We all know how important a mentor can be to a young up-and-comer. But what is reverse mentoring, and how does it work?
Reverse mentoring was first popularised by General Electric CEO Jack Welch, who recognised that he couldn’t keep up with the huge technological advancements during the 1990s. He sought the assistance of the youngest individuals in his company, who were well acquainted with the latest developments. He then advised his top executives to do the same, and formed reverse mentoring programmes to keep his business up-to-date and on track.
There are some rich benefits that can come from a reverse mentoring programme in an age-diverse workforce, including the following.
Closing the knowledge gap
Reverse mentoring gives a young employee the chance to gain a real insight into the culture and practices of the business by an experienced head who has ‘been there and done that’. Likewise, an older employee may learn about technology that will boost their ability to connect with potential clients, colleagues and customers. The technology revolution means that these days, it’s not uncommon for an entry-level worker to have a stronger understanding of technology than their manager.
With social media tools such as Whatsapp, and presentation software like Prezi, this knowledge may make the more experienced employee consider different ways to work more efficiently and creatively with the help of their mentor.
Empowering emerging and established leaders
Today’s established business leaders won’t be around forever, and eventually the new generation will have to step up. A reverse mentoring programme will give them the authority and confidence, as well as the practise, to take up a position of leadership.
At the same time, more experienced individuals will need to become comfortable learning from someone younger than them. But a reverse mentoring programme can create the feeling of empowerment and joy at learning something completely new and current, and will keep them up to date with innovative changes.
Bringing generations together
A reverse mentoring programme can challenge the ‘us vs them’ mentality that can creep into the workplace. It’s easy for people to stereotype, with some viewing millennials as unmotivated and egocentric, and others viewing older generations as resistant to change. Reverse mentoring is a chance to bring these generations together, so they can see the most valuable traits in each other.
It may be tempting to partner two similar employees together – however, we can learn plenty from those who are so different from us. The best results of reverse mentoring can come from two highly sociable people who come from different backgrounds and cultures.
Energising and initiating creativity
Reverse mentoring doesn’t have to be ‘full time’, and employees can become energised by taking an hour or so out of their weekly schedule to learn something new. This will work as both a welcoming break from their routine, and a chance to learn things that can fuel innovative ideas and approaches.
No doubt, a younger pair of eyes will see things differently, and their insights can lead to powerful breakthroughs. Likewise, the younger employee can really benefit from getting the opinion of an experienced mind. Overall, this sense of shared dialogue will enrich the daily experience of both employees.