The idea of “reverse mentoring” is still fairly novel in today’s world of work.
If you haven’t heard of it, it’s not all that different from traditional mentoring: an experienced employee is still paired with someone newer, but the younger person is the one responsible for sharing insight with the older one.
Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, is credited with popularizing this upside-down approach to mentoring back in 1999. He imagined that his tech-savvy younger workers might know a thing or two more about the Internet than his older executive team, so he began requiring each executive to take on a more junior employee as their mentor.
Other business leaders, particular those in industries that rely on technology for success, quickly followed suit. While some older employees may have been insulted by the idea of forfeiting seniority and being schooled by a twenty-something, reverse mentoring has widely been lauded as a smart and effective means of tapping into the generational insights of younger employees. The use of technology is second nature to most young people, so they are natural teachers for more senior members of the organization. Additionally, they have firsthand insight into the minds and values of other young people, which can help inform marketing and other outreach efforts.
It is easy to see how insight from young people could help improve older generations’ tech skills and increase their understanding of the latest trends. But the benefits don’t stop there. Flipping the hierarchy in this way also has the potential to deepen engagement among Millennial employees—and thereby reduce turnover among a generation that is often seen as flighty. Specifically, reverse mentoring can help these people strengthen their connection to the organization’s mission, increase their sense of being valued at work, and foster more inclusivity.
Contribute to Mission
A reverse mentoring initiative can be a powerful engagement tool for the Millennial generation because of their idealistic and purpose-oriented approach to work. In general, Millennials are most fulfilled when they a) believe in the mission of their organization or feel personally aligned with the organization’s core values and b) can see a direct link between the mission/values and the work they do each day.
A reverse mentoring relationship creates a space for Millennials to forge deeper relationships with higher ups and can help them reconnect with these deeper organizational goals. They are able to gain unprecedented access to senior team members, giving them a window into how organizational decisions are made. And since they are the ones teaching these key decision makers, Millennials feel that their unique insight and knowledge is contributing the organization’s mission and strategic success.
Building on the previous point, a reverse mentoring initiative may also reinforce the idea that everyone matters. As feeling valued at work is one of the greatest predictors of overall engagement, it is vital to give people the opportunity to display the best of their abilities and be recognized for them—especially during a phase of transitioning businessconditions.
Fostering greater communication and collaboration between people at different levels of an organization can help increase employees’ sense of being valued, as they are able to work with others toward solutions that drive success. This is particularly effective when older executives see this exercise as an opportunity for genuine give and take, rather than as a threat to their seniority. Reverse mentoring relationships can also facilitate transparency and trust between both groups, which helps all parties involve feel more valued and understood. Finally, this arrangement creates new opportunities for senior leaders to express appreciation for Millennial employees and recognize what they bring to the table.
Finally, reverse mentoring may be a useful tool for fostering more inclusion in the workplace. While diversity has been shown to help drive innovation and problem-solving, it is also increasingly important to Millennial retention: in one survey, 47 percent of Millennials said that a diverse and inclusive workplace would be important in their job search if they started looking tomorrow.
Reverse mentoring relationships can help create a more inclusive environment by bridging the gap between generations and people of varying backgrounds, genders, or ethnicities. When leaders are able to gain direct one-on-one experience with people of different experiences, they’re able to cultivate a greater sense of empathy and appreciation for diverse perspectives. As a result, they can steer the organization toward greater support for inclusion initiatives, helping create the conditions that Millennials have come to expect from their workplaces on this front.
Looking at it from this perspective, reverse mentoring becomes much more than a transactional arrangement in which executives cash in on Millennials’ unique experiences and young people get to rub elbows with more experienced folks. It becomes a genuine relationship that strengthens commitment and deepens trust. Why not see how this “backwards” approach can help your organization achieve success?