Target, United Healthcare Tap Millennials To “Mentor” Veteran Workers

It’s not uncommon when starting a new job to be assigned a mentor to help you learn the ropes. But when it comes to reaching and selling to the highly-coveted millennial market, the roles are being reversed.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Target and United Healthcare are among a slew of companies that are leaning on younger employees to keep veteran workers knowledgeable about technology, social media, and other evolving aspects of the marketplace in order to better engage and reach consumers.

This so-called “reverse mentorship” is gaining steam with U.S. companies as the workplace has shifted to younger employees.

At United Healthcare, reverse mentoring began this summer when the company paired eight senior executives in the insurance division with eight “emerging leaders” from the millennial generation.

“For many of our leaders — outstanding thought leaders in their own right — their connection to the millennial generation is largely through their parenting skills,” Pete Church, vice president of human capital at United Healthcare, tells the Star Tribune. “This becomes a fundamentally different kind of experience.”

Through the program, United Healthcare is hoping to increase innovation and help long-term employees see the business with fresh eyes.

“We’re switching roles because we have this business problem we’re trying to solve,” Church said.

This fresh perspective is also at work at Target, where the company has used reverse mentorship in working with young tech-savvy entrepreneurs.

“The world is changing so fast,” Julie Guggemos, senior vice president of product design and development at Target Corp., tells the Star Tribune. “We have to learn to adapt and lead or we’ll fall behind.”

While the concept is catching on and providing needed insight to companies — although it’s unclear what that insight is —  it’s apparently not as easy as sitting a group of younger and older workers down at a table, Sanghamitra Chaudhuri, a University of Minnesota professor who has researched reverse mentoring, tells the Star Tribune.

Instead, she says the idea should be tied to a strong business need as the concept relies on a larger cultural shift.

“If you’re just getting on the bandwagon as the latest fad, it’s not going to work,” she said. “One of the hurdles is that you have to change the mindset. It can be unnerving for the senior member of the organization to embrace the idea that you can actually learn from somebody younger.”

Target, UnitedHealth and other companies turning to ‘reverse mentoring’ to tap millennials’ knowledge [Minneapolis Star Tribune]