Reverse mentoring – 7 steps to success

19th May 2021

You will no doubt be familiar with the term ‘mentoring’, and may even have been a part of a mentoring scheme yourself at one point or another.  But what about ‘reverse mentoring’?

Reverse mentoring refers to an initiative in which older executives are paired and mentored by younger employees on topics such as technology, social media and current trends.

The idea that senior executives could stand to learn a thing or two from a new employee goes against traditional workplace practices, where more experienced workers often provide the most input, make decisions and provide mentorship to newer employees with less experience.  However, younger members of staff who are just entering the workplace often have new skills and expertise, and they can provide fresh perspectives and ways of working that can benefit their more established colleagues.

Reverse mentoring, like any mentoring programmes can benefit both parties.

  • Mentoring programmes have been shown to connect participants to the organisation and to improve job satisfaction and engagement.
  • It increases confidence and gives younger members of staff greater exposure to senior partners.
  • It bridges the generation divide and brings people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, who wouldn’t necessarily connect, together for an opportunity to understand each other.
  • Mentoring is one of the ways people learn: 20% of our learning comes from coaching, mentoring and developing through others.

How to succeed – the 7 step plan

In many ways, the key to a successful reverse mentoring scheme is similar to that of any other type of mentoring scheme, however, there are a few differences that may be worth noting.

  • Define the reverse mentoring programmes purpose

In the typical definition of reverse mentoring, the purpose might be: Bridging generational gaps between older and younger employees or spurring innovation and new product and services ideas from younger workers.  But you can define your programme how you see fit.

If you’re building out a DevOps organisation, for example, the purpose of ‘reverse mentoring’ might have nothing to do with age and everything to do with technical skills and experience.

  • Consider simply calling it a mentoring programme

Depending on the purpose and long-term goals you identify, it may be more inclusive to drop the ‘reverse’ from your reverse mentoring programme.  Brand your programme in a manner that suits its goals.  If you’re indeed doing it to bridge generational gaps, ‘reverse mentoring’ might fit.  If you’re doing this for reasons like in the DevOps scenario above, just ‘mentoring’ – or another name altogether like ‘Thinking Partners’ might be the better choice.

  • Review your teams’ skill sets and personalities

Even if you go with a traditional approach of pairing a more experienced person with a less experienced one, pair people in an intentional manner.

  • Run a kick-off mentorship workshop

You can take that a step further and run a kick-off meeting or workshop that enables people to become active participants in their mentoring relationship from the start.

  • Create a framework for how the programme will run

If you’re going to implement a mentoring programme in any formal fashion, you’ll want to give some guidelines that engender their success.  We’re not talking about ‘rules’, but a framework that gives people a starting point for developing a productive mentoring relationship.

  • Establish a culture conducive to meaningful mentoring

No matter where you land on the spectrum from ‘non-programme’ (or informal programme) to a formal initiative, you’ll only reap the benefits of mentoring – of any kind – if you’re fostering that kind of culture.  It’s easier said than done, but it’s necessary.

  • Look outside of it

Reverse mentoring is not just about learning IT skills between departments/generations, but about encouraging lines of communications to other departments and encouraging collaboration.

Would a mentoring programme work at your organisation?

When conducted well, organisations with a robust coaching and mentoring programme gain a significant advantage when it comes to developing and retaining talent, as well as a whole range of other benefits.  Reverse mentoring can help build stronger working relationships between colleagues from other areas of the organisation, promotes sharing of best practices and expertise as well as encouraging collaboration and generating engagement, trust and loyalty.

If you think it’s time your organisation implemented a mentoring programme, take a look at our course on Mentoring here.

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