What is Reverse Mentoring?
It’s a form of mentoring that requires us to reverse our assumptions about the roles people play. In this structure, a junior-level colleague is the Mentor and a senior-level colleague is the Mentee. Picture the Individual Contributor mentoring and a Manager or a Vice President.
But this structure will only work if we adopt a pliable definition of mentoring. Consider this: mentoring is, at its core, one person sharing advice, perspectives, and ideas based on their experience. Notice that my definition does not relate to nor require a reference to age, job level, status, or function.
What kind of advice perspectives and ideas can a junior-level colleague share with a senior-level colleague?
* Communication and style
* Cultural knowledge
* Social media
* What it’s like to be an individual contributor
* Being a newbie at the company
* Customer viewpoints
* Life in the cubes
* Issues from the front line
* Building relationships with individual contributors on the team
* Being a successful leader
Ripples from Reverse Mentoring to Reciprocal Mentoring
When Individual Contributors mentor Leaders, they get the opportunity to contribute to the organization in new ways. These young Mentors are sought after for their knowledge, skills, opinions, ideas, perspectives, and even their advice. And that fuels morale, engagement, and ultimately retention. The ripple effect continues when the senior-level Mentee reciprocates by extending mentoring to the junior-level Mentor based on the trust they’ve already established.
How to Pilot a Reverse Mentoring Program
* Determine the purpose
* Recruit participants who want to accomplish that purpose
* Establish a recommended structure
* Match participants based on knowledge, skills, and perspectives wanted and needed
* Kick-off the program by establishing expectations for both parties
* Continue to guide participants’ success with ideas, touch points, articles, and discussion topics
* Help them debrief, end their commitment, and redefine the relationship
Some Companies Leading the Trend:
>> When Jack Welch was CEO of GE, he championed Reverse Mentoring. He instructed 500 executives to connect with individual contributors to learn how to use the Internet. Jack participated as well, learning how to surf the web thanks to his Mentor, an employee in her 20s.
>> Founder and former CEO of Intel, Andy Grove encouraged reverse mentoring through “Technical Assistants,” who teach senior executives about things they need to know – marketing, brands, the Internet, competition, etc.
>> At Ogilvy & Mather, Managing Director Spencer Osborn learned how to spice up his Twitter posts from his younger Mentors.
>> Procter & Gamble (P&G) launched “Mentor Up” to partner senior male leaders (Mentees) with emerging female leaders (Mentors) and lowered its female employee turnover rate by 25% by exposing the senior male leaders to effective cross-gender communications.
Alan Webber, co-founder of Fast Company, summed up the concept nicely: “It’s a situation where the old fogies in an organization realize that by the time you’re in your forties and fifties, you’re not in touch with the future the same way the young twenty-something’s. They come with fresh eyes, open minds, and instant links to the technology of our future.”