Remember all those times you have tried hard to teach your parents how to use Facebook or WhatsApp? Having the advantage of being raised alongside the internet revolution, millennials have a clear edge over Baby Boomer and Gen Xers when it comes to technology. We can get our heads around it quite easily and it comes naturally to us. This process of a younger person guiding an older person in new technology, social media or just newer workplace trends is what is referred to as reverse mentoring.
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Introduced as long ago as 1999 by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, the idea seems to be gaining traction now. Welch asked 500 of his junior associates to mentor top executives, including himself, on how to make the most out of the internet. Today, all around the world, companies like Hewlett Packard, Ogilvy and Mather and Cisco use reverse mentoring, not just to update the skill set of senior managers, but also to provide them a peek into the minds of the millenials they manage.
A two-way street
Although designed and propagated as a means to equip the seniors with new knowledge, reverse mentoring can be a huge boost for the younger mentors, too. This multigenerational interaction helps them see the larger picture and is like a shadow-training in leadership qualities. It also increases communication between employees belonging to different generations at the workplace, bridging the gap between them, and thus reduces conflicts, too.
According to a study conducted by the Sloan Center on Aging and Work on the reverse mentoring programme executed at The Hartford Financial Services, it was found that of the 12 mentees who participated in the first wave of the project, 80 per cent rated it as “extremely effective” for business growth and 97 per cent rated the programme “extremely effective” for personal growth. Many mentees said that they saw huge potential in their younger mentors and advised the company that retaining them would be critical to their success. It was also found that of the 12 mentors, 11 were promoted within as less as one year of the reverse mentoring programme. Although Lori Rodden, head of talent management at the company, does not attribute these promotions as a direct result of the mentoring programme, she says that these junior employees have benefitted greatly from the exposure, sponsorship and stretch development that the programme offered them. Thus, a reverse mentoring programme is also a shortcut for companies to identify future leaders and hone them in a way to take initiative in the future.
The Wall Street Journal had reported about an endearing case study demonstrating how reverse mentoring works well for both parties involved. Rebecca Kaufman, 24, a community manager at MasterCard was paired up with the company’s Chief Human Resources Officer Ron Garrow, 50, to train him how to up the ante on social media. Garrow reveals that social media was intimidating for him because having worked in big banking companies all through his 32-year-long career, he was used to the traditional way of “rounds and rounds of approval” before making some information public. He was taken aback at first by how easy it was to speak to the world and a whole new audience through just 140 characters. Kaufman handheld him through the whole process, initially helping him craft tweets based on her research of profiles of influential HR professionals at Garrow’s level. Today, Garrow has 1,511 followers on Twitter and has 865 tweets on his handle. Moreover, Kaufman has been recruited to help the company design internal communications in a way that will appeal to the millenials working there.
How to make it work
For any reverse mentoring programme to be a success, many things have to be kept in mind before kicking it off. For instance:
- Make sure that both the mentor and mentee are aware of what is the expected course and outcome of the programme. Maintain transparency at all times to ensure better communication.
- While choosing the two parties, pick those who are open to learning new things and are curious by nature. A forceful mentorship will do more harm than good.
- Both parties must be willing to abide by the rules set by the company and constant feedback is encouraged for tracking the progress of the programme as well as both the individuals.
- Pair those with extremely diverse backgrounds and experiences as this will enhance the learning process. Mentors should be confident enough to interact with a senior and guide him/her and mentees must be open enough to listen to a junior and learn from him/her.
It doesn’t take a lot to make reverse mentoring work in your firm. It is a win-win situation for all the parties involved. It also promotes the idea that you never stop learning and that every person in an organisation will have something significant to contribute to your personal and professional growth.
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