The benefits of reverse mentoring

Mentoring is a rewarding aspect of work culture and a great mentor can help you on your path to career success. As trends and innovation move at a rapid pace, many companies are starting to see the benefits of having younger employees mentor older executives to share knowledge about all things technology and social media. So what are the benefits of reverse mentoring, and how can you use it in your business? 

What is reverse mentoring?

When we think mentoring, we naturally imagine a more experienced, often older worker being paired up with a younger employee who is keen to get more industry knowledge and experience. But this is changing as more and more companies realize they need younger employees to educate senior workers and executives about ever-evolving technology, social media and the latest workplace trends.

Former General Electric chief executive Jack Welch championed reverse mentoring in 1999 when he asked 500 of his junior associates to mentor top executives on how to get the most out of the internet. Welch also participated.

These days, many organizations have embraced the trend to bolster technological capabilities of senior employees, with many setting up formal programs to optimize success and ensure best practices.

Who is embracing it?

Technology companies are among those who have embraced reverse mentoring. But it’s almost a non-negotiable for all modern companies that want to keep up with the lightning-fast pace of evolving trends.

Within companies, senior executives are getting more comfortable with the idea as they realize that while they have business nous in spades, they may need to get up to speed on the latest social media trends, operating systems or the newest apps. And it’s not only knowing about the trends – senior staff may also need guidance on how to use the best new pieces of technology and the etiquette that goes along with it.

Millennials can show executives how to use LinkedIn to build brand awareness via updating company pages, but also show them how social media platforms can help raise their personal profile and business brand by blogging. By familiarizing senior staff with platforms like Twitter, the power of social media can be seen in action and it allows all employees to be part of online conversations and interact with their peers. It also provides further opportunities to promote the company and both their business and personal brand.

But it is not just tech companies that are embracing reverse mentoring. More traditional businesses including large companies like Proctor & Gamble and Time Warner are introducing it as a way to facilitate knowledge flow between younger and older workers.

Why should you consider it?

While reverse mentoring is a great way to get senior executives on board with emerging trends, it is also a way to get them to think differently and get their creative juices flowing. Creating a reverse-mentoring partnership could kick-start innovation in the business and help older workers think about new, more efficient ways of doing things. 

For the younger worker, there is the chance they will learn about the business and wider industry practices as they have conversations with their mentee.

Reverse mentoring also provides the chance for senior executives to get an understanding of what is important to younger workers and perhaps feed this back into the business. And for younger workers, it’s a great way to get more ‘visibility’ with more experienced staff, which can empower them to consider their career path.

But mentoring is also about a two-way flow of information, and teaming up older and younger workers can be a way to foster understanding between the groups. Many companies may find they have up to four different generations all working together, who might all have different work ethics, expectations and attitudes. Reverse mentoring can break down any barriers and remove negative stereotyping, which benefits team members and the entire company.

Getting buy-in and ensuring success

To get reverse mentoring off the ground in your business, it is important that all stakeholders are engaged and excited about the idea. Naturally, some older executives may be opposed to being mentored by a newer – much younger – employee, and may not appreciate feedback from someone less experienced. There is also the issue of whether people are willing to take time out of their already busy schedules to be involved.

Here are some top tips for a successful reverse-mentoring program:

  • Make sure both parties are clear about expectations of what they want to get out of the process.
  • Establish guidelines that both parties agree to.
  • Ensure the mentor and the mentee are excited to learn from each other.
  • It’s important that the two parties trust each other enough to move from their comfort zones with mutual respect.
  • Both parties must be ready to see things from different angles and be open about their feelings.

As more and more older workers stay in the workforce for longer, and the pace of technological advances continues at lightning speed, more companies should consider the benefits of reverse mentoring. Not only can it provide knowledge sharing and guidance for older workers about emerging trends, it is also a way to create a bridge between generations.