Many of us do fabulous in our careers, and then we hit a wall. Usually this happens because we have failed to keep up with technology, embrace change in our industry, or understand new ways of thinking — and that’s why we need reverse mentors.
Behind us is a young generation heading into the workplace that is innovative and different from us. They know how to amass Twitter followers. They know how to text-message with their eyes closed. They know how to digitally connect with a network who can send business their way. Now, we must tap into their digital wisdom and marketplace insight to help us become more innovative and better at our jobs.
In a trend called reverse mentoring, experienced workers are pairing up with young up-and-comers. The mutually beneficial arrangement works to retain eager millennials and provide them with the wisdom of someone with experience. At the same time, it keeps older executives technologically and socially relevant. Reverse mentoring is going on at big companies including Cisco, Johnson & Johnson and Mars Inc., where formal programs are in place. It also has taken off at small companies, where informal reverse mentor relationships are born from mutual respect and candor.
Those who are participating in formal reverse mentoring programs find the new generation of workers give them guidance on everything from useful smartphone apps, to improving a brand’s online presence, to how to use skills in new ways. They can help a seasoned manager understand how younger workers prefer to work and how they want to express their ideas.
Sometimes, you don’t even realize you could be doing your job better, until you see how a younger worker approaches a task.
Once you understand the benefits of reverse mentoring, you may be wondering how to create this type of collaborative relationship. Fortunately, I have some suggestions for where to look:
- Tap into a nearby university. Most universities now have career centers. These centers often are looking for mentors for students or workplaces where they can intern. Working with a student can be a different relationship that being mentored by someone a senior executive has selected for you. Students often are eager to work closely with an adult already in the workplace.
- Start a formal program at your company. Businesses are benefitting from pairing young workers with managers. In some instances, it works when an entire team or department participates and pairs younger workers with Gen Xers or boomers. You may need to sell senior managers on the fact that having a reverse mentor program could improve the company’s recruiting efforts or boost its reputation in social media circles. To be successful, reverse mentoring needs buy-in from top-level brass.
- Find a compatible partner informally. Look for someone at your company who has potential to move up the career ladder faster with a little help from an experienced work friend. Offer to take him or her to lunch or to work together on a project to get the relationship started.
- Scout professional groups or chambers of commerce. Often, young members in these organizations are eager to pair up with someone who has lifelong contacts in the community.
- Starting a formal program within a professional organization. If your business is small or isn’t interested in reverse mentorship programs, creating one within a professional association you belong to is another option. Volunteer organizations, bar associations, women’s groups, and industry groups tend to have members of all ages.
- Look within your network. Do you have an older child with a friend new to the workplace for you to mentor? Could you reach out to one of your friends’ adult children to form a reverse mentoring relationship? Study your LinkedIn connections and business contacts to identify possibilities. Most likely, there are eager 20-somethings you know who would consider it a thrill to receive your workplace insight in return.
After pairing with a young mentor, nurture the relationship. Both of you have a lot to teach each other. It’s going to get increasingly more important for those of us in our 40s, 50s and 60s to understand how the Millennial generation thinks, works, reacts and communicates. The biggest obstacle to reverse mentoring often is pride.
For more insight, check out this Miami Herald article I wrote on reverse mentoring.
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