Q&A: Abby Walters and Ben Davies: reverse mentoring “can help senior executives understand millennials”

Author: Kirsty Tuxford | Date: 18 May 2016

Two senior leaders from Chapman CG on why everyone can benefit from informal knowledge sharing

Abby WaltersBen Davies
Reverse mentoring schemes pair willing junior employees – typically millennials who have grown up with social media – with a seasoned senior executive, typically a baby boomer, with the aim of sharing ideas and learning from each other. It's a trend taking off in other regions, but is it set to be popular in the GCC? People Management spoke to Abby Walters, MEA practice director, and Ben Davies, managing director of EMEA, both at Chapman CG, a global executive search firm dedicated to HR, to find out more.

Is reverse mentoring common in the UAE?
From our experience, this is not a common practice for local organisations – but a small number of progressive multinationals have been advocates. Organisations have been able to shake up the thought process and generational thinking of their leadership teams and employees. Only when organisations know what motivates this group, will they be able to market to them, so helping senior executives understand millennials may provide this insight – and an edge over the competition.
Does reverse mentoring work best if employees volunteer?
Yes, and the title of the programme can make a difference. One organisation opted for ‘knowledge sharing’ and another likened the process to a show-and-tell for employees from different generations. Removing the word 'mentoring' seemed to diffuse some of the tension and help sharing and learning in a more informal way.
Is there a risk of baby boomers being upset that a younger millennial is smarter than them on certain technological or social media trends?
For those experimenting with this approach in the Middle East it is less about the technology skills and more about appreciating the views and habits of the other generation. The key aims have been to enable sharing on broad topics such as cultural perspectives, career philosophies and consumer habits.
Would the older generation be offended if a younger employee were deemed to know more than them?
There are always cultural nuances but, generally speaking, starting with an informal approach helps to develop the sharing process on both sides. In exchange for insights on how the younger age group thinks and operates, the senior leaders provide valuable advice and guidance.
Should cultural issues be considered when starting a reverse mentoring programme?
Yes: not all senior executives will welcome the idea of being mentored by a junior employee, so invitations to participate as a volunteer are important. Senior leaders should be reminded to consciously take a ‘listen and learn’ approach – even if their natural inclination is to direct the conversation. Create a sense of informality to foster greater openness and sharing of information, whether these sessions happen in person or online.