Think of a corporate mentor. Did you think of someone in their late 40s or 50s, with salt-pepper hair, wearing glasses and looking all wise and experienced? A wide-eyed 25 year old techie “nerd” with geeky glasses and a trendy hair-do whose hands are always glued onto one gadget or the other, could not have been the first image for “mentor” that popped up in your mind. But chances are that the latter could prove to be a great mentor too!Reverse mentoring, popularized by Jack Welsh almost a decade ago, is quickly picking up pace. This might be a result of the increasing number of millennials at the workplace today as well as the technological growth spurt that often baffle the Boomers.
Reverse mentoring, a.k.a. reciprocal mentoring could benefit your organization too, especially if you have a generationally diverse workforce. Every employee needs a mentor at work and reverse mentoring is a great way to involve more employees. Here are a few things to consider to make reverse mentoring programmes a success:-
- Be the matchmaker: Pairing the right mentor with the right mentee is half the battle won. Keeping in mind personality types, preferred learning methods and working styles helps you understand who will get along and who won’t. Pairing dissimilar individuals might work in the movies, but in reality, such pairing would require more time and effort to be invested in building a rapport. Besides, similar individuals with complimentary traits seem to work better and benefit more from reverse mentoring initiatives.
- Mentor your mentors: Make sure that your mentors are suitable for the programme. Mentoring is an art and while a person might be very knowledgeable, s/he might be deplorably deficient in the ability to impart that knowledge. Developing a teaching module along with both the mentor and the mentee will help in this regard.
- Don’t shoot in the dark: Before you try and get your organization to take to reverse mentoring, be sure to know exactly what challenges you wish to overcome through the process. For example, if you wish to make your boomers more tech-savvy, plan a programme keeping that in mind. Once you know your goal, you can not only hope to develop a better programme, but also convince the stakeholders about its benefits.
- Breaking the ice: While younger employees might feel uncomfortable trying to teach their more seasoned counterparts, experienced employees, especially those who have been in the organization for a long time, might be resistant to learning processes. You need to break the ice between the generations and motivate them with what their individual take-away will be. If the sole motivation for both mentor and mentees is to partake in the process to appease higher management, energy levels would soon fizzle out and the whole initiative might die an untimely death.
- Checks and reviews: There should be mid-process checks and progress reports to understand the efficiency of the programme. The methods may be tweaked based on these reviews. Final reviews and feedback are an obvious necessity as that will give you pointers that will help you make the next reverse mentoring programs more effective.
The old proverb, “If youth but knew and age but could” seems so applicable to today’s multi-generational workforce. Reverse mentoring not only banks on the generational diversity at your organization, but also bridges the gap between older and younger employees through a process that is mutually beneficial and rewarding. Besides, being an interesting reversal of usual roles, it allows an opportunity to senior employees to pester their juniors with incessant questions while giving junior employees the rare privilege to tell their seniors that they just “got schooled” (maybe not to their faces though!).
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