The digital breach is a global reality that has been replicated, on a small scale, within the companies. Right now, job profiles associated with digital transformation are hard to find, and 40% of European companies have this problem. These different generations, which have various levels of technological knowledge, live together in an environment that separates them in many aspects; although, I believe that it also unites them in others.
Many times we talk about millennials as the generation who will bring the digital knowledge to the companies, and that this is what organisations need. This affirmation is half-true. It is true that Millennials have a natural tendency to move in digital environments and it is also true that they behave in a natural way when using digital tools and by having digital approaches. This attitude – and let me call it this way – it’s necessary to give companies agility and drive, to get out of pre-established moulds.
Although, this attitude must not be confused with digital knowledge. Not every Millennial has knowledge about programming, big data, social networks, agile methodologies, among others, which is the experience that companies are demanding. It is not the same to be a user than to have applied knowledge. This is why I want to drive our young talents and our educational model to be disruptive and evolve more. Education needs to take a shift towards the new employment demands that many companies have. Yes, we are improving, but we need to do it quicker.
Having established the difference between user and digital knowledge lets address the fundamental issue of this article: How do we contaminate our organisations with this natural ability to be a digital user.
In human resources, we have long been trying to prevent personal, cultural or generational differences to interfere in labour relations. And in this case is no different: to try to close that gap, it is necessary a more holistic approach than a simple training plan to acquire digital skills. Learning on our own through our experience is what we are accustomed.
Thanks to its effectiveness and its benefits, reverse mentoring is increasingly popular in enterprises in which coexist baby boomers, millennials and Generation X members. Its use is integrated into the dynamics of the more experienced workers, and we are finding more and more success stories (mine is one of them, which I also want to talk about). To learn, listen and interpret the implications of what the members of younger generations may tell us, we should do an exercise in humility. The same exercise that also the millennials have to do to nurture themselves with the knowledge provided by the experienced ones.
After all, digital natives have grown hand in hand with technology and, therefore, are “natural consultants”. The younger workers who join the staff have already had the role of “personal technology experts” in their own families, so it is a role in which they are very comfortable. Still, the reverse mentoring experience, on its own, is not going to help companies to face the future.
These types of programs should be articulated as a two-way road, in which both sides have the best experience. When you establish a personal relationship as close as mentor-mentee, you acquire knowledge that goes beyond how to use specific tools or learn certain technical skills. And it is more enriching when also these mentor-disciple roles are continuously exchanged.
At Vodafone, our reverse mentoring program is called Digital Ninjas. The DNA of a company like Vodafone is innovation and digitisation, and therefore these are two of the most strategic levels to comply the values of the enterprise. It requires that the people who lead the company understand and embrace the complex panorama of trends, processes and tools, both digital and methodological.
We were aware that this mentality cannot change overnight. That is why, in the beginning, we consider it as a trip. And what better than an expert companion, for the hard first days when we are forced to leave our comfort zone?
We have identified more than 400 Digital ninjas, in Vodafone Spain. People with millennial attitude who are willing to devote their time to help those colleagues who find it harder to incorporate digital tools in their daily use. By guaranteeing support and tools to these people, we can ensure to reduce the intergenerational digital gap.
I have been fortunate to have a first level Digital Ninja, which has helped me familiarise myself with digital tools that I knew but did not use, practically showing me the benefits of its use. Speed, simplicity, collaboration, fun, would be the first words that would come to mind if I had to do a quick assessment of my sessions with my digital ninja. I invited him to participate with me in HR meetings where we valued the way to develop human resources processes, such as recruitment, to have his practical point of view of which tools are the most attractive for their generation.
It has been beneficial to have this quick point of view because it has helped us to think about HR from the perspective of the target that we want to address. And they have had an active participation in the decision making.
However, it is also true that in many approaches we (HR) have gone ahead. Radar for innovation is in our DNA, because of our functions and because of our expertise; therefore we can even be one step ahead of what is occurring right now. As an example, I have shared with my digital ninja initiatives that have surprised him by the novelty or even because he did not know that they were being used in some areas.
We also enjoy sharing the complexity of being part of an Executive Committee. Many times the decisions that are sometimes so obvious to most are very complicated when you take into account all the consequences of the implications. During these moments the roles were reversed, and the knowledge and expertise flowed in both directions making the process a real exchange of experiences.
Humility is a fundamental element in the processes of developing people. The ability to accept your gaps of ignorance or lack of information, and be able to share them with others showing your vulnerabilities and your doubts.
These elements remain the key to success for all generations who want to grow. Millennials, Baby Boomers, X or Z !!! It doesn’t matter!! Everyone needs to have that ambition to grow, with a passion for the unknown, with adaptability, without fear of unlearning what has been learned in many cases. With humility and predisposition to share with generosity. That is what makes the difference in these programs of knowledge exchange or reverse mentoring.