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Internet Survey Results:

What is Unique about Reverse Mentoring, Survey Results

Matt M. Starcevich, Ph.D.

(For individual usage only, not to be used in team building, organizational publications or training programs without written permission)

Alan Webber, co-founder of Fast Company describes reverse mentoring: "Its a situation where the old fogies in an organization realize that by the time you're in your forties and fifties, you're not in touch with the future the same way the young twenty-something's. They come with fresh eyes, open minds, and instant links to the technology of our future". Jack Welch, Chairman of GE, has ordered his top 600 managers to reach down into their ranks for Internet junkies and become their students.

What if anything is unique about a reverse mentoring relationships? Fifty-nine people responded to an on-line survey during the first quarter of 2001. Thirty-seven were mentors (the person doing the mentoring) and twenty-two were partners (the person being mentored). They were from such diverse organizations as Government, Consulting, and Financial Services. Only 9% were Executives while 40% were Middle Managers, 25% First Level Managers and 26% Individual Contributors. The results are based on the limitation that this was a voluntary survey, with no attempt to obtain a representative sample. Although we did not control for gender or racial differences no respondents chose as the biggest challenge in making a reverse mentoring relationship productive, "getting over our gender differences" and only one chose "getting over our racial differences". Subsequent inquires from journalists about the survey results suggests that there may be some challenges in these areas and worthy of further study.

Is it a young to old thing?

No, fifty percent of both the mentors and partners were 26-35 years of age with none over age 55. For this group reverse mentoring appears to be a peer-to-peer relationship not one for the old fogies. A larger number of executives responding to the survey could change this conclusion. It is interesting to speculate why so few executives responded to the survey, since this is the target population. Are they not engaged in reverse mentoring relationships; don't have time to complete surveys; or, don't surf the internet?

What is the purpose of a reverse mentoring relationship?

Forty-one percent selected "To gain technical expertise" and 25% selected "To gain a younger perspective". This supports the notion of capitalizing on the technical knowledge base and younger perspective of the mentor. An intense relationship is indicated by fifty-two percent stating they met once a week with an additional forty-one percent meeting once a month. Although twenty-five percent expect the relationship to last 1-5 months and twenty-percent expect it to last longer than a year.

What is the satisfaction level with the reverse mentoring relationship?

There were two groups of people, twenty percent said they were "very dissatisfied" and sixty-eight percent said they were either "satisfied" or "very satisfied". Did how the reverse mentoring relationship occur affect their satisfaction? No, although fifty-two percent were assigned while forty-eight percent sought out either the mentor or partnerbeing assigned or freely choosing a mentor or partner did not make a difference in the satisfaction level of the respondents.

What would make the reverse mentoring relationship more satisfying?

Fifty-three percent-said "a clear game plan" while twenty-two percent felt "clear rules of engagement". Clarity on what we will accomplish, our commitment, how we will go about it and how we will relate to one another emerge as clear indicators of a satisfying mentoring relationships. This conclusion is supported by answers to other questions in the survey:

    1. Thirty-three percent felt "finding time to meet", twenty-eight percent "opening up and considering different ideas/perspectives" and twenty-five percent "listening without forming judgments" were the biggest challenges in making the reverse mentoring relationship productive.
    2. If they could start anew, fifty-two percent stated that "having a game plan and goal" would be what they would do differently to improve the reverse mentoring relationship.
    3. The advice they would give the younger mentor: twenty-eight percent said both "patience" and "being open to your partner".
    4. The advice they would give the older partner: forty-one percent said "have an open mind and attitude". Thirty-three percents said "listen and learn".

Summary

Reverse mentoring relationships are developed to gain technical expertise and a different perspective. They are not a younger to older person thing for this group it was more a peer-to-peer relationship where both people have a lot to teach and lot to learn. In line with our earlier survey, (http://coachingandmentoring.com/mentsurvey.htm) planning and management of the relationship are critical. A commitment of time, having a game plan/goal and rules of engagement as well as listening, being open minded and patient seem to be central ingredients for any mentoring relationship not just a reverse relationship. These results indicate that there is nothing unique about reverse mentoring. These same challenges need to be managed in any mentoring relationship. The operative word is mentoring.

About the Author

Matt M. Starcevich, Ph.D. CEO, Center for Coaching & Mentoring has over twenty years experience in training and organization development, as an internal change agent and external consultant.  For comments or additional information email Matt from the selection below.

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Contact Matt Starcevich, matt@coachingandmentoring
2001, Center for Coaching and Mentoring