Reverse Mentoring: What If I Told You That You Could Mentor Your CEO?


Things are moving quickly, extremely quickly. On the surface the explosion of Social Media, Artificial Intelligence, Digital Marketing and Streaming Services has transformed the way we do things, and there’s no sign of that stopping. We’ve grown up with these technologies and embraced them, to the point where using them is second nature. However for senior management it can often be an alien world and even a struggle to fully leverage their benefits or integrate them into strategy. This is where reverse mentoring comes into play! Here I’ll go into the benefits then look at some good examples in Hong Kong of Reverse Mentoring in action.

What are the real benefits?

Learn about the future, today

As people move up the corporate ladder it’s common to lose touch with new or emerging technologies. However they can learn from younger digitally native employees who have grown up not only with evolving technologies but the sharing culture that came with them. Trends and behaviours effect all industries, so it’s highly beneficially when decisions makers provide a platform to listen to more junior members of staff to understand how these trends can be used to influence strategy.

Improved perspectives & expanded horizons

Pairing junior and senior employees, often from different parts of the organisation has been shown to improve the awareness and perspective of both parties, as they learn how to communicate more effectively with colleagues at different stages of their careers. And whilst it’s primarily the mentor’s role to share knowledge with the older mentee, the younger employee also benefits as they can learn key leadership skills and feel rewarded for helping shape the future of a business leader.

A visible break from routine

Reverse mentoring tends to be more relaxed than traditional mentoring, giving busy mentors and mentees a break from the norm. It gives your typical executive an injection of inspiration and a spark of energy to apply what they’ve learned, whilst boosting the visibility of the mentee, raising their professional profile ahead of their peers which leads to improved morale and productivity.

This Sounds Great, But Does Anyone Actually Do it?

Whilst reverse mentoring is still a new concept, we found that the A.S. Watson Group has been successfully using it for almost a year. If you’re not familiar with A.S. Watson, they’re the world’s largest health and beauty retailer based here in Hong Kong. They decided to tailor their reverse mentoring programme to equip management with updated market knowledge.

As the first mentee of the programme, Managing Director Dominic Lai believes it’s imperative to keep up with the market, commenting “My mentor Grace introduced different social media tools and user habits to me, I definitely recommend the programme to other managers”. Dominic also points out that once he entered the room, he was just a student and there were no bosses or employees, commenting “The most important thing is to listen and be open minded, don’t be afraid of asking questions and don’t try and hide your ignorance”.

His mentor Grace, a Digital Marketing Specialist in the eLab Commercial Team, was excited to take the challenge of mentoring a Managing Director.

"I still remember how excited I was leading up to our first mentoring session because I obviously wanted to make a good impression with the most senior person in the Group. How should I prepare myself to be a reverse mentor and what exactly should I be sharing? After all, I would have imagined Dominic had other priorities rather than learning about social media, which is a key part of our lives as millennials but might not be as interesting to others."

When asked about the benefits, Grace highlighted that “frequent direct exchanges with a member of top management” gave her a real personal development opportunity, where she now understands how to be an effective leader and the importance of having a long-term vision (even in our daily work).

workinghours Grace and Dominic taking selfie after a mentoring session.

Why Aren’t More Businesses Adopting Reverse Mentoring?

The short answer is that they’re probably not aware of it yet. E-commerce alone has seen exponential growth globally, generating USD$2.29 trillion in global sales in 2017. Leveraging trends and identifying digitisation opportunities has become imperative if you want to remain competitive.

A.S. Watson identified that reverse mentoring can create a competitive advantage and formed an eLab of 20 people to focus on implementing innovative features to facilitate online sales. According to its Technology Director Andrew Ma, eLab is expanding and are currently focussed on technologies such augmented reality and A.I. driven chatbots to improve customers online shopping experience. If you’re interested in being part of eLab’s growth, you can check out their jobs here.

The bottom line

Reverse mentoring is an excellent tool to keep not only your management team, but entire organisation relevant and competitive. Most importantly it offers a great way to develop future leaders and younger talent within the organisation. If your company isn’t doing it yet, you should definitely suggest it.

If you want to understand more about what it's like to work for A.S. Watson and apply for their jobs, you can check out their culture, office, interview tips and employee testimonials on A.S. Watson’s Vanna profile, right alongside their open job opportunities.

>> A.S. Watson's Company Profile

>> A.S. Watson's Company Jobs

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