Reverse Mentoring

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Mitre Corporation, a public interest company, has found a creative way to get the best out of generational workplace differences. It’s called reverse mentoring. “There’s a long standing feeling that there’s a communication barrier between more experienced employees and new hires. Senior leaders are looking for ways to engage the digital natives (employees who have launched their career in the Internet era) – they want to take advantage of the energy and ideas the new hires are bringing to the table” says Julia High in the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of Mitre Matters: “Talking ‘Bout My Generation” by Tricia Bailey.

Having “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” (employees who did not launch their career during the Internet era) is a win-win solution. Both sides get the chance to offer their expertise and generational knowledge to the entire organization. Consequently, Baby Boomers will not only understand wikis (a web site that can be edited by a group) and tweets (frequent, brief updates on the micro-blogging site Twitter), but more importantly, they will use these “Gen Y” tools to increase their effectiveness and performance.

These Web 2.0 tools are often seen as irrelevant to “real work” by Boomers. Yet when a tool such as instant messaging is used for remote office communication, it creates a virtual water cooler and social network, which leads to increased creativity and engagement. In addition, Twitter, the micro-blogging site, can help geographically separated teams build trust, stay connected and communicate more effectively. Studies show that managers who use these tools are better equipped to manage teams that use these same tools in their work projects. In other words, Boomers who use these tools are better equipped to manage their Gen Y employees.

Bob McKee ended the article by saying, “Mentoring today is a two-way street. Reverse mentoring is unique because it facilitates a conversation with Generation Y and the digital curmudgeons like me who still print out their email. We’re learning about one another’s culture and how to live in it.” Now that’s a win-win!

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