There is a hot new trend in mentoring gaining steam across a spectrum of industries, from advertising to engineering to manufacturing. Reverse mentoring is not just a hot trend; it is a bright, practical approach to bringing newbies up to speed on a new job while capitalizing on the smarts and insights that they bring to the company. But really, reverse mentoring is not really a new trend – it was implemented at least 25 years ago at General Electric.
“Reverse” mentoring is actually a misnomer. Learn-teach mentoring or give-take mentoring might be more apt ways to describe this concept. The crux of it is that, rather than only pairing young, new employees with older, veteran workers solely for the newbie’s benefit, companies make a practice of creating a reciprocal mentoring dynamic in which veterans impart traditional knowledge to newbies and the newbies share their unique knowledge with veterans.
It is apparent why companies seek to have veteran employees pass on knowledge to the new workforce. Gen Z, however, has valuable knowledge, experience with the latest technologies and communication methods, and insight into the mindset of industry’s youngest consumers and clients.
How and when to do the mentor pairing is up to each company, based on its need to pass on company culture, industry expertise and operational insight, and dependent upon its need to educate its workforce on the latest technologies and perspectives.
Companies might choose to pair new workers with veteran workers to quickly impart industry and operations info to the newbies, and then later ask for a role reversal so the newbies can show the veterans around the latest in technology and share Gen Z cultural values. Or companies might pair the veterans and newbies with the aim of simultaneous sharing/teaching by each mentor.
Here are the top five reasons to consider reverse mentoring.
Mind the gap
The knowledge gap between Gen Z and Baby Boomers is getting wider by the day, whether the knowledge in question is the consumer technology savvy that seems to come so effortlessly to Gen Z or the trove of industry and business knowledge that Baby Boomers have accumulated over long careers. The longer one waits to close the gap, the larger the span that must be covered.
The Great Retirement
Baby Boomers are going to retire. Having their body of knowledge in a three-ring binder (or nowhere at all) will not cut it. Manufacturers can do double duty on capturing that vital Baby Boomer knowledge by allowing a Gen Z newbie to learn the ropes from a veteran, and also to record on-the-go with the latest digital tools – smartphone-based notes, audio Q&A, video interviews and demonstrations.
But what do they want?
The client base is skewing younger, and it is imperative to understand them, including their wants and needs. If a company pairs a young new worker with someone in the C-suite, the newbie can learn about management by osmosis and the executive can gain insight into the Gen Z consumer. Beyond understanding product preferences, executives can gain insight into how much Gen Z values sustainability, a strong corporate ethos and community buy-in from the companies and brands that they patronize. The C-suite also can learn first-hand what kind of employer traits appeal to Gen Z, for informing future hiring campaigns.
Stay just a little bit longer
Having Gen Z employees mentor Baby Boomers can keep the Boomers on the job longer. For manufacturers that are implementing automation and digital tools, younger employees can help older ones gain proficiency with the new technologies, allowing veterans to feel more comfortable and confident with the new innovations that will, invariably, make their jobs easier.
If veteran gurus are paired with newbies full of initiative, energy and technical expertise, the resulting synergy can lead to great ideas for improving various aspects of operations. Needs identified by veterans can be addressed with the fresh technologies that Gen Z uses every day. Seeing one’s suggestions for continuous improvement put into practice with cutting-edge technology can make one feel invigorated and appreciated. Maybe it’s not quite time to retire after all.
The secrets to success
Having Baby Boomers mentor Gen Z employees will deliver more than operational knowledge to them. There is more to success in a career than technological, industry and operational knowledge. Baby Boomers can share important company lore and hard-earned wisdom that can help Gen Z workers leapfrog to a higher plane of expertise and acumen.
Understanding a company’s origins, its history and the reasons behind its culture are valuable to any Gen Z employee who wants to climb the company’s career ladder. Absorbing a few lessons about what crises arise in the business and at the company, and how one can meet and navigate those trying times, can give a newbie knowledge and tools to lean on when the inevitable crisis occurs. Baby Boomers can help Gen Z understand the value of industry networking and in-person relationship building, for connecting with clients and suppliers in ways that spawn solid business connections.
Companies can use reverse mentoring to help veteran workers embrace the latest methods and gizmos, to assure that a deep industry and operations knowledge base is successfully bequeathed to a new generation, to impart company history and culture to new workforce members, to offer newbies a valuable leg up with sage career advice, and to gain insight into what the young sprouts desire in career, products and brands. It’s an idea worth trying, and it is the proverbial win-win.
For a TED Talk on this subject, “What baby boomers can learn from millennials at work – and vice versa,” visit https://www.ted.com/talks/chip_conley_what_baby_boomers_can_learn_from_millennials_at_work_and_vice_versa.