Mentoring programs used to be the grizzled veterans teaching the fresh-faced kids what the real world is like. Now, it’s the kids who are doing the teaching — about life in the digital universe.
We’re hearing more and more reports of how companies are turning to their younger employees to get a handle on how people keep up with the world around them — through Facebook, Twitter, smartphones, iPads and all the rest of today’s electronic tools.
Talk about an idea whose time has come: Many C-level execs (who, let’s face it, tend to be a little long in the tooth) are scratching their heads when trying to figure out how to maintain contact with both employees and clients in an Internet-centric world.
It’s actually not a new idea — in the ’90s, Jack Welch instituted a program in which 500 senior managers at General Electric hooked up with junior workers to learn to navigate the World Wide Web.
The practice is spreading now, observers say. “The trend is taking off at a range of companies, from tech to advertising,” Leslie Kwoh writes in a recent story in the Wall Street Journal seems to be working well for everybody.
This “reverse mentoring” seems to be working out for everybody.
Tech-averse managers are not only getting more comfortable in the uncharted territory of digital discourse, they’re starting to see that connectivity can offer them new flexibility — they don’t have to be as chained to their desks as they used to be.
Youngsters are profiting from gaining access to their organization’s movers and shakers — as well as getting some sage advice on their particular concerns, like maintaining a balance between career and parenthood.
Two major advantages of reverse mentoring, courtesy of management consultant Linda Dulye:
- Communication between different levels of the company is a great morale builder for young workers. The vast majority of under-30 workers say access and an opportunity to speak with executives and leaders is very important, Dulye says. They want to work for managers who make the time to listen to them.
- It builds relationships — and strengthens retention. Widening the business perspective of that younger hire can lead to expanded career opportunities as they realize their skills and interests transfer into other parts of the business, says Dulye. The younger hire is less likely to leave the company to find a new job or promotion — they’ll probably find one within the company.