Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

What to Do if You Find Yourself Reverse Mentoring a Public Accounting Partner

reverse mentoring public accounting

It’s no secret that public accounting churns and burns its employees. Burnout is a cost of doing business. The result is fewer people embark on the partner track and those who become partners plan on staying put. I’d say most of those partners are crossing their fingers that the gravy train keeps chugging along from now to eternity. There are some interesting consequences as a result of partners camping out, one of which we’ll focus on today.

The Problem: The people leading the organization may not have the right skills to keep up with technological change.

The Solution: Partners, Directors, and Senior Managers could benefit from reverse mentoring and, luckily, they don’t have to look far to find a fresh crop of doe-eyed workaholics to help them out.

According to HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes:

Not only did seasoned leaders benefit from fresh eyes, new perspectives, and direct insights into new technology, but younger employees also got to work alongside senior executives, forge relationships, and navigate their way up the company hierarchy.

And it’s not just those nearing retirement in their sixties. We’ve reported before that Inside Public Accounting cited the average age of equity partners as 52.7. Those on the partner track in their 40s could be just as clueless about tech. They didn’t have Facebook in college and may have even needed to rely on floppy disks for file storage. ANR chimed in on this topic last November and found entrepreneurial youth getting hefty fees to consult on all things millennial.

Should you find yourself in a reverse mentoring relationship, here are some tricks that will dazzle the technologically challenged during your first session:

  • Word and Excel formatting hacks — Sure there are whole departments that do this in Big 4, but what your work looks like should still matter even if it’s not a formal deliverable. Partners can pick up some time-saving tips and tricks from their tech-savvy staff.
    • For example, maybe it’s something simple like “Format Painter” to increase consistency in the fonts and sizes of text. I’m shocked when I teach someone this for the first time and equally surprised at how often my older co-workers report having never used it before. It’s right on the main ribbon! It’s up there with Copy/Paste for the amount of time it saves me on a daily basis.
    • Protip: For this type of lesson to work well, the hack must be easy both to teach and, for the less tech-savvy, to remember. If they forget it right away, it’s not going to be worth the effort.
  • An IM is worth a thousand words. I’ve found that most staff can get by all day without picking up the phone. Even if you’re in the office together, IM can be a much quicker and easier way to communicate (nonsubstantive, of course). If the Partner doesn’t embrace this technology, encourage them to start using it more often. It’s real-time without the pressure of face-to-face. Who doesn’t like that?
  • Scanning/faxing with your cell phone. Lots of signatures can be done digitally, but there are still situations when someone’s John Hancock is needed. It’s helpful to have a training session on how to use a phone camera to get a good snap of a document, convert it to a PDF, and send it to someone. I know many firms use an eFax service. Once you get it on your phone make sure it looks undistorted by showing your mentee how clean up the edges, adjust the angles and play with the darkness.
    • Protip: Some firms may restrict this, so it’s smart to check first about company policies on cell phone usage. You don’t want to have this happen to you if it’s BYOD.

Beyond the practical, however, when you’re mentoring someone older than you, there are some EQ things you should keep in mind:

  • Only jump into a reverse mentoring role if it’s welcomed by the mentee. Don’t try to be a know-it-all and offer suggestions when they’re not solicited. It plays into the millennial stereotype.  
  • Try to be patient when your mentee asks something you think is ridiculous — e.g., Which mouse button to click something with or what button to press to minimize something. It’s not always obvious to them and it’s something you might take for granted if you’re a digital native.
  • Show ‘em! If you find your mentee struggling to follow what you’re saying on the phone, my favorite tool is It’s easy to just take the driver’s seat on someone else’s computer (with their permission of course) rather than verbally walking them through it. It’s almost always easier to show someone how to do something, even if you’re across town at the client.

Some obstacles you might run into — Will partners listen? Are they even around? I feel like lots of partners and other more senior employees hide in the office and don’t go out to the client for anything other than meetings. If they’re smart, they’ll not be too proud to learn from someone half their age.

Image: Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash