Whilst mentoring is traditionally a top-down process, reverse mentoring in the workplace can drive diversity, talent retention and development.
Whilst reverse mentoring is not a new process by any stretch, few know what reverse mentoring is, how it works or how to implement it within an organisation. Brought to mass attention a decade ago by Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, it is a fast growing trend — with companies like Ogilvy & Mather actively implementing a reverse mentoring programme.
Reverse mentoring flips the conventional top-down learning relationship on its head. This is senior staff learning from fresh young junior staff. For those who have been in the business a while, the thought of being taught by people with little company experience may sound absurd, even offensive. But with technology and diversity advancing so rapidly, those in the latter stretches of their career may not be able to effectively take advantage of the latest digital and social technology. And learning from young people is a simple, cost-effective way to fill in that knowledge gap.
The term reverse mentoring implies one-way learning, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Whilst older staff learn about the latest technology, social media and diversity trends, younger staff can pick up understand industry-specific knowledge, management techniques and business practices. Not only can you be developing your senior staff to gain ever-greater expertise, you can make the first steps towards training the people who could eventually replace them — simultaneously improving talent retention.
A reverse mentoring scheme doesn’t have to be strictly transactional, but it certainly has its advantages.
How to implement an effective reverse mentoring strategy
In order for reverse mentoring to be effective, it needs to be thoughtfully planned and implemented. In three simple steps, here’s how to create a successful reverse mentoring strategy:
1. Sell it as a winning strategy for everyone
There may be some tension when a reverse mentoring strategy is put forward. CEOs and senior staff may be offended by the suggestion that a young millennial could teach them new things. Likewise, a millennial might be intimidated by a powerful executive. For this reason, your reverse mentoring programme needs to engage both by creating a safe, collaborative process. When this is achieved, everyone learns, the company grows, and staff retention improves.
2. Get leadership to engage with the project
This is perhaps the most important factor to a reverse mentoring strategy becoming a success. Senior staff need to be fully engaged from the beginning. If an experienced middle manager gets asked to engage with a reverse mentoring strategy when the CEO chooses not to, there is a bigger chance of pushback and disengagement. Reverse mentoring can benefit everyone, so it is essential that senior staff set an example.
3. Use internal and external comms to celebrate success
Not only should senior staff engage with reverse mentoring, the successes created by the programme should be shared throughout your business. Let everyone know just how much can be learnt for both senior and junior staff through reverse mentoring. Whether it be through an internal newsletter, a company intranet, or even in team meetings, making staff aware of the knowledge gained, and the success of mentorship and collaboration will keep people in the business engaged with the programme.
Effective reverse mentoring can be good for employer branding too. As a company that respects the opinions of everyone in the business, and encourages collaboration, you will be a progressive, modern company — exactly the sort of business that attracts and retains the best talent. Make this visible to the outside world. Use social media and content marketing to explore the process of reverse mentoring — create a collaborative blog for senior and junior staff to report on their progress.
To sum up…
Reverse mentoring is a scheme that can be hugely effective. It breaks down generational boundaries, encourages new knowledge, and primes young talent for future leadership positions. Whilst you may experience initial friction, if you follow the three steps listed in this article, reverse mentoring has the potential to have a huge impact.