Reverse mentoring occurs when young people become mentors of executives to guide them on various topics of strategic and cultural relevance.
When we are thinking about mentoring and the relationship between mentor and mentee, we always think about experienced professionals guiding younger professionals who are starting their careers, with tips and contributions that they can teach after years of hard work and a lot of experience.
We must remember that mentoring is not a new topic. To tell you the truth, the concept of mentoring comes from the Mythology. To be more specific, when Odysseus went to the front of the battle in the Trojan War, he handed over the care of his family to a slave named Mentor, who worked as a master and coach of his son Telemachus. The role of Mentor was not only to protect Telemachus, but to guide and contribute to better develop and prepare him so that he could face the responsibilities that he would have to assume later in the life.
And the word “mentor” started to be used to designate a mentor, counselor, friend, tutor, teacher and the mentoring role have not changed drastically since that time. The whole idea of mentors not only remained, but also started to be applied by organizations.
However, in the reverse mentoring, the opposite happens: younger employees offer a new fresh perspective on technology, social media, innovation, new work models and even help executives and organizations to adjust their “voice” and positioning, as many traditional companies still end up being very formal when talking to customers and this is not the best way when dealing with people so connected to the digital world.
This is not a complete new thing in the corporate word. The credits for this model are from Jack Welch, who implemented, in the 90’s, a reverse mentoring program at General Electric.
The practice consisted of young employees training leaders of the “older” generations to use new tools that needed new type of knowledge in technology, not only technical, but also behavioral.
The orientation for the company’s executives (which included Jack Welch), was to find a “reverse mentor” to help them connect with the new digital world emerging with the internet and network technologies. Today, this type of program goes far beyond teaching and learning how to use the various technologies.
A survey from Deloitte showed that just a half of Millennials said that the culture of their current employers encourages employees to implement new ways of working, while only 23% believe that their leaders prioritize the development of innovative products and services.
Reverse mentoring could be a solution to keep the organizational environment dynamic, in the sense of keeping its managers up to date, once managers learn that younger employees can provide different insights, perspectives and knowledge in a variety of areas. It inverts the perspective of conventional mentoring.
New generations have grown up with technology around them and a have greater understanding of diversity. They have accumulated extensive experiences in the digital world and lived in a connected life with the internet, so they are willing to share these cultural insights.
As a result, executives are beginning to realize that knowledge share is not a one-way street. The goal is to use the knowledge that resides within an organization to take advantage of it.
A well-implemented reverse mentoring program can provide numerous benefits to the organization and potentially can provide the organization with a dynamic training solution for everyone.
In an article with enormous repercussions in the Harvard Business Review, social psychologist and professor of leadership and organizational behavior, Jennifer Jordan, with Michael Sorell, said that many companies struggle to attract and retain Next-Gen talent. Some of these companies are experimenting the results of reverse mentoring programs to solve this problem.
These programs can increase retention, help senior executives to become more sophisticated about social media, drive cultural change and promote diversity.
In the same article, we saw the case of Mark Tibergien, CEO of Advisor Solutions, who, reflecting on the future of Pershing (a financial solutions company), realized that the company had a problem: the younger generations were not interested in working in financial services. In addition, the Millennials who joined the company were leaving the organization much more quickly than their older peers.
Like Pershing, many companies struggle to retain talent from the digital generation and also to stay relevant to younger consumers. In response to these challenges, leadership teams from large companies around the world are implementing reverse mentoring programs, because it can connect younger employees with members of the executive team to guide them on various topics of strategic and cultural relevance.
Senior leaders being mentored must be committed to participating in the sessions and prioritizing the mentoring relationship. Reverse mentoring relationships can be especially challenging, since the mentee and the mentor are assuming unknown roles.
Another major challenge is that a program of this magnitude must be implemented consciously, in order to ensure that no one feels that they are not doing their job properly. Also, senior employees who have been with the organization for a long time can feel affronted, which is a real risk if it is not handled well or if the younger mentor does not handle the situation properly, receiving training to deal with these moments.
There are still some executives who challenge themselves and do not agree with the idea of being mentored by a junior employee, but most influential leaders see this as an opportunity to exchange culture perspectives, where junior and experienced employees share their knowledge, increasing understanding of both groups and improving communication and collaboration in general for the workplace.
For those who grew up in a world without technology, it can be a huge challenge not only to keep up to date on the latest social platforms, collaboration tools and technological trends, but to find out how to make them applicable to their business.
But the current generation has grown up with social networks and various technologies. Its members are always connected. So, reverse mentoring take advantage of this mentality and drives it towards the growth of the enterprise, building a highly engaged and enriching employee base. This type of mentoring can be the key to new opportunities and for industries to push their limits with creativity and collaboration.