Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Reverse Mentoring and Associations

Guest Blog By Maddie Grant, SocialFish
Two months ago, I wrote an article detailing what I perceived (and still perceive) as some of the most pressing failures of contemporary association recruiting tactics. You can read the entire article if you haven’t already, but I’d like to return to my suggestions for improvement near the end of the article.
But first, a very short introduction to the logical development of this thought:

I was listening to the Social Pros Podcast and they had on as a guest Maria Ogneva, the director of community over at Yammer. She had made mention of some of her Yammer clients using reverse mentorship to help to close the gap between the pre digital-native approach to the utilization (or lack thereof) of social media and the digital natives’ approach to social media. This idea on its own may not seem ground-breaking. Generations learning from each other is not a novel concept. In fact, you can find a whole article on TV Tropes about the battle and reconciliation between the good old ways and the new ways. It’s almost trite. So, is reverse mentorship ground-breaking?  Smart, absolutely. Timely, well yeah. Groundbreaking? The potential for it to be groundbreaking for your association is worthy of exploration.
Somewhere between my snarky quips and seduction innuendos I attempted to reproduce the perspective of a “new recruit” and actions that would make me feel welcome to an association.
3.) Make me feel valuable and appreciated: … I represent the future of our field. I will be the one with access to new members of the field – I’ll be your champion! How do you make me feel valuable and appreciated? Introduce me to people, show me the conversations happening – let me get involved. Don’t woo me and leave me to figure it out for myself (I would have done that anyway and not had to pay anyone!). Give me a place where my opinions are appreciated; I may not have experience, but I have a fresh perspective.
One of the tactics that would help decrease the feeling of being thrown into the deep end for a new member would be assigning that person to a mentor. While the organization might be willing to listen and appreciate my opinions… what is the likelihood of my opinion being heard – especially in a larger organization? If I have the ear of an older member – it indicates to me that I might have an amplifier of sorts for my voice. That’s not all! I will also have someone off of whom I can bounce ideas. When my voice is amplified, the message being made loud won’t sound… you know, naive.
But wait… there’s more… if I, the new member, have direct access to someone who is personally invested in my professional development and my development as a member of the association – it stands to reason that they’d be teaching me some tricks of the trade; they are a mentor, after all. Since that learning channel is open, can we not send signals both ways? Alright – so it’s clear where I’m going; reverse mentorship is self-explanatory, right? It’s easy for a mentor to take a “I always have to be teaching” role. It’s also easy for the new member being mentored to feel like they have to always be learning – sometimes they forget that they also have the ability to teach.
Being open to this concept is one thing, and the first step. The next step is making it an actual program. That is… turning something that perhaps went unspoken (“sure, it’s ok to learn from new members”) into an active goal. Give new members opportunities to teach – give them a problem that the association faces like, ohhh I don’t know… “recruiting via social media”… and see what they come up with. Learn from the process. Learn about the technology, let them teach you – and then, use that amplification. Teach the association.
The idea probably seems… simple, obvious when it’s written out. It really is. The “hard” part is taking the time to give a rat’s ass. The “hard” part is not being condescending. The “hard” part is being humble. You should always be learning. These new ideas and the people having them shouldn’t be a threat – they are an asset. When you start allowing, encouraging, and implementing a two-way learning system – everybody only stands to benefit.
And… it makes me, your brand new member – the future of our field, feel valuable and appreciated.


  1. Maddie, your post struck a chord with me thinking about a question that is often asked by those considering offering the peer conferences I've been running for 20+ years now. People ask "Why would the veterans/'top people' come to this conference where the format provides everyone, at least initially, an equal voice?"

    I tell them that the smart veterans in the field, the ones you want to attend, are the ones who don't assume that the new folks have little of value to offer. Peer conferences don't make initial assumptions about what an attendee might have to offer others—and there are wonderful surprises when valuable knowledge and experience are uncovered and shared, often from first-timers, that no one knew about.

    Providing an environment for the kind of two-way learning you describe pays rich dividends.

  2. Thanks for adding your thoughts Adrian!