Reverse Mentoring as a Means of Cross-Generational/Cross-Life-Stage Engagement

Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.  - George Orwell 

Mentee perspective – Ross

 I am 48 years old and started working on software before my mentor, Prem, was born.  Prem’s research on Gen Y was intriguing, particularly his
recommendations around reverse mentoring, and I asked if he would be MY mentor a few years back. 

A few of the things I’ve learned is how similar Prem is to how I was at that age, and how my priorities and perspective have changed as my life-stage has changed. 

From what I’ve read, reverse mentoring helps a lot when older workers struggle with technology, though I don’t feel like that’s been my experience.  What’s been enlightening to me is how communication has changed. I’m on Facebook and all I see are updates from old high school friends, and I'm learning more than I need to know about my kids’ social life.  <grin>  I’m not typically connecting with my work peers there. That happens in person, or on the phone or email – but things are changing.

I learned a lot about the impact of benefits on our life-stage goals. When I was 22, I worked for the government, and we had “comp time” (compensatory time) – and I LOVED it.  I could work hard one week, and take more time off the next week. I realize that’s not an option for Prem.

I am working to make sure my kids can go to college, so money and career advancement are important to me.  I realize that my mentor cares less about the things that I care about.  He wants to be exposed to diverse technology, unique jobs, and career experience – and that it’s less about financial reward and advancement than getting experience.

If you asked us these two questions:

  • Would you work seven days a week for an extra $10,000?
  • Would you give up 20 percent of your salary to get experience doing XYZ?

I think we would answer oppositely. What the reverse mentorship has taught me is not how to be better at Facebook – but that motivation, incentive, and goals vary dramatically as we move through the life-stages.

I know that people on our team have benefitted from my experience with my mentor (though as I write this, I realize I could do more) – because we have cut people loose from their “day jobs” to seek out new experiences.

Mentor perspective – Prem

I’m currently 28 years old and started working at the company as a college hire when I was 22, much like many of my peers.

At that point in my life, the longest paid position I had held was at a local grocery store, which I enjoyed, but was drastically different than Corporate America. Coming into such a large corporation fresh out of college was a daunting proposition for me and the hundreds of employees in my cohort.

I wasn’t sure how -- and if -- I’d fit in, let alone thrive.

Many of us soon figured out that to succeed -- really succeed -- we’d need more than “formal” or “on-the-job” training. The jury is still out on whether we’ve succeeded, but we all agree mentorship has played a large role in improving our careers and job satisfaction in big ways.

Since I started in 2006, I’ve had career mentors, both formal and informal. Being involved in a mentoring relationship is the single most effective career development tool I’ve found in in my professional career, and reverse mentoring is no different than traditional mentoring with regard to the value one can glean from it.

Being able to bounce ideas off Ross over the last year has really helped me as I grow in my career. Contrary to my initial guesses, I’ve learned that Ross and I -- despite our different life-stages -- are passionate about many of the same things.  But we also differ on some very tangible things, such as "away time."

Placing the “Reverse Mentoring” wrapper around our relationship has really helped set expectations in a way that helped me get quite a bit out of it. I think having Ross really drive the relationship, as my “Mentee” took out some of pressures I’d subconsciously feel just by being in a room with someone that has 80 people under him, and who's is in a completely different life-stage and generation than me.

Devoid of this pressure, I was able to share any ideas that came to my mind, and get context for those ideas that could only be provided by someone in his life-stage and at his level.


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