Reverse Mentoring: Millennials teach old dogs new tricks

Former Pershing CEO Ron DeCicco (left) poses with his mentor Sean Halayko (right) and JamiLynn Cimino (center).

Gerry Tamburro, then managing director of Pershing, spent a lot of time in roundtable discussions with corporate executives. But one day at work Tamburro looked at the faces of Pershing’s executive committee and recognized that something needed to be done to engage the millennial generation at Pershing. He reached out to Pershing millennials JamiLynn Cimino and Kayla Flaten to brainstorm ideas.

The result: a reverse mentoring program where millennials mentor company executives at Pershing. This atypical, forward-thinking approach created a company culture that fosters big picture knowledge and team-oriented choices within the firm.

When Tamburro pioneered Pershing’s program in 2012, reverse mentoring was not a new concept. General Electric executive Jack Welch coined the term “reverse mentor” in 1999. Back then it began as a way for GE employees to learn the mysterious ways of the Internet, but today it encompasses much more.

By 2012, the millennial had become more than just Google searches and texting lingo. Millennials today are a social phenomenon at the forefront of U.S. media. Society is infatuated with them, and ProMazo writer Alyssa Stolmack pointed out the humor behind this “millennial takeover” with a piece showcasing some ridiculous headlines that reflect this craze. But regardless of your opinion on this generation, the fact is that they make up a large chunk of the work force, and they will eventually be in charge of U.S. businesses.

In 2014, Deloitte completed its third annual Millennial Survey in order to best identify what this generation wants from its workplace: the workplace of the future. Millennials want their work experiences to “foster innovative thinking, develop their skills and make a positive contribution to society.”

Karen Novak, COO Pershing Advisor Solutions) and her mentor Vincent Schaffer communicate through video conference.

When Tamburro, Cimino and Flaten first pitched their approach to Pershing, then CEO Ron DeCicco had worked at the firm for 42 years. Cimino said the company culture at Pershing fosters long-term employee retention, and having a group of relatively new employees participating in discussions with senior level executives was an unfamiliar concept.

But nonetheless, the idea was very well received.

“Whenever we talk about the program we always say that we had an amazing support system from the top of the house,” Cimino said. “[Gerry] was our voice at the top of the house, but once he proposed this idea to our CEO and COO at the time they were instantaneously bought in.”

And so the program was born. Called Connect, it became a true millennial collaboration program that did more than just mentoring. According to Cimino, the “overall objective of the program is to leverage generation-wide talent to help shape the future direction of the firm and position Pershing for success.”

When the program was rolled out, they anticipated spending a lot of time focused on technology, but Cimino said technology is something the group spends the least amount of time on. While at the beginning millennials did provide their mentees with assistance on updating their LinkedIn profiles and educating them on best practices on the company’s internal social media platform — My Source Social, — topics like leadership and management are a bigger focus of the program.

“I would really say the bulk of the discussion is on topics that you probably wouldn’t expect, and that’s been things like leadership, it’s things like management,” Cimino said. “It’s things like: ‘Hey, we sent out this firm-wide communication on our strategy for 2016. What do you guys think? What does that mean to you working in the business on the ground?’”

By recognizing the power in these conversations, Connect became a program that is helping make Pershing’s company more collaborative across departments and position levels.

In order for Connect to truly achieve its purpose, the program requires participants to collaborate beyond just the mentoring conversations. For example, Cimino and Flaten lead two meetings per month with all the millennials to discuss their progress. Additionally, group members share stories and ideas for mentoring, as well as discuss Pershing business decisions and share perspectives.

Selfie taken at a client event that hosted both millennials in Connect and millennials within Pershing’s client base.

The idea is that the mentees are not only hearing the opinions of the participants in the program, but instead, getting a bigger, fuller perspective as to what the majority of millennials at the office think. This approach, in return, helps millennials be even more successful mentors because they can express knowledge beyond their singular perspectives.

This progress is why executives at Bank of New York Mellon, which has owned Pershing since 2003, asked Cimino and Flaten to implement a program there. It’s a lot more challenging to create a mentoring program at a company with over 50,000 employees, but the synergies are ultimately the same.

The challenges Cimino and Flaten face running these programs are the same as well. They’ve found the most difficult part is making millennials confident in their abilities to mentor senior level people.

By making the program so interactive, they are able to discuss ideas with millennials throughout the entire process. These discussions give millennials a unique attitude of confidence and humility.

“The number one thing [we say] to all millennials is to make sure they add value every single time they sit down with their senior executives,” Cimino said. “The one constant theme has been: Am I giving enough? Am I adding value? I need to come up with new ideas. I need to come up with a new concept.”

*All photos are courtesy of JamiLynn Cimino.

Madison Rossi is a journalist who writes about human culture and the people who change it. Check out what she and other ProMazo writers are doing to disrupt the current job recruiting model here, and follow her on LinkedIn and Medium.