Performance Management / HR

Closing the Generation Gap is Smart Business

Closing the Generation Gap

To get the most out of employees, business leaders are looking for new ideas and approaches to foster innovation. One of those ways is through “reverse mentoring,” a mentorship practice in which senior leaders learn from younger employees, often millennials, who are out there on the company’s front lines.

Closing the Generation GapMillennials offer unique and valuable perspectives on emerging trends in technology and social media. Understanding and learning more about what they know can spark smarter and more effective business practices that result in stronger products, operating processes and relationships with customers.

The January 2015 Wall Street Journal/Vistage Small Business CEO Survey found that several Vistage members who have implemented this concept, either formally or informally, are seeing impactful results.

“We are benefitting greatly in a number of ways,” says Jeff Schweikert, president and CEO of Home Care Assistance of St. Louis, LLC, who recently hired new management team members almost finished with graduate school. “We’re gaining new talent with training in the latest academic practices and coupling them with those who have a great deal of embedded experience.”

While Schweikert hesitates to call it a formal program, it is a practice that is providing him with significant return on investment over a short period of time.

One of the many benefits of reverse mentoring is that it doesn’t require a lot in the way of new processes, just the ability to match up employees of different generations and then encourage each team to meet regularly to exchange ideas and challenge each other. It can even become part of existing company mentoring programs, as is the case at Washington D.C.-based Adfero.

Similar to the company’s traditional program, participants simply submit a form that asks them to specify the type of mentorship they are interested in and describe what they would like get out of the relationship. Team members can opt into the program quarterly and the length of participation ranges from three to six months, with the exact timeframe left up to the mentor and mentee.

“We believe that there is room for growth in each stage of one’s career,” says Adfero CEO Jeff Mascott, “and that each person on staff provides value, regardless of position or title.”

The program has worked so well that the company has found ways to grow it with hour-long reverse mentorship “speed” events that allow workers to learn from as many of their colleagues as possible in 5-minute bursts. Think speed dating at work.

For Carol R. Tometsko, president and CEO of Litron Laboratories in Rochester, New York, a renewed sense of enthusiasm and willingness to try fresh methods are just a couple of the ways her lab is benefitting from the younger generation of researchers inspiring their more senior counterparts. When there are new tools to develop or technologies to explore, the less experienced team members feel empowered enough to experiment and create new ways of working. In turn, the senior researchers continue to learn and sharpen their skills.

Over at Pathfinder LL&D in Houston, Texas, the relationship between newbies and seasoned veterans crosses all departments including sales, customer service and management. From going through training programs and out on sales meetings together, to shadowing one another for as long as three years, there are many ways this practice is customized and implemented to fit across the insurance agency’s different teams.

“We’ve been on this track for eight years,” Pathfinder CEO Scott West says. “Our current process has elevated the job market value of our staff.”

So ask yourself, how can you foster this kind of collaborative learning environment for your younger and more seasoned employees? Do you have knowledge gaps to close or silos to break down? The good news is that reverse mentoring programs don’t require a ton of effort to set up and the potential benefits for your company are tremendous.

Check out more trends and highlights from the January 2015 Wall Street Journal/Vistage Small Business CEO Survey by watching the The Pulse of Small Businesses.

Category: Performance Management / HR Talent Management

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About the Author: Kim Castleberry

Kim Castleberry is a content development strategist and writer based out of Colorado. She recently served as Associate Director of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

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