What is a shadow mentor?
The term “reverse mentoring” can rub some people the wrong way. For many people, it paints a picture of a younger, hipper, more technologically in-tune mentor with an older, more traditional, technologically out-of-touch mentee. But at the heart of it, that’s not what reverse mentoring is!
Reverse mentoring is so much more than that, so we’ve coined the term “shadow mentor” to better describe the fluidity of the roles of mentor and mentee. Whereas the traditional view of a mentor is someone older and wiser, the traditional view of shadowing at work is someone more inexperienced that follows and learns from another, more experienced colleague.
However, today we’re seeing a rising trend of these two terms—and subsequently, the roles themselves—being more flexible in definition. Businesses that are open to these evolving roles and what they can mean for more modern mentoring partnerships have a better chance of success. Not only can these new ways of mentoring benefit both the mentor and the mentee, but they can also benefit the organisation itself.
The Problem-Solving Economy
According to StartUp Muster’s 2018 report, almost 60% of startup founders are 40 or younger. The Cusp notes that “Gone are the days when seniority was about being the oldest person in the workplace. We’re now transitioning to an ideas economy, where success is determined by solving problems.”
In fact, StartUp Muster’s co-founder and former CEO Monica Wulff explained that “there is more of a concerted discussion at a younger age now around what problem do you want to solve, rather than what kind of job do you want to get.” And that’s what the data shows: in the most critical events to founding a startup, “solving a problem I was experiencing” ranked second at 60.7% while “solving a problem I was not experiencing” ranked eighth at 12.2%.
via StartUp Muster
Luckily, “solving important problems” also ranked at the top for what future founders expected to enjoy, as well as what founders actually enjoy.
via StartUp Muster
But what does this have to do with shadow mentoring?
There’s been a critical shift in how people view the value of work. No longer choosing a career based on skill-set or industry, but rather on what problem you can help solve, is a radical shift in thinking. And this is what younger, shadow mentors can bring to the table.
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) even suggests creating a “shadow board”, a.k.a. “a group of non-executive employees that works with senior executives on strategic initiatives” in order to “leverage the younger groups’ insights and to diversify the perspectives that executives are exposed to.”
HBR found that using a shadow board helped organisations with business model reinvention, process redesign, and organisational transformation. We already know the benefits of building your own Personal Advisory Board – this is just that one step further.
Youth as an Asset
Jan Owen, CEO for The Foundation for Young Australians, believes that instead of keeping people from making a contribution, youth should be seen as an asset to an organisation:
“If you’re over 45 and you don’t have an under 30-year-old mentor—not mentee, but mentor—you’re going to miss fundamental shifts in thinking that are happening. I think the smart organisations are harvesting young people’s skills and technologies.”
The shift from traditional job shadowing at work and traditional mentoring to a shadow mentoring approach can help realise this. The mentee can see how his or her shadow mentor approaches his or her work. From simple tasks to overall strategy, the mentee can witness this shift in thinking and motivation firsthand.
Of course, technology will play a role—the tools and tech the shadow mentor employs are essential to how s/he understands and executes his or her work—but the learning opportunities extend much further. Having exposure to this new way of thinking about work and seeing how it’s executed in day-to-day tasks will provide mentees with a new perspective from which to see their own work habits and approach to strategy.
Will you bring that competitive advantage to your organisation?