What is reverse mentoring?
You know all the wisdom you’ve acquired over years of experience? Well, just park that for a moment while you gain fresh insight and technology tips from a junior employee in the company.
Wait, someone’s going to show me how to stop all those WhatsApp notifications?
Yes. When American Jack Welch pioneered “reverse mentoring” 20 years ago, the then CEO and chair of General Electric connected junior associates with 500 executives to show them how to use the internet. Generational divides are currently defined by tech use and digital natives can teach their elders not only which buttons to press but their social implications, too. Reverse mentoring
is also about encouraging boomers to text rather than phone (and to use fewer emojis when they do).
Is this a ruse to flatter millennials?
It’s an opportunity for seasoned executives to understand the staff who most baffle them (young people) and yes, to keep them. Deloitte’s global workforce transformation leader David Brown pointed out in May that millennials (aged 25 to 36) and Generation Z (17 to 24) can no longer be described as the “future” workforce. “They are the present, making up more than 40 per cent
of Australia’s working population,” he said. October data from Gallup shows only 29 per cent of millennials are engaged at work so reverse mentoring is not only about the education of one generation but the retention of another.
But why does it have to be so formal?
Cisco Systems, MasterCard, Lloyd’s of London, Deutsche Bank, Estée Lauder, PwC and Mars either have or have experimented with reverse mentoring programs. Some companies set rules on confidentiality and allow pairings only outside reporting lines. Some reverse mentorships bridge gaps in gender, ethnicity, sexual preference or disability but one diversity and inclusion manager has recommended sensitivity in ensuing conversations, warning that “not every organisation is on the maturity journey for these schemes”.
Want to know more about reverse mentoring?
The TED talk
In What Baby Boomers Can Learn From Millennials at Work – and Vice Versa, a 2018 video viewed more than 2.3 million times, strategist Chip Conley talks about joining Airbnb when he was twice the age of his colleagues. He believes modern elders should “intern” because their “beginner’s mind and catalytic curiosity is a life-affirming elixir… for everyone”. Besides, he adds, “Power is moving 10 years younger. We’re all going to live 10 years longer. Do the math.”
Executive Mentors Wanted. Only Millennials Need Apply in The New York Times in 2017 talks to CEOs who transcended the top-down management style. SoulCycle’s Melanie Whelan reveals that her millennial mentor helps her get “hip with what the kids are doing”. Just a year earlier, American organisations spent US$80 million (about $116 million) on “generational consulting”.
The opinion pieces
In the 2018 post It’s Time to Get Rid of Reverse Mentoring, HR policy expert Charles Goff-Deakins argues that while companies aim to foster an inclusive workforce, the term itself reinforces age bias. And after a 2017 GenForward survey of racially diverse 18- to 34-year-old Americans, many questioned the notion of a unified millennial voice. Addressing the findings on a Washington Post blog, Jonathan Capehart wrote that white millennials think more like other white people than they do other millennials. So while the buttons young people click are the same, what pushes their buttons could be quite different.