What is Reverse Mentoring?
Reverse mentoring is a recent trend that is aimed at enhancing personal learning for both mentors and proteges. Unlike traditional mentoring relationships in which the mentor is a senior, more experienced member of the organization, in reverse mentoring, the mentor is a junior person who serves as a mentor to the senior person. The goals of this mentoring relationship are to share knowledge and encourage personal learning that goes both ways. Mentees gain perspective from a junior person, perhaps a millennial. The millennial generation was born between 1978 and 1999 and they are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce (currently about 76 million employees). They are tech savvy, they multitask and they are interested in careers with options. They have a global perspective, embrace diversity and are open to new experiences. In partnership with the University of Miami’s School of Business Administration, CITI Latin America is pairing managers with business students to enhance their digital initiatives: http://www.bus.miami.edu/news-and-media/news-releases/citi-reverse-mentoring-2013.html
According to Chaudhuri and Ghosh (2012), this new mode of mentoring introduced formally in 1999 by the former Chief Executive of General Electric, Jack Welch. This is mentoring “turned upside down” since new junior employees are paired up with more experienced managers or employees. Nothing really new about that. A lot of organizations match new, junior employees with more senior managers as part of on-boarding or helping new employees adjust to their new work roles and the culture of the organization. But the twist to this mentoring relationship is that the objective is to to help the senior person acquire new learning from the junior person.
One challenge to these relationships may be that mentees may be dismissive of the idea that they can learn from a youngster so these programs need top management support and training. The focus needs to be on personal learning — like all mentoring relationships. But the difference lies in what is learned. And like all mentoring relationship there needs to be a healthy exchange. The junior person still benefits from the experience of the senior person but these relationships are more balanced with an emphasis on what the senior person can learn as well.
Wendy Murphy (2012) suggests ways to enhance personal learning through reverse mentoring exchange. Reverse mentoring operates with the same functions as traditional mentoring — career and social support plus role modeling but there are some ways to leverage these relationships.
1. Focus on knowledge sharing and learning. Mentees can learn new skills such as facility with social media from their junior mentors. Also the junior person may challenge their ideas. Junior people may have technical expertise that can enhance the mentor’s career.
2. As with all mentoring relationships the mentee can receive support and feedback from the junior mentor, as well as affirmation and encouragement. This feedback may be related to the learning of new skills but it isn’t limited to this. Through sharing of career choices and life events the mentor can serve as a sounding board and give the mentee real perspective on their accomplishments as well as their strengths and weaknesses.
3. Mentees can gain a new perspective from the junior person who may be more open to innovative new ideas and/or a global perspective. Their junior mentors can serve as role models for asking challenging questions and being willing to change directions and try something new.
Mentees gain direct exposure to millennials and can learn both new skills and new perspectives. As organizational leaders, they may learn to better understand the millennial generation so that they can lead and motivate them more successfully. They may also gain insight into how to market products and services to the millenial generation by developing relationships based upon trust and candor. Reverse mentoring can be a leadership development tool that benefits the senior mentee, the junior mentor and the organization as well. While this may feel uncomfortable for some senior people, it appears that the benefits may clearly outweigh the challenges.
Chaudhuri, S. & Ghosh, R. (2012). Reverse mentoring: A social exchange tool for keeping the Boomers engaged and Millennials committed (2012). Human Resource Development Review, 11, 1, 55-76.
Murphy, W. M. (2012). Reverse mentoring at work: Fostering cross-generational learning and developing millennial leaders. Human Resource Management, July-August, 51, 4, 549-574.