Friday, December 01, 2017

Learning from the Young People in Your Organization

The youngest can teach the most experienced in an organization at times.  They have a fresh perspective, and they are often more up to date about new societal and technological trends.  Moreover, they may not fear challenging the conventional wisdom, as compared to some more experienced employees.   Organizations have formalized this notion, describing it as reverse mentorhship.  My earliest memory of such a practice comes from Welch's time as CEO of GE.  (video below). 

I had an interesting discussion today, though, with a group of executives about the notion of reverse mentorship.  One executive mentioned that it can be frustrating at times when young employees put forth new ideas on a frequent basis.  It's easy to push back and reject what feels like "pestering" or "badgering" by that individual.   As he said to me, you just want to say, "Look, I have more experienced than me.  Trust me.  There's a reason why we do it this way."  However, this executive noted that he has learned to restrain himself.   He tries hard to stay open to these new perspectives, and to withhold any frustration.   Why?  This young person has developed a solid track record.  The individual is getting the job done, with a strong likelihood of becoming a future leader in the organization.  That track record and potential has earned the executive's trust.  It translates into a willingness to listen, even if some of the ideas are off track.  If the person wasn't getting the job done, that would be another matter.   What a fascinating discussion about monitoring and controlling your own response to young people's ideas in your organization, as well as thinking about when you might be willing to tolerate a little more "badgering" and "pestering" by an inquisitive young mind.  

1 comment:

Marc Scrivener said...

At one time, I was the young guy pestering the chain of command with new ideas, and I used to see the frustration of those at the top who were really invested in status quo. Today, I'm the guy at the top and I have experienced some degree of idea-fatigue resulting from constantly being peppered with suggestions; however, I have also experienced an idea vacuum when I've had the wrong people in key positions. Somewhere in the middle, there is a sweet spot. Regardless, there will always be an essential tension between too many and too few ideas. I do try and push authority and responsibility deep into the chain of command, so that people are empowered to implement new ideas below my level of review. There's a degree of resistance, and some people don't want the accountability that it brings. Thanks!