Reverse Mentoring as a Key Component of Corporate Culture

Blog Post A Culture that Fuels Our Strategy

The adage coined by Peter Drucker, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” has never been truer in today’s hyper-competitive and ever-changing business world. In fact, creating and building a culture that directs an enterprise’s employees to execute on the mission is arguably an executive’s single most important job. In today’s multi-generational workplace, a critical component of creating a sustainable culture is ensuring all employees are fully engaging their energies and talents, and communicating effectively with one another.

Systematically connecting young, less experienced employees with seasoned and longer-tenured ones through a process of “reverse mentoring” is a key component of a strong, tightly networked culture.

Reverse mentoring unites and empowers the older and younger generations:

Reverse mentoring involves systematically positioning younger Millennial generation employees who are often new to the workforce or enterprise to mentor their career-established gen x, baby-boomer, or traditionalist counterparts. Millennials can impart their competence in using technology more productively, unleashing social media to advance an influence agenda, and helping others understand the millennial mindset and motivational frame. In return, the three more seasoned generations can mentor these incoming freshmen and enlighten them on the importance of strategy, innovation, developing relationships across and through the organization, business processes, and powerful lessons they’ve learned about overcoming failures. Constructed and supported well in an organization, reverse mentoring is a powerful component in building a culture of open communication and ongoing learning that fuels engagement, performance, innovation, and retention.

Start small – Implement reverse mentoring one department at a time:

One way an enterprise can begin implementing a reverse mentoring program is to pilot it within a department, work out any initial kinks, and add refinements. An executive might identify the ideal pilot department by its low engagement, its need for innovation or change, or simply its abundance of young Millennial employees. To be well-received and take root effectively, executives will need to communicate the vision and strategy to the department (and perhaps across the overall company) through the Communications and/or Marketing departments.

Installing a program management function to support the ongoing meetings and exchange of knowledge share will: 1) help ensure the connections continue, and 2) help others in the organization benefit from what emerges. Showcasing a key success story that exemplifies how the learnings, from one generation to the next, make a difference to business results will help harden the practice into the culture.

Crafted and executed well, incorporating reverse mentoring into an organization can electrify an executive’s efforts to create a vibrant culture that unifies employees of all ages and talents. Recognizing the multi-generational contribution will fuel engagement, unleash creativity and innovation, and serve as an in-house training program that develops competencies. In addition, with this winning combination, employees won’t want to leave a united organization that keeps them learning and connected to their fellow employees and to the heartbeat and mission of the company.

The importance of reverse mentoring in organizations and how it can be leveraged for competitive advantage was discussed in a radio show interview the author conducted with two experts in the field. Betsy Hays, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the lead Public Relations Professor for the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at California State University, Fresno. Dr. Doug Swanson is a Professor of Communications at California State University, Fullerton. To learn more about reverse mentoring and listen to the podcast, click here.

Discussion