3 Ways Reverse Mentoring Can Build Products People Want

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Learning and development has traditionally focused on corporate education such as onboarding, performance coaching and software updates. In the era of digital disruption, learning and development is increasingly becoming a competitive advantage. Organisations that listen to customers, learn and adapt will thrive. Those that bury their heads in the sand, will fail.

World Economic Forum 2016

World Economic Forum 2016

Walmart’s Managing Director in India—the third biggest consumer market in the world—sums it up like this,

“We have to stay close to the younger generation because they have ideas that can cut down on the time taken to serve customers. The reverse mentoring concept is important,” said Kris Iyer.

1. Change mental models

According to Oxford Economics’ 2017 Digital Transformation Executive Study, only 3% of US retailers have completed a company-wide digital transformation. These digital leaders have already earned higher profits and revenues and achieved more competitive differentiation than their peers.

They also expect to earn 23% more revenue growth from digital transformation in the next two years than other companies in the study.

Key to their success has been changing their mental model. Rather than simply viewing technology as a tool, they have successfully implemented a digital mindset, envisioned an entirely different business future and harnessed cross-organisational connectivity. They view customer experience as fundamental to digital transformation. They are finding new ways to serve customers in the ways they want to be served.

2. Recognise the role of social learning

Those companies that implement organisation-wide training in addition to technology change are more likely to achieve success. Lack of appropriately skilled staff has stalled many digital transformation projects to date.

Just as the rate of change in the business environment is much faster now than in previous decades, learning must also adapt and integrate much more with the flow of the workplace and become a key capability. Learning must also become much more experiential and rooted in the context of the work the organisation does.

Traditionally, learning in the workplace has been passive and sedentary, one-way communication. Employees absorbed standardised, online or facilitated content that may or may not be relevant or immediately useful. Formal learning is also costly.

Social learning, to facilitate digital transformation, is:

·      Situational, ready to access and implement in the moment

·      On-demand

·      Self-directed

·      Infinitely customised

·      More enjoyable (when the user experience is good)

·      Leveraged from within the organisation

·      Peer-to-peer

·      Bottom up or top down

Social learning increases employee engagement and information retention. Experts say 80% of workplace learning is now informal and gained on the job.

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3. Engage millennial talent

In 2014, AXA launched a digital reverse mentoring program with two key objectives:

  1. To bring digital to the attention of AXA’s top managers and help them gain a deeper understanding.

  2. To enable AXA managers to spread digital transformation and the right mind-set throughout the business.

AXA’s Reverse Mentoring program comprised more than 1,000 participants in the first year. The program breaks down silos and allows ideas and insights to cross boundaries and span three to four generations. According to AXA, building a community of mentors develops a willingness to share knowledge, harnesses passion and drives organisational learning.

Frank Koster, CEO of AXA Belgium said this about the program:

“The reverse mentoring program has changed my business perspective in a fundamental way. It has helped to put me in the shoes of customers in the modern day and age. Not just young customers, but digitally able customers.”

A reverse mentoring technology platform

WERKIN’s tech-enabled mentoring platform facilitates reverse mentoring on everyday connected devices between head office and retail staff. Team members create digital profiles of their skills, experience and achievements. Algorithms impartially match senior executives with junior retail staff and multi-disciplinary teams. Learning and insight sharing can occur from the shop floor and flow directly to the most senior executive levels.

Reverse mentoring is an effective way of facilitating rapid, in-the-moment social learning in large, dispersed organisations. Encouraging managers to listen to insights and digital trends from younger employees enables organisations to learn and adapt to changes as they happen. Listening to the perspectives of younger staff members also helps organisations engage with fresh ideas, spot upcoming trends and get to grips with new technology. Reverse mentoring is helping businesses build cultures that support digital transformation. Social learning creates organisations more focused on customers, resulting in more customer-centric products and services and increased future profits.