I’m sure we’ve all experienced the power and value of mentoring. One of the aspects of mentoring that we are most impressed with in our team is the issue of reverse mentoring.
I think I first discovered this when I read some stories about General Electric G.E. under Jack Welch. He’s been named the manager of the century for the last century; and led G.E. to (at the time) being the world’s largest and most valuable company.
One of the key things that he instituted during the 1990’s in G.E. was reversed mentoring. He realized that technology was coming into the office and that the older leaders and managers in the business were not really that confident using P.C.’s and then later the Internet.
He mandated that every leader and every older person, I think over the age of fifty, had to meet with somebody under the age of thirty at least an hour every month. The idea was that they would spend half of their time doing a typical ‘mentoring’ session with the older person sharing some wisdom and insight. The other half of their time would be spent with the young person taking charge and teaching the older person what they knew – specifically about technology.
Those conversations moved over into world views and insights into how things were changing and products and services and marketplaces.
Everybody, really – everybody, that I have spoken to who has ever been engaged in a reverse mentoring relationship has said it is one of the best things that they have ever done. You should still do it, and it shouldn’t only be about technology!
You should be connecting with somebody who is significantly younger than you. Maybe you are already a young person, maybe you’re in your twenty’s or early thirty’s. This is still for you. There is still a generation gap between you as a young person and today’s teenagers and young adults. This isn’t limited to older people and older leaders.
If you are a leader in your organization you should actively seek out young voices.
- Set up a formal time to meet – I would recommend one hour once a month initially and see what the value is.
- Tell the young person that you are specifically asking them to give you insights into technology, that’s a great place to start in my experience. They feel confident and there’s always something to learn.
- Let them teach you about Snap Chat and WeChat and Instagram and Pinterest. Let them show you how they use social media, let them talk about their frustrations with email and the Internet. Just get a technology workshop for free from these young people.
Then begin to take the conversation further:
- What do they think of annual reviews and staff meetings?
- What do they think of the intranet and your internal communications?
- What do they think of the company conference?
Finally, you can ask them strategy questions
- What type of products and services should we be engaging with in the future?
- Who will our future customers be? And what will they be thinking?
I’ve already given you the first six months of questions right there. Go and have a conversation. Make sure you’ve got your listening ears on and not your talking mouth open.
Enjoy reverse mentoring – as I say everybody that I know who has done this has found it remarkable and has made sure that they have continued to do reverse mentoring on an ongoing basis.
Why don’t you try it and see what it does for you?
Graeme Codrington, is an internationally recognized futurist, specializing in the future of work. He helps organizations understand the forces that will shape our lives in the next ten years, and how we can respond in order to confidently stay ahead of change.
For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.