As a leader, have you ever thought of setting up a ‘Mentoring Up’ relationship for yourself or your organization? The term ‘Mentoring Up’ refers to a reversal of the traditional mentoring relationship when senior managers take junior employees under their wing to provide advice and career and life enhancement. In a mentoring up relationship, the senior manager, typically an executive in the company would strike up a relationship with a new or junior employee seeking guidance on a number of topics.
This practice was established by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, and has been embraced by a growing number of companies, including Ernst & Young, General Motors and Procter & Gamble.
Two main areas where reverse mentoring can be beneficial to the executives today are:
• Get a pulse on the company’s corporate culture
• Learning new technologies, such as new software, social media or blogging
In today’s corporate culture, many executives are far removed from the experience of a frontline employee or even a middle-level manager, even though these positions are often at the heart of the company, the place where success lives and dies.
Step into Your Employee’s Shoes
Many companies use the statement, ‘the most tremendous assets to our company are our employees’. Well if you are an senior manager and you don’t know what it is like to be working in your company, you are not showing the respect to the people that will take your company where you want it to go. When they put themselves in such a situation, executives can learn things like:
• What it feels like to go through the hiring process
• How injuries are occurring
• What motivates employees
• What’s stressing them and what’s causing them to leave the organization
An example of companies utilizing mentoring up is the TV show Undercover Boss, where an executive, typically the CEO takes on the role of a frontline employee for a day or two without the coworkers knowing who she really is. The CEO gets to see the ‘day in the life’ of some of their employees and learn what it is like working for their company. In reality, it would be nice if the CEO didn’t have to go undercover to learn these lessons.
The other area companies have found success in Mentoring Up is in the use of the latest technologies from smartphone apps, new software systems and social media. The article ‘C.E.Os with Social Media Presence Are Seen as More Innovative’, Mona Zhang states, “68% of Fortune 500 C.E.Os lacked a social presence. They weren’t on any of the major social networks.” I am sure there is a myriad of reasons these people are not on social networks but I am willing to bet lack of knowledge in this area would be close to #1. Connecting with a young mentor could rapidly speed up the learning curve in this area.
Embrace Mentoring Up
For a leader to fully embrace the Mentoring Up concept, they will need to be confident in their role. For years, executives have tried to fill this role by having town hall meetings or intra office surveys to varying degrees of success. There is nothing that can replace the respect, honesty and intimate knowledge, which comes from a one on one relationship.
Have you ever tried mentoring up, why or why not? Share your thoughts on reverse mentoring in the comments below.