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Inspiring Best Practice 19 July Jul 2017 1104 19 July 2017

Reverse Mentoring, the alliance between juniors and seniors

Knowledge exchange between juniors and seniors has become necessary so as not to lag behind. Work organisation has also to be updated.

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Today the wise are not only the seniors. In a rapidly changing world, the mentor can also be a junior. Though adults possess experience, the Millennials and subsequent generations have a lot to teach on certain themes, especially technological. Mentoring has become bi-directional. This is known as reverse mentoring or peer mentoring. Knowledge-sharing between juniors and seniors is not something new but, today, it has become a necessity for companies to avoid lagging behind and to update the forms of work organisation.

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, is considered the inventor of the first reverse mentoring programme as, in distant 1999, he requested 500 top managers of the company to identify young employees who could teach them how to use the Web. The digital divide between juniors and seniors could thus be overcome by converging the digital skills of juniors and the experience of seniors.

But what can juniors teach the company? The skills of the Millennials to be flexible and easily adapt to change, besides their digital skills, are core features for companies today. According to the reverse mentoring model, juniors share with senior colleagues their knowledge of the use of technologies, of new forms of cooperation and of the social media. The goal is to both update senior workers and generate in juniors new models of leadership based on knowledge-sharing with seniors. Native digital experts can thus view the occupational framework through the eyes of those who have many years of experience. At the same time, seniors can familiarise with the new forms of work organisation.

If, on the one hand juniors can teach how to use digital tools to manage a project and corporate communication, organise remote meetings and promotional initiatives through social channels, seniors, on their part, can hand down the basic principles required to define a business plan, establish a goal and have a precise vision.

Reverse mentoring is implemented in companies that have chosen this method, namely ABB and Credit Suisse, through formal meetings that are held at regular intervals. But the secret lies in removing the bias that sees juniors as too young to teach anything, and seniors as too old to be able to learn or share useful know-how. This is why the initiative must be clearly communicated to employees, overcoming the rationale of the generational clash that does not help the company.