Reverse Mentoring

What is Reverse Mentoring, which rules should be followed and how important is competence?

Benefit from other people’s experiences

Mentoring refers to the personal transfer of knowledge between experienced and less experienced people. It is used in many organisations – i.e. companies, authorities, universities or associations – as an instrument for personnel development. Mentoring usually means that an older employee – the mentor – passes on his or her specialist knowledge to a younger employee – the mentee or protégé. Reverse mentoring is the opposite: a younger employee passes on his or her knowledge to the older employee. The aim of both mentoring and reverse mentoring is to support the mentee individually in questions, challenges and decisions.

Reverse mentoring and mentoring

Whether the term reverse mentoring is necessary or not is often discussed in practice. Are reverse mentoring and mentoring really different or are they two sides of the same coin?

The term mentor goes back to a figure of Greek mythology: Mentor was the teacher of Telemach, the son of Odysseus. Indirectly it can be deduced that a mentor not only possesses more knowledge and experience than the protégé, but that he or she is also older. But this does not have to be the case, because experience is created by dealing with a subject or repeatedly carrying out activities. This means that they are not necessarily dependent on age. In other words, older people can have knowledge and experience that younger people do not, and younger people can have knowledge and experience that older people do not. A common example is the “digital natives”, people who grew up with many digital devices and technologies at a young age. These digital natives often find it easier to use new technologies, apps, tools and websites than older people.

The comparison between reverse mentoring and mentoring becomes interesting when the word “experience” is replaced by the word “competence”: Experience is often equated with age and maturity, while competence has more to do with knowledge and ability. And that’s what it’s all about: profiting from each other’s competence. And so mentoring and reverse mentoring would be two sides of the same coin.

Mentor or Mentee - Mentoring or Reverse Mentoring?

Rules for mentoring and reverse mentoring

Basically, it is important to define a few rules for mentoring and reverse mentoring:

  • How are mentors and mentees selected?
  • How, where, about what and in what frequency do mentor and mentee communicate?
  • Are there expectations, manners, taboos?

Ideally, mentor / reverse mentor and protégé develop a trusting partnership in which they exchange, advise and learn from each other. A Digital Native may be more familiar with social media and can provide a “young” perspective on issues. An older employee probably knows a number of technical methods, has already mastered professional crises or conducted contract and salary negotiations. In such a constellation, both parties benefit from each other.

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Notes:

In the meantime, there is another term in the context of mentoring: Grow Buddy. The Grow Buddy concept spins the idea of reverse mentoring even further and declares both parties to be mentors and mentees. They are both learners and teachers who want to learn from and with each other.

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