Reverse mentoring


Engaging with young employees and, crucially, formalising the process of incorporating their perspectives into top-level strategy, can help companies grow while combating the threat of youth unemployment.

“Great ideas can come from anywhere” is a popular business mantra – but less popular when it comes to real-world implementation. Companies might well be serious about recruiting a more diverse workforce, but there’s a need for greater emphasis on ensuring the ideas and insights of this broader team play a genuine role in informing the strategic direction of businesses.

Corporate culture highly values the insights of senior staff with many years of experience. But what could be different – and what would drive innovation and success – is a renewed focus on incorporating the perspective of young people into the workplace. After all, the recent graduate who frequently posts on social media is more likely to spot an opportunity to engage new customers via the platform than a typical chief exec.

One of the main problems with a strict hierarchical business structure is that it can inhibit the flow of ideas from the bottom to the top of an organisation. One solution is for more value to be placed on reverse mentoring, a practice that we employ at MTV, in which senior team members learn from juniors – whether this includes a session on using the latest social media platforms effectively or taking advice on sustainability, about which young people are often well-informed.

Kerry_Taylor_Oct14At MTV, it is vital we understand the views, passions, hopes and dreams of young people and – along with our extensive research into this – bringing them into the business is a highly effective way to make this happen. A formalised reverse mentoring programme, allowing senior team members to meet more junior staff regularly not only demonstrates a genuine commitment to realising the potential of staff at all levels, but develops our younger employees’ ability to pass on knowledge and ensure they feel valued for their skills and perspectives.

It’s not just youth brands that would benefit from gaining this understanding. With the spending power of young people expected to eclipse that of baby-boomers by 2018, the majority of businesses would surely benefit from gaining greater insight into this demographic.

Again, internal policies to ensure that young people’s knowledge is shared and acted upon is just as important as recruiting them in the first place. Additionally, an incentivised scheme for suggesting new initiatives – open to employees at all levels – can prove a useful way to broaden the pool of knowledge.

One tactic for businesses could be the creation of a panel of younger team members who meet to discuss the ways they interact with brands, as well as why they favour certain brands over others and how they meet their needs. At MTV, this takes the form of our newly launched Future Collective in which we bring together our interns and test ideas and strategies – taking their counsel on anything from our events through to new brand positioning. It’s also important to ensure young people are working on real projects, which can be improved as a result of incorporating their outlook.

We have also created MTV Breaks, which is providing talented young people with the opportunity to become a costume designer, camera operator or photographer at this year’s MTV EMA – MTV’s global music awards show – taking place in Glasgow next month.

While there’s little doubt that this represents a huge opportunity for upcoming talent, there is also a real business case for making sure major initiatives are enhanced by new viewpoints. In a true win-win, there are also societal and wider economic reasons for bringing more young people into businesses. Almost 800,000 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK are unemployed, while a recent report from the IPPR showed that even a full-blown recovery wouldn’t be sufficient to tackle the problem.

Furthermore, our research has shown for the first time that unemployment is a greater concern among young people than even world hunger, with 70 per cent feeling personally affected by the recession. With such powerful moral and social reasons to act, on top of significant business benefits, there’s every reason to believe there should be a bright future ahead – for businesses and young people.


About author

Kerry Taylor

Kerry Taylor

Kerry Taylor is VIMN senior vice president of youth and music and MTV UK general manager

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