Fulfilling the role of a mentor can be very satisfying. I now look back over 40 years of business experience accumulated since I was recruited by the former chemical major ICI plc in 1973. Extracting from those years the insight and effective practice that can be put to work to help a younger manager of potential or a budding entrepreneur is a challenge, but can be very rewarding.
A request from my Editor on the theme of reverse mentoring reminded me of my years in Japan at the close of the 1980s where I was responsible for implementing a £55 million investment in manufacturing plant, and developing a regional business on the back of the plant – and a Japanese team to deliver the whole.
I was definitely Sykes-sensei (Sykes the teacher, the mentor) to my young team in all things to do with the plant, its technology and its business – but I was also simply Sykes-san (Mr Sykes), the student of how business is done in Japan, being taught and mentored by the same young team. A practical example of reverse mentoring, I said to the Editor.
Perhaps this duality of mentoring with reverse mentoring needs a closer examination in today’s world. There is a younger generation now that, recruited into the contemporary enterprise or government department/agency, arrives mobile-fluent, instinctive in the exploitation of social media, fully at ease with the capabiliites offered by technology as she now is. Does their new employer offer the means, even recognise the need for, these shock troops of the new to be able to (reverse) mentor their older colleagues in these new ways of working?
The marketing message that puffs the cloud ‘revolution’ is all about business transformation – and there is no doubt that transformation there is in buckets. But in any given business or government agency, the quality transformation draws on and exploits the experience and insight ‘in the old’ where demonstrably relevant ‘in the new’.
So I will here argue for development of a fresh set of approaches to strategic change management for exploitation by the contemporary enterprise in the era of the cloud.
The starting point has to be the recognition that those who bring the ‘new world’ into play may well be experientially rich in, say, exploitation of social media, but will likely be experientially poor in the practices of the business they have joined. Equally there will be an older generation in the business who are experientially rich in the workings of the business, but experientaily poor in the practices of the new world.
I envision a new skill that needs development – a practiced skill in the art of articulation listening. Where you have experiential richness, the challenge is to articulate this richness while listening hard for the contrasting articulation that will be de facto addressing where you are experientially poor – thus articulation listening.
For older ‘more experienced’ players this may well challenge the habits of a lifetime, as it requires recognition that younger staff, new recruits even, have very real and immediately relevant experience to bring to the table. But equally it requires younger staff to acknowledge that the experience embedded in the business has much of relevance to delivering the transformational exercise.
There are parallels to be drawn with another dimension of the transformations in progress courtesy of the cloud. The cloud is first and foremost about services: step by step the ICT industry is moving to exploit new services business models. This transformation is challenging the industry, as its ingrained tendency is to ‘work from the technology’ whereas effective service design starts at the user, the consumer, and designs a service that they will value - and only then draws the technology into play against the consumer-shaped specification. [Read the definitive guide ‘This is Service Design Thinking’ by Marc Stickdorn & Jakob Schneider (John Wiley & Sons 2012) whose main messages should, I believe, be understood and debated by every IT company Board.]
An effective IT vendor in this new world of service design will be adept in articulation listening - able to articulate the capabilities they have on offer but in a listening mode that works to understand the guiding requirememnts set by the potential customer or consumer.
Perhaps there is a broader development in play here. The potential to replace of the (overtly aggressive) culture of IT marketing and sales that has long dominated the industry with a new commercial culture that emphasies articulation listening. Our marketeers and sales folk are not noted for their listening skills!
So a new generation of commercial professionals valued for their client listening skills. Forget technology drivers – it is the consumer, the user, the client who is really the driver – best placed to shape the way forward for innovative technologies!