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The value of a company is in its innovation, product, and market position. I believe the most often overlooked asset is the staff. They create your goods, provide your service, have direct contact with the customer, and represent your brand everywhere they go online and off. They impact your business in a multitude of ways on a daily basis. Investing in their business education is critical to your success.

Where did you learn the basic behaviors of the business world? I will hazard a guess and say it wasn’t in school. Most likely you learned by instruction and observation of others. As business owners and senior staff, we share some of the responsibility in making sure that our employees, junior and senior, know what is expected of them and provide means of meeting those expectations. 

Much of the aptitude we require of our staff is learned in school: accounting, cost benefit analysis, market projections, copywriting, engineering new designs, and so on. There are some skills that can’t be learned anywhere else but on the job such as interpersonal communications, industry networking, and customer service at every level. Employees won’t know everything we need them to know when they walk in the door. This is where mentoring comes in.

We are all familiar with mentoring in the workplace. A senior staff member is paired with someone more junior and they are encouraged to meet regularly in goal setting for success. Reverse mentoring is a new twist on this model.  When he was CEO of General Electric Co., Jack Welch championed this shift by ordering 500 top-level executives to reach out to younger staff members in order to learn how to use the Internet effectively. He recognized that the business world was changing and he wanted to provide his staff with the education and resources necessary to be competitive.

For the first time, junior employees have a vast amount of knowledge that senior staff didn’t have the opportunity to learn when they were in school or in their years of job experience. This is putting your executives at a distinct disadvantage. Technology such as mobile devices, touch screens, navigation of digital social spaces, brand nuance and function, second screens, cloud services, syncing devices and more are all new territory. You can setup the mentoring teams in much same way as before but now you will ask for different outcomes.

The benefits for the senior staff are increased confidence in a changing workplace, more up-to-date skill sets, increased independence and awareness in technology use, increased productivity, and a sense of camaraderie and teamwork with other employees. The benefits for junior personnel are more visibility with executive staff, a greater understanding of the management arena, increased loyalty and trust, and learning the importance of soft skills. Reverse mentoring also decreases job turnover in junior personnel. Young employees at Hewlett Packard are standing in line to establish reverse mentoring within their company.

Your organization can take the opportunity to put in place a sense of training around the art of interpersonal communications or soft skills. These abilities aren’t often taught in schools and your less experienced staff will benefit greatly from guidance. The face-to-face meetings that your mentoring teams have can encourage the advancement social skills and the how-tos of relationship building. Just imagine the impact of teaching the importance of handwritten notes, a strong handshake, direct eye contact, and the understanding that communication happens in many places not just digitally. Not only will your employee receive benefit but so will the company image as they interact with the outside world.

I do have to address generational stereotypes. Not all of the mentees will be technologically advanced and not all mentors will need the assistance. As you might expect, the age group that is engaged in Internet usage the least is the group aged 65 and over. What may surprise you is that they are using the Internet daily at a rate of 53 percent and is the group with the highest level of growth, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. “Once they (older adults) are given the tools and training needed to start using the internet, they become fervent users of the technology.” This proves that age doesn’t have much to do with adapting to tech, it’s about access to information and training.

Consider reverse mentoring for your company because the advantages can greatly impact your business culture and productivity. Younger staff will learn what they need to know about business and relationships that they couldn’t learn from books or videos and they will be providing an invaluable source of information to their teammate. Your senior staff will get much needed hands-on assistance when it comes to technology adaptation, gain a sense of solidarity, and may be exposed to a new way of thinking about the same problems they face every day. Tech is always better in teams....

Kerry Rego is a social media trainer, technology consultant and keynote speaker in Santa Rosa. She is the author of “What You Don’t Know About Social Media CAN Hurt You: Take Control of Your Online Reputation.”  707-520-4572, kerry@kerryregoconsulting.com, kerryregoconsulting.com.