When older workers witness young IT employees making workplace gaffes like referring to the CEO as “dude,” they may shake their heads and sigh, knowing that the young employees have a lot to learn.
But when young IT employees watch older workers struggling to understand new technology, well, dude, they may shake their heads and think the same thing.
That’s why more employers are starting to explore reverse mentoring. At Mastercard, for example, Chief Human Resource Officer Ron Garrow admits that while he’s not a technophobe, “I recognized that I had a lot to learn about operating in this new world.”
So Garrow, 51, began participating in the employer’s reciprocal mentoring program. He was partnered with 24-year-old Rebecca Kaufman who taught him how to use Twitter and get more out of professional networking sites. He says that Kaufman not only taught him how to better navigate online connections, but also gave him greater insight into younger consumers and how they are changing the industry.
Lois J. Zachary, director of the Center for Mentoring Excellence, says reverse mentoring allows a young IT person to gain exposure to a senior-level person, “and the senior-level person gets to learn something” from the young employee.
“Senior people benefit from learning what younger people are thinking about. This can help, for example, if they’re developing a new product. A senior-level person needs that input,” she says.
The young employee benefits from the “face time” with a senior employee, also allowing them to learn something such as better communication or organizational skills, she says.
Research shows that employees often learn more from one another than they do from formal training, but successful reverse mentoring programs should be structured and overseen by a human resources department, Zachary says.
She also encourages such programs to set expectations (see more here)
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