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Turning The Tables On Mentoring

You might already have a mentoring program in your workplace, but do you embrace reverse mentoring? If not, it’s one of the most useful things you can do - and it costs almost nothing.

Turn The Tables On MentoringWith reverse mentoring, the younger, more junior, people in an organisation provide the mentoring for older, more senior, staff.

For example, Janet Wilson, CEO of Brisbane law firm Cooper Grace Ward, has an agreement with younger members of her firm to mentor her every month. She says:

"The conversations are inspirational, sometimes worrying, and always refreshing! I make them as casual and friendly as possible. We have fun and lots of laughs... at each other's expense!"

With a traditional mentoring arrangement, the more experienced, more senior, (usually) older person shares their experience with more junior people to fast-track their development. The mentor offers something - their experience - that nothing else can provide, and in turn that helps the mentoree build their judgement and eventually gain wisdom.

Reverse mentoring turns this idea on its head. This time it's the more junior person in the mentor role, and their biggest contribution is perspective rather than experience.

Turn The Tables On Mentoring | Gihan Perera

That’s not to say they don't have experience or expertise - far from it. Younger and more junior people often do have more expertise with, say, social media, mobile devices, and technology in general. But don’t stop at those obvious areas - they also might have expertise in other areas - such as:

  • Consumer behaviour: They know how people of their generation buy
  • Recruitment: You can find new staff through their networks
  • Talent management: They value different things from a workplace
  • Money: They have different attitudes towards saving, wealth, and retirement

But their biggest contribution is their different perspective on the world, which helps senior people shake up their established viewpoints, which are often difficult to break down by themselves.

It cuts both ways

If you're the more senior person, reverse mentoring accelerates your learning curve, gives your team members new opportunities, enhances morale, boosts productivity, and creates a closer team.

The Hartford, a financial services group in the USA, leveraged the power of reverse mentoring to reach a new kind of customer, understand the new workforce, and improve their bottom line. Across the organisation, 50 mentoring pairs participated in the program, and they achieved outstanding results:

  • 97% of the mentees (the senior people, remember) rated it extremely effective for their personal development
  • Just as importantly, 11 of the 12 mentors (the more junior people) in the project's first wave were promoted within a year
  • For bottom line results, the business implemented new business practices that saved time and money, increased social media engagement, and boosted internal knowledge within teams

If you're not doing this already, engage a smart, savvy younger person to be your reverse mentor for the next three months. Listen to their insights, follow their advice, and resist the temptation to think you are smarter just because you're older and more experienced.

Then extend the concept of reverse mentoring to other parts of your organisation, so everybody has the opportunity to be involved in it.

Thinking ahead

Who could be your reverse mentor at work? Who among your peers could you connect with your more junior team members (with the junior people as the mentors)? How are you using reverse mentoring in your personal life (with your own children or other young people)?

Author Credits

Gihan Perera is a futurist, conference speaker, author and consultant who gives business leaders a glimpse into what's ahead - and how they can become fit for the future. Since 1997, he has worked with business leaders, thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and other change agents - helping them with their strategy for thriving in a fast-changing world. Forbes magazine rated him the #5 social media influencer in the world in his area of expertise www.gihanspeaks.com

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