Reverse Mentoring: Staying Current in Business Communication

5 Feb

Traditionally, the mentor-mentee relationship has been seen as a one-way street. Senior management and upper-level employees were expected to pass on their skills, expertise, and knowledge to younger, less experienced employees. However, with the advent of the new millennium, this relationship changed completely.

Over the past decade, the rate of technological advancement has exponentially increased. Smartphones, such as the iPhone, Droid, and Blackberry, give users almost all of the functionality of a computer. People use smartphones to make calls, access the Internet, email, text, blog, and videoconference from nearly anywhere in the world. With the vast amount of technology available, workers are expected to communicate in more ways than ever before.

Online social media has also rapidly emerged as one of the most powerful and influential tools for business communications. Sites like Twitter and Facebook help people and businesses connect with one another, and can spread information and news to millions of people in mere seconds. Other uses of social media include creating brand image, providing customer support, conducting market research, promoting products, networking, and finding jobs.

Unfortunately, senior managers are often unable to keep up with the pace of these technological changes and, therefore, are unable to reap their benefits.

To keep senior managers technologically current, companies use a process known as reverse mentoring. Senior managers are paired up with younger employees who teach them how to stay tech savvy, use social media sites, and keep up with the latest business trends. In essence, the younger employees become mentors for senior managers.

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, created reverse mentoring so that he and his senior management team could learn how to use the Internet. This proved mutually beneficial, as Welch and his managers learned how to surf the web and their younger mentors gained more visibility in the company.

Since then, many companies have adopted reverse mentoring programs, which have generally provided positive results.

The claimed benefits of reverse mentoring programs are the following:

  • Lower turnover rate for younger mentors is reduced as they feel a sense of purpose, get access to top executives, and gain visibility in their positions
  • Mentors feel more comfortable at work because of increased trust and loyalty
  • Conversations between mentor and mentee lead to the exchange of valuable personal and business insights
  • Mentees learn how to use new technologies, which allows them to adapt and stay current in the ever-changing business world

Although reverse mentoring programs generally do provide positive results, they may be hard to implement. Many older workers shudder at the thought of being mentored by younger, less experienced workers. However, if these older workers wish to succeed in the future, they will have to change their mind-set that age equates to knowledge and expertise. They have to realize that reverse mentoring leads to mutually beneficial relationships. If they don’t change their views, they will likely fall behind the ever-changing communications world, and be replaced by the younger workers who keep current.


by I-Ming Cheah


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