Looking For Innovation At Your Bank? Try Reverse Mentoring

Reverse Mentoring

It is hard for a bank to be more innovative when senior management has little experience with person-to-person payments, the Uber experience, the Dark Web or Snapchat. Without the experience, it is easy to dismiss new technology as a “fad.” This occurred with social media as many bankers grumbled “why do I care what so and so had for dinner” until they realized the level of success that other banks were having through the channel, that many of their profitable customers were using social media and the vast potential for micro-targeted marketing. These days, bankers have lots of questions regarding the banking application for virtual reality but have no one to turn to in order to gather information.


To help solve this problem, we picked up a good tip from Lana Chandler, the Editor of the Branch Manager Letters. (If you don’t subscribe, you should as we have been long-time subscribers, and at $96 per year, it is a heck of a bargain for the amount of quality information - go HERE for a free copy.). The tip was that bankers should start a “reverse mentoring” program. We reprint the article below for your edification:


Reverse Mentoring


Former GE Chairman Jack Welch launched a program in the late ‘90s that leveraged younger employees’ knowledge of the Internet to coach GE’s top management. He was matched with an employee in her 20s who taught him how to surf the web. With this, he is often credited as the first champion of reverse mentoring. Given the increasingly fast pace of technology in business, reverse mentoring is growing in popularity. It is typically used when senior leaders need to better understand employees, client preferences or new technologies.


 “Reverse mentoring, pairing younger and older employees, helps us overcome the barriers of how we are different and see how much we can learn from each other,” explains Robin Thompson, MS of Thompson Training & Keynote, Inc. (Klamath Falls, OR). “A movie starring Robert DeNiro, The Intern, is a great example of what reverse mentoring can do to help an organization be more successful.”


We all can benefit from experiences of other people. Our tendency is to seek people like ourselves instead of looking to be with people who are interesting and different. 


“At a recent conference, I intentionally chose to attend a session led by presenters from Gen Y and Z instead of one that was taught by a Baby Boomer,” Thompson says. “I had to drag myself kicking and screaming to break out of my comfort zone. I was amazed though at what I learned from watching them interact with each other, communicate with the audience and open themselves to be accepted as they were. My creative brain engaged just by being around their energy and enthusiasm.”


Reverse Mentoring For Innovation


Doesn’t Require a Formal Program


“Reverse mentoring does not need to be a formal mentor program,” emphasizes Thompson. “I found that talking to college students gave me a totally different perspective on the work we were doing. You can even do this at home by asking your children, or friends’ children, for feedback on your product, service or idea. The one caveat is…this generation is not known for being tactful or sugar coating their response. Be ready for an honest response. In a way, this is reverse mentoring and they will feel valued that you are asking and listening to them.”


Reverse Mentoring For Innovation


“When I was Vice President of Development at a university, I would meet with each of my staff bi-weekly. I would use that time to get to know them and how they responded best to feedback,” recalls Thompson. “Our department consisted of student employees who were Gen Z up through my board of trustees, some of whom were Traditionalists. Besides finding ways to motivate and reward each of them, I needed to help the Traditionalists communicate with the student employees and vice versa.”


Reverse mentoring was one of the most effective techniques that Thompson used to facilitate communication between the younger and older generations. Acknowledging that the older generations of Traditionalists and Baby Boomers had wisdom and experience that they could share with the younger generation proved helpful. Then having the younger generation teach the nuances of social media was useful as well.


“Finding places with some common ground doesn’t indicate that one way is right and another is wrong. It is what we can all build upon to become a more powerful team and improve the organization,” explains Thompson.


Who Are Good Candidates?


“Anyone who is open to looking at their world in a new and exciting way is a good candidate for reverse mentoring,” Thompson says. “It isn’t for the faint of heart though, because the younger generations do not put their comments through a filter since typically they say what they feel on social media. However, they would benefit by putting down their digital media and just listening. The corporate history will never be written in an email or a text, the older generations will only deliver it verbally.”


Tips for Success


For over 20 years, Thompson has had accountability partners and been involved in mastermind groups. An accountability partner is someone that you commit your goals to and holds you accountable to them. A mastermind group is a handful of people who know you well and who act as consultants for your career success. “A lot of the same guidelines for accountability partners and mastermind groups apply to reverse mentoring,” maintains Thompson. She cites the following:


  • Have a plan for how it will work, but not too detailed so as to stifle creativity.
  • Establish an ending date so that both parties will understand that they need to gain as much as they can from the experience. It also makes it less daunting to commit to shorter periods of time on both people’s part.
  • Remove any preconceived notions of status, power and position.
  • Both parties should create a personal goal and a mutual goal for what they want to learn from the experience.
  • Commit the necessary time.
  • Actively listen.
  • Be patient with each other and the process.