Mercedes Benz's Manu Saale on the role of reverse mentoring in boosting talent retention
With companies increasingly acquiring a greater global profile, they have started to encourage and embrace diversity more than ever.
This shift is all about creating an inclusive environment, acceptance of every individual’s difference to enable all employees to achieve their full potential and as a result, allowing the companies to reach their fullest potential.
Diversity in the workplace is usually taken to mean race and gender. But age is another important dimension. Generational diversity refers to having employees of several generations - spanning from "Traditionalists" to "Generation Z", via "Baby Boomers, and Generations "X" and "Y" (millenials) - represented in the workplace. In such cases, it is more important than ever for companies to understand the generational differences that set them apart.
Manu Saale, MD and CEO, Mercedes Benz Research and Development India (MBRDI ) says every person in the group has unique knowledge and skills drawn from life experiences of their generation, and this diverse knowledge base can empower individuals to educate and learn from each other.
“Problem solving becomes better. When different perspectives are combined, one will be able to get creative solutions to problems whenever they arise. If an older employee moves on from the organisation, it is beneficial to have younger people on staff knowledgeable about your organisation and committed to its success. Senior employees can act as mentors to help younger workers rise into leadership roles,” he contends.
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Saale talks about challenges of generational diversity, how reverse diverse mentoring can improve generational diversity awareness in the workplace, be a key to retaining top talent, and most importantly, how organisations get it right.
Given the wide variant viewpoints, generational diversity would have its share of challenges. What are the major ones?
Each generation has its preferred communication style and tools which can cause a lot of confusion and miscommunication. Mature workers tend to use technology for productivity purposes. On the other hand, younger colleagues prefer digital communication, leaning towards emails and instant messages.
Workers from different generations hold varying expectations for their employment. They may expect to be evaluated in different ways; they may prefer different training methods; or they may value different work processes.
Job seekers from different generations approach the job search very differently. Younger generations are accustomed to searching for and applying for jobs online. However, this can be a challenge for older workers who grew up in a world of paper applications and face-to-face interviews.
What is reverse mentoring? How can it help promote generational diversity awareness in the workplace?
Mentoring can be an effective way to groom future leaders in companies. Today, it is a two-way street that benefits both mentor and mentee. For companies, it helps elevate work quality, increases efficiency, improves employee retention, and fosters a more positive work environment.
In recent years, formal mentoring programmes are gaining popularity to develop skills, share knowledge, break down silos, and support diversity and inclusion. Traditionally, mentoring involves a more senior, experienced person, advising a more junior person and helping them develop skills, share their experiences and learnings, introduce them to relevant people, and support and encourage them.
However, there are several types of mentoring, and some suit certain purposes within the workplace better than others. One of those is reverse mentoring.
Reverse mentoring is simply the opposite format of traditional mentoring, one where the senior leader is mentored by a younger or more junior employee. The programme acknowledges the skills gaps and opportunities to learn on both sides of a mentoring relationship and flipping the traditional format on its head can be greatly beneficial for both parties.
This model of mentoring can also challenge the notion of mentoring being elitist, as it is not about a senior person taking someone under their wing, but a formal relationship for the purpose of skill sharing and professional development.
Equality, diversity, and inclusion are becoming increasingly important to a company's culture and operations. Many organisations are working to break down barriers, promote inclusivity, and find ways to keep current employees. All these areas can benefit from reverse mentoring.
Some may prefer a formal structure with specific goals to achieve, while others believe that partnerships can occur more organically and still have a positive impact on culture transformation. The programme can help highlight the day-to-day challenges that some employees face... these challenges may have previously been overlooked or not considered important enough by senior management to force a change, but they may be the reason highly skilled employees are leaving your workforce.
When a senior executive is paired with a junior employee from a diverse background, the senior executive gains a better understanding of the issues and challenges that minorities face in the workplace. The benefits that have been drawn from the sharing of experiences across cultural boundaries have been fascinating and useful for the Trust, allowing leaders to be more mindful of equality, diversity, and inclusion in the organisations.
Can reverse mentoring programmes help in retaining top talent?
Yes, reverse mentoring programmes can be a key to retaining top talent. Many companies currently are dealing with significant levels of employee attrition and turnover among junior workers. Additionally, millennials are most likely to quit their jobs. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that many firms are having trouble keeping millennial talent.
Senior leaders frequently fail to connect with young people's concerns, needs, and desires. This includes both their employees and their clients. In this case. reverse mentoring here helps establish ties among the workforce and connects workers to an organisation and its ideals. The objective is to help the senior colleague develop new skills and connect with the younger generation.
Employees with positive working relationships are more likely to be productive, collaborative, motivated, and engaged. The programme can lead to higher employee morale and engagement. Senior-level employees have a strong professional network inside and outside the organisation, but junior- and mid-level employees may not. This programme can help them feel valued and heard, which is likely to decrease turnover.
How can companies create a successful reverse mentoring programme?
Reverse mentoring is being used by an increasing number of organisations to help them achieve their objectives effectively.
Whether the company is planning to promote diversity and inclusion, assist employees in developing their technology skills, retain young talent, drive organisational change, or achieve another goal, experts are increasingly turning to reverse mentoring to achieve these ambitious organisational goals.
The first and most crucial step in developing a successful reverse mentorship programme for any company is to outline its goals and objectives. Reverse mentorship programme can be most effective when both parties have similar expectations of the arrangement. It is beneficial for everyone to understand what they each hope to gain from the mentorship relationship and how they can each contribute to their mutual goals.
Making a match between the mentors and mentees is another crucial step in setting up the programme. Matches are usually made based on the mentor's skill set and the mentee's desired areas of improvement, as well as personality traits and common interests. Programme managers can do this manually, using spreadsheets and their own intuition about who might be a good fit, or with mentoring software.
Additionally, it is also important to clarify the roles and expectations for participants in the programme. Without training, mentors are set up for a struggle since it is more likely that this is their first experience as a mentor. Even if the mentors and mentees are experienced in traditional business mentoring, reverse mentoring presents unique challenges that mentors, and mentees should be prepared for.
Plans for communication are also essential for a programme to succeed, to sum up. To create excitement and attract mentors and mentees, the strategies must begin long before the mentoring plan is put into action. Having a well-respected leader discuss the programme and its significance can be extremely beneficial.
Has reverse mentoring benefitted your organisation’s generational diversity, and how?
The head of HR from MBRDI volunteered for a reverse mentoring programme, collaborating with a younger employee to learn about maximising the use of social media for professional networking.
Additionally, the senior and junior colleagues also benefitted by exchange of expertise and visibility.
In 2019, MBRDI introduced the concept of cross-generational diversity. We began to focus on the emotional and digital connect between mentors and mentees with 30 pairs. The overall effectiveness of the programme was 7.5/10.
During 2020- 2021, the evaluation and training for mentors was conducted at MBRDI where continuous feedback and tracking was undertaken, and mentor connect sessions were organised for sharing the overall experience. The effectiveness of the session was 8.2/10.
With the help of such programmes, younger employees had the opportunity to engage and interact with the senior leadership and share their knowledge on latest technology and in turn, receiving the benefit of business knowledge from their seniors.