reverse mentoring

In September 2010 I joined Twitter at the encouragement of my mentor, Chris Liang. Shortly afterward, I received my first tweet to which I excitedly replied. It was, of course, from Chris. I was in my 40s; my mentor was almost half my age.

At the time I was leading the US Diversity and Inclusion initiative for our company, a major global healthcare player. Reverse mentoring was an informal experiment to engage the more experienced employees with the younger ones. Driven by two employee resource groups, the Prime Time Partner Network (PTPN) and the Early Career Network (ECN), the initiative bridged the age and technology gaps beautifully. I was only one of many benefactors.

Reecie Dolan, who led the PTPN, the largest of the six company affinity groups at the time, is now retired. In a recent chat, she fondly recalled how the reverse mentoring initiative started.

“We didn’t call it that at first, but reverse mentoring is exactly what it was,” she said. The idea originated while she was coaching Ajay Kori, a new employee, on setting up what would become the ECN. Between the two, they hosted multiple events where the ECN would discuss technology topics with members of the PTPN.

“The first technology session the ECN presented was on social media and we had about 200 members show up,” Reecie said. “The younger generation are digital natives; we are digital immigrants. That’s why they offered us so much.”

“Ajay and I talked a lot,” Reecie shared. “I never had a son, and I felt protective of him and wanted to see him succeed. It’s very exciting to have been a part of his young career and see him advance.”

In 2013 Ajay co-founded UrbanStems, a DC-grown tech start-up that utilizes new technologies and a curated selection of flowers, to send hand-crafted bouquets starting at $35 to anyone in New York City (most of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and parts of Long Island), most of the DC Metro Area, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Austin – in two hours or less.

My mentor Chris has been equally successful. He first pursued an MBA at one of the best business schools in the country. Today, he works in strategy and operations at Facebook.

Since my first tweet in September 2010, more than 37 thousand have followed. Not surprisingly, Twitter has driven more traffic to my blog than any other social media venue. And since it all started with that first tweet, I credit Chris. He encouraged me to explore different social media platforms, and focus on the one I liked best.

Millennials Have Much to Offer

According to a 2015 Pew Research analysis of US Census data, more than one-in-three American workers were Millennials (ages 18 to 34 in 2015). Today Millennials have surpassed Generation X to become the largest share of the American workforce, with Baby Boomers in third.

Not surprisingly, reverse mentoring has become more formalized in companies across the US, including Microsoft, Proctor and Gamble, Target, and UnitedHealth to name a few. Just google “reverse mentoring,” and you’ll get more than 20 pages of hits. It’s a two-way street where both parties have the opportunity to benefit so long as they remain open, respectful, and curious

I don’t care for the negative media I see on social media about Millennials in the workplace. Whoever thinks an entire generation is lazy and entitled isn’t paying attention. These younger workers are smart, savvy, and know how to make things happen. Believe me when I say I’m paying attention and learning everything I can from them. If you’re a naysaying Boomer or Gen Xer, I encourage you to do the same.

What About You?

Have you ever been reverse mentored? If so, how would you describe your experience?

If not, would you be willing to give it a try?

Sheila Callaham is an author, motivational coach, and longtime communications and change management professional. 

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