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A change in role

by Patrice Gordon
Indian Management November 2023

The ability for leaders and organisations to create and maintain an authentic human connection will play a critical role in whether organisations either thrive or survive in this increasingly VUCA business environment and leaders must navigate the complexities of our workforce with confidence and vision.

Reverse mentoring is when a senior leader is mentored by a person from an under represented background — by means of gender, age, ethnicity, disability to name a few. They become ‘the novice’ and lean into their growth mindset to understand their biases and drive change when it comes to equity.” - Patrice Gordon

Why it matters

The latest Gallup survey focused on the South Asian region reports that 46 per cent of individuals are ‘quiet[1]quitting’ and not engaged in the workplace, with 33 per cent thriving and engaged and 21 per cent ‘loud quitting. The figures for the region are almost 30 per cent above i.e., better than that of the global average when it comes to both engaged/not engaged which is interesting.

In addition, Better-up’s latest connection survey revealed that 69 per cent of employees are not satisfied with the opportunities for connection inside the workplace, 52 per cent want more connection at work and 38 per cent do not trust their co-workers.

In a rapidly evolving workforce, we find ourselves grappling with complex dynamics that demand our immediate attention:

Generational gaps: Embracing the convergence of Baby Boomers and Gen Z, we find up to five generations sharing the same workspace. This diverse mix of perspectives and experiences offers a unique opportunity for collaboration and growth.

Gender equity: While we strive towards achieving Goal No.5 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, we are acutely aware of the long road ahead in realising true gender balance. We must address the existing disparities and create a more inclusive environment where every individual can thrive.

Ethnicity and cultural representation: Building teams that reflect the rich tapestry of our society has undeniable benefits. With a diverse workforce, we tap into a wealth of ideas and foster creativity. However, we must also acknowledge the potential for misunderstandings and actively work towards fostering an inclusive and respectful environment.

The Gig Economy: As the workforce continues to evolve, predictions suggest a rise in short-term contracts and freelancing, particularly among younger employees. This challenges traditional norms of job commitment and requires organisations to adapt to a more fluid employment landscape.

The Role of AI and technology: Automation and artificial intelligence are no longer mere buzzwords; they are becoming the sixth member of our team. This technological advancement raises questions about the future of roles that were once exclusive to humans, forcing us to re-evaluate and adapt our strategies.

With so many differences, there is a high probability of views and opinions becoming more polarised and disjointed if creating a more collaborative and inclusive organisational culture is not prioritised.

Organisations must go beyond mere representation and create environments where employees can truly thrive.

The ability for leaders and organisations to create and maintain an authentic human connection will play a critical role in whether organisations either thrive or survive in this increasingly VUCA business environment and leaders must navigate the complexities of our workforce with confidence and vision.

Essential characteristics for participants of reverse mentoring programmes include:

Curiosity: A natural sense of curiosity drives the desire to discover new ideas and perspectives. Curious individuals eagerly learn, ask questions, and seek knowledge, making them ideal reverse mentoring participants. Their inquisitiveness challenges the status quo and leads to innovative solutions.

Courage: Reverse mentoring demands stepping out of comfort zones and engaging in honest conversations. It takes courage to share experiences, challenge hierarchies, and embrace vulnerability. Individuals with courage actively contribute to personal and collective growth.

Openness to change: In our rapidly evolving world, being open to change is crucial. Reverse mentoring participants should embrace new ideas, approaches, and perspectives. Their willingness to adapt enables success in complex and ever-changing environments.

Self-awareness: Reflecting on strengths, weaknesses, and biases is key to self-awareness. By understanding themselves better, participants can engage in meaningful self-reflection, identify areas for growth, and continuously improve.

Desire to be a change agent: Reverse mentoring programs aim to create a culture of learning and collaboration, where participants actively contribute to positive change. Individuals with a strong desire to be change agents challenge norms and drive meaningful transformations.

By focusing on these attributes, reverse mentoring programs create a diverse learning environment, encouraging the development of skills, broadening perspectives, and fostering a culture of continuous growth.

I have been inspired by the examples of large organisations from diverse industries embracing reverse mentoring within India:

Film and entertainment industry: Renowned film director and producer Mahesh Bhatt has been clear of his support and advocacy for reverse mentoring, supporting the directorial debut of Krishna Bhatt. Ensuring that an alternative perspective was not only present but included within the writers' room, Mahesh states, “Krishna is a representative of today’s era. So according to their thinking, we served her the idea and when she okayed it then the final script was prepared”.

Professional Services: EY kicked off its GenWHY reverse mentoring programme in August 2023, its pioneering reverse mentoring scheme, the aim was to tap into the fresh, disruptive insights of younger team members to fuel the company’s growth trajectory. Among the vibrant minds involved was 25-year-old Kshitij Chauhan from the tech consulting division. “Look, the face of the workforce is evolving. Our generation is here, not just to fit in, but to shake things up, challenge the norm, and drive innovation,” Chauhan points out. “GenWHY isn’t just a programme; it’s a platform that empowers us to step into leadership roles, brainstorm business growth strategies, spot upcoming trends, and essentially, make EY a magnet for top-tier talent.”

Insurance: Alok Rungta, Deputy CEO and Chief Financial Officer of Future Generali India Life Insurance, highlighted how reverse mentoring can help finance leaders to stay updated with time and learn modern skills. “We get youngsters in specific fields to spend time with us so that we don't become dinosaurs.”

Banking: In a ground-breaking move, Citi India’s Asia Pacific Pride Inclusion Network implemented a LGBTQ+ reverse mentoring initiative across eight nations. Over a transformative six-month journey, LGBTQ+ professionals step into the mentor's shoes, guiding senior leaders—who serve as mentees—through the nuances of LGBTQ+ experiences and perspectives. The end game? Equipping leaders with the emotional intelligence they need to foster and safeguard a culture that celebrates both our unique identities and common humanity.

These organisations are not just ticking boxes, they are pioneering a cultural revolution, one reverse mentoring relationship at a time. But remember, it is not a one-size-fits-all fix. Reverse mentoring is not a silver bullet. It is a piece of a much larger diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) puzzle. For it to truly work, it needs to be part of an ecosystem that's ripe for change, driven by individuals who are curious, courageous, open to change, self-aware, and hell-bent on being agents of transformation.

We are navigating a labyrinth of generational divides, gender imbalances, cultural diversity, technological disruptions, and a seismic shift towards a gig economy. In this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) landscape, leaders have two choices: adapt or get left behind. And let’s be clear, adaptation does not mean mere survival; it means thriving in a way that brings everyone along for the ride.

So, here is my call to action: Don’t just read this and nod. Take this as your cue to be a trailblazer in your own right. Whether you are a leader or an aspiring one, step up and step into a reverse mentoring program. Be the change you wish to see, because the future waits for no one, and the time for action is now.

Patrice Gordon Patrice Gordon is founder, Eminere. Patrice is also author of Reverse Mentoring: Removing Barriers and Building Belonging in the Workplace.

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