Reverse Mentoring: How experienced leaders can learn from the youngsters.

In this Forbes article from 2019 ("What Gen Z Wants At Work Will Blow Your Mind") it was said that the Generation Z actually crave for stability - unlike Millennials, who wanted to have more flexible working structures.  But also from a consumer point of view there is a lot to learn and understand: "By next year, Gen Z will make up one-third of the workforce,” says Blue in the above mentioned article. “And they will be 40% of the consumer base.” Even though most of them are too young to receive a paycheck, they’re already driving a large chunk of household spending.

A lot of traditional companies do "Learning Journeys" to get to know how those "cool" startups work, they start Working Out Loud initiatives, organise bar camps, and other innovative workshop formats. All with the hope to at least change the perspective of employees just a bit to have a positive impact on the company culture. However, there is one common theme behind all of those efforts: New knowledge and behaviour  is injected from the outside, from some external source into the organisation. 

This might create some really helpful impulse but in most cases the effect will be limited and only last for a few weeks after the event has happened. 

There is a source of inspiration sitting at your desks, in your offices that companies tend to ignore: The Gen-Z or Millennial hires.  Why not turning around the tables and asking the youngsters of your company or community to help you understand how the world they envision really does look like - so that you can successfully create their world instead of doing the same old things again and again?

An effective opportunity to connect to this generation is "Reverse Mentoring" in which younger employees act as mentors for the more senior or hierarchically higher-ranking colleagues. The classic, conventional mentoring concept is reversed and mentors become mentees and vice versa. 

Younger employees with some expertise or personal interest in a specialist field (Social Media, Education, Sports, Workplace Design, Gaming, Agile etc.) coach and train their older colleagues. Reverse mentoring brings new impulses, as the mentors / trainers / coaches view the world from a completely different point of view and are therefore already leaders in certain fields, some of which are completely new territory for their (older) colleagues.

Reverse Mentoring as a concept is still quite new and needs a good portion of courage. To ask junior employees to train / coach / mentor you needs especially two things - (1) you need to admit that you do not have any clue about some things and (2) you really need the strong will to learn something from the younger generation. 

The good is so close in your own organization, community or network! It just has to be made visible and usable! Try it out, create the right organizational and cultural framework and let yourself be curious about the reverse mentoring journey!

Together with our partner LinkedIn we recently started a Reverse Mentoring Program in which young professionals can apply to become mentors of some top managers from companies such as LinkedIn, Spotify, Orthomol, BabyOne and others. If you are young and full of ideas, this might be something for you, and if you are a senior manager yourself, have a look yourself: This might be the right inspiration for you to start a Reverse Mentoring program within your company as well.