Tag Archives: senior

Reverse Mentoring is All About Screwing in the Lightbulb before Flipping the Switch

The following is a guest post by Shala Byers.  Shala is the creator of Booz Allen’s Reverse Mentoring Program and a good friend of mine.  I asked her to write a post on the reverse mentoring program that she started last year and that I’m working with her on now to scale across our firm.

Image courtesy of Flickr user remography

When I first started my foray into Social Media there were two kinds of people—those who proselytized Web 2.0 and those who approached it with the skepticism of an instant weight loss pill—  “This looks too easy…it can’t be this easy.”  Turns out, Web 2.0 IS that easy… mechanically; the concept of integrating it into ones daily routine, however, tends to be the hold up.

I actively avoided Twitter, for example, because I didn’t see the purpose.   Early adopters who had been using it for quite a while told me to get on and just start tweeting.  Again, the problem here wasn’t the logistics—it is easy enough to sign up for a new website account.  My trouble came from the “why” and the “how” questions.  WHY am I doing this?  WHY do they need to know what I am eating for lunch?  HOW am I supposed to act on this website?  Essentially, my early adopter friends, while well intentioned, were essentially trying to “flip the switch” to turn on the Social Media light without screwing in the bulb to begin with.

I needed context; I needed to be walked through it.  I needed someone to attach the light bulb for me.

After spending ample time with some of our social media champions, I started to see the benefits of how person-to-person sessions effectively fill this gap in my understanding.  After just a few sessions, and a little encouragement, I not only understood how to use social media, I was able to understand how to leverage them to benefit my clients.

This “light bulb” discovery led me to the second step in my social media adventure—creating a program that would do the same thing for others on a massive scale (20,000+ employee company).  I realized that we needed a program that would connect social media “experts” with those who wanted and needed to stay on the pulse of client technology.

We needed a reverse mentoring program.  You may have heard of the term “reverse mentoring”— an alternative method of learning where the seniors in an organization become the mentees and junior staff serving as the mentors.

While this concept had been developed at other organizations before, I knew Booz Allen’s program would have to be a little different to account for all 20,000+ employees.  I discovered that this kind of program wasn’t just needed at the senior level though – everyone needed to understand social media for it to become integrated in the way we operate.  We needed to identify a way to make social media relevant across dozens of skillsets, markets, and teams across the firm.   My goal, essentially, was to deploy a number of social media mentors throughout different teams to screw in the “social media lightbulbs” and help flip the switch for these people.  And I did this with the help of the co-program lead who I was lucky enough to rope in, Jeff Mrowka.

Over the course of the past year, this Reverse Mentoring team has worked tirelessly to create a program that would better equip our senior leadership to handle the ever-changing world of social media.  We knew that a Pilot Program would help us work through any potential kinks.  That’s why we officially launched the Social Media Mentoring Pilot Program in November 2009 with six Vice Presidents and several other senior leaders on board as participants, paired with four mentors.

Unsurprisingly, their conversations started out with questions about how to create a user name and click through each site.  What the sessions evolved into is what made the pilot even more interesting than we could have ever imagined:

  1. Brainstorming Sessions:  The Social Media Mentoring hour often evolved into a full-on brainstorming hour.  What we found out was that senior leadership in the firm is often so focused on their market or area of expertise that they seldom get a chance to sit around the table with their peers to brainstorm.   They benefited as much from hearing from their mentors as they did from speaking with one another.
  2. Client Offerings: Social Media Mentoring sessions provided an opportunity for junior staff to showcase client capabilities they were developing as a way to add value to their existing projects.  It afforded our leadership a time and place to sit and connect the dots regarding how they could harness these tools for existing and future issues.

So what is the way ahead?  The program has been a resounding success.  Participants not only understand the concepts, but are actively deploying these solutions within their project teams. Demand among our senior leadership has begun to outstrip supply so finding and developing even more mentors is one of our top priorities.

In developing the After Action Report for our little pilot program, we have to answer the question – “what do these brainstorming sessions ultimately do for us? For the mentees?  For the mentors?  And lastly, what’s the next step to scaling this program to a massive organization?  We’re going to have to start shipping in a lot of lightbulbs…

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Social Media is Scary – How to Address Senior Executives

Part 2 in a series of posts responding to my original post, “Social Media is Scary

Image courtesy of Flickr user chelmsfordpubliclibrary

Image courtesy of Flickr user chelmsfordpubliclibrary

So, what can you do to address the myriad reasons for social media being scary?  This is the second (the first one addressed the junior employee) of four blog posts tackling each of the demographics that I brought up in the original posts one by one and illustrate how I handle the “social media is scary” line.  The second group is the Senior Executive –

For Senior Executives– “What happens when people start using these platforms to just complain about everything?  Why would I want to give everyone a place to whine about every little thing that’s bothering them?  I can’t possibly keep up with every comment, question, and suggestion that goes up – I don’t have the time to do that!”

I’ve already talked about how to justify social media to the big-wigs.  This post expands on that. Here are the three key messages I find myself telling my senior executive clients regardless of what tools I’m showing them.

  1. Social media isn’t about the tools – it’s about what the tools enable.
  2. Social media cannot exist in a vacuum.  Social media has to be integrated into your organization’s overall communications strategy.
  3. The tools that you want to use are dependent on what you want to accomplish.

While it’s good to show an executive a tool that can be used to improve their processes, it’s often more important for them to understand the bigger picture.  That it’s not just about the benefits of the tool, that it’s about the open, transparent, authentic communications and collaboration that these tools allow.  They have to justify the time, money, and resources required to move a particular tool’s use from the micro to the macro level.  To do this, they have to understand that a blog isn’t just a way for them to communicate better with their employees.  They have to understand that a blog is about creating a culture of open and honest dialogue within their organization.  They have to understand the bigger picture.

I also tell them that social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  The executive has to realize that to effectively use social media, you can’t designate somebody or some group as “the Web 2.0 guys.”  There’s nothing worse than your public affairs officers receiving a call from reporter asking a question about one of your blog postings and they have no idea what they’re talking about because “the Web 2.0 guys” handle that.  When I meet with a senior executive, I try to make sure that there are at least four groups represented – people who “get” social media, representatives from the communications or public affairs group who can speak to the organization’s communications strategy, people from the IT department who understand the technical architecture, rules and policies of the organization, and someone who really understands the organization’s mission – the person who is deeply involved with the organization’s overall strategies.  One person could take on one or more of these roles, but every part should be represented.

The last point seems to be the most obvious.  There’s no social media tool continuum that lays out all social media tools from least beneficial to most beneficial.  No chart that says blogs are the best tool to use when you’re first starting out with social media.  The tools that you use (and how you use them) are entirely dependent on what you want to accomplish.  I can’t tell you what tool you should get started with until we determine what your goal is.

However, the absolute most important (and most effective) approach can be summed up in two words – BE PASSIONATE.  I can’t tell you the number of times where I briefed a senior executive about social media and the biggest takeaway that he/she had was, “well, I’ll tell you what – you obviously believe in this and are extremely passionate about its potential so let’s give it a try.”  When a senior executive sees someone, especially if it’s one of their own employees taking the initiative to spend hours of their own time developing a briefing or writing a white paper developing something they truly believe in, they can see that.

Above all else, be passionate about what you’re talking about, whether that’s social media or something else.  Believe in your ideas.  Believe in their potential.  And believe in yourself.

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