What is reverse mentoring? It's when you have the new, young, rising talent in an organization teaching and advising the experienced managers and executives. An effective reverse mentoring process enables senior executives to keep tabs on key social and technological trends. Moreover, it provides a way for senior leaders to gain a better understanding of the millennial employee and customer.
Phil McKinney has a great podcast focused on managing innovation (it's called Killer Innovations). He is the CEO of CableLabs, and he formerly served as Chief Technology Officer for HP's Personal Systems Group. McKinney says the following about reverse mentorship:
Each summer, we bring in interns across a wide range of disciplines: technical, legal, marketing and this year social media. This years interns were impressive. Over the years – I use interns to be my pulse on what is happening in the education system. In my previous role, I would select two and have them stay at my house. For their internship, they would report to someone else. At night – it was the barrage of constant questions. Why must we do something a certain way? Why aren’t we doing this?
Most people think I’m nuts for even doing this. I learn so much. It’s a process I call “reverse mentoring.”
Now most of us would not be willing to take interns into our homes. However, we can find ways to structure a series of conversations with our summer interns to tap into their insights, knowledge, and creativity. In some firms, you might do this through a series of one-on-one conversations with interns. In others, you might assemble teams of interns, and ask each team to take on a particular innovation challenge for the firm. The teams then might be given the opportunity to present their findings to senior executives. Interns will enjoy this type of activity, because they get a chance to do something that is definitely not mundane, routine work. Moreover, they have a chance to get in front of senior leaders. Meanwhile, your organization creates a natural reverse mentoring process.