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Hey – I’m Old and I Don’t Understand!! Try Reverse Mentoring

By:  Scott Fiore (Old Guy)

Tweets.  Apps.  Blogs.  Pay per Click.  Smartphones.

All words that were not in my vocabulary 3 years ago and today are as much a part of my workday as P&L’s and coffee.  To those of you old (like me) there looms on the horizon more change, and more new words.  How do we navigate this?  As importantly – how can we ready these young pups coming up to understand P&L statements, balance sheets, personal guarantees, etc.  There’s a trend that Jack Walsh introduced at GE years ago that’s gaining some traction – Reverse Mentoring.

Old guys (like me), I guess “people” may have been more politically correct – need help learning and navigating new technology.  (For Walsh it was a 20 something young woman who helped him learn to surf the web).  Young employees need real world experience and more importantly a connection to experienced (yeah that’s code for old again) leaders to learn from. 

Reverse mentoring’s main goal is for us “old” people to learn to understand and use new technology from those most familiar with it – those younger than ourselves.  I have a reverse mentor – and I really didn’t know he had a formal title!  He actually approached me years ago to help him out.  It turns out he’s helped me just as much.  I didn’t  know what a tweet was, had no Facebook account, and a blog?  It just sounded like a foreign word to me.  During our talks, after I answered his questions, or helped him with an issue, he would then help me.  I learned about social media.  He’s helped me to understand web traffic reports.  He’s introduced me to how these young folks think, and why their phone is in their hands when they fall asleep.  While I think I have helped him over the years – I really think he may have helped me more.

How can a reverse mentor relationship help you or your business?  Pair up the old fogeys like me with young people.  Have them meet regularly with the goal being to help the geezers learn new technology.  The pups will love it – it’s coded in their DNA to help.  As time goes on the pup will become more comfortable with their geezer, and they’ll start asking questions.  They may need some help navigating politics in a larger organization and their mentee may be the right person to guide them through this minefield.  In the end – we all can learn, and we all can teach – it just depends on the subject matter.

If you’d like to learn more about reverse mentoring give me a call – I’d be happy to share some of my experience.

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