Reverse Mentoring

Traditionally, the definition of mentoring is when an older, more experienced/senior person provides advice to a younger, less experienced/junior person, usually within an organisation; which makes sense, yes. What happens though, when things around you develop fast and there is a gap of knowledge between you and younger people? Things like technology, life values and lifestyle, behaviours and demands. Wouldn’t be useful to have someone to bridge the gaps for you? There is an easy and effective way to do so; it’s called reverse mentoring.

Reverse mentoring is considered as an alternative method of mentoring. It was ‘invented’ in 1999 by General Electric’s former CEO, Jack Welch, when he introduced a formal reverse mentoring program by asking young employees to teach the top managers about the Internet. So, one can define reverse mentoring as the pairing of a younger, junior employee to be the mentor of and share expertise with an older, senior colleague.

Unfortunately, there is no much literature and research done about reverse mentoring; only a couple of articles exist, and occasional mentions in books about mentoring. As I went through the material I found, here are some interesting points about it:

  • Reverse mentoring can be an excellent tool for senior members to develop their technical skills, learn about new trends, and understand the younger generations.
  • Reverse mentoring can give the opportunity to junior employees to be ‘heard’ and have immediate impact, develop relationship with leaders, get insight of the higher organisational levels and understand how the system work.
  • Reverse mentoring is expected to reduce assumptions and negative stereotypes, highlight similarities and embrace diversity, by building and developing relationships that recognise and understand the strengths of the generations.
  • Reverse mentoring can be used as an organisational tool which supports ‘talent management’ by identifying and developing high potential employees.
  • The individual differences such as gender/race/ethnicity, that are challenging for mentoring relationships, can be magnified in reverse mentoring due to the lack of diversity in senior roles.
  • Reverse mentoring makes crossing the boundary of age and titles easier than traditional mentoring and this can be challenging, especially for the senior members who use a social clock to decide what age suits specific roles.

It is quite obvious how beneficial reverse mentoring can be for both mentors and mentees. However, as with every mentoring relationship, it needs clear understanding of its purpose, training and adequate time to commit. Personally, I don’t like the word ‘reverse’, as to me sharing knowledge and advice in a one-to-one relationship is mentoring anyway. But if this word makes some people feel more comfortable with the procedure and do it, then I am happy to go with it.

During my research, I found out about some successful reverse mentoring case studies in large companies, like IBM, Unilever, Deloitte & Touche, as well as Procter & Gamble’ s programme which pairs young female employees as mentors of senior male colleagues, aiming to reduce the gender and generation gaps in the workplace.

There is much less, or not at all, information about reverse mentoring in academia; and it makes me wonder if and how such a method could apply in academia’s terms, where the dynamics and the relationships are quite different from the workplace. More research needs to be done on this area, which seems promising.

If you have experience with reverse mentoring, either as mentor or mentee, your experience is needed for Dr Frantzana’s research on Mentoring.

Please get in touch if you are interested in participating in this important work.