Learning & Development

How to Flip the Script on Traditional Mentoring Programs

It’s no surprise that 77% of employees are more likely to stay in a job if they are in a mentoring relationship. For that reason, mentoring programs have become more formalized and recognized as a critical component to many successful organizations in the last decade.  Employees are more engaged, productive, and connected.

Yet, with the implementation of new innovations and ever-changing technologies comes the challenge of keeping up with training employees.  Taking a new approach to conventional mentoring programs may be the solution.

With as many as five generations working side by side in today’s workplace, businesses are confronted as never before with a growing generational gap, shifting expectations, and the constant need to stay on the cutting ‘digital’ edge.  To accommodate this generationally diverse workforce, companies should consider a fresh take on traditional mentor/mentee relationships.

Enter: reverse mentoring.

In a traditional mentoring relationship, a senior-level professional provides guidance to a more junior member of the team.  In contrast, a reverse mentoring dynamic works both ways: the tenured professional still provides the tricks of the trade that can only come with experience, but the junior team member is also able to offer valuable insight back to their mentor, whether it be about evolving technologies, social media, or the ways of the digital world.  In many cases, this concept allows millennial team members to feel more engaged, while also providing seasoned industry veterans with a direct connection to innovation that’s changing the industry.

Why Switch It Up?

Retaining qualified talent is a concern amongst most employers today, as unemployment is at a 48-year low of 3.7%. With so many competitive opportunities available, 43% of millennials plan to leave their job in the next two years, according to the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey. This generation that tends to career hop craves continuous learning and transferable skill development, personal fulfillment, exposure to senior leadership and clear opportunities for career advancement—all of which reverse mentoring supports.

The beauty of reverse mentoring is that it is mutually beneficial. Experienced employees can pick up new skills, hear a fresh perspective from the front line, and embrace a digital mindset.

Several large corporations that have embraced innovation, such as Target, Cisco, and HP, have developed their own reverse mentoring approaches. Suffolk is similarly encouraging reverse mentoring relationships, but in the unexpected, typically more traditional industry of construction. Implementing change in an organization is always a challenge, and introducing new technologies is no different; in construction we are tasked with training professionals who are used to building with materials like concrete, steel, and wood, to now build with pixels. For a seamless transition, our employees have been organically forming reverse mentoring connections that provides invaluable onsite training for our tech-savvy millennials, while also demonstrating the power of technology such as drones, virtual reality, and 4-D & 5-D modeling.

For example, on one of our notable projects in South Florida, an assistant project manager formed a successful working relationship with a general superintendent who has been in the industry for more than 30 years. Thanks to their reverse mentoring dynamic, the project has benefited from innovative tools such as thermal imaging scanners and virtual model integration to boost efficiency and minimize waste. As a result, the project has seen higher levels of productivity and a smoother project management process.

Making It Work

HR departments can foster successful reverse mentoring relationships by recognizing teams made up of multigenerational employees and encouraging those who have organic connections to further develop an informal partnership where they learn from each other.

Attracting employees higher up on the career ladder to participate can sometimes be difficult, so consider their needs. Explore creative ways to reinforce positive drivers and lower the hurdles throughout the mentoring process. For example, consider recognition and reward strategies. Formally recognizing mentor/mentee involvement can be motivating and help attract additional employees to the program.

Once the mentors and mentees are solidified, assist them in customizing short-term and long-term goals. Continuously provide tips and best practices to help the mentors and mentees stay on track and get the most out of the partnership.

The benefits of reverse mentoring have been reaped by businesses in various industries and of different sizes.  However, arguably the most advantageous benefit is that it allows companies to empower their emerging talent. Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. labor force and our future leaders. Reverse mentoring not only imparts priceless knowledge onto millennials but prepares them to become our next generation of executives. And who knows, maybe someday those millennials will be the mentees in a reverse mentoring relationship with gen Z and gen Alpha.

Julie Palmer is the Director of People Services for Suffolk’s Southeast Region which employs over 400 professionals throughout the state of Florida. She has played an integral role in aligning the goals of the employee services function with Suffolk’s overall business growth. Julie leads efforts in performance management and employee development and focuses on key initiatives such as talent acquisition and retainage. Her hard work has been recognized in South Florida Business Journal as a 2016 and 2017 Power Leaders 2016 Human Resources.  Julie was also an honoree for the South Florida Business Journal’s 2017 Influential Women in Business.