Companies always have respected the fact that senior workers can share their experiences and skills with junior employees via mentorship. They're even embracing the idea that this can work the opposite way now, with junior employees offering fresh perspectives and insights to those who have been around the block. But what if you let workers who are about the same age pair up?

The need for something different

Grayson Lafrenz, CEO of Power Digital Marketing, says his company had exhausted routes such as hiring outside trainers, formal leadership programs and "lunch and learns", and that the demands of those types of programs can be problematic.

"The challenge for many companies," Lafrenz asserts, "is [that traditional programs] tend to require a major time commitment from the executive team and/or large sums of capital investment. [Both of these] can be hard for small businesses to justify and often get neglected when CEOs and CFOs are looking at the balance sheet trying to determine where to cut costs."

Establishing a new way of mentoring

Lafrenz came up with the Power Pairs program in an attempt to find an approach to team development and training that wouldn't break the bank. The program, which became reality in Q1 of 2017 and ran for 3 months, took 9 veteran millennial employees (26 to 30 years old) who have been with the company about 4 years and partnered them with 9 junior millennial employees (23 to 25 years old) who have been with the company an average of 1.5 years. Lafrenz and his management team figured out who to pair by considering personality, strengths, weaknesses, specialties and potential projects.

Lafrenz deliberately provided minimal structure once the partnerships were set so that each pair could customize and maximize their time together, and so that each pair could enjoy greater ownership of the process and results. At the end of the program, participants offered deliverables through a "pitch off", where judges evaluated the work for a $1,000 bonus prize. They also created a blog post detailing what they'd learned or accomplished. As an example, here's the post from the winning team, Bill Wilkinson and Samantha Wormser.

Qualitative and quantitative benefits flow free

Reverse mentoring challenges the belief younger workers can't teach older employees. Lafrenz's equal-peer tactic extends this challenge, further demonstrating in a new way that age doesn't determine whether partners can learn from each other. Working interdepartmentally also ensures that the relationships built go beyond the skills or experiences typical to specific job titles or sects.

"One of the biggest benefits of the Power Pairs program was the ability to identify new cross-channel strategies and opportunities," Lafrenz explains. "The program connected the participants on an intimate level where they built friendships with people in other departments that, without the program, may not have been forged. The Power Pairs program also helped to avoid company cliques or people feeling siloed. In the end, the program allowed Power Digital to find further connectivity between departments and foster even greater respect for other channels and what team members do. This is really important, as teamwork is at the core of successful digital marketing, and when team members have greater respect and understanding of the roles that other channel experts play, it creates a much better product for our clients."

Wilkinson agrees that the interdepartmental approach makes a difference. "Recognition always means more when it comes from an unlikely source outside of your immediate department or channel," he says, "and Power Pairs successfully does that." That's significant considering that 83 percent of workers surveyed by Make Their Day rated recognition for contributions as more fulfilling than any rewards or gifts, and that 88 percent found managerial praise extremely motivating.

Lafrenz also claims that the program has contributed to good retention, and that 8 of the 18 participants even have earned promotions thanks to the new skills and perspectives they gained. Job satisfaction, as measured via internal 15Five reports, also improved. But other numbers are impressive, too. The program cost Power Digital Marketing $1,000 (the prize bonus) to host. But the program resulted in one of the pairs pitching and closing a deal that yielded $50,000 in revenue, translating to a 5,000 percent ROI.

"There is immeasurable return on the limited time we invested in the program," Lafrenz adds. "The personal growth, confidence and cross-channel understanding far outweighs the cost."

Now try it yourself

Thanks to the excellent results from the program, Lafrenz plans to repeat the pairing process in Q3 of 2017. He advises others who work with millennial staff to foster the desire to improve together.

"It's critical to provide your employees with ongoing opportunities to advance personally and professionally. [...] We have a deep desire to constantly get better and grow. If businesses don't strive to scratch this itch and cater to this very particular demographic, then they run the risk of losing top talent."

Lafrenz's tactic requires breaking convention. The good news is, millennials are all about setting norms aside and exploring alternatives. So take the lead and trust that younger workers can grow together. They're waiting to follow you.