Mentoring with a twist: encouraging employees to stay curious & creative

Mentoring at work
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Milko van Duijl
General Manager for UK & Ireland at CA Technologies
CA Technologies
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Most businesses today will have some form of training in place, whether this is formal, through a third-party provider, or through internal employee mentoring schemes. There’s currently a great focus on improving diversity in the workplace, especially for STEM jobs.

It’s become the general consensus that having diverse teams and actively promoting an inclusive work environment is better for business.

Adding a twist to mentoring

Mentoring programmes are a great way to attract and motivate ambitious employees and help improve retention and productivity.

The mentor has the benefit of experiences they can share and the mentee brings a fresh perspective to the senior leader. I’ve recently been participating in a mentoring programme with a colleague, Patricia Boffin.

However, this is a mentoring scheme with a twist: it’s a new reverse mentoring Programme CA Technologies has introduced.

In this instance, Patricia is mentoring me. It’s a reversal of the traditional role of mentor and mentee. Patricia is a Support Delivery Manager: a high-potential employee, somewhat younger than me, and of a different gender and ethnicity. Reverse mentoring involves her coaching, advising and sharing her diverse personal and professional experience for my benefit.

Feedback is a gift, so when our HR team approached me to participate in the scheme, I jumped at the chance.

As a senior manager in the company, I am continually looking to improve my skills and reverse mentoring provides a completely different perspective to the feedback I would traditionally receive from my senior peers.

By sharing her diverse personal and professional insight, Patricia has helped me gain greater self-awareness and prompted me to change the way I work.

Promoting diversity

This programme is part of the company’s ‘Thrive’ strategy to celebrate diversity of thought, so that every employee feels comfortable and confident to bring their whole selves to work. Social programmes like these play a powerful role in championing inclusion, and there’s strong evidence that diverse teams produce better business results.

There are other advantages to reverse mentoring too.

Besides fostering diversity and inclusion, it ignites innovation, encourages a teachable spirit, and accelerates collaboration. Moreover, it reduces division and connects generations together. During the time Angela Ahrendts was CEO of Burberry, for example, one of her first moves was to adopt reverse mentoring.

She not only endorsed that seasoned executives should listen to their younger team members but also empowered those young people to advise the moves Burberry would make.

So how does a reverse mentoring programme work in practice?

The programme I undertook was a six-month pilot, with meetings scheduled on a monthly basis.

Our first confidential meeting was about getting to know each other, talking about our respective roles in the company, what was on our minds and how we each deal with the complexities we face.

From that, Patricia was able to share invaluable advice, bringing an entirely different perspective to my thinking. Asking whether I had tried approaching the problem in a different way or her perception of the situation I had described.

Her thoughts were invariably not a line of thought I had considered.

The diverse perspective that Patricia was able to provide on the company at a less senior level helped me in a number of other ways too.

Patricia comes from a customer support background, whereas my principal focus is on sales. Here again there were fresh ideas that ultimately changed the way I work.

For example, I used to get very frustrated by people in meetings responding to emails. To me it showed a lack of focus. Patricia suggested that I was maybe acting like a school headmaster and to be more relaxed about it.

People can multitask after all! That was valuable advice that I took back to my day-to-day meetings.

Breaking down barriers

The programme is by no means aimed solely at my benefit, or at the benefit of senior leaders, Patricia was just as keen to get involved in the programme.

It gave her a unique opportunity to work on her leadership skills, gain greater confidence to have crucial conversations with leaders in the company and also help her raise her profile with the senior leadership team.

Reverse Mentoring is now becoming a stable part of CA’s Thrive agenda. While reducing unconscious bias and challenging assumptions, it is also helps others, like me, to better understand the difficulties that employees experience.

Ultimately, the Reverse Mentoring programme increases the commitment among senior managers to recruit, retain and promote diverse talent.

It can be lonely at the top of an organisation...

People can fall into the trap of giving you a varnished version of the truth. Reverse Mentoring breaks down that barrier, bringing fresh perspective and innovation of thought. I feel privileged to have taken part. It’s a great way to keep employees ‘Curious & Creative’, and not just for a week.

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