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A Complete Guide to Reverse Mentoring

July 3, 2020
Nicola Cronin

Traditional mentoring is a well-proven personal and career development tool, with both the person being mentored and the one doing the mentoring gaining confidence, perspective and skills from the relationship. 

In recent years, organisations have witnessed the benefits of mentoring, not only for their employees but the business itself. Formal mentoring programs are more and more commonly used to develop skills, share knowledge, break down silos, and support diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

Traditionally, mentoring involves a more senior, experienced person, advising a more junior person. Helping them develop skills, share their experiences and learnings, introduce them to relevant people, and generally support and encourage them. However, there are a number of different types of mentoring that can be utilised for different goals, including reverse mentoring.

In this guide, we break down what reverse mentoring is and how to utilise it. 

📖 For more on other types of mentoring check out our full guide 📖

What is reverse mentoring?

Reverse mentoring is simply the opposite format of traditional mentoring, where the senior leader is mentored by a younger or more junior employee. Aka, mentoring in reverse! 

The process recognises that there are skills gaps and opportunities to learn on both sides of a mentoring relationship and that flipping the traditional format on its head can be beneficial for both parties. Reverse mentoring also challenges the idea of mentoring being elitist, as it’s not about a senior person taking someone under their wing, but a formal relationship for the purpose of skill sharing and professional development.

It is an essential part of diversity and inclusion initiatives, as well as corporate leadership training given that it both develops future leaders and existing ones.

Why is reverse mentoring important?

Reverse mentoring has many personal and business benefits and can create a real lasting impact within a company. The likes of KPMG, General Electric, and Fidelity have all found success across different business areas from running reverse mentoring programs. From supporting diversity initiatives to engaging and developing their graduate employees, there are many benefits to reverse mentoring. 

One company, Pershings, recorded a 97% retention rate of their millennial workforce following a reverse mentoring program. With 49% of millennials stating they would quit their jobs in the next two years given the choice, retention is naturally a key challenge for many businesses. Reverse mentoring can therefore offer an effective solution.

As well as organisational benefits, reverse mentoring is a powerful way to build human connections and community within a business. Through mentoring at Marks & Spencer, many senior employees are both being mentors and being mentored. One mentor, James Newton-Brown, spoke of his experience of reverse mentoring:

"Every time you have a conversation with someone, you learn something. You learn something about people's behaviour, their motivations, and most importantly you learn something about yourself. For me, it’s a win-win all round."

What are the benefits of reverse mentoring?  

Further benefits of reverse mentoring programs include:

  • Building a learning culture
  • Closing generational gaps
  • Developing leadership skills in younger employees
  • Millennial retention
  • Improving cultural competency
  • Sharing different perspectives
  • Supporting inclusivity
  • Developing communication skills
  • Developing self-confidence and self-awareness

As you can see, the benefits of reverse mentoring are similar to in other types of mentoring but with a focus on widening perspectives and improving cultural competency.

One organisation utilising reverse mentoring for a diversity and inclusion purpose is Mazars. Hear from the Program Manager, Sponsee and Sponsor on their experience of reverse mentoring via Guider: 

What are the uses of reverse mentoring?

When it comes to workplace mentoring programs, they can be used to support various business impact areas, or achieve business objectives. From corporate leadership training to future leadership mentoring and up-skilling the workforce, there are so many ways that reverse mentoring can benefit your organisation.

There are a number of ways reverse mentoring can be used within organisations, and it can sometimes be even more impactful than traditional mentoring or other types of mentoring. 

Some uses of reverse mentoring include:

Inclusion

An inclusive workplace is one that factors in all people equally. Where progression opportunities are visible to everyone, and where decision-making groups are diverse. Role models within the business are important, yet it's hard for employees from minority groups to aspire to leadership when they can't see anyone that looks like them in those positions. 

It also may be difficult for leadership to truly understand and recognise the structural and cultural barriers that affect certain employees within the organisation when they don't have direct exposure to their experiences.

This is where reverse mentoring can be highly effective. By pairing mentors from under-represented groups with mentees in senior management, they can effectively share perspectives, learn from each other, and work towards a more inclusive company culture. This provides leadership mentoring for junior staff and also acts as corporate leadership training by improving the cultural competency of senior leaders. 

Reverse mentoring is also a great way for BAME, LGBTQ+, disabled, and other minority employees to grow their leadership networks in the business and open doors which are typically harder to get through due to systemic inequality.

Closing generational gaps

Bridging the gap between generations in a company is a challenge. The graduate scheme intake each year will be welcoming people into an organisation which operates very differently from the way it did when people who have worked there for decades joined – making it difficult to relate to one another. Particularly with digital transformation and the speed at which businesses are changing and developing, there can be a disconnect between older and younger employees.

Reverse mentoring is an effective way of breaking down these silos between generations, exposing those who have worked in the business for a long time to a fresh perspective on the way things are run, and the industry as a whole. New employees can also bring fresh ideas and approach things in a different way, which can inspire innovation in those who may be more stuck in their ways. Again, this is a great way to provide leadership mentoring for both future and existing leaders, sharing knowledge, experience and perspectives.

This nicely leads to another common use of reverse mentoring...

Digital skills development

IIn the fast-paced modern world we live in, keeping up with technological advancements and skills can be difficult. Even software engineers, the most digitally savvy of the workforce, still require lots of reading, training, and mentoring to keep up to date with new technologies. For some, learning about social media, cloud-based computing and other modern digital skills can be overwhelming.

The graduates now entering the workforce are from Gen Z – the first digitally native generation – meaning that they grew up with advanced digital technology. Rather than putting senior colleagues on training programs which generally get very low engagement, reverse mentoring is a common and effective approach to increasing digital skills in employees.

This kind of reverse mentoring also contributes to inclusivity, helping tackle ageism and increase confidence when discussing digital topics at work.

Leadership mentoring

Finally, reverse mentoring is a highly effective way of developing leadership skills in younger employees. By giving graduates and new joiners the additional responsibility of being a mentor, they have a platform to increase their communication skills, practice empathy, learn the art of asking good questions, and generally become more self-aware – all of which are vital skills of a good leader.

Naturally, the mentor will also be learning a lot from their mentee as they build their relationship. If they are mentoring someone senior who has been in the business a long time, they can also act as a role model who can increase their aspirations for leadership within the company. Running a reverse mentoring program to develop future leaders can therefore also positively impact retention.

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As you can see, reverse mentoring is a powerful tool to support your people. With uses across diversity and inclusion, leadership development and digital skills, it's an important part of your mentoring toolkit.

If you’re interested in learning more or need advice setting up a program, talk to our team today 👇

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