REVERSE MENTORING: Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

When I was breaking in as a junior AE, I was lucky to have had several great mentors, older colleagues who taught me some of the finer points of the ad business. Their mentoring covered everything from nuances of business basics that’d I’d learned about as an undergrad, to things they simply don’t cover in college – like handling difficult clients, balky creatives and overly tight deadlines. It was a huge help.

As my career progressed, I was happy to return the favor and “pay it forward” by mentoring younger employees, a practice that B+L and other agencies I worked at definitely encouraged.

Mentoring is still an important part of the B+L culture today, but there is one aspect of it that has changed: it is no longer just a top-down, senior exec-to-junior exec function. In fact, I regularly rely on some of our younger employees to get me up to speed on what’s currently hot in things like fashion, music—and, of course, technology.

Let’s face it, the rise of the Internet and social media has caused more upheaval in the ad business than probably anything since the introduction of television. (No, I wasn’t in the business then, but you get the analogy.) While agency presidents are typically more concerned with big-picture strategy and business development than uncovering the latest tech fad, I can’t name one who isn’t trying to quickly get as tech- and social media-savvy as they can—and for that I lean on our younger employees. The Wall Street Journal calls this reverse mentoring. I just call it smart.

Some of the technologies we are currently evaluating and implementing (and I am quickly getting up to speed on) include:

• Twitter
• Facebook
• LinkedIn
• Instagram
• Shazam
• Spotify
• Tout
• Pinterest
• Augmented reality app’s
• Mobile site compatibility

In my opinion, reverse mentoring is simply smart human resources management. Everyone has a potentially unique area of expertise, so why not tap into it? Reverse mentoring also has a great effect on company morale, as it helps build relationships across age and seniority boundaries and gives younger employees a sense of empowerment. And, most importantly, it benefits our clients.

Is reverse mentoring a part of your office culture too? If not, I recommend you consider it. After all, old dogs CAN learn new tricks!