Part 1 - The genius of the generation gap

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In part one of this article, a closer look at how as the digital era advances, older and younger generations collaborate, fostering multi-layered mentorship in the workplace.

The benefit, dynamism and diversity of thought that encompasses a multi-generational workforce has resulted in more organisations embracing the concept. Many HR departments are therefore making a concerted effort to create age diverse teams and this is naturally fostering cross-generational mentorship and collaboration - resulting in reverse mentorship programmes.

Gontse Madumo, talent acquisition lead for Sub Saharan Africa at Mondelez International, said that there are multiple benefits to reverse mentorship, however the objectives of each organisation will be different.

She explained, “The determination of those objectives should be based on a pain point such as retention of Millennials and Gen Z’s. Where the objective is clearly outlined, a programme can be designed that addresses it.”

There is often a divide where the older generations spend more time with each other and the younger generations also keep to themselves, so reverse mentorship serves as a suitable antidote for this.

Gontse added, “It allows for the unique strengths of each generation to shine through and have a positive impact on organisational culture, building a cohesive and collaborative work environment.”

“While more senior employees bring knowledge, skills and often industry experience; younger employees bring a modern perspective. Used well this can be a fountain of creativity and innovation which all organisations require in a competitive and ever-evolving environment,” she adds.

Competitive advantage

Prioritising building age-diverse teams is a good avenue for fostering knowledge transfer, collaboration and diversity.

Advaita Naidoo, Africa MD at Jack Hammer Global, said, “I think it is diversity in the truest sense of the word. It exposes you to different viewpoints, ways of thinking and skills.”

Recent graduates also have technical skills that set them apart. “They have updated theoretical knowledge and it comes from a different environment. They come with a different way of doing things in general which could be a competitive advantage. It fosters a process of learning and self-improvement while placing a lot of value on learning from within,” she said.

Reverse mentorship allows innovation to come from everywhere. “It’s not just on the C-Suite to come up with new ideas and strategies when you can learn from people lower down in the organisation,” she added.

Be intentional

However, she cautions against limiting cross generational mentorship to informal and organic interactions and suggests implementing measurable systems, such as a commitment to meet at set times, instead.

She believes it still needs to be fleshed out; allowing for more clarity on what it should be, what it is trying to achieve and how success should be measured.

“I haven’t seen it happen in a particularly formal way, it’s happening but not systematically,” she said.

Informality can also put a lot of pressure on junior employees. “They don’t have complete sight of the business and the end-to-end running of it. They will want to say something that’s earth-shattering or are afraid of saying the wrong thing. It can be quite a pressure when you haven’t grown into it or climbed the ladder. These are the things that can happen if things aren’t done sensitively and with intention,” she explained.

Advaita suggested creating a structure that outlines discussion points and bringing the junior person into broader conversations and exposing them to a broader range of people.

“This will work to their advantage and they won’t feel like they are being used for their information gathering and offerings. Put a cadence in process that says mentors and mentees should meet once a month or once every two months- and nothing should override that time,” she said.

Foster a situation that allows for an easy exit to minimise pressure. “If the relationship is not working, the mentor in this instance should have comfort in being able to step out and that can be really tricky when there is a power imbalance. There should be a HR person they could speak to once it’s more formalised,” she said.

Gontse added, “Measuring engagement, a sense of belonging, feelings around ageism, productivity and digital proficiency are some ways in which reverse mentoring can be seen as valuable. That said, organisations need to begin with an end in mind. They need to be clear on what they hope to achieve through the process and clear on expectations.”

This will also encourage more organic exchanges between different generations as all parties benefit.

Read part 2 of the article here

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