I’m a major proponent of mentoring in my work with executives and organizations because of its many benefits when it comes to growing and developing one’s career. Having been a mentee and a mentor myself, I believe that it can be truly transformational.
Mentoring is a two way street. When you serve as a mentor, you help develop a new generation of leaders. At the same time, your mentee can teach you new things, open you up to different perspectives and connect you to emerging trends. The value of this intergenerational exchange has only increased in our tech-centric world and even has a fancy name “reverse mentoring.”
Reverse mentoring isn’t just a corporate buzzword, it’s a tremendous way to sharpen your own skills while investing in the next generation.
What is Reverse Mentoring Anyway?
Mentoring is the decades-old approach to learning an organization and advancing one’s career by being paired with a more senior manager. It is a basic form of coaching that can be both supportive and valuable. Coined by Jack Welch, General Electric’s former CEO, and gaining popularity this decade is what is called reverse mentoring. Like the name implies, reverse mentoring turns the familiar mentor-mentee arrangement on its head, with younger team members serving as guides and gurus for more experienced workers.
What Skills Can You Learn from Reverse Mentoring?
New technology is generally the first area that leaders think of when they consider having someone younger mentor someone older in the workplace. Social media in particular is a space where Millennials can teach Baby Boomer and even Generation X colleagues new tricks that are increasingly vital for global business.
Younger employees can also help loosen senior executives’ perceptions on many issues and may spur innovation in non-technical areas as well. There is inherent value in having someone look at something differently – such as gauging how younger employees might feel about a human resources or organizational change that is being considered. New product and service idea feedback gleaned from a different perspective can lead to rapid innovation. Reverse mentoring is truly two way and both colleagues are going to learn.
Why Do People and Companies Like Reverse Mentoring?
Organizations are embracing reverse mentoring because it brings different employee generations closer together. It helps break down the superficial barriers between generations that are often reinforced by the media.
Reverse mentoring is often extension of existing company mentoring programs, not requiring any new processes. It only requires the ability to match up employees of different generations and then encourage each pair to meet regularly with the aim of exchanging ideas.
This kind of mentoring program is essential in today’s dynamic, tech-focused business world. As technology continues to develop rapidly and gets spread throughout all parts of an organization, we will likely see more of it. In many cases, experienced managers are staying on the job longer, presenting them with more inter-generational management challenges and a need to stay in the loop with colleagues of all ages.
Additionally, younger workers are less apt than older ones to remain with one company for an extended period. By developing the knowledge and vocabulary needed to understand the work done by younger employees, there’s less risk of projects being derailed by the abrupt departure of a young leader.
If there is a risk to reverse mentoring, it’s that a younger mentor in the reverse mentor pair will seek to gain favor with the more senior, influential mentee. Advance training to help mentors and mentees recognize the right and wrong way to establish and handle the relationship can help you avoid this issue.
In addition, unless an organization and its leaders are open to feedback from employees who are lower on the corporate ladder, reverse mentoring does not get off the ground. The egos of the senior employees of the pairs are probably the biggest obstacles to the success of reverse mentoring. Can you check your own ego at the door in this situation?
How Do You Establish A Reverse Mentorship Relationship?
If you’ve had a mentor to help you navigate the professional world in the past, consider what made them a great fit for you in terms of communication style. Likely, they were able to provide helpful guidance and enabled you to overcome a professional challenge or two. You should strive to be the same source of wisdom and inspiration for your younger colleagues.
Consider what you can gain from working with a younger professional. What new ideas, approaches and tools do you know you need help with?
Many organizations have established mentoring programs. Check your company intranet to see how yours works. What is the expected time commitment and duration for mentoring? Can you join now and be paired right away or not?
If there is no formal structure in place, there are other options. Seek out promising younger employees and invite them to informal meetings or lunches and establish a relationship. They’ll be grateful for the attention from an experienced colleague and will likely be just as excited about what they can learn from you!
If you’re looking to install a mentoring program at your organization, I can help! I love helping organizations develop understanding across generational lines. Reach out and I’ll be in touch shortly.