Stories

Michele Rapp

Two-way Learning: How Reverse Mentoring is Shaping Company Culture

Until recently, reverse mentoring was seen as a way for younger employees to help senior managers become more technologically savvy. Today, reverse mentoring programs include shared learning among employees of different backgrounds. Now popular in many companies, including Paypal, Deutsche Bank, Target, PwC, Procter & Gamble, Mastercard, Cisco Systems, and Mars, Inc., reverse mentoring has increasingly shown to improve organizational learning, diversity awareness, retention of millennials, and communication across levels in the organization.

Akshay Kaushik, E‘18 , is a business analyst at State Street. He is also a Gordon Fellow in Engineering Leadership at Northeastern, and is currently pursuing a masters degree in Data Analytics Engineering. Kaushik stumbled into the world of reverse mentoring while working with his mentor at State Street, and realized the immense benefits of this two-way exchange. He decided to formalize a mentoring program at his company. We spoke with him to share his experience of launching the program.

Why did you decide to start a reverse mentoring program at State Street, and how did you do it?

As a new employee, my mentor, Zachary Gruver from our market risk team, encouraged me to connect with senior managers and executives, build relationships, and get a feel for the company. Over the next three months, I informally met about 25 managers and learned something new each time. I documented every meeting, and discussed key talking points with my mentor. I was surprised at how frequently my mentor would say, “Oh, I didn’t know that.”

Eventually, my mentor copied his team and managing director in an email, highlighting how much he had learned from me. I started to see that even as a newer member of the team, I could make an impact. In turn, the mentoring relationship played a critical part in getting me promoted within three months.

I did not know this exchange of learning was called “reverse mentoring” until I came across it in a Forbes magazine article. I learned that there were many corporate reverse mentoring initiatives, and I wanted to launch one at State Street. My mentor connected me with colleagues at the rotational program at State Street for recent graduates/young professionals. After a few conversations, we decided to start a reverse mentoring program called “NextGen.” Our goal was to facilitate knowledge sharing, expand our external footprint, collaborate with other networks, and widen access to resources. We held a host of exciting events, which included sessions on cryptocurrencies, mentoring and reverse mentoring, machine learning, virtual reality, coding, and a startup beta tester program.

At that time, I was also preparing to enroll in the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program at Northeastern, and saw this as a great opportunity to grow as a leader.

Tell us more about how the NextGen program worked?

We launched a small pilot, and to our surprise, saw more than 60 mentor and mentee applications! The first challenge was to set up the right mentor-mentee pairs. For example, I saw that more entry-level people wanted to “mentor” a senior person. Once the pairs were matched, we recommended participants to connect with each other, and at the end of the three-month cycle, share their experience.

What was the impact of the program for both the mentors and mentees?

From a mentee’s perspective, I can say the initiative had a significant impact and I learned a lot. Over the year, from a shy and quiet person, I grew as a leader, became more confident, and improved my public speaking. Based on the feedback we received, other participants had similar experiences. We built a community of flexible, curious, tech-savvy future leaders who aimed to stay up-to-date with the latest trends in the industry.

We continue to make changes and improve the experience of all involved. Through this program, we are also hoping to address some of the issues and challenges around millennials and management, and create a more collaborative work environment.

Michele Rapp is the, Associate Director, Alumni Career Strategy, at the Office of Alumni Relations at Northeastern. She organizes career programs, conducts career workshops and webinars, and provides counsel on career strategy. If you’re seeking career advice, contact Michele at m.rapp@northeastern.edu