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Reverse Mentorship – Why It Works

With the growing number of millennial employees in the workforce, it is important for today’s senior leaders to understand more about this generation. What motivates and inspires them? How do you best lead someone from a generation that is different from your own? These questions and trends stemmed the idea for GM Financial’s Reverse Mentorship pilot program, which launched in early 2020.

“To remain effective as leaders, we have to continuously evolve our style, our learning agility and our ability to respond to what’s in front of us,” said Shunda Robinson, Global Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. “Millennials are the majority in the workforce right now; they are our future leaders. If we want to be confident in their ability to lead our organization in the future, the work starts now.”

The reverse mentorship pilot is one of several initiatives within GM Financial’s larger Diversity, Equity & Inclusion program, which educates and advocates for equity in the workplace. The pilot included 10 senior leaders from different departments within the company who were each matched with their own “millennial mentor.” The mentors were also from different departments in an effort for the pairs to have contrasting backgrounds and experiences.

By putting the senior leaders in a “mentee” role, this allowed them to be more vulnerable and discuss a wide range of topics with their mentor, including the issue of ageism in the workplace. By having these open and honest conversations, participants were able to discuss the biases that come with different generations and why it is important to understand unique perspectives and backgrounds.

“My previous experience with mentor programs have involved me serving as the mentor,” said Steve Cung, Vice President Credit Risk Analytics. “The reverse mentorship program allowed me to drive the conversations and ask for guidance on the challenges I was facing. As a leader, it was refreshing to switch roles and ask for feedback rather than give feedback.”

The importance of open dialogue

The pilot program started an important conversation between different generations. It allowed for the participating senior leaders to open up, ask questions and gain a better understanding of how to best lead their millennial employees.

Program participants agreed 100% that the reverse mentorship pilot was effective. Throughout the six-month program, mentors and mentees discussed topics such as workplace motivators, technology at work, and diversity, equity and inclusion. Some participants even discovered they had more in common with their mentor/mentee than they initially thought.

Many of the millennial mentor participants also shared that they enjoyed having the opportunity to have open dialogue with a senior leader at the company who they may have never had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

“This program revealed the value of open lines of communication between team members of all levels,” said Michaela Bradshaw, Customer Experience Strategic Programs Manager. “The relationships cultivated through this program increased my trust in senior leadership, my awareness of the efforts required to continuously advance the organization, and my confidence as an emerging leader.”

Taylor Crabtree
By Taylor Crabtree, GM Financial

Taylor Crabtree likes to focus her writing talents on community engagement efforts. On the weekends, you’ll probably find her outside playing tennis or taking her Newfoundland for a car ride.

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