Leading organizations today are looking for ways to increase profits, boost retention and build quality leadership pipelines? More and more, reverse mentoring has bubbled to the top of the list as a relatively easy, low-cost way to ensure companies capitalize on workers’ insights and knowledge, while building relationships that have lasting benefits for employees and organizations alike.
What is Reverse Mentoring?
Reverse mentoring pairs workers inverts the usual mentoring relationship. Instead of the more senior worker mentoring the younger, the newbie supports the veteran. First popularized by Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, reverse mentoring at its core is the concept that everyone plays a valuable role in a company’s success.
Examples of Reverse Mentoring
Reverse mentoring has gained traction in leading companies in finance, tech, manufacturing, construction and consumer goods. A few examples:
Estee Lauder Companies
Founded by president and CEO Fabrizio Freda in 2015, Estee Lauder’s reverse mentoring program is structured as a cross-functional network pairing up senior leaders and rising talent. The company says that its program is helping senior leaders connect industry trends to business priorities, as well as supporting newer workers’ career development.
Pharmaceutical company Lilly introduced a reverse mentoring program in 2020. The program matches (LGBTQ) employees and senior leaders with the goal of promoting inclusion and growth.
In Labcorp’s reverse mentoring program, younger employees with diverse backgrounds act as diversity mentors to executives. Since the program’s inception in 2020, 50% of diversity mentors have been promoted.
What Are The Benefits of Reverse Mentoring at Work?
Reverse mentoring can strengthen the leadership pipeline, create a more inclusive culture and help employees advance in their careers. These programs:
Encourage professional relationships
Without reverse mentoring, a senior executive and entry-level hire might never have reason to interact. Once paired, these professionals have a chance to build a working relationship that can endure long after the immediate goals of the program are achieved.
Increase the exchange of knowledge, skills and experience
Reverse mentoring allows senior executives to stay up-to-date with the latest business technologies and workplace trends. It also helps junior employees see the larger organizational picture and gives them a glimpse of macro-level management issues.
Research by McKinsey & Company shows that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has a direct impact on profitability, workplace culture and innovation. Companies in the top quartile of gender diversity in leadership were 25% more likely to have above-average profits than their competitors in the bottom quartile. As well, companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity outperformed the least diverse companies by 36%
Reverse mentoring can play a vital role in encouraging DEI within organizations. For example, Proctor and Gamble used their “Mentoring Up” program to pair together senior leaders and employees with disabilities. This led to the discovery of internal videos that were not accessible to the hearing impaired. As a result, the videos were updated to add captioning. Reverse mentoring programs focused on underrepresented employee groups build opportunities for these employees to interact with leadership, pathways for advancement and break down cultural silos that might exist within a company.
Empower new hires
Reverse mentoring inverts the usual flow of knowledge by allowing less experienced workers to share insights with leadership. This empowers new hires and less senior staff by reminding both parties of their value to the organization. Within the safety of the mentoring relationship, younger or less experienced employees also have the opportunity to learn how to communicate with senior leadership.
Improve confidence and leadership skills in junior employees
Mentoring relationships are key to building a leadership pipeline. Reverse mentoring ensures that future leaders have an active opportunity to buy into the company. This type of program motivates them by valuing their work and ideas, while presenting an opportunity for leadership in driving the mentoring relationship.
Increase retention of top talent
Reverse mentoring has been shown to help retain both millennials and baby boomers, as well as being a useful recruiting tool for Gen Z workers. It can also help you retain top talent from any generation by ensuring that your most valuable employees have a voice in the organization. Further, the benefits of reverse mentoring mean workers build strong relationships with one another, increasing their sense of belonging.
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How Do You Reverse a Mentoring Session?
Whether this is your organization’s first foray into mentorship or just your first time reversing the mentoring relationship, there are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Start small
Starting small is one way to ensure that you create a safe environment for all involved. Begin by building a small pilot program. Keep the participation level to a manageable number and ask for feedback regularly. Based on the feedback, implement adjustments and changes immediately, and prepare to solicit feedback again. Once you’ve completed your first cohort, you can prepare to expand your program to new participants, departments, locations and beyond.
2. Make the perfect match
Reverse mentoring involves two people with extremely different experiences, backgrounds, and cultures. Therefore, creating the ideal mentoring partnership is vital. Choose mentors who possess good social skills and have the confidence to interact with and teach senior management.
3. Train both parties in their roles
Before beginning any mentorship program, the parties involved must know their roles. Reverse mentorship presents new challenges. It might be difficult for a mentor with less seniority to feel comfortable correcting a senior executive mentee. Provide conversation tips and structures for goal setting. Likewise, seasoned staff may have a hard time remaining quiet and receiving instruction when they are used to leading others. Make sure to provide resources on giving and receiving feedback so both parties feel prepared to interact.
4. Be proactive about communication
Don’t assume that everyone prefers to communicate the same way. Encourage participants to establish the means and frequency of communication throughout. If your participants are both remote workers, this may mean touching base through a dashboard, messaging system, video conferencing, or phone call.
5. Choose metrics wisely
You’ll need to prove to senior leadership that your program is working. The key to measuring success is to choose metrics that are easy to measure, e.g., retention of employees who participated in the program as compared with those who didn’t. It’s also important to track other information too, such as changes that are happening as a result of the program and positive feedback, especially from the higher-ups who may be getting mentored for the first time in years. Look at satisfaction of participants, enrollment numbers over time and learnings achieved through the program.
Reverse Mentoring Software
Running a reverse mentoring program doesn’t have to be complicated, but running one manually can become cumbersome and time consuming over time. As you seek to scale across your organization to different functions, locations and departments, reverse mentoring software can help you manage the growing number of participants and mentoring matches, all while keeping track of impact and efficiency.
Utilizing the Chronus mentoring platform can provide the following benefits to your program:
- Set up optimized participant profiles to find the best match based on your program’s unique and specific criteria
- Train and guide participants through the relationship with built-in resources and materials
- Collect and analyze program feedback through surveys, reports and dashboards
- Minimize admin effort and time
With Chronus, reverse mentoring software enables your mentoring strategy to tackle your toughest talent challenges without straining your organization or risking ineffective people development.
Why Reverse Mentoring Is Important
Reverse mentoring emphasizes that learning never stops – no matter what age or seniority level – while supporting the idea that the young have something to teach.This is why so many companies are exploring this as part of their talent development strategy. Consider starting your program today!