Check it out what you will find on this article about reverse mentoring:
- What is reverse mentoring, really?
- Why is reverse mentoring in the workplace important?
- A win-win scenario
- Tips for starting a reverse mentoring program
- Reverse mentoring needs the right tools
Regardless of what industry you’re in, you’ve probably heard something that goes along the lines of “younger generations or workers need to listen to their older counterparts”. It’s so prevalent that it’s become sort of a mantra that every old-timer seems to keep repeating. Don’t get us wrong — there are A LOT of things younger workers can learn from older generations (among them stress management, leadership skills, and just a lot of general things you can only learn through experience). But the less often talked about issues is how younger generations bring a lot to the table as well. This is where reverse mentoring comes in, and younger generations teach old-timers a thing or two.
Reverse mentoring in the workplace is really something a lot of companies should look at — incorporating reverse mentoring in the workplace is a very underrated piece of corporate culture that can have a lot of positive effects on an organization’s development, growth, and morale. Especially for older companies that want to grow and remain relevant in today’s fast-paced and dynamic operating environment, where customers’ needs, wants, attitudes, mindsets, and demands are a far-cry from what they once were, reverse mentoring in the workplace is a significant part of moving forward into new territory and taking advantage of new opportunities.
What is reverse mentoring, really?
While the concept of reverse mentoring in the workplace seems like a simple matter, as with all things in business and in professional life, there more to it than it looks.
But before anything else, let’s define reverse mentoring. Techopedia defines reverse mentoring as “an initiative in which older executives are paired with and mentored by younger employees on topics such as technology, social media and current trends.”
The concept of reverse mentoring in the workplace has actually been around for awhile; the idea is credited to Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, who began the whole movement way back in 1999. The idea was for more tech-savvy young workers to coach and even train older co-workers to use more modern technology, something that today has also extended to things like apps and social media. So if you’re hearing a lot of old fogies at work go like, “What’s a tweet?” or, “Why would I want to put my pictures on the internet?”, that means that it may a time to put some reverse mentoring the workplace to practice.
The 2015 film “The Intern” (by Nancy Meyers, starring Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro) is a great way to look at reverse mentoring. In the film De Niro plays Ben Whittaker, who is 70 and retired, having been a former executive of DEX One, a yellow-pages company that has since ceased operation. His boredom with retirement life makes him apply for the senior internship program of an e-commerce rising star called About the Fit, which Anne Hathaway heads.
The whole film doesn’t really go into the whole details about the reverse mentoring concept, as it’s more about the personal relationships of the characters, but the idea behind reverse mentoring is very prevalent and visible all throughout the film, and it plays an important part in the way the movie’s plot moves and gets resolved. Essentially, De Niro’s Ben Whittaker learns a lot about the whole e-commerce industry (learning email and social media in the process as well) and becomes more confident not only about himself, but with technology. And as he learns from his younger counterparts, not only from young executive Anne Hathaway, but also from his millennial co-workers, Whittaker also shares with them his old-school perspective on things (that admittedly, many millennials are quick to dismiss right off the bat) and helps these other characters grow in their own way without sacrificing their individuality.
Through the years, many companies have tried their own versions of initiatives of reverse mentoring in the workplace, and many have met with success. The goal is to coordinate shared learning between different employees who come from different generations and different backgrounds, creating a more harmonious workflow and teamwork between employees and also create more diverse and socially-aware workforce. All this ideally leads to an organization that is much more forward-thinking as a whole, manned by employees who are well-versed in current trends, both technologically and socially.
Why is reverse mentoring in the workplace important?
Especially these days when technology and digital tools play a very, very large part of how many organizations and companies do business, understanding these technological advances can go a long way. And it would be unfair to older workers to simply phase them out just because they’re unfamiliar with the current digital tools. It’s pretty much common knowledge that millennials and younger generations in general are more inclined to explore, learn, and master new technologies, which makes them perfect in-house “experts” to teach older co-workers about these same things. Once they’re confidently familiar with the new tech, older generation employees then bring their own breadth of experience to the fold, and can often think of new ways to use these digital tools for the good of the organization.
Success story 1: AXA Global Insurance and Asset Management
Take AXA, a global insurance and asset management company that has offices around the world. They began a reverse mentorship program in 2014, which has met massive success — the program has been getting tremendous positive feedback, and has a satisfaction rate of 97%. We wonder, how many other internal initiatives enjoy the same type of satisfaction rate among employees?
According to Alice Pellerin, the Global Project Manager for the company’s Reverse Mentoring Program, the goal of the initiative was to “familiarize our senior executives with digital technologies and ensure the Group’s successful digital transformation.”
The program is structured thus: Younger mentors are paired off with older mentees for six sessions that are around an hour long. The sessions begin with a sort of “getting to know you”, which besides the obvious purpose, also allows the mentee to express his or her interests and curiosities, which then in turn allow the mentor to focus on what sort of technologies they can teach their mentee. Let’s say the mentee is interested in professional networking — this makes LinkedIn and Twitter, and even Facebook, as possible viable areas of instruction for them.
Jean-Louis Laurent Josi, then the CEO of AXA Asia, describes himself as being “excited” at the prospect of learning something new. He realized that, in his own words, “in this field, you fast become a dinosaur!’ But thanks to the “curiosity and enthusiasm” of his mentor, Guillaume Lehallier, a product design and ecosystem manager, Josi soon found not only the professional efficiency and utility of tools like LinkedIn and Twitter, but he also found pleasure in their use. Both mentor and mentee feel that their experience in the program that allowed both of them to expand their scope of understanding is priceless.
Success story 2: Pershing
Pershing, a global financial services firm owned by BNY Mellon, also enjoys a massively successful reverse mentorship program. Aside from all the benefits of the program, it also boasts being responsible for a 96% retention rate for millennial employees. This is significant, since Deloitte reports that 43% of millennial workers see themselves in a different job in the next two years.
In the reverse mentoring program, mentors meet with their mentees at least once a month. Mentors also get together for meetings where they can discuss and help each other get over difficulties and challenges they face in the program. Pershing Vice President Kayla Flaten credits reverse mentoring in the workplace as a reason for many employees, especially millennials, to feel more valued and better connected to the organization, which is a large contributing factor to their strong millennial employee retention rate. Participants of the program also credit it with building stronger bridges within the organization and fostering more open and healthier lines of communication.
A win-win scenario
Naturally, for reverse mentoring in the workplace to become successful, it needs the full support of everyone involved, beginning from the (usually) older executives down to the rank-and-file millennials who could very well be mentors. For younger employees, the experience could very well serve as a stepping stone to help themselves develop professionally and become more equipped to climb the corporate ladder. For the older employees and executives, it’s a chance to gain a fresh perspective on things (something that MANY companies today need, frankly) and see opportunities for the organization’s growth and evolution going forward.
People who have participated in successful reverse mentoring in the workplace programs are all quick to stress the importance of everyone being completely on board with the program. This way, everyone has a mindset that is open to both learning and teaching at the same time, a mindset that on a bigger scale, is essential to a company’s growth.
All this is a testament to the importance of reverse mentoring, which is also a very useful employee development tool and a great way to manage millennial employees that allows them to develop, grow, and mature as professionals in the workplace; reverse mentoring in the workplace initiatives also allow the organization to express the value they place on younger employees and their contribution to the company.
Tips for starting a reverse mentoring program
If you’re considering starting a reverse mentoring program, consider these factors:
Matchmaking and mindset are important
Don’t just pair up random people. It’s important that at the onset, you determine what each person can learn from one another. Choose millennial employees who are particularly driven and have a keen perspective on things. On the other hand, older employees need to approach the whole thing with an open mind that free of prejudice and bias, and employees with this kind of mindset would make for perfect mentees. Without that mutual respect, you’ll just end up wasting everybody’s time.
Create a support group for mentors
While the experience of mentoring someone is enriching in itself, many of your mentors may still have some confidence issues or doubts in the way they are handling things. This is why it’s important for them to network with each other, so they have space to share their own experiences with their fellow mentors, where they can also learn new things and techniques from each other; no program works smoothly at the onset, but these support meetings will go a long way in helping the program improve; better rules and guidelines can be crafted that will benefit mentors, mentees, and the organization as a whole. You can also conduct workshops for mentors; look at other companies who might have a more mature and already successful reverse mentorship program (it doesn’t even have to be in the same industry) and see if you can request a couple of mentors to share their knowledge and experience with your company’s own set of mentors.
Set clear expectations and goals
For some organizations, the goal of reverse mentorship was to help usher in digital transformation. For some, it was diversification. Both things add value to the organization and its growth, but regardless of whether your company decides to do one or both objectives, it’s important to map those objectives out (and make the corresponding mentor-mentee matches reflect this) so that everyone is on the same page and there are no misinterpretations of what needs to be achieved through the program. It’s also important to consult with all the related and affected stakeholders first before launching any sort of reverse mentoring initiative so that you can also incorporate their input and ideas that will help set those objectives and goals.
Go with the flow
Sure, guidelines are needed, but as this is a coaching and mentorship program, make sure that participants have the freedom to work together in their own style and their own pace. While you lay down the formal framework of the program, you also need to recognize that this will be a learning experience both for the mentor and mentee, and people learn differently. But also be sure to have some sort of tracking method that records the progress of each mentor-mentee pairing.
Reverse mentoring needs the right tools
As with everything in business, reverse mentoring in the workplace can only be made truly effective if you’re also equipped with the right tools to make things happen. Runrun.it’s innovative suit of tools can easily be customized based on an organizations needs and culture. These tools include ways to track progress of sessions — both in terms of time and in the pace of learning. Many other tools also are capable of easily generating real time data that will help leaders and managers assess how things are going from a larger perspective, and make the necessary adjustments to the program and to operations.
Runrun.it also provides a lot of communication tools that are more efficient and transparent, allowing for better communication between mentors and mentees and even other stakeholders in the program — for example, if a mentor and / or mentee is out of town for business, they can still have their regular sessions. And not only for a reverse mentoring in the workplace program; Runrun.it’s toolbox is filled with many other things that can benefit any organization. To see how these tools can work for you, check out the free trial here.