Right Side Up is Upside Down: Reverse Mentoring From a Millennial’s Point of View

March 1, 2016

If Only…

A subtle hint of “if only” lurks just beneath the surface for those who desire to see all generations empowered beyond the stereotypes. If only technology was not a burden for older generations but a vital resource. If only young people learned to master the social business savvy of older generations. If only it were possible to empower both the young and the old at the same time to become more productive, engaged, and innovative in the workplace. . . you can probably guess where I am going next. . . this is possible! And not in 20 years from now after painstakingly laying groundwork for organizational reform—but now. In simple, mutually beneficial “reverse mentoring” relationships.

A Simple Solution

Reverse mentoring is exactly what it sounds like. Traditional mentoring turned on its head. It is a form of employee development in which a more experienced employee actively seeks the counsel of an employee with less overall experience but fresh perspectives and skill sets. As a Millennial leader, this concept of reverse mentoring is exciting! Getting the opportunity to meet with senior leaders in my organization who are not only interested in what I have to say but are invested in implementing the information I share is a powerful tool for building loyalty and inspiring me to stay where I am valued. Not to mention teaching the execs a thing or 2.

Reverse mentoring also:

  • Generates trust.
  • Empowers emerging and established leaders.
  • “Shrinks” big organizations—it crosses boundaries that employees would not normally cross.
  • Helps to engage, retain, and promote younger talent. It creates a 2-way conversation allowing supervisors to learn what workplace conditions younger employees seek in order to advance themselves along with the interests of the company.
  • Begins to close the knowledge gap.

While the idea is that managers can learn about life outside the corner office, another outcome is reduced turnover among younger employees, who not only gain a sense of purpose but also a rare glimpse into the world of management and top level leaders.

A Few How-Tos

Now that you know the value of reverse mentoring, there is nothing to stop you from implementing a successful DIY (Do It Yourself) reverse mentoring program. Here is a basic action plan to get you started:
1. Define the goal(s): Ensure you know what you want to get out of the relationships before you begin so that success is evident. Also identify the key stakeholders and describe what their involvement will look like.
2. Pair up mentors and partners: Do not be afraid of diversity. Often the best matches are mismatches.
3. Plan the launch: Host an orientation session with all members, set the ground rules, share the goals/objectives, equip each person to teach and be taught, and cover logistical details.
4. Prioritize and persist: Follow-up and tracking are crucial to ensure the program is effective, so be diligent in checking on progress. Some success indicators include:

  • Are people taking the time to meet and work together?
  • Are the partners satisfied with the progress?
  • Are they benefiting from and enjoying the partnership?
  • What ideas do they have to improve the program?

5. Measure progress: Include a means of evaluating the program’s success. This could include questionnaires, surveys, interviews, and/or observations of the meetings. Do not be afraid to make changes if challenges are identified.

So if you are looking for innovative solutions to address the generation (and technology) gaps in your organization, just remember: when fresh, unbiased perspectives are mixed with detailed knowledge and strategic skills, the possibilities are endless.