It might be time to update the prevailing image of mentorship. While mentoring roles of the past were reserved for the most senior members of our society or the executive level of an organization, today's mentors are present in every generation and in every role. Rather than relying strictly on a top-down approach to mentoring, organizations are exploring reverse mentoring to meet business needs.
In the past, mentoring was a one-way street—from elder to younger. Today's mentoring goes both ways and focuses on mutual learning rather than strict, top-down instruction. Making room for reverse mentoring in your learning strategy is one of the best ways to encourage diverse thinking, stay ahead of technological advancements and retain employees through relationship building.
1. Appreciation for diverse thought
Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch is known for creating one of the first reverse mentoring programs in 1999, according to the Society for Human Resource Management
. Welch connected himself and 500 other top leaders with younger associates who taught executives how to use the internet. Thanks to this program, upper management adopted valuable new skills, and their younger mentors received recognition for the insights they brought to GE. The program celebrated the diversity of thought and experience they gained and used it to benefit GE's business approach.
Your learning management system content
can support mentoring programs by providing courses and training for mentors and mentees about how to make the most out of their relationships. From tips about when and how to meet to suggested conversation starters, you can offer resources that will enhance these essential connections. When mentors and mentees have the tools they need, unique and compelling learning experiences bloom.
2. Adoption of new technology
Technological change is a top challenge facing current and future business leaders. Reverse mentoring can help organizations keep up with these changes. One chief information officer created a reverse mentoring program to match tenured IT staff with recent college graduates, reported CIO
. She hoped to inspire a "corporate mind-meld" that would help modernize their organization's approach to IT service delivery.
"Every business needs to ask itself how it can innovate digitally at every stage of the chain," one senior manager told CEMS
. "Can they become quicker? Can they target customers better? Can they target them with better products?"
Leaders can look to younger talent to help answer these questions. Mentor programs and relationships offer a way to expose leaders of today and tomorrow to the skills they need
to not only keep up with change but also with their competitors.
3. Retention of employees
Engaging younger employees as mentors isn't limited to the topic of technology. Asking them to serve as mentors also helps organizations retain workers from younger generations. Inc.
reported that millennials are comfortable in mentoring roles and often will leave an organization if they don't feel like they're allowed to serve as an active contributor.
In turn, mentees with more tenure can share the business management expertise and decision-making skills they've gathered with time and experience. This ability to support workforce development can help retain older workers who want to see the organization succeed, even after they've retired.
Reverse mentoring is a powerful way to create interdependent corporate learning. Every employee can serve as a guide. Everyone has valuable knowledge to share. Regardless of the format, organizations must embrace collaboration and the exchange of ideas to increase the possibilities for success that transcends generations.