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June 6 Breakout:  Reverse Mentoring

Reverse mentoring is a leadership development program that pairs senior executives with (much) younger employees so that the senior member is mentored by the younger to foster an understanding of how the younger generation of employees thinks and acts. It is also a great way for the senior member to learn about social media, demand-drivers of the younger, and other factors they may not be much in tune with due to generational differences. Pershing put together an excellent panel of people with direct experience in reverse mentoring consisting of Moderator: JamiLynn Cimino, Vice President, Pershing, Lisa Bonner, Head of Enterprise Analytics Change Management & Communications, Cigna, Mike Row, Chief Relationship Officer, Pershing, and Alicia Saka, Business Operations Manager, Moss Adams LLP. The executive summary is that reverse mentoring (RM) in their experience worked as hoped, but there on some major points to consider. Thank you Pershing for allowing me to report on this and the other great subjects at this premier success-minded advisor event.

Here are some takeaways:

Lisa – RM is about “building trust, building connectedness. Seeing where the next ideas come from.” It was noted that good leaders are willing to look everywhere for the next great idea, referring to Jack Welch in 1999 pulling his younger staff together so he could understand the internet.

Alicia – It was important to “get someone in my corner who was a champion… Get a sponsor and tie to a business strategy of the firm. Wait for the right moment.”

JamiLynn – She echoed Alicia. “It is essential to have a Senior Executive and a young member in partnership to champion the effort.”

Mike – On why do this: at Pershing, “the program is not an end, it is a mechanism to accelerate change.  It is a way to facilitate communication. Fostering internal communication is a good way to get people talking. Trust building starts the relationship that can grow.”

Leadership is about building trust and RM does that. These comments about RM reminded me of Comey earlier: “Somehow I’ve got to get people around me that see things differently.” Leadership is also about recruiting and retaining good people and JamiLynn commented that RM is a great tool for this. Alicia agreed, “We have pretty bad retention at a certain level… WE are losing talent. We wanted to give them another incentive to stay. RM has been a great way for top performers to find needed engagement.” Alicia is referring to a great outcome of RM: Senior mentees can unofficially reverse the roles by finding engaging work, many times not part of the younger employee’s job description, that is interesting and challenging. Leaders (should) know that fostering Organizational Citizenship Behaviors (OCB) generally results in lower voluntary turnover. RM itself is a form of OCB.

Lisa – On online presence and social media, RM provided a means for leaders to learn “how our employees are using it, how our competitors are using it. I saw how quickly these new ideas could be applied to make a difference.”

Mike – “Senior management creates a resource, a pool of talent (that) fosters that availability of knowledge… It creates tangible evidence that we an organization trying to grow” which impresses their client firms. However, “it is important for the mentee (Senior) to let the mentor drive.” As a mentee, I found that “having to explain what I am doing clarifies the issues.”

Some tips included:

  1. If a pairing doesn’t seem to be working, give them a business case to solve together. This creates the agenda for the next few meetings.
  2. Meet regularly, say once a month, for 9 months. The mentor creates the agenda. Make sure the mentee’s assistant is informed of what is needed as this can help the mentee stay on task.
  3. Mentors need to check their ego at the door and be respectful; they need to spend time getting to know their mentee. They may need coaching on this. Mentors may also need coaching on letting the mentor manage the meetings.
  4. Meetings are best in person, but chat, skype, gotomeeting can work, just are not as successful. However, some organizations are scattered geographically and this is the only way to be inclusive in an RM program.

Mike – “Let’s have a conversation that moves the ball forward for both of us” is the right attitude.

Lisa – “It’s about building trust. It is about building connectiveness. (It is) a paradigm shift – the next great idea can come from anywhere. It’s fun… you will laugh.”

RM is not for the faint of heart, but the payoff in ideas, retention, productivity, and fun can be worth it. Pershing has a white paper of the subject: .

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