Every now and then, I either get asked about my opinion about reverse mentoring or encounter a prospect that has a so-called reverse mentoring program. Simply put, reverse "mentoring" matches senior executives (the mentorees) with younger people (the mentors) to help the older generation stay current and informed about new technologies or trends. For example, a 20-something employee may introduce a senior executive to social networking on Facebook or Twitter.
I have an issue with the way the word "mentoring" is used. Reverse mentoring is NOT mentoring. It's coaching, and here's why.
True mentoring is defined as a trusting relationship between a more experienced individual who focuses his/her energies in assisting another in personal and professional development. The mentor's role is to fully engage the mentoree and to create an environment whereby the mentoree will share the critical issues that affect his or her success. For a younger person to truly mentor an older person, that younger one has to have sufficient maturity to relate to the older worker in such a way that will create the mentoring relationship. I find this highly unlikely in most cases, particularly if the mentors are younger workers.
What I think is really happening in most reverse mentoring programs is coaching. Coaching doesn't require an intimate, trusting relationship. Coaching requires the expert, who is the coach, to be able to convey his or her expertise to the coachee. The coach's style of coaching may impact how successful s/he is as a coach, but the expertise can be passed on to the mentoree regardless.
For the sake of clarity, I would suggest that people who use the term "reverse mentoring" reexamine what is really being accomplished. The words "mentoring" and "coaching" raise different expectations and if you're applying a strategy, you have to select the right one and call it that. Younger workers who are tasked with helping older workers attain new skills/knowledge are really coaching. So let's call it what it is: reverse coaching!
Now, there's nothing wrong with having a younger employee coach an older employee on a skillset. In fact, I think it's a great strategy. The problem is when people think what I've described above is mentoring. It's not. It's coaching.
What do you think? Have you encountered "reverse mentoring" in your career? What did you like or not like about it? Share in the comments below.Picadillu | Dreamstime.com