Reverse Mentoring

Dr. Shikha Jain


BA (Hons), MA, PGDM, SET, PhD

Reverse Mentoring

“Reverse Mentoring”, a paradigm by Jack Welch has a distinctive value. In the '90s, recognizing the importance of internet edification for the company management, he directed that top executives be engaged with a reverse mentor, a junior/younger employee more adept at technology, social media and contemporary developments. On an analogous line of thought, this construct of reverse mentoring can be vital in crafting education environments as an interface between stakeholders with the objective of building sustainable learning communities.

Interacting with an alumnus during our annual curriculum revision meeting, made me recognize the value of reverse mentoring in academics. With his corporate insights on how structured learning requires a balance between concepts, application, and tools, a lot of problems that plague a complacent education system can be sorted out. Alumnus coming back on campus as mentors, not only to the current batch of students but to their faculty and the alma-mater in entirety is an idea worth visiting. Designed with and integrated within learning and development processes, this will bring elements that institutionalize experiential learning.

Academia-industry-institute-community interface is not new and myriad adaptations of it in various forms and practices exist. However, a major gap cited in contemporary education programs is the dissociation between academic learning and workplace requirements. An illustration of this is the creation of parallel machinery for the ambitious skill development program. It authenticates the insufficiency of the colossal university-based education network to roll out skilled workforce. Syllabus based, and exam-oriented classroom sessions may generate superbly qualified individuals but fail to take into account an individual’s natural strengths and preferred personal direction in congruence with learning goals.

Traditional mentoring formats within an academic set-up indicate relationships that are hierarchical. Mentoring is instructor-led, who assume advisory position by dint of seniority. This works well as faculty mentor steer the student mentee on the musings of the professional world in small groups or one-on-one interaction, in the process helping mentees charter their career path. Reverse mentoring requires expanding the scope where, at the outset, mentoring must be adopted in way which gives contemporary knowledge and skill a premium. Contemporary tech savvy business environment offers lucrative breeding grounds for reverse mentoring, provided the innate mental barrier associated with experienced seniors being coached by juniors is surmounted and formal structures pave way for systematic mentoring of this kind.

Reverse Mentoring calls upon academic learning environments and corporate practice to become actively porous to create gateways for each other in their routine operations. Create project assignments with definitive learning goals where diverse cross-section of alumni from the other domain can contribute. In the process, an educator trains continuously, acquiring an empathy on the necessary skills to be imparted to the future workforce within the existing university education set-up. To the corporate world, benefits accrue in the form of academic perspectives with methodical approach to solving problems at hand, research and ideation and creation of a workforce that is industry ready in content and real-world practice exposure.

The other advantage that reverse mentoring brings is that the mentoring pair, the alumni and their former educator, may keep switching roles. In the role of a mentor, they broaden each other’s perspectives, while giving each other inspiration and feedback on their work goals. In the mentee role, they work on setting learning goals. Each brainstorm where expertise can be found, resources can be acquired, role models can be found, best practices can be benchmarked. The outcome for the institution is perpetual evolution according to the dynamic business requirements, for the mentor-mentee is that there is support for growth personally and professionally in an integrated process.

Reverse mentoring maps an association format that connects the value of mentoring into a mutually-beneficial relationship, as each the educator and the alumni, alternate between being the mentor and the mentee. Much of the impact that mentoring draws is in terms of the accountability and inspiration, which is why both participants can descend into performing dual roles. Mutuality of reverse mentoring disrupts barriers, enabling for mentoring to cross over prejudices and generational biases.

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