The workforce has never been as varied as it is today, with full-time and part-time employees, contingent, freelance, and gig workers all working in a variety of settings. It’s becoming even more diverse across all spectrums of underrepresented groups. But that change is not arriving nearly as fast in boardrooms, which means there’s a growing gap between leaders and their people in regards to their perspectives and experiences.
This way, the organizations can fall right through that gap into the trap of stale thinking, and blind spots that could alienate the workforce, not only in regards to age, race, or gender but all different kinds of viewpoints. Reverse mentoring could be an antidote to that tunnel vision.
Reverse mentoring is defined by junior employees acting as a mentor to senior leaders or executives.
For many organizations, reverse mentorship’s purpose is to give leaders a fresh perspective on rising trends in areas of technology or the future of work. For others, it’s a great way to increase the visibility of minority employees for future leadership opportunities.
This concept was born out of the belief that the youngest people joining the company are far more knowledgeable about new technologies than their managers. So, the top executives should seek out mentors from among these new joiners. Reverse mentoring recognizes that there are skills gaps on both sides and that each person can address their weaknesses with the help of the other’s strengths.
Reverse mentoring has many personal and business benefits and can create a real lasting impact within a business. The likes of PwC, KPMG, P&G, and General Electric have all found success across different business areas from running reverse mentoring programmes — from supporting diversity initiatives to engaging and developing their graduate employees.
Reverse mentoring is a powerful way to build human connections and community within a business.
- Supporting inclusivity 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.
- Overcoming generational gaps 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.
- Digital skills development 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 to training programmes that generally get very low engagement, reverse mentoring is a common and effective approach to increasing digital skills in older employees.
- 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.
- Increasing millennial retention Research by the Harvard Business Review found that reverse mentoring fulfills millennials’ desires for recognition in the workplace, which in turn leads to stronger retention numbers.
Reverse mentorship programs involve a lot of strategic match-makings. Not only between a mentor and mentee but between the company and their goals.
Now that we’ve decided reverse mentoring would be a good initiative for your organization, let us look at some steps to set up the programme:
Before anything, be very clear about the purpose of the program. Identify which benefit is most critical to your business. This might be sharing skills around technology, data, information, insight, or even changing the mindset about privilege.
Example: Objective of the programme — Digital skills
Method: The reverse mentoring programme will pair junior employees with advanced digital skills with more senior employees with weak digital skills. The mentors will offer training and support in digital areas the mentees want to develop.
Success: The mentees would have a greater understanding of digital areas by the end of the programme, and increased confidence in discussing technology.
Measure: Surveys and digital literacy tests before and after the programme.
Once you’ve got the basics mapped out, it’s time for all the other details. Here you need to outline:
- Who will be on the programme?
- Are you selecting participants?
- Is it a formal or informal programme?
- Will it be a set length or ongoing?
- How do people sign up?
- What is the expected commitment?
- How will you monitor progress?
The answers to these questions will vary from business to business and depend on the objective of the programme. It’s important to be as detailed as possible at this stage of planning to help your reverse mentoring programme run as smoothly as possible.
An important part of setting up a reverse mentoring programme is deciding how you will match the mentors and mentees. This again may vary depending on how many participants there are on the programme, and how they have been selected.
An important pointer that shouldn’t go unnoticed — Make sure that your mentor isn’t a direct report or part of your team, because it will be really difficult to elicit honest feedback from someone who you also have to review at the end of the year. If you’re in finance, find someone creative in marketing, or if you’re in engineering, find someone in customer service. This will ensure that you develop perspectives from outside of your immediate team. Different perspectives make better leaders.
Once your participants are matched, you can officially launch the programme!
In order to get off to a good start, provide support and resources to the mentors and mentees to help them navigate and build their new professional relationships.
Track how frequently the mentors and mentees are meeting, and develop a good system for receiving feedback from the participants to know if the programme is working towards your desired business objective. Tweak it accordingly.
With these guidelines in hand, you’re ready to launch a reverse mentoring program and reap the benefits. Don’t be surprised if it shakes up your company a bit — but in a good way.
Start small. Developing safe and positive reverse mentoring relationships can be tricky. It is best to start with small pilot programs and then use pilot participants as a steering committee for a rollout of the program on a wider scale.
Reverse mentoring challenges all employees to step outside the box, and look at how they think, work, and learn. Increasingly, companies are using this strategy to bridge the generation gap and fuel business innovation and growth.
By creating a well-constructed reverse mentoring program, you’re bridging the gap while building a more connected, informed, and cohesive work environment for all.
Take the first step towards it today!
Originally published at https://www.saugaatallabadi.com on February 8, 2022.