Podcast Transcript: Tech Impaired? Pair-Up with a Younger Mentor

Career Corner is a program produced by the Minnesota Radio Talking Book Network, part of State Services for the Blind. And it is recorded for people who are blind or have reading disabilities.

You can find complete programming of the Radio Talking Book at www.mnssb.org/rtb. And the password is R T B.

Your host for Career Corner is Anne Obst.

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Introduction

Next up is an article from the May 28th issue of the Wall Street Journal titled "Tech Impaired? Pair-Up with a Younger Mentor." By Sue Shellenbarger. 


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There is a growing digital divide in workplaces—between twentysomethings with social-media savvy and tech-impaired older managers. To address it, more companies are trying reverse mentoring, pairing young employees with older colleagues to work on tech skills.


The practice "is up quite a bit in the last three or four years," says Didier Bonnet, a global practice leader in London for Capgemini Consulting. "The main aim is to raise the digital IQ of business leaders in the firms."


The pair-ups don't always work, Dr. Bonnet says. They are often intimidating to young mentors and awkward for older colleagues, who may be embarrassed to reveal how little they know. Clear goals, good chemistry, a time commitment and an open-minded attitude among senior executives raise the odds of success, he says.


Rebecca Kaufman, a 24-year-old community manager with two years' experience in digital communications at MasterCard, says she was "definitely intimidated" when a young-professionals' network at the company paired her as a mentor with a 50-year-old executive, Ron Garrow. Ms. Kaufman had been using social media for almost a decade, but the prospect of helping a high-profile executive craft a social-media presence was daunting.


Mr. Garrow, MasterCard's chief human-resources officer, wanted to use social media to relate better to MasterCard employees born after 1980, who have grown to 37% of the company's 9,000-employee work force from 10 percent in 2010. He also wanted to reach young consumers and raise awareness about MasterCard's shift away from its old image as a credit-card company toward focusing on payments technology.


The pair met twice in December and January in Mr. Garrow's glass-walled executive office, one flight up from Ms. Kaufman's desk on the first floor of the company's Purchase, N.Y., headquarters. They have continued to email or talk, in person or by phone, several times a week.


Mr. Garrow readily embraced Ms. Kaufman's first suggestion—to step up his visits on LinkedIn to daily from weekly and to begin sharing articles with his contacts. But he was unnerved by the idea of using Twitter. The importance of avoiding risky public statements was deeply ingrained in Mr. Garrow, who worked at two big banking companies for 26 years before joining MasterCard in 2010. Executives there "went through rounds and rounds of approval" before saying anything publicly, he says. "Psychologically, the 140 characters is very intimidating to me."


Ms. Kaufman encouraged him, saying Twitter "is a new ballgame. It opens up potential contact with anybody you're interested in." When she asked, "So how do you want to brand yourself out there?" he wasn't sure how to answer, beyond promoting Master Card. The father of four children ages 14 to 26, Mr. Garrow says it was humbling to realize, "Here's this 24-year-old, the age of my kids, and I'm completely relying on her."


Realizing that "Ron's reputation was on the line here," Ms. Kaufman says, she did some digging to help identify human-resources experts and writers who are influential on social media. Mr. Garrow opened a Twitter account, set up his profile and practiced using the site.


Ms. Kaufman helped him craft early tweets. On a visit to the University of Michigan last month, Mr. Garrow wanted to tweet a photo of himself and a colleague with M.B.A. students. He sent Ms. Kaufman a cryptic email with a hastily written description of the complex event, a classroom simulation by students of a corporate briefing for investors, adding, "I want to tweet this but I'm not sure how," she says.


Ms. Kaufman suggested new phrasing. Mr. Garrow rewrote the message and tweeted the photo within minutes. Two weeks later, he was tweeting photos from a Paris business trip on his own.


Mr. Garrow says his 26-year-old son Jonathan told him, "I never thought I'd see the day when you were on Twitter." He now spends time thinking about potential tweets, he says; "Twitter is drawing me in."


Five months into their work together, Mr. Garrow has 2,352 LinkedIn contacts, checks Twitter 8 to 10 times a day, follows 109 handles and tweets about 50 times a month. Ms. Kaufman congratulated him recently when he passed 400 Twitter followers and praised his above-average score of 45 on Klout, a measure of social-media influence, says; "she said it was almost half of Obama's."


Ms. Kaufman is still pushing him to tweet about personal topics. His 14-year-old daughter Clare, he admits, "thinks I'm boring on Twitter." But sharing personal information online "crosses over into some uncomfortable spaces," he says. Mr. Garrow started to tweet during a recent outing to New York City with his wife, Dana, but "I stopped, because I didn't want to cross that line yet."


Mr. Garrow and Ms. Kaufman have had to bridge generational differences. Riding in a car back to their offices after a recent conference, Ms. Kaufman was working on her smartphone when Mr. Garrow struck up a conversation about her career. They talked for a while, but she soon turned her eyes back to her phone. Ms. Kaufman says she appreciated his interest, and didn't notice that he seemed uncomfortable.


To Mr. Garrow, her behavior "was a little awkward," he says. At her age, he would have been eagerly trying to make a good impression on a senior manager. "I thought, 'this feels no different than when my 14-year-old daughter gets in the car and won't talk to me because she's texting her friends, looking at Instagram, checking Facebook,' " he says. Resigned to differences in ways of working and relating to higher-ups, he says, he decided, "Oh well, I'll just get on my iPhone too.' "


Their work together has brought benefits for both of them. Ms. Kaufman has been asked to mentor two other senior executives, people she wouldn't otherwise have met, she says. The relationship has given her added confidence, she says.


Mr. Garrow is broadening Ms. Kaufman's mentoring role, asking her to help vet new internal websites to be sure they'll appeal to young employees. For Ms. Kaufman, he has become a role model. "He shows me qualities I should emulate if I want to excel"—including warmth, openness, taking a personal interest in others and thanking people for their work.


About 100 employees at five MasterCard locations have taken part in reverse mentoring since the program started in 2011. Mars Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. also have reverse-mentoring programs.


A reverse-mentoring program at the Hartford Financial Services Group led to an easing of rules to allow employees to use social media for work and to more use by executives of an internal social network, according to a 2013 study of the program by Kim Lee DeAngelis, a Cohasset, Mass., organizational consultant. A company spokesman says young mentors also filed a patent application that grew out of their discussions, on how online public-safety data might be used by underwriters to assess insurance risks. The program put some mentors' careers on fast-forward, the study says: Within a year, 11 of Hartford's first crop of 12 young mentors were promoted.

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