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October 30, 2013 / Brad Squibb

Reverse mentoring: The growing trend that keeps executives sharp

Traditionally, mentoring involves senior employees guiding younger people by providing insight to help them advance their career. But in a world of ever-changing global outreach and fast-paced digital media, executives are taking a few notes from youthful talent through unique reverse mentoring programs.

What exactly is reverse mentoring? Boiled down, it’s the pairing of the top brass at an organization with younger employees in the hopes that executives can learn more about things like social media, new technology trends and unconventional methods for reaching consumers – things that might come as second nature to savvy youth.

I would argue that a better name for the pairing would be reciprocal mentoring. It’s not only the managers who learn about new trends to prepare for the future, but younger employees get key one-on-one time with executives who can teach them more about business and industry fundamentals. In the end, it should be mutually beneficial for both parties.

When done right, the benefits of reciprocal mentoring are numerous. In addition to knowledge gained, deeper relationships are formed among employees, creating a stronger team environment. Plus, in high-turnover industries, it promotes loyalty in younger employees. Young people feel like they are valued, which in return encourages them to stay at their place of employment and work harder.

Keeping an open mind is key when implementing a reciprocal mentoring program. Don’t be surprised when some managers balk at the idea that the younger crew can teach them a thing or two about business. Rather than focusing on generational differences as a negative thing, it should be viewed as a positive, because within those differences are numerous career lessons that can be learned. With the right mindset, everyone can learn and grow, and business can benefit in the process.

Trust and respect should be at the center of any reciprocal mentoring program. Here are some factors to consider when implementing a program:

  • Be dedicated: Both people must be dedicated for the program to work and have a positive outcome. Decide how often you want to meet, for how long, and what you’d like to discuss. For example, meet once a week for coffee or twice a month for lunch.
  • Define expectations: Both people should be clear about what they’d like to gain from the mentoring partnership and what they expect from the meetings.
  • Listen and learn: Because both people need to learn as well as teach, clear communication should be at the center of all meetings. Be candid yet respectful. A genuine interest in learning and willingness to listen is important.

Does your organization have a reverse/reciprocal mentoring program? Tell us more about it in the comments section.