Business strategy: How reverse mentoring gets positive results

by AB06 Feb 2016
The marketing and communications agency OMD Australia was last year named one of the ‘Best Places to Work’ (Over 100 employees) by BRW.

One of their successful learning and development initiatives has been the reverse mentoring scheme, which involves Gen Y employees mentoring OMD senior executives.

The scheme has been going for more than two years and originated after the company embraced feedback from staff, said Martin Cowie, National People & Development Director at OMD Australia.

“A lot of our policies come from the feedback in our staff surveys,” Cowie told L&D Professional.

“They are long and extensive surveys and we take everything very seriously that comes back to us.

“The message that we got about two years ago was that communication between all levels needed to be improved, so reverse mentoring was one of the ideas we came up with.”

The program began with the company asking staff to apply if they wish to be part of it, and finding out which member of the executive they would like to mentor.

The initiative itself is conducted in a normal mentoring way and involves bi-monthly catch-ups, normally over a coffee or lunch, said Cowie.

The only slight difference is that this mentoring tends to work both ways and is mutually beneficial, he added.

For instance, the OMD CEO Peter Horgan is reverse mentored by a senior digital employee Dan Robins. In addition to Robins getting the experience of working with the CEO, Horgan gains a greater understanding of what is taking place in the digital area, said Cowie.

“The senior executives gain an understating of how the employees are going and what’s going on in the company. Inevitably, they will improve their knowledge, so it’s a win-win situation that’s chugging along quite successfully,” said Cowie.

 “We want an informal look of what really is going on, how people feeling, what are we doing right and what we are not doing right.

“Then what happens is the executive team chat through the feedback in our exec meetings and if multiple people are saying something then we need to do something about it. So it is really, really useful in that respect.

“We are not arrogant enough to think we have got all the knowledge and we can pass it down.”

Cowie added that the program is particularly useful because there is that danger that you can get out of touch with technology, which is particularly true in the communication industry that’s changing so quickly.

“If you are over 40 you are not going to be a digital native,” said Cowie.

“These younger guys are acting, behaving, communicating and consuming in a different way to older people.
 
“I think it’s important for us to understand how we can best communicate with them and how that whole generation is communicating and consuming media nowadays for us to stay relevant.”
 

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