20 January 2012

Reverse Mentoring - A Good Start in Creating Leaderful Organizations

Today's Globe and Mail has a nice article describing the phenomenon of "reverse mentoring" or "mentoring from the bottom," in which a more junior employee serves as a mentor to a more senior employee - often an executive or senior manager - in ways that "can re-energize older employees, keep younger workers engaged and improve relationships between the different generations in the workplace." In particular (and not unexpectedly) the article focuses on how younger employees can assist their more tech-challenged elders with how to employ social media and how to rethink career advancement strategies in ways that are more in-tune with contemporary "personal branding."

Stereotypes and clich├ęs aside, the notion that good ideas, insights, wisdom, and useful knowledge are the exclusive realm of those who hold more seniority in an organization is by now long obsolesced. One of the hallmarks of more-UCaPP organizations is that employees from every hierarchical level, and all degrees of seniority are invited to contribute and actively participate in organizational venues that were once the sole prerogative of those who had climbed the latter and paid their so-called dues. In fact, my research discovered an organization in which employees from all levels and all departments were invited to take up leadership roles for various infrastructure projects throughout the organization, and invited to participate in what otherwise would be considered senior-level, strategy sessions. In the words of the CEO,
What’s non-traditional about it is the level of contribution [more junior employees] have in almost every decision of the company. They’re often amazed that they’re at the table in those kinds of conversations of these kinds of decisions.... They bring whole new ways of us looking at things. They’ll ask a question and we’ll say, gee, we’ve never thought about it that way. It might be somebody who joined the company two weeks ago as an account coordinator, an entry level position. They might have had an experience through a parent who has told their stories at work, or something they’ve learned at college, or they had an internship, or they’re very well-read or connected, and they put a question on the table that completely changes the way you think about it. And that’s what we’re working very hard not to dismiss, is how much we can learn from anybody, versus it has to be the same five to seven [senior] people, because they’re at a certain status. These decisions are no longer driven on status. 
 What such a reversal of thinking - that decisions are no longer driven on status - accomplishes is to create more engagement among employees - junior employees - especially those about whom more senior managers often have concerns about engagement and commitment. Diverse inclusion not only provides more insight in decision-making, it also helps motivate employees to be more committed to the enterprise. Additionally, such practices conveys a sense of collective responsibility and mutual accountability among all organization members that serve to encourage individual autonomy and agency. What it accomplishes is more than strengthening leadership in a UCaPP context. It sets the stage for transforming our conception of organizational leadership to become focused instead on creating leaderful organizations.

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