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Matthew Dobbin (left) mentored Rodney Bergman (right) in 2009, as part of an in-house program run by Accenture that pairs tech savvy younger employees with senior employees. (Ryan Enn Hughes/The Globe and Mail)
Matthew Dobbin (left) mentored Rodney Bergman (right) in 2009, as part of an in-house program run by Accenture that pairs tech savvy younger employees with senior employees. (Ryan Enn Hughes/The Globe and Mail)

Guest Column

‘Reverse mentoring’ gives Gen Y workers boost of confidence Add to ...

Millennials will dominate nearly 75 per cent of the work force in Canada by 2028, according to recent estimates.

Generation Y is entering the world of business as a digitally literate group, craving feedback and prepared to challenge traditional ways. As the landscape begins to shift, baby boomers are harnessing the fresh perspective of tomorrow’s business leaders. This trend has become known as “reverse mentoring,” in which a younger individual mentors an older one in areas such as emerging technology and social media trends, offering valuable business insight.

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While some companies have created formal reverse-mentoring programs, these relationships often evolve organically. This sharing of skills can build respect between generations and empower both parties.

When Vancouver entrepreneur Deborah Richardson started her fashion-retail business, Velvet Room Boutique, which operated in Kerrisdale for six years, she had no idea how social media could leverage a business. A younger intern, Vanessa Lewis, had a strong background in digital tools and walked Ms. Richardson through the ins and outs of using Twitter and Facebook, completely changing the entrepreneur’s perspective on marketing her business.

“If not for Vanessa my business would have probably been three years behind,” Ms. Richardson says. “I’ve since moved on to open a new business, Think Partner Coaching, but the guidance and direction I had received from her – and continue to receive to this day – is what keeps my business current and is why I believe I am able to really relate with my clients. It’s not just about being tech savvy but also valuing the change in perspective and working with a wider base of knowledge.”

For Shauna Harper, a digital marketing strategist and founder of Live Work PG in Prince George, being a mentor to new entrepreneur Kaleena Ross of Ikspres Media had the unexpected benefit of pushing Ms. Harper ahead as a business owner.

“From the outside, it is often assumed that mentorship is about youth who want business experience, and about telling them what to do,” Ms. Harper says. “In reality, people of any age can be mentored. It is less about telling someone what to do and more about empowering the mentee to make their own decisions. Mentoring is two way. The mentor learns from the mentee about what is new and fresh so that they are not left behind.”

Reverse mentoring is just one way small-business owners use mentorship to strengthen their business. There are also many peer mentor programs and traditional one-on-one mentor programs available, through which entrepreneurs can find business guidance. The challenge is making them aware of the many options. In B.C., more than 80 per cent of small-business owners are not confident of their awareness of available mentor programs, according to a recent survey by MentorshipBC.

Launched in November, MentorshipBC is an online resource designed to provide B.C. small-business owners with access to the wealth of mentor programs available across the province. Entrepreneurs looking for mentorship can search a database of programs. There are also mentoring success stories, links to business resources and a blog.

No matter what the mentor relationship, there are a few guidelines to help both mentor and mentee:

Be clear about your objectives

Try to define what you want to get from a mentor. Are you looking for general business advice, such as leadership, strategy or planning? Perhaps you need advice in a new area that requires a specific skill set. For example, an SEO challenge may guide you toward a mentor with a digital or web-based background. An accounting issue would lead you to someone with a background in finance.

Define your relationship

Successful mentorships usually involve a formal structure. This includes outlining how often you will meet, how you will communicate, how long the mentorship will last and the role of both mentor and mentee. By agreeing on these details in advance, you can focus more easily on building your business – and not managing a relationship.

Be willing to learn

Are you prepared to be held accountable to the goals you share? Committing to following through on goals and accepting feedback will pave the way for a successful mentorship relationship.

Be prepared to step outside your comfort zone

A mentor can help push you to achieve goals and think in new ways. Be open to trying new things that may seem daunting to you. Trust your mentor’s experience and expertise.

Be prepared to teach

Almost all mentors report that they learn a lot from the people they mentor. Be generous with your knowledge – you never know when a reverse mentoring opportunity may arise.

Ultimately, whether the relationship begins as reverse mentoring or traditional mentoring, mentorship is a two-way street where both parties can learn from one another.

Dawn Wood is programs manager of the B.C. Innovation Council (BCIC), which encourages the development and application of advanced or innovative technologies to meet the needs of industry in the province.

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