How about turning the idea of “classic mentoring” on its head?
Particularly in today`s world shaped by rapid technological trends, why not have junior colleagues teach their seniors a thing or two?
Reverse mentoring as a two-way learning opportunity
“Perhaps it’s time to do things differently. Our colleagues in Human Resources talk so much about social media, but I hardly ever use it myself.” It was this thought that motivated Jens Eckert, CPO of Digital Industries, to explore the possibilities of reverse mentoring.
“Classic” mentoring involves older colleagues – usually senior management – with a wealth of (professional) experience supporting younger colleagues in their career development by giving them the benefit of this experience along with access to their professional network. Reverse mentoring, however, turns this idea on its head by encouraging these old hands to learn from their younger colleagues.
Reverse mentoring – what’s it all about?
In today’s fast-paced (working) world shaped by digitalization and technological trends, older colleagues can often learn a great deal from “digital natives”.
- “How do I communicate on social media?”
- “How do I keep up with technological development?”
- “Which apps can make my daily working life easier?”
These are just some of the questions up for consideration when entering into a reverse mentoring relationship. On closer examination, however, reverse mentoring isn’t all that far removed from classic mentoring: both rely on a mentor with more experience in a certain field passing this on to a mentee. And when it comes to digitalization, it’s the younger colleagues who are often far more clued-up.
Reverse mentoring enables mentees to fill specific gaps in their skillset, personalize their learning journey and ask questions within a trust-based mentoring relationship. Questions they’d be reluctant to share with a wider audience. Discussions can cover topics like creating social media profiles or using apps.
Reverse mentoring has benefits that extend far beyond this limited digitalization related scope.
It offers the opportunity to gain a deep insight into the mindset and attitude of generation Y, Z and beyond. What, for example, is the younger generation’s perspective on topics like leadership, work-life balance, communication, agile working methods, home working, new ways of working and change management?
In addition, the reverse mentee can learn to understand how other organizations or functions “work” or how a younger colleague tackles tasks and challenges – maybe in a totally different way?!
The bandwidth for sharing knowledge is huge – and reaches far beyond technology and digitalization!
Nevertheless, potential mentees often seem to harbor reservations about this kind of mentoring. Admitting that they lack experience in certain areas is just the first step. Many apparently find it difficult to take the next step, namely, to have a younger colleague teach them something they don’t know. But it’s worth it!
For Jens Eckert, in any case, the benefits are clear: after more than two years of working with his reverse mentor Maja Stojanovic, he sees the very open and trust-based dialog between two people without any hierarchical dependency as one of the decisive advantages of reverse mentoring.
From mentoring to in-depth bilateral exchange
It’s precisely this independence of the people involved that makes reverse mentoring so different from career mentoring, which focuses on the key question “How can managers help budding highflyers to drive forward their career development?” Because reverse mentoring doesn’t strive to bind the mentee closer to the mentor (in organizational terms), it enables a far more open exchange. A similarly independent relationship basis can be observed in what is known as cross-mentoring, where the manager and junior employee come from different companies, sometimes from different industry sectors.
Many reverse mentoring relationships don’t stand still, they evolve into an in-depth bilateral cross-generational exchange. After all, younger colleagues also benefit hugely from receiving open feedback from their older opposite on all the topics mentioned.
Jens and Maja, too, have seen their mentoring relationship evolve over time: “Yes, we started out by focusing on topics like technological trends and social media. But as time went on, completely different questions came to the fore, such as what the younger generation thinks about our leadership style and what it expects from a leader,” says Jens as he recalls their shared journey.
It’s all about mindset, openness, collaboration and swapping notes between different age groups and generations.
At its heart, then, reverse mentoring is all about facilitating intergenerational exchange or – to cite the buzzword – establishing a “win-win situation”. In the words of Jens Eckert: “It’s all about mindset, openness, collaboration and swapping notes between different age groups and generations.” In short: reverse mentoring is a valuable building block toward establishing a new culture of collaboration, an open and adaptive mindset.
We just need to dare, as young colleagues or career entrants, to teach the “old dogs” some new tricks and, as experienced managers, to take lessons from the younger generation.
What is your opinion about reverse mentoring?
Have you made any experience with it so far – be it as mentor or mentee? Feel free to share your thoughts here!