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Cheryl Cran

September 19, 2014 by Speakers' Spotlight

Reverse Mentoring: The Untapped Resource for Innovation and Business Growth

Cheryl Cran helps leaders enhance their abilities to lead change, transform people and grow business. For over twenty years, she has worked with over one hundred different industries, in over one dozen countries, and with thousands of audiences worldwide to show leaders how to effectively deal with ongoing challenges such as attracting and retaining top talent, leading multiple generations, leading change in traditional organizations, transforming people to perform at higher levels, and ultimately to grow their business and increase results. Below, Cheryl writes on the growing trend of “reverse mentoring”:

Reverse mentoring is a concept that was first introduced in the 90’s by Jack Welch, then CEO of GM, who insisted that all senior leaders be paired up with young tech whizzes. Since then, companies such as Hewlett Packard and Cisco Systems are benefiting from the creation of reverse mentoring programs.

So, what does reverse mentoring look like?

Reverse mentoring is the pairing Gen Y’s or Millennials with Senior Leaders, who meet in a neutral environment with the focus of the meet-up on how the Gen Y or Millennial can provide ideas, support, or tools for the Senior Leader to increase knowledge on technology and social media. Often, the Senior Leader will share his or her knowledge on business with the Gen Y or Millennial, which provides the young mentors with added value.

Key components to a successful reverse mentoring relationship includes:

  • Pairing up synergistic personalities: it is helpful to match up similar communication styles and teaching/learning styles. This can be achieved through brief questionnaires on preferred learning approach and preferred teaching styles.
  • Defined outcomes:  Each person needs to be very clear on their expectations.
  • Agreed-upon guidelines:  Each party must be fully committed to the mentoring relationship and agree upon the rules that will be followed.
  • Open to learn:  In a reverse mentoring relationship, both parties act in the capacity of a mentor as well as a mentee; so they must both “genuinely want to learn from and share with the other.”
  • Trust:  Reverse mentoring requires the trust of each party.  The goal is to “push one another outside of their comfort zones and try new ways of thinking, working and being.”
  • Transparency:  Both parties must be open with their feelings and with what they are thinking.  They must be able to overcome differences in communication style (since different generations communicate differently) and be open to seeing situations from different angles.

A successful reverse mentoring program results in:

  • Increased knowledge for both parties:  For example, older employees learn social media from the younger person and the younger person learns business terminology and industry practices from the older employee.
  • Empower emerging and established leaders.
  • Creates deeper understanding of generational approaches and increased mutual respect for skills of each generation.
  • Increased synergy, innovation and creative solutions for both parties and for the business overall.

I have facilitated the creation of reverse mentoring for clients and the feedback includes increased communication between generations, increased business solutions, and increased engagement among all employees as word of the program success finds its way through the company.

The future workplace will have employees of all generations learning from each other and there will be less of a hierarchy. Reverse mentoring is an innovative way to create increased collaboration, cross-pollination of ideas between departments and increased skills development.

By Cheryl Cran/September, 2014