The best IT mentorships are a two-way street

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CIO Mentorships Gears

The best kinds of mentorships are the ones where two-way communication is encouraged. Traditionally, when you think of mentorships, you picture a seasoned career professional shepherding along a wide-eyed young professional. The newbie hangs on every word of the veteran, leaving meetings with a notebook full of advice.

Years ago we tried the opposite of that and piloted a reverse mentoring program. The idea being, we would let these early-career professionals fill in the veterans on trends they were following and pass along any ideas they might have.

Yet our reverse mentoring program faded away. What we found was that all mentoring relationships provide an opportunity for two-way learning, not just the ones labeled as “reverse mentorships.” So with our mentoring program, we made it an explicit goal to have the relationship serve as a forum for learning both for the mentor and the mentee.

I believe it’s more important to build an environment where mentoring is not the only way that new ideas can make their way up to the top. We’ve done a number of things to build out this two-way communication. Every year we sponsor an “Ideation Campaign” for IT, in which crew (what we call our employees at Vanguard) pitch their ideas to the entire IT organization. The audience votes the ideas up or down. Then a handful of the top ideas are chosen for crew to present to myself and the rest of the IT executive team.

We’ve done this multiple times now, and we’ve seen a number of things come out of those campaigns – from using virtual scrum boards to adopting an open source model for a suite of widely used UI components. The great thing is that even the ideas that don’t “win” can still catch on.

We have another long-running initiative that also takes certain bleeding-edge topics and gives them to a team of highly-talented individuals, so that they can explore the ideas and come up with some recommendations for us in those areas. Years ago it would have been something like Unified Communications, and more recently, things like continuous delivery using reactive programming and automated testing. On a more local level, we encourage crew to give their managers feedback in an attempt to get them more comfortable with that two-way dialogue.

Whether it’s reverse mentoring or some other communication modality – clearly the goal is to find a way to weed through organizational roadblocks and get a pulse on what creative ideas exist. But I think it’s also equally important that we as leaders use our mentorships as a way to get a pulse on the understanding of the “why” behind our strategic direction – so that we can understand what is being communicated and how it’s being interpreted throughout the various levels of the company.

How is your organization using mentorships? Are you doing anything special in IT to foster two-way communication between your veterans and early career professionals?

Read Cynthia Stoddard's article, "The mentor: Continuing a great IT tradition."

John T. Marcante is Vanguard’s chief information officer and managing director of Vanguard’s Information Technology Division. Vanguard is the world’s largest mutual fund company with more than $2.6 trillion in global assets under management. Marcante oversees all aspects of Vanguard’s worldwide technology agenda to serve clients and manage investments. Mr. Marcante, with more than 26 years of experience in the business and technology fields, joined Vanguard in 1993. After serving in a number of leadership roles throughout the company, he returned to the IT division in 2012 and was named Vanguard’s chief information officer and managing director. Marcante holds a Bachelor's degree from Pennsylvania State University and an M.B.A. from Saint Joseph's University.

John T. Marcante is an award-winning C-suite technology and business executive with expertise in digital transformation, business strategy, financial planning and wealth management, cyber security and technology risk. John is the US CIO in Residence for Deloitte and the former Chief Information Officer and Managing Director of Vanguard.