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Yoda on reverse mentoring

How Luke Skywalker can teach something new to your office Yoda



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What happened when Baby Boomer Gary Miles, director of international operations at Roffey Park, got reverse mentored by a confident, rising star within the firm? Here’s the full story.

“Many people have this mind set about ageing that it is a period of decline – we need to change that to a more positive mind set.”

This was a recent quote from a senior citizen in The Straits Times on the launch of the government’s Positive Ageing toolkit.

And it’s true, we need to ensure age isn’t a barrier at work particularly as better health, medicine and quality of life means that there is an ever-increasing proportion of older citizens in the workplace.

For some it is simply an economic necessity as planned and hoped for retirement is still too far away.

Others will need to feel they still have something to offer the workplace and gain great energy from continuing their contribution to the success of enterprises.

So it’s great news to read the latest figures from the Ministry of Manpower which indicated significant improvements in the Singaporean workforce.

Most notable in them were the continued tripartite efforts to enhance the employability of older workers, where the LFPR (Labour Force Participation Rate) for older residents (those aged 55-64) rose significantly from 56.3% in 2006 to 69.5% in 2015.

Many people have this mind set about ageing that it is a period of decline – we need to change that to a more positive mind set.

What can organisations and their HR departments do to manage the needs of older workers and support them to use their expertise effectively so they pass on their wisdom to the next generation?

What motivates your older workers? 

Let’s start by understanding what motivates those people at work who are in the 50-60 age group.

Our Singapore Management Agenda research found that meaningful and interesting work and making a difference were key motivators for them but significantly they were also motivated by challenges and helping others succeed.

Organisations can tap into this altruistic desire by using mentoring.

Mentoring is traditionally the province of those older and wiser who are willing to take an interest in supporting an individual in their long term development.

Mentoring opportunities that can be exploited at little cost and help those who are rising up the organisation who need to develop interpersonal, leadership or political skills.

It gives older workers a real ‘buzz’ by enabling them to have a positive impact and ensures the smooth passing of organisational knowledge onto the next generation.

It gives older workers a real ‘buzz’ by enabling them to have a positive impact and ensures the smooth passing of organisational knowledge onto the next generation.

But, what if that position was reversed and the older, long-serving individual is actively mentored by someone younger?

This ‘reverse’ mentor could provide a different kind of wisdom and a new perspective on the company and its culture.

Turning the mentoring relationship on its head can be revolutionary for everyone involved. That is exactly my experience.

A long-standing senior consultant at Roffey Park (and Baby Boomer), I embraced the opportunity to be mentored by one of our rising stars, an individual with bags of insight and confidence.

My mentor provided a new and refreshing lens through which I could take a fascinating look at my behaviour and work patterns.

Through reverse mentoring I gained:

  • New energy and excitement about the next stage of my own development and its alignment with our organisational growth plans
  • The opportunity to interact with new ideas at a challenging intellectual level, particularly in the area of organisational development – an area of strength for my mentor
  • I realised in my mentor’s eyes I still had something to offer and am not perceived as “past it”; a relief in our increasingly ageist society
  • Finally, a greater ability to embrace change and learn from it.

Kouzes and Posner (2007) described the five practices of exemplary leadership as: modelling the way, encouraging the heart, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process and enabling others to act.

Each of these practices is implicit to mentoring.

Reverse mentoring can help senior managers and experts to challenge their own “sacred cows”.

At the same time, reverse mentoring can help senior managers and experts to challenge their own “sacred cows”. It can empower them, through new insights and mind sets, to gain new perspectives on the world.

While acknowledging the great strength and business sense of making the most of older workers in the workforce, nevertheless integration and cross-generational co-operation will be essential to business success too.

Organisations that are more enlightened and looking to maximise the benefit of having four generations in the workforce working alongside each other will also look to introduce mechanisms that help older employees to gain from the experience of their younger colleagues.

Image: Shutterstock



How do you know if your #learning is relevant for the #future?
Find out at the region's largest conference for HR and L&D practitioners, Learning & Development Asia, happening in September.
Register for early-bird savings now.

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