Whereas in more traditional subject areas, it's usually experienced managers who pass on their knowledge to younger employees, with Web 2.0 and social media it's the other way round.
"Reverse mentoring" is when junior staff explain to experienced managers how to boost their success in business with wikis, blogs and Twitter.
"I would never have thought that Facebook would become such an important source of information for our customers," said Albert Henn. "Reverse mentoring meant I was able to make useful suggestions for the Telekom Shops: How can we use the existing Facebook pages of individual shops and employees to use them increasingly as a customer retention tool?" Albert Henn's actual role is HR Director of Telekom Shop Vertriebsgesellschaft, but at the moment he is also a "digital immigrant" who didn't grow up with Web 2.0 and social media. Alexander Derno, by contrast, grew up with them as a "digital native" and explains to him the benefits of Web 2.0.
Talking on an equal footing
Derno is one of around 25 young mentors involved in the reverse mentoring program. The 30-year-old works at Corporate Communications and is currently finishing off his second degree with a Master's. "I don't see the mentoring talks with managers as a training situation," says Derno. "It's more of a discussion on an equal footing to develop news ways of communicating with customers and employees." Albert Henn was so impressed with the exchange of ideas that he immediately brought in his management team - and wants to follow up the discussions so far with more to come.
Interest is constantly growing
"Reverse mentoring originally developed from an initiative at T-Systems," says Stephan Grabmeier, Head of Culture Initiatives at Deutsche Telekom, who is in charge of the program. "The Group Change & Culture Management unit introduced reverse monitoring throughout the Group in January 2010. Over 50 mentoring sessions were held within the first six months, from the Board of Management down to unit level. That led to social media training sessions with several hundred employees and a broad range of subjects."
Tailored to individual level of knowledge
The training takes the form of an intensive one-on-one talk, meaning dates and times can be agreed freely. Another advantage is that the sessions are divided up into three modules. That way, the participants can decide for themselves if they want to start out with the basics or move straight to setting up a project wiki of their own. Networking is also an important element of the mentoring community: "Twice a year all the participants meet up for a Reverse Mentoring Day to swap experiences, tip, tricks and news about the latest applications on the social web," says Alexander Derno. "We also use these meetings to attract new mentors and to increase awareness of what we offer."