5 Tips for a Useful Reverse Mentoring Program

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Ron Garrow, the 52-year-old Chief Human Resources Officer of MasterCard, was once a nervous user of Twitter. He had an account and actively monitored his feed, but was too anxious about the 140-character limit to tweet anything.

Things changed after Garrow was paired up with reverse mentor Rebecca Kaufman, a millennial who works on MasterCard’s social and digital communications team. Garrow now tweets several times a week, and has accumulated over 1,000 followers. “Rebecca got me comfortable on Twitter,” reveals Garrow. “I regularly seek out her advice on how to say certain things that I want to tweet.”

Reverse mentoring has become popular in companies in recent years, with older employees seeking advice from younger colleagues in areas like social media and technology. General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Accenture and Proctor & Gamble all use it. These programs help management to better understand the world they’re operating in, and generate loyalty and trust in millennial workers who feel seen and heard by their bosses, making them more likely to stay with the company long-term.

MasterCard initiated its program in 2012, after some workers asked if they could mention the company in their social media posts. The organization’s Young Professionals group (YoPros) saw an opportunity to turn these enthusiastic employees into social media ambassadors for MasterCard, and launched an informal reverse mentoring program to help those interested become more comfortable on social media. Since then, several hundred employees have gone through the program, including one third of MasterCard’s Executive Committee, according to the company.

Garrow shares five tips for running a successful reverse mentoring program.

1. Make sure you’re solving a need

Reverse mentoring could easily be a feel-good exercise designed to let younger employees feel they’re being heard, without producing any tangible outcomes. But Garrow believes such programs only work when they’re solving real needs in the workforce.

In MasterCard’s case, employees were already seeking advice on how to represent the brand on social media. “You can give them a guidebook on the different social media platforms,” says Garrow. “But it’s much more effective when you have somebody to walk you through it.”

2. Keep the structure to a minimum

Mastercard doesn’t have rules to guide the number or frequency of meetings between mentors and mentees, says Garrow. “Whenever you put too much structure around something, it dies under its own weight,” he observes. In the beginning, Garrow met with his mentor every few weeks face-to-face, but now it’s more fluid, he says. They’ve moved to communicating via phone call, text or email a few times a week.

3. Set goals at the first meeting

Going into your mentorship relationship with a clear goal will help you get exactly what you are seeking, says Garrow.

Garrow told Kaufman that as head of HR, he wanted to be better linked to the new generation of millennials in the workplace. So his new mentor helped him become more comfortable on Linkedin. Garrow went from checking the social network once a week to several times a day, and recruiting candidates through the platform.

On Twitter, Garrow wanted to be seen as someone who talked about his industry and MasterCard as a brand. So Kaufman directed him to people to follow, and continues to field his questions on how to say express things he wants to tweet.

4. Look close to home

Garrow advises pairs to meet in person if possible at first, to get more out of the experience. Most mentors and mentees at MasterCard are located in the same office, with a few operating long-distance.

5. Involve senior executives early on

Garrow joining the reverse mentoring program at the beginning helped it pick up momentum, and encouraged other executives to join and support the program. And the effect can spread beyond the immediate mentorship pair. Garrow has had colleagues who don’t have a mentor come up to him and say, “Just watching you using LinkedIn has made me more comfortable.”

MORE ON MENTORSHIP AND EXECUTIVE DEVELOPMENT:

Does your company have a reverse mentoring program? What could you stand to learn from your millennial employees? Let us know by commenting below.

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