How Reverse Mentoring
Can Help You In 2020
What is Reverse Mentoring?
Reverse mentoring describes a professional collaboration in which a younger, more junior member of a company is paired up with someone more senior to exchange skills and understandings. Generally this is a manager or head of department. In reverse mentoring, the more junior member of staff acts as the mentor and the senior employee occupies the position of mentee.
Reverse mentoring can have profound benefits for employees and their organizations, but there are some important considerations to keep in mind.
Generally speaking, the longer an individual works at an organization, the wiser and more competent they become in their field. Nobody, regardless of seniority, should rest on their laurels. There is always more to learn, and younger entrants into the workforce often have innate technological skills and understanding that others may lack.
They are far more adept at using tools such as social media and are generally more aware of the cutting edge. Also, they provide a different perspective on current trends. This can benefit even (especially!) the most senior of team members.
Fortunately, many companies are starting to realize that a “trickle-down” theory of learning is not always the best way of disseminating knowledge to employees. As a result, many reverse mentorship programs have started to appear to fill this business need.
One Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electrics, is credited with popularising this reverse mentoring definition. In 1999 he ran a pilot project pairing 500 of his most senior employees with junior colleagues to form mentoring relationships.
The results of this reverse mentoring program were astonishing. Not only did the leaders of the company gain cutting edge insight into the emerging technologies of the internet, but the younger employees got to observe the habits of their advanced colleagues. They learned new skills from their seniors and developed relationships that helped them climb the ladder of the corporate hierarchy.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of reverse mentoring.
The Benefits of Reverse Mentoring
Since Jack Welch ran his pilot scheme in the late 90’s, the rate of technological advancement has continued to increase. Business leaders of the now have to contend with social media features, blockchain, and cryptocurrency, to name but a few of the many advancements in technology. If a company wants to maintain success, it should aim for a culture of perpetual learning.
Increasingly, executives are having to make decisions on a strategy based on changes in the technological landscape. It is no surprise that young people possess superior technology skills, and they are in a position to offer advice on services as diverse as Whatsapp and Pinterest. It can ensure that decision-makers are kept abreast of the latest tools and trends.
General Electric, Ogilvy & Mather, and Cisco Systems and other corporations have utilized reverse mentoring programs to overcome the consequences of being at the bleeding edge of a rapidly-shifting world of technology. Junior employees help executives to brush up on their technological skills. As well as providing a safe environment for senior management to learn, these relationships also give junior players a sense of purpose and belonging, and access to resources not normally available.
Bridging the Generational Gap
Reverse mentoring can provide a key way to bridge the differences between the generations currently represented in employment statistics: Baby Boomers (’45-’64) Generation x (’65-’76) and generation y, also known as Millenials (’77-98′)
Each generation grew up in entirely different cultural, social, and technological circumstances. This has lead to very different attitudes, expectations, and approaches when it comes to working life. As a result, some negative stereotypes and misconceptions have arisen.
Some older people think of Millennials as self-centered, and unmotivated. Baby boomers have been criticized by younger generations as being stuck in their ways, regardless of efficiency. Engaging in a reverse mentoring program can force people to confront their presuppositions, benefiting the workplace culture of the whole organization.
Empower Millenials if you want to retain them
Millennials have proven a particularly tricky generation when it comes to employee retention. 60% report to be open to a new job opportunity and 21% say they’ve job hopped within the last 12 months. What’s more, 35% of generation y rank an effective training and development as the most important attribute for a company to have.
Generally, Millenial workers don’t possess a strong sense of company loyalty. Their driving motivational forces are how their work is valued and the larger ethical framework that they are working under (75% would be willing to take a pay cut to work for an ecologically conscious company). This makes reverse mentoring a great tool for empowering Millenials.
Asking someone to share their comments and experience is one of the best ways of showing that their contributions are valued.
Another benefit of these partnerships is newcomers to a profession have increased access to the opportunity to learn soft skills. Through conversation, observing, and modeling performance, junior workers can fast track these skills, which could otherwise take years to assimilate.
Rapidly shifting demographics means diversity concerns are a real issue. Now more than ever, insights into gender, ethnicity, and social backgrounds are shaping the workplace. It’s easy for executives of an organization to publicly pledge their commitment to gender equality, racial diversity, or any number of noble causes or slogans.
Actually implementing real positive change to aid in the adversity that minorities face can be difficult from the lofty heights of the corporate peaks.
The younger generations have grown up around considerably higher diversity than their baby boomer counterparts. Regular discussion these topics can help senior figures understand diversity issues on a human level.
It is clear that reverse mentoring can have a number of key benefits. However, as with any program of change, there can be some potential drawbacks.
The drawbacks and challenges of reverse mentoring
Some industries engender a particularly conservative mindset. These workplaces might find that senior professionals offer more resistance to the idea of reverse mentoring. They might not believe that the younger generation has useful knowledge to offer, or might be adverse to receiving feedback from people junior to them.
Insulting senior members of a company is a genuine risk, and all steps should be taken to minimize this.
In these situations, proper training in how to give constructive feedback, as well as a structured approach to mentoring, can help. This has the added bonus of helping the younger mentor gain the appropriate self-confidence to do so. Also, ensuring a sound structure and measurable goals are in place.
Reverse mentoring relationships work best with clearly defined outcomes. Most companies could benefit from implementing some form of reverse mentoring. Even companies that have little interaction with or reliance on emerging technology can benefit from the generational bridging and improvements to culture.
Tips and Best Practices for a Successful Reverse Mentoring Relationship
A successful reverse mentoring relationship rarely happens by accident. A strong connection is needed. Mentoring programs can be formal or informal. Regardless of which you pick, certain parameters should be observed to ensure everyone wins and benefits from each other’s skill set.
The primary concern is to match the right candidates. All the social media knowledge in the world is useless unless mutual respect and chemistry exists. This is the only way for a successful mentoring relationship to grow.
All mentorships, including reverse, are a two-way street. Before entering into this form of professional relationship, make sure that each party has skills, expertise or value beneficial to the other.
A personal SWOT (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis is a great way to identify how well two employees could work together in a mentoring relationship.
It is vital that both mentors and mentees enter their role on the same page. To this end, it pays dividends to be upfront about each other’s goals and expectations. Be specific about when, where, and for how long you will meet, and define your goals early.
To ensure that these goals are met, clear communication is critical. Cross-generation communication can be a challenge. Changes in technology mean there is a large disparity in preferred means of communicating.
Baby boomers typically prefer face to face or telephone contact whereas younger people may prefer email or instant messaging. Both parties need to be sensitive to these differences and able to compromise.
Goals should be mutually beneficial and easily trackable. Regular meetings can ensure that targets are being met. Inevitably there will be challenges along the way, but regularly scheduled brainstorming sessions can mitigate this.
It is vital that both the mentee and mentor approach any potential partnership with clear goals and an open mind. Respect, non-judgment, and the right combination of partners will ensure that the reverse mentoring relationship is a successful one.