The word "mentorship" usually evokes imagery of an older, more experienced individual imparting knowledge and know-how upon a younger, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed individual--that's the traditional use of the word that we've all come to know and accept.
Alexa Scordato, however, is turning that word on its head with a concept she calls reverse mentorship. Scordato currently serves as the community manager at 2tor, an education technology startup. Fresh out of college, she started her career as an executive assistant at Mzinga, a social software company, where she and Chairman and CEO Barry Libert took part in a reverse mentorship.
Pairing senior executives with digital natives seems like an obvious win for the digitally challenged; you put in a few hours a week and the youngster teaches you how to use Twitter and Facebook. The term “reverse mentorship” can be a bit misleading in that way. What it really is, though, is a two-way conversation—digitally savvy newcomers to the business world have the opportunity to impart their tips and tricks to mastering the Internet, and senior business leaders act as role models and career coaches for budding professionals.
While reverse mentorship may be a concept that's been in practice for a while, we really like Scordato's take on the subject. Inspired by her thoughts, here are just a few reasons why your business should consider setting up a reverse mentorship program.
- There Are Knowledge Gaps on Both Sides
The beauty of reverse mentorship is that it takes both sides into account, realizing that we all come with our flaws, whether we're 22 years old and fresh out of college or 60 years old, steering a business.
"There's a big crisis that I think we're experiencing right now in the marketing industry, which is a severe knowledge gap," said Scordato at PivotCon. "There are a lot of very seasoned marketers out there who are struggling to basically understand the new rules of marketing."
That's just one side of the story. Scordato also explained that, like many other Millennials straight out of college, she had a lot to work on professionally: "I lacked business acumen. I was fascinated with Barry's lingo--things like EBITDA and cash flow. I didn't understand any of it. But it was interesting, because I realized that he was equally fascinated by this thing called Twitter."
Scordato and Libert paired up each day for 30 minutes before the work day began. Their morning routine consisted of blogging and engaging via social media. Scordato explained the end result, "[I] got him on Facebook; put his speaking gigs on YouTube; he's on LinkedIn; we wrote 53 blog posts together over the course of a year, and you can tweet him."
Each employee has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. Learn about your employees--what they excel in and where they need improvement--and pair them with others who complement those qualities.
- The Future of Business Is Social
Communication models are evolving within organization and outside of them. Communication with colleagues or customers is becoming more direct, making it faster and easier to collaborate with others. Dying are the days where the only means of communication with customers was via a toll-free number or a suggestion box. Many areas within business are embracing social and digital media: CEOs, public relations pros, salespeople and recruiters to name a few.
"The future of business is social," Scordato stated. "We have to stop thinking about our companies as a corporate ladder. It doesn't resonate with me, it doesn't resonate with my peers. If we want to be an organization that really embraces change and adopts and is innovative, we need to think faster, smarter, social."
The digital age is upon us--it's time to embrace technology and see what your organization can accomplish.
- The Generation Gap Argument is Old
"That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in the next." -John Stuart Mill, British philosopher (1806-1873)
When discussing the evolution of technology, it's almost inevitable that someone will bring up the argument that there's an inexplicable knowledge gap between youngsters who grew up with computers, cellphones and other gadgets and old fogies who remember the days when TVs and radios didn't exist. Sure, there have been many technological advances in the past 50 years, but that doesn't excuse anyone from learning.
Furthermore, we must remember that each new generation is not a new subset of humans--we are all people, and we all share commonalities. And most importantly, we can all learn from one another.
Let's get over the excuse that there are too many differences between generations, because frankly, it's lazy and outdated. Scordato sums it up nicely:
"We need to think about reverse mentorship and pairing young people with seasoned executives. We need to stop thinking about it as an 'us versus them' conversation. It's a two-way street. I'm not going to stand here and say, 'Oh my gosh, these people over here don't get it. They're slow. They're old. They don't know what they're talking about.' And I would expect that people I want to learn from, my mentors, wouldn't look at me and say, 'Alexa doesn't know anything. She's just one of those Millennials.'"
The sooner we acknowledge our similarities along with our differences, the sooner we can begin to learn from each other and bridge the so-called generational gap.
Adopting a reverse mentorship program isn't a matter of reworking business processes or changing staff. It can be as simple as matching up compatible employees and enabling them to meet during lunch to discuss topics that they're interested in. The important thing is to facilitate a two-way dialogue between newcomers and veterans at your business to encourage sharing of useful skills and knowledge.
Has your organization tried out reverse mentorship? If so, let us know about the experience in the comments below.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, mikdam