Reverse mentoring or 'mentor up' as it is also known is where a younger or less experienced person helps a more senior manager gain insight into areas, such as computers and changing IT technology, changing mindsets and expectations of the younger generation, new business concepts, etc. The traditional one-way street becomes a two-way thoroughfare where employees of all ages can learn from each other.
The concept of reverse mentoring began when Jack Welch the CEO of General Electric realized he and his management team had much to learn about the Internet and technology applications,. Welch required 600 top executives, including himself, to find younger mentors who were knowledgeable about the internet. Most of the mentors were in their 20's and 30's.
This lead to a transformation of General Electric as a technology driven organization, using the power of the internet to integrate the many components of production, suppliers, sales, marketing and customers. For example, a manager with 20 years of experience may seek a mentor to teach her about new technologies and computer skills, an area of expertise recent graduates often have because of the new educational standards they must meet. Consequently, this manager may ask her mentor to teach her about technologies with which she is unfamiliar.
Alternatively a newly hired or recently transferred executive needs to understand the corporate culture, flow of work and decision-making protocol at his new company. Who better to be his mentor than an administrative assistant who has worked for the company for 15 years and is well respected for their wealth of knowledge.
The Benefits of Reverse Mentoring
Some of the areas where a well thought out, planned and implemented reverse mentoring program can help are:
- To enable senior managers to get first-hand experience of the issues that face their organisation as seen from a younger person
- Encourage frank discussion on current issues
- Keeping up with current trends and preventing barriers to growth
- A fresh perspective from fresh eyes. A reverse mentor can often shed new light on a situation
- New tools. Senior staff are often comfortable with certain tools and technologies they have used for some time. A younger professional, will probably be used to the newest tools and technology and can share that knowledge
- The Internet has expanded younger workers' geographic perspective. Involvement with social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook enable young adults learn about global social issues from friends around the world
- The younger generation are more likely to be comfortable with equality and diversity than any age group to come before them. Their perspective can help in efforts at enhancing diversity and inclusion
- Marketing can be improved with knowledge of what's going on with other generations or cultural groups
- Risk taking. Younger employees who grew up with technology developed a "trial and error" style of learning are comfortable jumping into a situation to find answers. Such risk-taking can free up old habits and drive workplace innovation
- Seniors get a chance to gain awareness of their leadership style and to spot and evaluate new talent
- Young people gain exposure to senior executives which carries with it opportunities to learn from them, not only what to do, but also how to get things done. This exposure includes a chance to show their capabilities and their work ethic
- Enhance leadership, conflict management and coaching skills of mentees and mentors
- Develop strategies to create a more inclusive work environment.