Reverse Mentoring Trend Grows Up

Written by
Chris Browning

Businesses Flip Mentoring on Its Head

This past week, I had three conversations with three different organizations about reverse mentoring, and I’m here to tell you: I think we are on the verge of a shift in the way organizations look at this subset of the larger practice of mentoring. While some of our clients have dabbled in reverse mentoring and others have talked about it conceptually, to date, very few have done anything substantial with it as a full-blown practice.

Reverse MentoringOver the past several years, most of those who have experimented with it have often done so by viewing reverse mentoring as a byproduct or secondary outcome of a more traditional mentoring program.  By way of example, in the context of some traditional high-potential programs, where the mentors are executives and the mentees are the “up-and-comers,” some organizations have encouraged the mentors in those programs to look at their relationships as opportunities to gain insights into the mindset of the younger generation(s) in their respective workforces.  Thus, the mentor learns something as well.  However, the primary purpose of those programs was a focus on the development of the high potential candidates; the mentors’ learning takeaways are ancillary outcomes.

Fast forward to this week.  In all three instances, I was speaking with prospective clients who are engaging us in conversations about running reverse mentoring programs as the focal point of the program itself, not looking at reverse mentoring as a secondary component of a larger initiative.  In probing further, in all three cases, I came to find that these organizations are viewing the mentors as the junior employees and the mentees as executive-level personnel.

Why are these organizations looking to implement reverse mentoring?  In all three cases, the story was very similar: “We want our younger employees to help our older executives understand how to better leverage technology to be more effective at their jobs.”  They want individuals with more knowledge to help teach those who need their knowledge.  Yep, that definitely sounds like mentoring to me.  It’s getting exciting: these are instances of real reverse mentoring.

To be fair, I’m not trying to be critical of those organizations that have placed an emphasis on reverse mentoring as a secondary outcome of another program (a la my example above about encouraging executive mentors in high potential programs to look for opportunities to learn from their mentees).  I think it’s great when organizations take that view of things.

My excitement stems from the idea that organizations are continuing to expand their views around how to strategically use business mentoring for productive purposes.  These prospective clients each identified real issues in their respective organizations: we need our executives to learn about technology.  This aligns with the evolving and expanding view of mentoring that our Chief Strategist, Randy Emelo, wrote about in his book Modern Mentoring: The role of mentee should not be limited to the more junior employees, and, likewise, the role of mentor should not be limited to the more senior individuals in an organization.  The modern view of mentoring is that everyone has something they can learn, and everyone has something they can teach others.  The organizations I’m speaking to are not only grasping that concept, but also actively looking to put it into action.  That’s pretty cool.

What are you doing in the realm of reverse mentoring?  Share your ideas with us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.  And feel free to reach out to us to speak with Randy or me about how to implement reverse mentoring in your organization.

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