Turning the Tables on Mentoring

Historically, the mentor/mentee relationship has generally been marked by a relationship between an older, and more experienced, mentor and a younger mentee. But, in today’s rapidly changing technology-laden landscape, these relationships are increasingly being flipped, offering opportunities for younger workers to mentor their older colleagues.

Benefits for All

The relationships represent a win-win. Younger workers develop coaching and training skills and gain confidence in their unique knowledge; they also benefit from the opportunity to connect with more seasoned colleagues. Older workers, in turn, gain an appreciation for the competencies of their younger colleagues and pick up new insights along the way.

Target and UnitedHealth are two companies that have been in the news for their efforts in reverse mentoring. It’s not a new concept, though. Jack Welch, then CEO of General Electric, is credited with bringing the concept to the United States after a business trip in 1999. But it’s a concept that is starting to catch on—and not just in tech circles. At EY, younger female staffers are mentoring more senior managers with a focus on gender issues in an effort to address the potential for sexism in the workplace.

While both traditional and reverse mentoring offer opportunities for learning, the relationships that are established through these pairings are equally valuable, and in truth, both sides learn from each other regardless of who the formal mentor is.

Best Practices

In establishing reverse mentoring programs, the same principles and best practices apply as in traditional mentoring programs. Some important considerations to keep in mind include:

  • Identify desired outcomes at the outset. What, specifically, do you hope to get out of this program? How will you measure success?
  • Clarify what will be expected of mentors and mentees in terms of their participation, time commitment, and deliverables.
  • Develop criteria for participation based on your desired outcomes. For instance, if you’d like younger workers to help their older colleagues become familiar with social media channels, you might require that potential mentors have a well- established presence on the channels you’d like staff to gain knowledge of.
  • Create a process for both potential mentors and mentees to express their interest in participating in a program and criteria for their selection. For instance, you may have length-of-service requirements, requirements related to employee performance, etc.
  • Provide structure for the program through expectations about the number and frequency of meetings and requests for reports back to whoever will be managing the program—likely someone in the HR or training and development area.
  • Seek feedback from mentors and mentees about their experiences and suggestions for ways of improving the program and processes.

Providing an opportunity for the younger members of your workforce to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in areas that are important to your organization offer benefits for all participants—and your organization. With five generations now in the workplace, there are ample opportunities for them to learn from one another and much to gain by helping them to form relationships that can increase understanding and appreciation.