Friday, January 07, 2011

Reverse Mentorship

Many of you may have heard of the idea of reverse mentorship. In this process, a senior level executive finds a young person in the organization to serve as a mentor to him or her. The relationship focuses on certain skills and ideas that the young employee can share with the more senior person. For instance, the young person may have much more knowledge and expertise with regard to new technologies or social media. The senior executive can use this reverse mentorship opportunity to learn from the young person, to insure that he or she keeps abreast of key trends and developments important to the organization.

I don't know where the concept began, though I recall hearing Jack Welch describe how he discovered this concept in his own organization back in the mid-1990s. According to Welch, a business unit president in London pioneered the concept, when he realized that he did not know enough about the internet and e-commerce. Therefore, the executive found the brightest young person under the age of 30 to teach him as much as possible about e-commerce. Welch loved the idea, and he directed each senior executive at GE to find a young mentor to help them get up to speed on e-commerce if they were deficient in their knowledge and expertise in that area.

Gary Hamel also has argued that CEOs should go out of their way to stay connected with the youngest and brightest in their organizations. Hamel believes that young people will help senior executives see threats and opportunities in a whole new light, and that they can help senior leaders get up to speed with important new social and technological developments.

Some people also have argued that reverse mentorship opportunities enhance a firm's ability to retain talented young people. These young employees will value this relationship and the opportunity to have a direct connection and significant influence with senior leaders. As a result, they may be more satisfied with their jobs and more likely to stay with the firm.

Has your firm developed reverse mentorship opportunities? Would they be helpful to your organization?

1 comment:

Emily Glick said...

I think this is a WONDERFUL idea, and as I develop a business case on why my 3.5 year-old-company needs and should have a mentor program, I'm going to write this into the business plan. Thanks!