Monday, 18 february 2019 | Redacción CEU
Trying to adapt to the fast pace of “the era of change" may be an exhausting task. Companies fight hard to position themselves and implement effective strategies that attract the best talent to join their staff. Of course, their fight does not end there. Once the talent is recruited, the firms must be able to pull it in so that it does not end up migrating to another place. Therefore, this is a permanent goal. Their mission will always underway, as talent is the seed that makes business success germinate. Having said that, we can think about whether it is possible to go a step further: What if talent, besides being enjoyed, can also be shared? What if companies are able to combine the experience of senior professionals with the talent of new employees? What if, in this era of digital transformation, the old patterns are starting to become obsolete?
In recent years, we have seen how the role of the millennial professional has occupied a large part of the contemporary debate on Human Resources: a generation that sometimes has been acclaimed and sometimes has been vilified. The fact is that the arrival of the millennials into the workplace has meant a great change for companies: professionals now establish relationship with work in a very different way.
Andrés Ortega, a sociologist and expert in HR, explains in an article that more than belonging to a generation, being millennial means an attitude that favors a series of conducts and habits that are put into practice by certain professionals. Therefore, it is not a question of age necessarily, but a question of new behaviors. The specialist highlights among them some as the development of relationships based on collaboration and sharing, the concern for the continuous improvement, non-conformism, disruption, rebellion, the permanent need of feedback and motivation, entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship, versatility, the trend to multitask, the integration of technology, freedom and mobility.
Although something which is highly valued by chief executive officers in relation to millennial talent is the great ability to adapt to new technologies, this is not the only virtue of these new employees. Their original approach can enrich the company as a whole, especially when it is combined with programs and policies that seek to foster the coexistence between different types of professionals and generations. This is where the so-called mentoring programs come into play, programs in which professionals (mentors) assist others (mentees) in order to help their development of skills or knowledge, and thus their growth as professionals.
Mentoring is usually faced from a hierarchical approach. Experience and position are the "certificates" that recognize professionals as mentors. However, in an era which is marked by uncertainty and constant change, all professionals are forced to confront work from a perspective of lifelong learning. In other words, we all become "apprentices", we all need "mentors" at some point. On the other hand, mentoring does not always have to be rigid in its structure, it can be practiced among equals and even in the opposite direction to the general norm: from junior employees to experienced professionals, from recently arrived talents to senior managers, from the bottom up.
Although many companies have not adopted this type of approach yet, the concept of reverse mentoring is not new. It was Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, who, in 1999, proposed five hundred executives of the company to seek mentors among the employees of lower positions to learn the use of the Internet from them, and thus to take advantage of the acquired knowledge for the benefit of the company. Such was his trust on this method that he himself participated in the project, he looked for his own mentor. Of course, to understand this type of approach, it is necessary to understand that technology is not only a skill mastered exclusively by young people, nor does learning always come from the top.
Mentoring consists of an exchange that, provided it is well focused, will be beneficial for all those who participate on it (visibility and identification of talent, intergenerational learning, better understanding of the other, etc.). Just as new employees and workers with lower positions can learn from veteran professionals, managers and executives, the latter can also learn from the former. The problem is that the communication between these different types of professionals is often not open or bidirectional. In those cases, the opportunity to discover new perspectives and understand and take advantage of other points of view is missed.
The adoption of measures and programs based on reverse mentoring does not imply a loss of authority on the part of veteran profiles or senior positions, but rather favors a stronger corporate culture which is based on teamwork. In short, it is a bet on talent, active listening, learning in all directions and the commitment to seek the common benefit. It should also be noted that the success of this type of mentoring does not depend only on the implementation of isolated programs, since these will not work if companies do not promote values and principles that are aligned with this philosophy of learning. On the other hand, inverse mentoring should not be conceived as a simple exchange of technical knowledge, there are many things that can be learned in this kind of processes.
In the current business environment, a change is taking place simultaneously in people management and leadership. This new context requires professionals who live up to the challenge. That is the reason that had led The CEU IAM Business School to design its Master's Degree in Human Resources, the Management of Talent and Leadership. A training that uses a blended-learning methodology so that students can combine the study with the day-to-day work.