Management

How reverse mentoring can benefit everyone

5 June 2017 | By Anil Iyer

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In an age of big data and disruptive technology, there is an opportunity for millennials to actively contribute to business resilience. Anil Iyer reports on how ACE's Progress Network group is proposing a pilot reverse mentoring scheme for the industry.

Anil Iyer

BIM, big data, social media, disruptive technology, the internet of things – these are all buzzwords that are commonly used by professionals working in the natural and built environment. However, how many seasoned professionals truly understand their meaning and significance, and are they sufficiently hands-on to be able to implement them in a manner that can make a positive impact on their businesses?

Reverse mentoring could provide a solution. This is a 21st century concept that pairs up seasoned executives (mentees) with millennials (mentors) and, by doing so, closes the knowledge gap for both groups – the senior executives pick up on social media and technology trends, and the early career professionals gain valuable insight into business strategy.

The benefits to the organisation are apparent – diverse employee generations are brought together and both emerging and established leaders are empowered, helping enhance business reputation and minimise retention issues. Additionally, the greater uptake of new technological advancements may save time, cost and improve the company’s innovation as well as long-term economic resilience.

While reverse mentoring schemes have been established and rewards recognised in technology giants such as GE and Microsoft for more than a decade, it is only now that companies working in the built and natural environment are embracing the concept.

Progress Network, Association for Consultancy and Engineering’s (ACE) body for emerging professionals, is developing a pilot scheme to test the industry’s appetite for reverse mentoring to make this the norm.

Leading this initiative is Rebecca Wooding, national vice-chair of Progress Network and hydropower engineer with Mott Macdonald. She explains: “The pilot is modelled on a reverse mentoring scheme that Mott MacDonald has recently introduced internally – our scheme focuses on diversity and inclusion and covers cultural differences and unconscious bias. Capitalising on the lessons learnt from implementing this scheme, we feel this is a great tool to address the growing technology understanding and uptake gap between millennials and senior staff across the industry.”

The Progress Network pilot will involve pairs (mentee and mentor) from around six ACE companies of varying sizes. A workshop involving all participants would initially be held at which the ground rules would be established (including addressing sensitive issues), objectives and KPIs set and frequency of mentoring sessions agreed.

The pilot scheme is envisaged to last around 12 months. Progress would be monitored and lessons learned recorded, with a feedback session set up with all participants before the results of the pilot are shared.

Should the reverse mentoring pilot scheme prove successful, there is potential for the model to be rolled out across the industry. The scheme could be expanded to include other reverse mentoring subjects such as diversity and inclusion, and the challenge that many companies have of retaining middle managers after they have secured their chartered status. 

The scheme could also eventually include mentors and mentees from different companies – this could particularly benefit micro-organisations with less than 10 staff which may not have an appropriate mentor in-house.

If successful, the Progress Network initiative helps to satisfy a number of objectives in ACE’s new corporate plan for 2017 to 2019. Not only does it support commercial best practice, business continuity and risk resilience, it improves the industry business environment and helps promote the industry to the next generation.

Anil Iyer is the chief operating officer of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering

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