Reverse Mentoring: Tips for Getting Started

Going back to my GE days, I recall the raised eyebrows when we started reverse mentoring. There were a lot of 40-somethings who had never had a one-on-one conversation with top leaders, and meanwhile some ‘new kids on the block, fresh out of college, were having coffee and conversation with them.

And that same phenomenon holds true today. So, if you’re thinking about starting up a reverse mentoring program in your company or department, work it from an aspect of inclusion rather than exclusion. Some people are going to feel like they’ve been left out—and generally, these are the 40-somethings and the 30-somethings. Which is why everyone needs to understand the greater benefits of the program for the entire organization, rather than the dozen or so who will actually be participating. And, it needs to operate with some process discipline.

Try these tactics as you start up:

Let people know it will make a better business. People need to see reverse mentoring as something that is actually going to contribute to making the business better—and not a bunch of newcomers getting special treatment. How you introduce this program will make it work or have a bunch of people sitting there pointing fingers saying, “I can’t believe these kids get to go have lunch with The Boss.” You really need to let people see and understand that a program like this has a much bigger impact than just the two people in the mentoring program. It’s going to improve the company as a whole.

Go broad. A lot of companies focus their reverse mentoring practices at the executive level, but it doesn’t have to be this way. You can also pair up a 20-something with a middle manager or a front-line supervisor. It’s a great way to bridge some of these generational differences that can at times breakdown communications in the workplace.

Lay down some ground rules. Mentors and mentees should always keep their appointments so there is consistency. If a conflict arises, they should be held accountable for rescheduling. There should also be a check-in process where participants share what they’ve learned at least once a month. What happens through mentoring meetings shouldn’t stay in meeting room. Share the lessons with everyone—at staff meetings, department meetings and informal conversations.

Last but not least, everyone has to be kept accountable for keeping this going. Don’t let it die after four weeks. Keep it going strong for three-to-six months and then rotate participants to give others the experience.

The gift of learning is priceless. With the holiday season in full swing, there’s no better time than to introduce reverse mentoring at your company. Ultimately, it’s going to improve relationships, which makes for much more successful work teams, and when that happens, businesses win.

Linda Dulye is internationally recognized for helping many companies go spectator free. A former communications leader for GE and Allied Signal, Linda founded Dulye & Co.   in 1998 with a practical, process-driven approach for improving communications and collaboration through an engaged workforce— a formidable competitive advantage, that she calls a Spectator-Free Workplace™.