Reverse the Mentoring Stereotype

In its most common context, mentoring is understood as someone with experience (and a few grey hairs!) showing someone younger how to perform key job functions. Yet, one of the hottest trends in human resources is termed “reverse mentoring.” Whether due to job loss and the need for new training, or “Second Act” entrepreneurship, or simply the precipitous amount of change being introduced in organizations trying to compete globally, there has arisen a need for this practice where younger workers are now showing the older ones “the ropes.”

While the concept is that exposure to those outside the corporate suite may be good for staying in touch with the values held by newer workers, there are several other benefits. Higher employee retention rates among younger workers are cited as an unexpected, but welcome outcome. Exposure to management issues and how decisions are made are additional upsides.

When Jack Welch was the CEO of General Electric, he  was mentored on how to use the internet by a young employee in her 20s. He saw such promise from the process that he mandated that 500 of his top executives reach out to younger employees to do likewise. These days, mentees are learning how to use social media effectively from their younger mentors. Even at top ad agencies like Ogilvy & Mather, a worldwide managing director admitted that his more youthful mentors had shown him how to enhance his Twitter posts to be less boring. His eyes have been opened to new possibilities and he now plans to utilize Skype and videoconferencing to facilitate distance mentoring across the firm’s 450 offices. HP & Cisco also have reverse mentoring programs in place.

Michelle Rafter, in a blog post entitled “8 Ways to Make a Reverse Mentorship Work For You,” suggests the following guidelines:

1. Find a compatible partner –someone with skills in areas you’re lacking

2. Set expectations- create ground rules for what you want out of a partnership, such as how often you’ll meet and what both parties will get out of it

3. Get your boss’s OK- A lot of reciprocal mentoring can happen on an informal basis. But if you want or need to set up a formal program, you’ll need your manager’s or company’s approval.

4. Be open to suggestions and criticism- learn in days from someone else what one could take decades otherwise by having a thick skin

5. Make it more than just about tech- maybe a younger person could help you learn about sushi, Chinese, popular music, or even how to lead the next generation more effectively

6. Give as much as you get-the relationship should be mutually beneficial

7. Experiment with approaches– a single department, a program that crosses departments, and a multitude of variations

8. Don’t stereotype- not every 45-year-old has the same knowledge or expertise, so don’t assume every Gen Y worker does, either.

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