Any parent can tell you – our kids are far better at maneuvering technology than we are. We’re not tech-dumb, it will simply take us more time to find the solution than to ask them to help. The same technological gap between seasoned veteran employees and the new generation of workers being hired is widening. Scaling that momentous divide between young employees (who grew up using technology) and tenured craftsman (who might shun it) takes more than a sturdy bridge. Connecting these divergent groups takes cooperation through a concept called Reverse Mentoring; to tackle a challenge that many companies have been slow to address.
What is Reverse Mentoring, and does it work?
Reverse mentoring – the act of pairing a tenured employee with a newer, younger colleague – is not a new concept. In 2011, the CEO of Fast Company explained the basis for implementing such a program, saying:
“It’s a situation where the old fogies in an organization realize that by the time you’re in your forties and fifties, you’re not in touch with the future the same way as the young twenty-something’s. They come with fresh eyes, open minds, and instant links to the technology of our future.”
The benefits of matching workers on the opposite ends of the “fogie” scale is not for work comradery alone. There are numerous proven benefits for establishing a Reverse Mentoring program. Forbes points to several positive outcomes; including millennial retention, improved diversity/inclusion and enhanced technical savvy.
Should I start a Reverse Mentoring program?
While Reverse Mentoring can be a win-win for new and seasoned employees, these successful outcomes do not happen by chance. Each company should develop their own program in line with issues they have for which divisions exist in their workforce. Experts suggest that program start small and have clear ways to match partners based on objective criteria – like matches based on years of experience, college degrees, or job titles. The criteria used to create the pairs is important to establish.
For example, a company might connect older and younger employees, workers with an Engineering degree with those with a high school education, or employees from different geographies. Each of these matches could lead to the sharing of different types of information.
More subjective ways to match mentoring pairs (such as high potential and lower performer) can be perceived as underhanded or disingenuous. No matter what, there should not be a stigma associated with acceptance into a mentoring program – by those matched or employees on the outside looking in.
Start Reverse Mentoring Small and Defined
Starting a Reverse Mentoring program requires a commitment of time and, at least in the short term, vulnerability by each employee. Until the program becomes engrained as part of the company culture, managers will have to urge employees to volunteer – no small feat given the overflowing on-the-job demands. The first mentoring relationship may take some “hand holding” from leaders to ensure the company’s employees are benefitting from the efforts.
Starting with a limited number of participants and pairing them based on years of work-related tenure is most common way to start a Reverse Mentoring program. The engagement of millennials and/or the re-engagement of the 20-year workplace vets often provides a great initial kick off for the group.
How do I know if Reverse Mentoring is working?
Given the investment of time a Reverse Mentoring program requires, the success of the program must be more than just new workplace friendships.
Mentoring should drive real cost savings and innovation at the job site. Companies that implement Reverse Mentoring should be meeting with employees as part of a larger group that creates “lessons learned” that are shared throughout the company.
A successful Reverse Mentoring program will allow everyone to see the impact the sharing of knowledge from other points of view can have on making a job more efficient and the company, in turn, more profitable.
Just as I have come around to my kids’ relative expertise in working my iPhone, Reverse Mentoring has proven value to companies that create a culture to embrace it.
Need help building a thriving culture for your employees? Contact Goliath today!