“Mentors have a way of seeing more of our faults that we would like. It’s the only way we grow.”
― George Lucas
Leading-edge companies have long seen mentoring as a way to pass on experience and knowledge within the company. Hundreds of companies in a wide variety of industries have adopted formal and informal programs designed to harness their competitive edge.
For many years now, I have witnessed that I do not understand the future in the same way as twenty-year-old children. They come with young eyes, expansive minds and expeditious links to the technology. Their ideas for today and tomorrow are bold and big. I believe Jack Welch thought the same and recognised this generational power. The former CEO of General Electric, attributed with the first use of reverse mentoring in 1999, invited 500 senior executives to choose younger, internet-savvy people to take advantage of their expertise.
We now know this as reverse mentoring, with the purpose is to get generations to accomplish goals and learn together.
In a reverse mentoring relationship, both parties act within both mentor and mentee’s capacity and want to learn and share with the other. Trust needs to cement effectiveness from the outset because reverse mentoring causes actors to push the other out of their comfort zone and try new ways of thinking, working and being.
Reverse mentoring benefits both parties’ knowledge: the more experienced person learns from, the younger generation. In turn, the more experienced and senior person offers to business practices and professional wisdom. Reverse mentoring promotes young leaders’ development and reinforces what has been learned, draws together several generations, young and old, and creates group coherence. Reverse mentoring can occur within the company’s current mentoring programs without requiring new processes. Indeed, this can be done by pairing employees of different generations and supporting them to convene regularly to exchange ideas and challenge each other. Such participating should not be limited to people of the same or similar profiles, a prominent topic from generation Y to seniors. Other areas to be explored are gender mentors, race, age, sexual orientation and culture. As with any successful application, it should be celebrated and communicated across the company to convert the most hesitant to take it up.
Clarity will make it conceivable to open up to others’ feelings and thoughts, overcome diversity in communication style – evident among ages, and view circumstances from varied angles. The traditional subordinate-manager model is to be avoided.
Designing a strong programme and proper planning is necessary at the outset for participants who should not have too much work to do. Both actors receive the same training: the mentor actor must be able to understand what is required and be reliable; when being mentored, put aside his or her ego. Both parties’ expectations must be explicit from the outset in knowing which experience and skills are lacking and make it a priority for the mentor.
In part, it is due to the humility of the mentor and his or her student that a healthy relationship can develop between them. The senior must be able to recognise the junior’s quality and skills, and the junior must adopt the senior’s codes. Non-acknowledgement, the other’s knowledge is also an attitude that must be avoided if a positive and productive relationship is to be established.
With reverse mentoring, each can learn from the other by building a relationship of trust. The elder will thus be able to handle new tools. At the same time, the younger one will have the opportunity to train a hierarchical superior, which is a definite asset for his career in the company and his learning of the professional world’s codes. When we talk about ‘reverse mentoring’, we have to assume that we work in a collaborative atmosphere, recreate collectives, and bring two generations together.
But for the magic to work, this approach must come from a place of curiosity, compassion and care. And both the mentee and mentor must be ready to question himself, however old they are. You have to work on this method internally to make it truly work.