down by both the mentor and mentee. The mentee should let go of the “I know it all , been there, done it” attitude and the mentor should not become vain by virtue of teaching a senior leader and lose the path of learning and building an understanding of complex issues or deriving value from experience. A big question that arises is what if your organisation does not have a formal programme.

In my experience, it just doesn’t matter. A sure but small first step is to take the time to hang out with young people - inside and outside your organisation. Ask them those questions you are struggling with and listen. You might just be surprised at what you end up learning.

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