Mentoring and Reverse Mentoring:
A Two-Way Strategy for Sharing Knowledge

Business conversation between black man and redhead womanThere is no way around it. If you are an experienced business executive in your 40s, 50s or beyond, the 20-something new hires are more technologically savvy than you.

Sure you have much to teach them about business best practices, leadership skills and the latest industry products and services. But, they too, have much to teach you.

As rapid advances in technology and social media affect virtually every business, companies can capitalize on the strengths of all employees – recent graduates and veteran staff – by establishing mentoring and reverse mentoring programs.

Traditional Mentoring

Companies with traditional mentoring programs, where experienced employees guide new hires, find a relationship-based approach of learning, communication and challenge benefits not only the the team, but informs the corporate culture as well.

Formal programs create:

  • A venue for identifying emerging leaders within the organization
  • Increased employee engagement
  • A platform for succession planning
  • Multi-cultural and multi-generational understanding by facilitating relationships among diverse employees within the organization

However, the greatest benefit of mentoring programs is increased employee retention and decreased employee turnover costs.

  • The latest Bureau of Labor statistics report unveiled this week (March 13, 2013) that in 2012 annual quits increased to 18.8 percent of employment.
  • Labor experts say the direct cost of employee turnover is 30 to 50 percent of the salary. However, when costs of time, lost productivity, overtime due to short staffing, training and lost intellectual property, the realized loss can easily reach 150 percent of the employee’s annual compensation.

Mentoring programs are among many strategies to leverage competitive advantage in the workforce. Learn additional future-forward approaches to 2020 workforce challenges in the GU Professional Institute 6-week Multigenerational Bridges online course. A few of the techniques taught in this collaborative learning environment include:

  • Quality vs. quantity team building
  • Leveraging generational differences
  • Outcomes-based management
  • Mission-based hiring

Reverse Mentoring

Popularized by Jack Welch, CEO of GE, reverse mentoring is an approach that acknowledges everyone in the organization brings something to the table. Leading organizations such a Hewlett Packard, Ogilvy and Mather, Cisco and Hartford Financial Services, sing the praises of reverse mentoring.

Reverse mentoring partnerships generally include an older, more experienced executive with a younger less-experienced new comer. As the name suggests the younger employee servers as the mentor. Yet, reverse mentoring is indeed a two way street.

Successful reverse mentoring programs include:

  • Clear expectations and wants of team members
  • Ground rules such as how often meetings take place, topics covered and off-limit discussions
  • Equality as a guideline, with neither person playing a dominant role
  • Flexibility to switch from reverse-mentoring to mentoring with the primary goals of the program to be knowledge exchange and relationship building.

Best practices in reverse mentoring involve organization-wide participation. C-suite executives profit from hands-on tutoring by entry level employees in their twenties. After all, they are experts on a host of business tools such as:

  • Social media techniques
  • Use of Twitter
  • Selecting the best smart phone
  • The power of “search”
  • Mobile apps

When exploring the viability of a reverse mentoring program, we suggest that businesses choose Millennial mentors with the confidence to work with and teach senior management.

Businesses that experiment with mentoring and reverse mentoring embrace change and welcome the opportunity to work outside the boundaries of hierarchical structure. As a result, everyone has ownership of the future, participates in collaborative problem solving and paves the way toward rewarding and fulfilling work environments.

Do you have mentoring programs? Let us know what works for you and your company by posting in the comments section below.

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