Mentoring Systems Grow Up
I’ve seen several articles recently that tout the supposedly “new” phenomenon of reverse mentoring, like this one from The Sydney Morning Herald, or even this one that appeared on the AARP website. What I find mildly disturbing about these articles is that they zero in on social media as the “it” topic that younger workers can teach older workers about. They almost make it sounds as though reverse mentoring means having someone younger teach someone older about social media or even technology in general—and that’s all.
I take exception to this stance on reverse mentoring and propose we change the way we think about this topic. Here’s what I think we need to do.
1. Just call it mentoring!
Reverse mentoring is simply someone who is skilled in an area and who is willing to share what they know with a colleague (or more than one colleague!) who wants to learn about that topic. That’s it. If you take age out of the equation, it sure sounds like mentoring to me. Forget labeling the practice with terms like reverse (or even micro or flash) and just focus on the fact that someone has something to teach and someone has something they want to learn.
2. Look beyond age.
As I said, when you take age out of the equation, it is simply mentoring that we are talking about. It seems organizations have latched onto the term “reverse” because it helps them categorize who the mentors and mentees are. I’m not sure if this is because they think this will make it more palatable to employees, or if it’s because they have been told from the C-Suite that they need to be doing this newfangled reverse mentoring thing, too, to make their company more appealing to Millennials. But if you strip that term away and just call it mentoring, you can still have younger employees who are mentors to older employees. You don’t have to give it a new label to make it appealing. People will still want it and will still participate.
3. Go deeper than social media training.
Sure, I get it—older people may not be as innately savvy with social media and new technology as their younger colleagues. But does that mean that you have to make reverse mentoring only about social media training? No! You hired these young employees to be a part of your organization because of the myriad skills they bring with them. Let them bring that to the table when they are mentors. Instead, picture this: If you had your employees register in a mentoring system like River and profile themselves along competency strengths and growth areas, you would see a plethora of opportunities arise in which young employees could be mentors—not just to help older executives learn about Twitter. Let your employees decide what they want to mentor others in. Give them permission to leverage all of their talents and know-how for mentoring their colleagues. I guarantee you will see mentoring connections sprout up that focus on topics you were previously overlooking.
Reverse mentoring is a hot topic, but if we stop thinking about it in terms of labels and age, and instead start thinking about it in terms of bringing people together to learn from and teach one another regardless of how old they are or what position they hold in a company, we will begin to get to the heart of what mentoring can and should be.
To read more about breaking the molds of mentoring, check out our How-to Guide for a Mentoring Revolution.