Reverse mentoring is the concept of an older, experienced colleague partnering with a younger person and listening to their point of view in an open minded manner. The younger person finds a mentor and a guide through early career twists and turns. The older person learns from the different skill sets and the beliefs of a different generation. The value to both parties is deep, as they are both making themselves vulnerable and having authentic conversations. 

In our industry the best known example is Mark Tibergien, who earlier this year stepped down as the CEO of Pershing Advisor Services. He wrote about how Pershing had created a reverse mentoring program, and the benefits that the senior management team had gained. In the article he lays out the rules to make the experience safe and effective for both parties.

The Harvard Business Review detailed his experience, along with other examples, and then outlined the broader benefits of reverse mentoring. Some of their key findings were:

  • It increases retention of younger people in a firm
  • It transfers digital skills to the older generation
  • It can help cultural change
  • It can promote diversity

This is a good return for little investment. I would also highlight that a better term is two-way mentoring as both parties clearly benefit. But that is not nearly as catchy a title as reverse mentoring!

In this blog post we will investigate how reverse (two-way) mentoring can be used effectively by advisors in different situations.

Study groups

Last week I was involved in a study group of advisors who had been talking to each other for many years. The group knew each other well, enjoyed each other and were very open with their experience and the areas that they wanted advice. As we talked about a range of topics, it struck me that the mentoring aspects of the group were what the advisors enjoyed the most. The more established advisors talked specifics about succession plans, and client engagement. The younger advisors talked more about technology and newer ways of marketing. Everyone was very engaged and everyone was learning new things.

Study groups are also one of the best ways to find a successor for a firm. If you have already built a bond in a group and have both given and received advice, you have built trust, which is a great basis for building a business continuity plan and then a succession plan.

As you can see, a good study group is built on both conventional and reverse mentoring concepts. It has:

  • Both smaller and larger firms
  • Younger and older advisors
  • Advisors who are aligned by values
  • Advisors who like each other

The added advantage is that a study group pulls you out of the day to day, and pushes you to learn and think strategically for a few hours.

Improving a growing firm

The next example is thinking of two-way mentorship as a way to improve a growing advisor firm. This is a more subtle one. Typically an advisor firm has been built around the charisma, drive and entrepreneurship of a first-generation advisor. Often a Type A personality, the first generation advisor will typically be conflicted over the value of reverse mentorship. After all, the advisor built the firm from the ground up. How will anyone who wasn’t around for that ride have better ideas? This attitude young girl teacher in front of blackboardcan be a big brake on the growth and culture of a firm.

Everhart Advisors based in Columbus, Ohio, is a firm that has built a culture of mentoring and learning from everyone on the team. Scott Everhart is the Founder, CEO and President of the firm that he founded in 1995. Since then his firm has grown into a significant regional presence with a wealth management AUM of $680M and advising retirement plans with assets of around $1.7B.

One thing that distinguishes the firm is the way that mentoring is built into its fabric. This shows through in many ways. For instance Scott looks outside the firm for guidance and has integrated the coaching of Tim Kight into Everhart’s way of tackling problems. The firm also has a personal mentor in Jeff Wilkins, the first CEO of CompuServe, who works with the management team, and is constant presence at the firm.

The management team is dynamic and questioning. It has evolved over the years, but consistently has a diversity of skills and age. I asked first Scott and then one of the newer, younger partners, Logan Jones, what this looked like from the two vantage points. 

Scott’s key points:

  • Scale: one of the only ways to create scale is to have younger people who are accountable for parts of the company
  • Focus: Scott focuses on the strategy of the company and the larger clients, while knowing the rest of the work will be done.
  • Intern program: a great way to try young people out and see if there is a good match. If someone has been with you from the start there are few surprises on either side.
  • Technology: the younger generation is adept at technology and if given responsibility, they infuse that knowledge into the company.
  • Broad training: two other advisors, Matt Romeo and Brian Hanna, who are now senior partners have done nearly every job in the firm. This spreads the knowledge and the leadership around the firm.

Logan’s key points:

  • Best ideas: it does not matter who the idea comes from, if it is a good idea it will be acted upon.
  • Open space: an open space environment allows the younger members of the firm to see everything that is going on. They learn almost by osmosis.
  • Delegation: with younger management team members being delegated responsibility, it allows ownership and fulfillment.
  • Access: by being brought into the management meetings as a young partner you see how decisions are made and can influence them.
  • Partnership track: partnership was given earlier than at most other companies. This is an affirmation and a motivator.

You can see that an openness to good ideas, wherever they come, from is one reason for Everhart’s success.

Embrace different types of mentoring

Today, there are many ways to define mentoring. The old thinking — where mentoring is a top-down approach — is shifting. Look for mentoring from whomever has the knowledge and with whom you have a trusted bond. For young advisors, look outside your firm. For more experienced advisors, look outside as well as inside your firm at the young up-and-coming talent (you chose them after all!) The most important thing is to embrace the different forms of mentoring with an open mind.

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Legal Note

Mark Tibergien, Scott Everhart, Everhart Advisors, Jeff Wilkins, Logan Jones, Matt Romeo and Brian Hanna are not affiliated with SEI or its subsidiaries.

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