Seasoned professionals are looking to tech-savvy millennials to teach them the ropes.
While the term mentor has been around since Homer’s Odyssey, mentoring began in the U.S. in the 1890s. Social mentorships were introduced with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America in 1904.
The concept of mentoring has become a corporate mainstay as young businesspeople seek the wisdom of successful executives to help them develop the skills and contacts necessary to progress to the next level in their careers. For years, that is how mentoring was viewed. Typically older, more experienced senior-level employees teaching younger junior employees everything there was to know about business and grooming them to become the next generation of leaders.
However, advances in technology sent shock waves through traditional business practices. And it continues to do so.
Employees now are expected to be available on the go through mobile devices as their co-workers or bosses may work in another state or even another country. Business transactions are happening digitally. As a result, traditional mentoring has changed, too, and many businesses are turning to reverse mentoring to keep up with the marketplace.
Embarking on a reverse mentor relationship, however, is very different than a traditional mentoring program. Reverse mentoring, also referred to as multigenerational mentoring, is an inversion of the traditional paradigm. In this case the older employee is the mentee in the relationship, and the younger employee is the mentor. Just as in traditional mentoring, both parties regularly participate over time.
“The focus has to be on the work, challenge, or subject that needs to be done, not about the interpersonal experience,” says Elizabeth Ghaffari, author of Tapping the Wisdom That Surrounds You, a book about different types of mentoring relationships. Executives have to enter this sort of relationship with an open mind, and both parties must have mutual respect. For reverse mentoring to work effectively, the executive has to temporarily set aside the idea of being in a position of power so the lower-level employee can feel comfortable in providing candid advice. “Clear objectives are the key to success,” says Ghaffari. Cecilia Tucker realized the need for a reverse mentor one day when she sought help with her mobile devices.
“If I wanted to learn technology, I better find a teenager who will show me how,” says Tucker. Based on that idea she formed GadgitKids, a Clearwater company where teens and 20-somethings mentor adults regarding all forms of technology including mobile devices, company platforms and industry-specific software.
“Technology is the only language in the universe that kids know better than adults,” says Tucker, whose company now reverse mentors professionals all over the Tampa Bay area. The teens and young adults are trained to teach to the learning style of the adult they’re mentoring based on initial questionnaires the mentee fills out, so the mentoring sessions are as productive as possible. Both parties know the objectives of each session from the start.
“It’s so important in my career to use as much technology via mobile devices as possible,” says Debbie Deeb, a real estate agent in Tampa who has used GadgitKids to teach her how to better utilize her mobile devices and more effectively set up her social media accounts. Learning these types of technologies gives a professional a competitive edge and keeps skills relevant in an ever changing workplace.
“The majority of what happens in society today happens online,” says Amanda Cole, president of GadgitKids. In today’s world, if people don’t understand technology, Cole says, “[they] can become isolated in their profession and as individuals.” The mentoring relationship also can expand to teaching concepts.
The way in which millennials view the world is very different compared to past generations. Their communication styles and how they interact with businesses are also unique. “If you do not respond to [a Millennial] in a specific period of time that they consider reasonable, you can lose them as a customer,” says Polly Bauer, former president and CEO of Home Shopping Credit Corporation, and owner of an international speaker’s bureau and consulting company. As a client of GadgitKids, Bauer has seen firsthand the power of multigenerational mentoring relationships. Furthermore, millennials’ priorities and needs diverge from past generations; they care less about working in the same place throughout their careers, they want more flexible options, and they are conscientious consumers who care about how businesses are making environmental and social changes in the world.
Any business that wants to stay relevant needs to understand the next generation of consumers and workers. As Florida attracts more businesses, those who understand the next generation of consumers will have the competitive edge. Implementing multigenerational or reverse mentoring programs into their strategies will benefit everyone. And that’s good business.
What Topics are Good for Reverse Mentoring?
In addition to technology and social media, here are some other areas:
If there aren’t women serving on a company’s executive board, male executives can learn about issues women face in their industry to foster change that will benefit future female leaders.
Millennials have different expectations on how to communicate and how quickly a business should respond to their queries and concerns. Learning about communication styles will help businesses tap into the psyches of their future consumers.
Environment and Sustainability Practices
Going green is important to the next generation. Younger employees may have innovative ideas on how to help their company become greener.
Younger consumers care about how their money is spent. Learning what types of philanthropic causes might spark an interest in a particular company will help build the next generation of loyal consumers.