Ha….so you know about mentoring?  You sure?

Yep, that’s it; it’s where us older, more esteemed individuals with our vast wealth of experience impart our knowledge to the younger generation. Those learning the ropes, needing guidance and direction. We take them under our wing and share our wisdom and our way of doing things because we have the knowledge. Right?

Hmmm, well that’s the generally accepted idea and it’s been around since I started my training 20 plus years ago. However, recently, I have experienced a different kind of mentoring and it wasn’t until I was asked to get involved with the December 30 day challenge that I realised it had its own name. It’s called ‘reverse mentoring’ and is slightly different to traditional ideas of mentoring.

Let me explain if I may. Reverse mentoring is where a younger employee mentors a more senior colleague in an organisation. The idea being that they have skills and knowledge that the older workforce can learn from. Especially, as younger employees are often more digitally savvy having grown up in an era of PCs and social media.

I am fortunate to have been reverse mentored by not one, but two of my junior staff members. It’s not a formal arrangement but their help and instruction are of invaluable benefit to me in my daily work, especially when it comes to IT.

They each have a different skill set. One is a whizz at organisation. She has guided me in how to structure my emails, my folders and my computed handover documentation. I can now find forms and reports at the touch of a button instead of trawling through mountains of data. In addition, as a result of her input my reports are now beautifully presented and more logically structured.

The other sees the world through a much more creative pair of eyes than me and has a useful knowledge of Word applications. She caught me one day in my office trying to input audit data into an Excel spreadsheet, one box at a time. The answer was Y for 200 out of the 220 boxes and I was inputting each one individually. I had been there for a not inconsiderable length of time and was but a quarter of the way through. Chuckling to herself she quickly intervened. A quick highlight later and a drag of the mouse and the whole of the audit was completed, my sanity returned and my knowledge of Excel improved.

If I have anything visual that I wish to display she is also the one that I consult. One of my Power Points presentations she dubbed as ‘boring’ and I was informed that it needed jazzing up a bit !!!. Needless to say, a constructive discussion took place and the resulting effort looked significantly more polished.

Reverse mentoring has been an eye opener for me in that it offers unique opportunities for staff development. What I love about it is that it challenges the traditional, hierarchical ‘top down’ models of working. Ideas and knowledge are able to flow within the team rather than just in a downwards direction; in turn facilitating fluid, innovative and shared team collaboration. Our younger colleagues need to be encouraged to share their ideas and be listened to.

It is so important that we learn to recognise the skills that each of our colleagues has. We need to appreciate that we all have our own individual and valuable contribution to the functioning of a team. Just because I have more years of experience, does not mean that I am more experienced in everything. This is especially true with respect to the quickly evolving world of IT and social media. The older generation of nurses has much to learn from newly qualified nurses and student nurses.

When we work together, share our knowledge and use our individual talents, we are able to innovate and promote positive change. This in turn facilitates a diverse, compassionate and inclusive workplace environment. Reverse Mentoring, give it a try you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.