Reverse Mentoring with Up-and-Coming Talent

by Susan Nemetz, October 2020

In the accelerated, high-stakes world of biopharma, thinking big, thinking fast, and thinking smart, isn’t just an option — it’s a priority. Why then, are we not tapping into our most educated generation and exploring what millennials have to offer? (A rhetorical question, for sure.)

Millennials bring a unique viewpoint, one that not only enables them to think and digest material differently, but one that can shape our business for decades to come. They are not afraid to ask, “Why not?” — nor are they paralyzed by the answer. More often than not, if you ask them a straight question, you’ll receive a straight answer (unless you are their parent, of course).

What Can We Learn from the Next Generation?

Reverse mentoring” is not a new idea and is exactly as it sounds — learning from those less tenured instead of the one-way, traditional mentoring approach of teaching from decades of experience.

Only recently, The NemetzGroup has been able to benefit from this concept formally. Our model requires hands-on, director-level or above, biopharma experience. Faced with some significant knowledge management projects, this year, we hired our first intern — Amy Springett, a tech-savvy communication and media studies NYU graduate.

Amy’s contributions to the team were felt immediately. She gave us insight and access into online tools and all things social media. More important, she knew how to apply them pragmatically to what we were trying to accomplish. She jumped into projects that had lain dormant for months, even years. And she was nonplussed by the things we asked of her (e.g., turning our monthly e-conversation into a podcast).

Producing an Offsite

We tapped Amy to work with The NemetzGroup consultants Kristin Owens and Liz Tufo on a key client project: Designing and facilitating an in-person, socially distanced, outdoor offsite, consisting of just under 50 attendees, representing an incredibly receptive and innovative client.

That’s no simple task under the best of circumstances. But in addition to a pandemic, we had several additional requirements.

We wanted to…

… eliminate the use of paper for ease, safety, and potentially inclement weather;

… conduct a meeting without PowerPoint to focus on connections and ideas;

… provide real-time engagement for participants, including surveys, feedback, and secure social posting (without adding to their pre- or post-meeting “to-do list”);

… allow for the efficient movement of attendees and speakers among four outdoor tents, across multiple times, and in different configurations;

… accommodate and include the 20% of participants who were attending virtually from different time zones;

… maintain a COVID-safe environment that adhered to all recommended CDC guidelines.

Oh, and one more thing. We need this done in a few weeks!

Millennials Bring a Different Perspective and Skill Set

While we could write several e-conversations on the specifics of the event, I want to highlight how we benefited from this young person’s understanding of how best to employ technology and her ability to move quickly and fluidly in preparation and management of the program:

Technology. In working with our client, Kristin and Liz were able to clarify the requirements that aligned with the business objectives while also maintaining the safety rules. Once clear on the requirements, Amy and Kristin sourced and built a meeting app that served as the event’s content hub. It was designed to be flexible, customized, and engaging (and it was inexpensive!).

They were able to develop individualized schedules for each participant, including tent locations and times; provided workshop overviews with speaker bios; allowed for photo uploads and information sharing; solicited attendee feedback; and allowed us to push notifications to individuals and subgroups as needed throughout the event.

Communication. We sent attendees a pre-event email along with comprehensive download and setup instructions for the app. (It was actually pretty easy, but you know how adults can be.) Amy enlisted her decidedly untech-savvy dad as her “simplicity barometer” to ensure that her instructions were clear and easily understood.

Flexibility. Live events happen in real time — hiccups inevitably occur: Two days before the actual event, there was a need to adjust the schedule from two days to one. We made a last-minute decision to reshuffle the groups more frequently for greater engagement. The Wi-Fi at the venue was unstable at times, making the connection between the remote and onsite groups an issue.

Throughout it all, our team stayed calm, innovated solutions, and kept things moving forward. The benefit of experience, together with adaptability — reverse mentoring.

Lack of Biases. Amy had never attended a company offsite. While we initially thought that might be a speed bump, it turned out to be an accelerator. Many requirements — not the least of which was a 30-day development window — seemed perfectly reasonable to her. She was unphased by the app’s increasing asks, even when the team sometimes thought the ask was too much.

Conclusion

Our company has benefited tremendously from reverse mentoring. Not only has this concept allowed us to move faster and more effectively as an organization, we have also broadened both our skills and perspective.

Ironically, this is one of those elusive silver linings of COVID-19. So much about the pandemic has pushed us into new ways of thinking and doing. Unable to simply turn the crank and operate as before, we have been forced to rethink and reconfigure a great deal of our business. Frankly, it has been uplifting to see how much possibility exists now that our world has been so harshly reshuffled.

Could we have gotten here on our own? Maybe. But as is nearly always the case, when one involves a diverse set of people and ideas, the outcome is better.

Yes, it can be exhausting and time-consuming, bringing younger players up to speed. But, changes in our biopharma realm continue to accelerate, and the demands on all of us continue to increase.

It would be a mistake not to look beyond the “go-to” people in our respective organizations (and even beyond our industry) and find ways to tap a generation that is eager to surprise, teach, and share its wisdom — technical and otherwise.


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