Picking the right millennial mentors is also extremely important to a program's success. Candidates should be mature enough to recognize they are dealing with a busy executive; they should be mindful of the senior person's schedule and come to the mentoring sessions well prepared, notes GE's Rao. "You can't just talk your way through it," he says. "These are experienced leaders, and if they think the mentor is wasting their time, they won't pay attention to them."
Mentors also need to be patient and respectful of the differences between generations. "The mentor needs to be able to give answers in a way that's not disrespectful or demeaning," Petrin says. "They also need to be respectful of how older people learn and communicate — while the younger generation prefers digital communication, older people might be more comfortable picking up the phone and having a conversation."
Reverse mentoring begins with understanding who your mentee is and what he or she is interested in learning, says Chris Pethan, one of the millennial mentors for GE Digital Energy recruited out of the ITLP program. Just like any relationship, chemistry is also key to success, he says.
Pethan, now a 26-year-old IT program manager in the Digital Energy division, was assigned to reverse-mentor two IT leaders in the last four years; one relationship is ongoing while the other fizzled over time.
In the successful relationship, Pethan meets once a month with John McDonald, the regulatory, requirements and standards Leader for Digital Energy. The two discuss topics suggested by Pethan as well as those specified by McDonald, including how to leverage mobile apps and communicate effectively using company blogging tools. With the second arrangement, the mentee was located in China, and the remote setup made it hard to build a similar rapport.
"For the one that worked out well, we are in the same building and we meet face to face so I can show him things in person," Pethan explains. "With the other one, we were never able to connect very well."
While mentoring a top-level executive can be intimidating, he says, there is definitely a payoff. Pethan now has a relationship with an executive, with whom he can freely discuss career strategies and get advice on how to handle specific situations.
It's a similar story for Aaron Chiles, 26, a project manager at Cisco and one of Perry's original reverse mentors. When showing Perry the ropes on how to use Twitter, Chiles picked up some new knowledge of his own. The Cisco VP made it clear he couldn't tweet about anything financially related and was very specific about what he would and wouldn't retweet, Chiles says.