Reverse mentoring unites 20-something employees with senior executives for a skills and knowledge swap. These days, the Gen Ys teach their Boomer big bosses how to maneuver around iPads, Facebook, and social media trends. In exchange, the junior employee gets face-time with their firm’s top brass and a view from the top (location of many C-suites).

I was in the aerospace division of GE back in the early 90s when Jack Welch introduced reverse mentoring – and it was brilliant. Top execs were assigned 20-something coaches –which gave these newly minted professionals real access! They could dial them directly—dodging the secretary interference, they could walk into their offices, they had regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings, and they even had lunch together. Rarely had this happened before.

Welch’s logic was to get his senior leaders, who were very reliant on their administrative assistants, to gain computer savvy. He wanted them to learn and use new work tools, like—at the time—email, and wean away their dependence on their others to send messages and print documents.

Guerilla skills development? You bet! But there’s much more to reverse mentoring. It can bolster morale and productivity—even and especially during challenging times. With today’s epic belt tightening and budget slicing, few companies can offer year-end bonuses and perks. But that shouldn’t stop the gift giving. Reverse mentoring offers the gift of an amazing experience that will keep on giving in profound ways.

Here’s how:

It will open up communication exchange like never before. In my firm’s research of under-30s in the workplace, the vast majority identify access and an opportunity to speak with executives and leaders of their company as characteristic of a great place to work. They want to work for managers who make the time to listen to them. Reverse mentoring gives them the perfect venue. Talk about a morale builder!

It will open up terrific educational and learning exchanges. All the answers to improving a company’s competitiveness don’t flow from corner offices. There are tremendous ideas brewing at lower levels. Through reverse mentoring, upper management gets to tap into them—a mentoring relationship that begins with exchanges about navigating social media can mature into discussions about creative uses of social media to recruit top talent or attract new customers.  

It will build relationships. You can conduct reverse mentoring in different way: vertically with in a department, whereby—for example, the vice president of marketing would be coached by a younger hire four levels removed in the marketing department. Another approach is horizontal or cross-department, whereby that vice president of marketing would team up with a 20-something from Finance or Procurement. Both approaches work. The horizontal reverse mentoring, however, delivers the added benefit of widening the business perspective of that younger hire which, in turn, can lead to expanded career opportunities—as they realize their skills and interests transfer into other parts of the business than where they were originally hired. That’s a huge perk because that younger hire is less likely to leave the company to find a new job or promotion – they are going to find one within the company. That’s dynamic retention!

Linda Dulye is internationally-recognized for helping many companies go spectator free. A former communications leader for GE and Allied Signal, Linda founded Dulye & Co.   in 1998 with a practical, process-driven approach for improving communications and collaboration through an engaged workforce— a formidable competitive advantage, that she calls a Spectator-Free Workplace™.