Reverse Mentoring – Sharing of Expertise and Skills

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What is Mentoring?

Mentoring involves the sharing of knowledge, expertise, skills, values and experiences by senior employees with their younger counterparts. Research shows that mentoring has a positive influence on everyone involved – mentees, mentors and the organisations for which they work. Mentoring enhances the confidence and provides networking opportunities for the mentees in addition to helping them develop new skills and expertise. Mentoring is also beneficial to the Mentors as the senior employees are satisfied in sharing their knowledge to help someone grow and they too develop a fresh perspective through interaction. The organisation also benefits due to increased employee motivation, enhanced people skills, employee retention and better staff performance.

What is Reverse Mentoring?

Reverse Mentoring involves pairing the younger tech-savvy, racially diverse work force with the experienced senior working professionals having a long history of work ethics so as to facilitate substantial knowledge transfer such as social medial skills and business best practices in order to help the senior staff do their jobs better and stay engaged in the business. Reverse mentoring changes the way mentoring is done traditionally keeping in mind the current dynamic business scenario.

Both mentoring and reverse mentoring create an atmosphere of learning new skills and cross generational interaction within the organisation.

Need for Reverse Mentoring:

In today’s dynamic world, the Generation X’ers and Baby boomers find themselves grappling with the surge in technological changes and advancements. They are looking for help in bringing themselves up to speed with their younger counterparts. Organizations also need to re-train its senior employees constantly on new technologies. The young working professionals who are in the age group of 20 to 35 years (Millennials) can help train the Generation X’ers and baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) in social media skills, crowd sourcing techniques, and other evolving new technologies. The Millennials on the other hand will gain enormous knowledge from their experienced counterparts by understanding the business best practices.

Former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch brought in young and tech –savvy employees to educate him about the internet. Thereafter he encouraged more than 500 managers at GE to go through the mentoring process. This helped GE become a technology driven company. Ever since GE introduced it in 1999, more companies for example, The Hartford financial services company, HP, Cisco, MasterCard, Credit Suisse and many others have introduced reverse mentoring as an enterprise practice.

Corporates are turning to reverse mentoring to train senior managers on aspects of modern technologies. Young professionals find it easier to understand and adapt to the dynamic changes in technology.

Reverse mentoring helps the experienced and senior employees to soften their stand when dealing with the younger generation of professionals. They learn to understand and respect each other’s point of view and learn to work as a team to achieve the common goal. This benefits the organisation in the long run by managing the generational diversity in the workplace.

What are the key parameters for a successful reverse mentoring relationship?

  • Willingness to learn
  • Trust between each party
  • Open mindedness to learning new skills
  • Clearly defined expectations by both the millennials and baby boomers
  • Transparency in communication since each generation communicates differently.

Best practices in the Reverse Mentoring Program

  1. Define clear objectives or goals to be achieved through the mentoring program
  2. Establish boundaries
  3. Establish Timelines
  4. Set proper expectations prior to initiating the program
  5. Assessing the willingness of the mentee to learn from their younger counterparts
  6. Assessing the willingness of the Mentor (the Millennials) to guide and teach the more experienced senior employees (Baby boomers) new skills and techniques which may require patience and a right attitude.
  7. Develop a list of prospective Mentors and mentees.
  8. Finalize Mentor teams
  9. Culture of the organisation will determine if one needs a formal or informal reverse mentoring program.

The following is a case study of The Hartford financial services company and how the company implemented the innovation to support its reverse mentoring program.

Hartford used its standard change management model, ADKAR. This model developed by Jeff Hiatt, the chief executive officer of Prosci (a change management research company), has five elements:

  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire to support and participate in the change
  • Knowledge of how to change
  • Ability to implement the change, and
  • Reinforcement to sustain the change.

These targets oriented the staff as they embarked on the reverse mentoring project, and reiterated the company’s commitment to the project’s business goals.

Designing the reverse mentoring project involved the following:

  1. A broad and deep understanding of the latest tools and trends impacting social media interactions. Experience the changing consumer marketplace and maximize communication in a variety of social media platforms.
  2. Develop an efficient system of communication for the mentor /mentee pairs
  3. Understanding the Millennials point of view and perspectives on consumer behavior and business growth opportunities.
  4. Driving the cultural change within the company to keep pace with modern technologies and practices.
  5. Mentors with strong technical and communication skills, top performers in their respective fields and who are at ease with social media were sought.

Tools for the company’s reverse mentoring project:

  • Applicants needed to submit a talent profile (with the details of their job title, period of employment, developmental goals, competencies, education and background)with recommendations from their teammates and manager. Mentor backgrounds were checked and were matched with the mentees based on their common interests.
  • The Session Schedule was posted on everyone’s calendar in advance.
  • Share-point site for the project: enabled the participants to communicate between sessions. A leader board on the site provided project statistics. It allowed the core team to monitor each pair throughout the project.
  • Guidelines:This document helped the mentors by giving them tips on the content, advice on professional behavior (dress code), materials required (laptop, relevant mobile devices, talent profile, program curriculum etc.), and established their responsibilities for the project. Other details such as the generic questions to be asked of the mentee, review of curriculum with the mentee and determining the mentees familiarity with technology and devices, networking, connections, and communications, finding information (search engines) sharing and collaboration and multimedia will be a useful tool to assess the mentoring needs of the mentee.
  • Writing session notes and follow-up email to the mentee.

The project’s Impact on the company:

  1. More than 80% of the participants rated the project extremely effective.
  2. Many mentees realized that the young mentors were some of the company’s best and brightest in communication technology. Of the 12 mentors in the projects first wave, 11 of them were promoted within a year of the program’s inception, since the junior employees benefited from a significant amount of exposure, sponsorship and stretch development.
  3. A welcome decision for the company’s tech savvy employees was to allow and support the use of social media by employees to do their work. This decision required an update of the organisations Electronic Usage policy and was explicitly linked to the reverse mentoring project.
  4. Hartford workforce’s rising comfort with the company’s internal electronic communications network was a positive outcome of the reverse mentoring project. Instead of scheduling meetings first to present information and then to follow up, the staff became accustomed to putting information on a network where others could evaluate and comment on the information posted. As a result, less meetings were needed to be held making the workforce more productive.
  5. The main aim of Hartford was to use social media and emerging technology to drive innovation. With the interaction between the employees growing, creative ideas about new topics began to take shape. The reverse mentoring pairs decided to explore topics such as Green corporate practices, diversity, and sustainability.

Benefits of Reverse Mentoring

Companies who have opted to pioneer the reverse mentoring initiative in their respective organisations experience the following benefits:

  • Millennial employee retention
  • Helps in kick starting Innovation and improved innovation governance decisions due to the understanding of new skills and technologies by senior employees owing to appropriate guidance from their younger counterparts.
  • A great way to get senior executives on board with emerging trends.
  • Improves inter-generational relationships at an organizational level.
  • Foster understanding of different work ethics and attitudes
  • Reverse mentoring makes up-skilling of mid-level managers at a minimum cost a reality.

The most important benefit of reverse mentoring, irrespective of the specific issues, is that the strategy can be used to bring people across generations together so that they can work as a team towards arriving at solutions to existing and prospective challenges in a positive and effective way.

As William Wordsworth once stated “The Child is the Father of Man” and it holds true ever more in today’s dynamic world.

Deangelis, K. L., PhD. (2013, May). Reverse Mentoring at the Hartford: Cross-Generational Transfer of Knowledge About Social Media. Retrieved February 23, 2017, from
https://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/research_sites/agingandwork/pdf/publications/hartford.pdd

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