In 2007, Apple introduced its first generation iPhone. Yesterday, it announced the launch of its much-anticipated iWatch. It’s just one example of how consumer technology is marching on at an unprecedented rate. But as CIOs well know, the continual hardware upgrades, not to mention the rapid iteration of software development cycles that are the driving force of the Apples and Googles of the world, can be unsettling — or worse — for the enterprise workplace.
The constant evolution of technology has the potential to make an older generation of employees feel even older and, alas, seem even more irrelevant to a company’s Millennial contingent. The good news? There’s an easy solution to the tech generation gap, according to Tom Koulopoulos, chairman at the Delphi Group, a consultancy in Andover, Mass. It’s called reverse mentoring.
“If you walk away with nothing else, walk away with this actionable item: Create a reverse mentoring program within your organization,” Koulopoulos said to the C-suite executives gathered at Fusion 2015, which is hosted by WTN Media in Madison Wis. Reverse mentoring is exactly what it sounds like. “It’s mentoring turned on its head,” Koulopoulos said. It turns senior executives into mentees who learn about the ins and outs of “youth technologies” from the company’s Millennial hires. Mentees are free to ask questions about the benefits of Instagram or how often they should tweet — or why they should be using Twitter at all.
Reverse mentoring is not a new concept. Jack Welch, the legendary CEO at General Electric, was a big proponent of the practice. According to a video interview, Welch introduced reverse mentoring in 1999 after meeting the CEO of a global consumer finance company who relied on younger hires to help him become better acquainted with ecommerce. “That was one of the best ideas I’d heard in a long time,” Welch said. When he returned home, he championed a similar program at GE. While Welch made reverse mentoring mandatory at GE, other companies like Cisco keep the program completely voluntary, Koulopoulos said.
And traditional mentoring doesn’t have to go away; reverse mentoring simply becomes an extension of it, he said. Despite its potential impact, reverse mentoring is nascent, seen at less than 10% of organizations today, Koulopoulos said.