Why your workplace needs a reverse mentoring program

The 2020 decade is the first in history to have four distinct generations in the workplace at one time, holding different values, world views and expectations of work and each other.

Two initiatives that can help bridge gaps and maximise the benefits of this diversity include:

  • Shadow boards (or Shadow LT): a group of high-potential employees who become an extension of the leadership team to work on strategic initiatives and play a role in strategic planning and stretching executive members’ thinking beyond their own lens.
  • Reverse mentoring: a partnership between a younger, junior team member who serves as a mentor to share experiences and insights with an older, senior employee as the mentee who may learn new skills and gain a different perspective.

Reverse mentoring is a relatively new concept and many businesses are yet to implement it or fully comprehend the potential benefits for senior executives and managers.

Large businesses around the world, such as General Electric, Citibank, Johnson & Johnson, Mars and Procter & Gamble, have championed the use of reverse mentoring programs to empower their employees to develop their skills, build networks and community, boost retention, promote diversity, improve leadership succession and even drive cultural change.

Research shows as many as 25% of UK companies deploy reverse mentoring in some form. And rising retirement has sustained the presence of Boomers in senior positions, whilst Millennials and Gen Z (potentially born 30+ years apart) are forecast to comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025.

This article will look at what reverse mentoring is, delve into its key benefits and close with advice for organisations to create and implement a successful program.

What is reverse mentoring?

Reverse mentoring turns the concept of traditional mentoring upside down: It is where a less experienced younger worker mentors a more experienced senior colleague.

Serving a similar purpose to a shadow board, but on an individual level, the aim of reverse mentoring is for two individuals to share their different areas of expertise, skills and understanding.

When successful, reverse mentoring partnerships develop talent, diversify skillsets and bridge the generation gap across different levels of the organisation. It is a great way to make sure senior management is attuned to new trends and stays at the cutting edge of your industry.

There are benefits to both parties in a reverse mentoring relationship. For instance, new starters bring fresh ideas and novel ways of working to the table while the long-serving senior team members possess key organisational knowledge the new starter isn’t privy to.

Reverse mentoring is a crucial part of an organisation’s diversity, inclusion and belonging initiatives and leadership development. Let’s take a look at the key benefits of reverse mentorship in more detail.

Benefits of reverse mentoring partnerships

There are many individual and organisational advantages of reverse mentoring, here are some of the major benefits.

Supports diversity and inclusion. 

Pairing mentors from under-represented groups with mentees from senior management allows team members to learn from each other, to openly share their perspectives, experiences and challenges in the workplace, and opens doors for minority groups to expand their network and advance their careers, helping build a more diverse and inclusive company culture. Research shows mentoring initiatives make companies’ management teams significantly more diverse, on average they boost the representation of black, Hispanic, and Asian-American women, and Hispanic and Asian-American men, by 9% to 24%.

Closes ‘generational gaps’. 

Reverse mentoring exposes long-serving employees to fresh perspectives, new industry knowledge and technology from graduates, new starters and younger more digitally savvy generations. Fresh ideas and ways of working can spark innovation and efficiency gains where team members that are stuck in their ways are empowered by their mentor. This could be through passing on digital skills (such as social media and cloud-based tech), discussing new technology or different ways of working. Additionally, reverse mentoring not only opens up knowledge sharing and communication between generations but also breaks down negative stereotypes employees may hold about different age groups.

Millennial and Gen Z employee retention. 

Amidst ‘The Great Resignation’, many companies are facing a challenge when it comes to holding onto their Millenial and Generation Z workers. Reverse mentoring can help address this problem. Reverse mentoring gives younger employees the transparency, connection and recognition we know they crave, according to Gallup research, and is an effective way for organisations to retain and foster young talent. For example, BNY-Mellon Pershing experienced a 96% retention rate in its first cohort of Millennial mentors illustrating the significant impact involvement in mentoring can have on employee retention.

Empower emerging leaders. 

Reverse mentoring helps develop leadership skills, such as self-awareness, empathy and communication, in the younger generation of emerging leaders. When a more junior employee mentors someone who has been in the organisation for a long time the mentee can become a kind of role model who passes along their wisdom and company knowledge. This in turn increases the mentor’s aspirations towards a leadership role and develops a pipeline of skilled, capable and knowledgeable individuals ready to step into leadership positions down the way.

Further reading: Sponsorship vs Mentorship: Differences & Benefits

Tips for a successful reverse mentoring program

For organisations wanting to enjoy the benefits of reverse mentoring here are some essential actions and considerations to set up effective reverse mentoring partnerships:

  • Set your goals: Before getting started document the key reasons your business is carrying out the program. For instance is it to enhance retention among younger employees, foster cultural inclusivity or digitally upskill senior leaders? What do you hope to learn from younger team members? By determining your key objectives you will be better able to measure progress once the program commences. Also, think about the different metrics you’ll need to measure in order to understand how each goal is tracking.
  • Mentor matchmaking: Put your focus on diversity when pairing mentors and mentees factoring in their location, department, background, interests, strengths and even personalities. Ideal matches should involve a mentor that is confident and willing to share feedback, skills and knowledge in areas in which the mentee is interested. Mentees need to be open-minded, willing to be vulnerable and listen to feedback and fresh perspectives from someone with significantly less experience than themselves. And both parties need to be open to learning, respectful, tactful, and genuinely committed to the process and want to build a relationship. Talk to participants to get a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses and what they want out of the experience. Also, check in with mentees before confirming final pairings to ensure there is no potential conflict of interest with the match.
  • Training: Research shows that only a third of mentor-mentee relationships succeed without training. This increases to two-thirds when mentors have training on how to be good mentors. And when both the mentee and mentor have the training, you can expect a 90% success rate. We suggest providing tools and resources and holding training sessions before and during the program for mentors and mentees, as not everyone is a natural mentor. Sessions can cover how to structure successful mentoring sessions, what questions to ask, sharing any challenges they are facing and discussing potential solutions.
  • Track progress: Throughout the program, we recommend regular check-ins to see how the relationships are tracking using surveys, meetings, interviews or focus groups. Depending on what your business goals are you may like to measure employee engagement/satisfaction, retention rates, promotion rates, and participation rates and keep a record of anecdotal feedback.

Getting started with reverse mentoring

The Inkling team can support and advise you on the best ways to get your big ideas for a reverse mentoring program in your organisation off the ground. Contact us to find out how we can assist you in leveraging your younger employee’s insights and diverse perspectives, and create an inclusive culture through reverse mentoring via our Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging programs.

Resources to elevate diversity, inclusion and belonging

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