Mentorship seems to be on everyone's lips at the moment, despite it being basically nothing new. And indeed, one mentorship model is disrupting the classic old-teach-young method. It's known as "reverse mentoring" and with this the Golf generation learns from the zoomers, the boomers from the millennials - vice versa and across departments. At companies like Microsoft, the CTOs learn from the next generation, they say.
We asked around in our own ranks: Why is there so much talk about reverse mentoring these days? What are the benefits for mentees, mentors and companies? And what do companies miss out on if they do without it?
An interview with Julia Hammer, mentor, mentee and COO at enomyc.
The old lecture the young and force them down the same paths they took themselves. In their own field of expertise. Has this mentoring scenario had its day?
In my opinion, passing on proven approaches, experience and knowledge has by no means become obsolete. But it shouldn't be coming exclusively from one single direction - i.e., the classic top-down approach. For me, it's the mix that counts: as I see it, classic mentoring and reverse mentoring complement each other perfectly.
Nevertheless, it seems as if reverse mentoring in particular is now very much in vogue. Microsoft recently reported on the introduction of its own program: "The CTOs learn from the next generation," it says. What do you think: Why is reverse mentoring on everyone's lips?
I think there are two reasons for this: first, we currently have five generations on the job market. The boomers are about to retire and Generation Z is following suit. Some look back on a long working life full of experience and proven approaches. The others come in with fresh know-how, an innovative mindset and new values. On top of that, experienced career changers from other industries bring an additional perspective. All of this is happening in an economy that is under enormous pressure to transform. It would be a waste of potential if people did not actively learn from each other in reverse mentoring. A great deal of knowledge can be pooled in companies by this means.
What is the second reason?
The second reason affects us all: We live in disruptive times. They are changing the way we work, in some cases fundamentally. All of this leaves neither leadership nor mentoring models cold. Companies have to keep pace with current developments and meet the new demands.
Provided that companies offer internal mentoring. Because not all of them do. Has mentoring become a must-have? And if so, how do you explain this development?
I think mentoring programs are particularly attractive to younger talents and job candidates. In some cases, they even actively request it. Why is that? Further development is becoming increasingly important, as is the development of one's own personality and professional skillset. Reverse mentoring is very welcome here, because young talents in particular want to develop their fresh potential on the one hand - but ideally with experienced guidance that also opens one or two doors for them in the future.
"The most important question for me in mentoring: how do I want to be perceived in a professional context?" — Isabelle Hinsche, mentee
What matters to enomyc's mentees so far? Do their expectations coincide? And do they explicitly state their goals?
Yes, they do. As a mentor, I also actively ask them about this. Because every mentee overcomes different hurdles - especially when entering professional life - and also sets very individual priorities. But they all have one thing in common: they want to gain practical experience in business consulting in the upper midmarket. And they want to do this directly in collaboration with board members - both internally and on the client side. This aspiration is very different from the experience they would gain in a corporate group. We can meet this demand.
In what way? What do your mentees gain in concrete terms?
Professionally, a 360° perspective and a lot of practical experience. They are involved in the entire project cycle - from acquisition to concept development and implementation to downstream performance measurement. Our teams are smaller - and this means the skill set is larger. Mentees also gain a network for their future - internally and externally. And what should not be underestimated: people attract people. Especially in times when distance leadership, home and hybrid offices are still the hot topics, mentorship can be a real anchor for people. One that creates connection and human closeness within the company.
"Mentoring is not a coffee break - it is better to go into mentoring with pen and paper, with respect for yourself and the mentors. An important task: follow-up work, extensive and systematic reflection. That's how I get an enormous amount out of my mentoring." — Christoph Scholl, mentee
How do companies benefit from mentees?
Mentees are true assets. They open up the view outside the box and bring a fresh and relevant perspective to the company. I wouldn't want to do without their unfiltered perception and impulses. For example, one of my mentees taught me about the possibilities of partially/automated processes - and has also implemented various things in this line for our company. The value has a lasting effect: we are consistently developing further in this area. And I also learned more about sustainable financing models thanks to one of my mentees. She is doing her doctorate in this field.
Can companies even afford not to offer mentoring anymore?
I would definitely recommend companies to actively establish it. From my point of view, it's elementary. Why? Because it makes companies flexible and agile, open to new things, to other perspectives, to ideas and innovations. For me personally, dialog with mentees and mentors is a guarantee of success. And anyone who wants to be successful - and stay that way - should rely on curiosity and a thirst for knowledge.
What insight from mentoring was a game changer for you personally?
That we often think we are the only ones experienced in life and work. That we think our wealth of experience is brimming over with wisdom and that it will last. But things are not like that. There is always a "more" and a "further". In my encounters with my mentees, I too am constantly recharging my wealth of experience.
"Know your USP. Whether as an intern, working student or junior consultant: Get clear about who you are, what you can do and that you stay true to your line. The mentoring and the reflection that came with it made me aware of my standing." — Joelina Eppelmann, mentee
In conclusion, what matching tips do you recommend for mentees and mentors and what do you consider to be a signpost for successful mentoring?
First and foremost, it has to be a human fit: there needs to be genuine mutual interest and an appreciative exchange. Anyone who really wants to develop further will also rely on clear feedback. And you also have to give it. Openness and trust form the basis for this. Finally, it is not enough just to listen. Feedback must be used actively, in self-reflection and by putting what is learned into practice. This is how we do justice to reverse mentoring in its entirety.
Thank you very much for your insights, Ms. Hammer.
What questions do you have about mentoring and reverse mentoring? Please feel free to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.