In ancient cultures, relying on oral traditions was often the only way to transmit values, beliefs and history to the next generation. In this construct, the elders acted as mentors to the younger people.

For today’s business leaders today, this ancient mentorship method can be flipped around to create an oral future instead of oral history.

By intentionally creating a mentorship program in which you listen to younger team members, instead of attempting to shepherd them, you can gain ideas and insights to help you better prepare for the future.

Here’s what a reverse mentorship program can look like for financial advisors.

Defining the Program

The basic concept of reverse mentorship has been well-defined in business circles for decades, and was popularized by Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric. From a business standpoint, the focus of reverse mentoring is to keep older employees younger and fresher from a technology or societal standpoint.

Gen Y or Z employees can help baby boomers understand their perspective and even provide an education about how wider societal changes — for example, how relationships are now built online rather than through face-to-face communication — may shift the next generation’s perception of how they’ll receive financial advice.

A reverse mentorship program creates a framework and structure within an organization where ideas can flow from the bottom up, instead of always coming from the top down.

Benefits of the Program

Implementing a reverse mentorship program has many benefits, but there are five that every firm can realize, regardless of size:

  • Avoid “group think” that can occur within an organization which has leadership that is too similar in gender, work experience, and stage of life.
  • Empower younger employees to develop leadership skills and relationships with senior management.
  • Remove inter-generational barriers and improve communication throughout a firm.
  • Enhance firm culture and limit employee turnover.
  • Give a firm’s leader the ability to act like an “undercover boss” and understand the sentiments and feelings of employees at the ground level.

Benefits extend to a personal level as well. As each reverse mentorship relationship develops, it often can transcend its original purpose. The program can morph into “give and take” on both sides and end up benefiting the mentor as much as the mentee.

Implementing a Program

What are the risks of implementing a program? The only risks associated with a reverse mentorship program are those created by a firm that doesn’t put in the proper planning to create a structured environment.

The leaders in a firm — the mentees, in this situation — need to come in with a humble attitude and be willing to be mentored. This can be difficult for executives who have built their own firm over multiple decades.

Like anything else, though, a firm must define its program to monitor its success. A reverse mentorship program requires a commitment of not only openness, but time as well.

Advisors should set a frequency for meeting once a month for six to 12 months, at a minimum.

Each participant needs to come prepared, but it is especially important for the mentee to write down questions they want to cover before a meeting begins. The more productive each meeting is for both parties, the easier it becomes to keep scheduled meetings and see the program through to its conclusion.

Chance for Change

A reverse mentorship definitely is a change from what we consider  “normal operating procedure” in a traditional financial advisory business. And to be an innovative and growing company, advisors need to be open to these type of new ideas.

Implementing this type of program has the ability to enhance a business as it grows, and if nothing else, it can provide the ability for additional engagement between generations of team members. That benefit is reason enough to give it a try.

Jarrod Upton, MBA, MS, CFP® is Chief Operations and Senior Consultant at Herbers & Company, an independent growth consultancy for financial advisory firms. He can be reached at jarrod.upton@herbersco.com.