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Reverse mentorship is one more key to developing and retaining top talent

January 14, 2022 - 17 min read

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What is reverse mentoring?

Why is reverse mentoring important?

Obstacles to reverse mentoring

Does your company need a reverse mentoring program?

6 tips for designing a reverse mentoring program

Real-life examples of reverse mentoring

Many organizations are facing high rates of employee attrition and turnover among junior staff. And millennials are the demographic most likely to leave their jobs. So it’s no wonder many employers are struggling to retain Millennial talent.

Senior leaders often fail to connect to the concerns, needs, and desires of young people. This includes both their staff and their customers.

In reverse mentorship, a junior colleague mentors someone more senior. Possibly a senior leader. The goal is to help the more senior colleague develop new skills and connect with the younger generation. This helps them gain new insights and perspectives on ways to improve their business.

In addition, reverse mentoring also helps a younger colleague develop their own skills and confidence. The additional perspective from seeing through the eyes of a different generation can be invaluable to their job and career.

Let’s explore why reverse mentoring matters and how to set up a successful reverse mentoring program.

What is reverse mentoring? 

This relationship aims to support the skill development of both colleagues. The junior team members also benefit from the knowledge and experience of their more senior mentees. It also helps them develop their leadership skills.

In a traditional mentor-mentee relationship, the older and more experienced person acts as a mentor. But in reverse mentoring, the experienced person is the mentee and is paired up with a younger mentor.

It’s important to keep in mind that reverse mentoring doesn’t always have to be based solely on age. Management level is also an important consideration.

Reverse mentoring was pioneered by Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, in 1999. His goal was to help senior executives learn about the internet by partnering them with younger mentors.

Reverse mentoring helps companies address skills gaps. It also helps support efforts to upskill staff. This can help organizations stay competitive and relevant in an ever-changing global market. 

Why is reverse mentoring important?

Now, let’s take a look at seven reasons why reverse mentoring matters for both your people and your organization.

1. Helps reduce generational prejudice

Inter-generational prejudice can be a barrier to effective cooperation. Older colleagues might view millennials as spoiled and entitled. And younger team members may think baby boomers are resistant to change. With Gen Z entering the workforce, additional generational stereotypes are likely to form.

Reverse mentoring can help break down these stereotypes and bridge the generation gap. Each generation has a different perspective to bring to the table. Embracing the ideas of people of all ages can make your company stronger and more resilient.

2. Promotes inclusivity and diversity

Despite efforts to promote diversity, executive positions are still dominated by white men. In 2020, 90% of Fortune 500 CEOs were white men. And globally, just 1 in every 5 board directors is a woman.

Companies that promote diversity benefit from a wider range of talent and perspectives than those that don’t. This can help them address the needs of their customers and be more competitive. 

At the same time, it creates a more inclusive work environment that attracts and retains top talent.

Reverse mentorship programs can help diversify boardrooms. They also create greater awareness of the challenges and concerns faced by minorities at work.

male-and-female-colleague-talking-with-laptop-reverse-mentoring

3. Creates an atmosphere of trust and cooperation

The trust of your team members is essential for your company's success. 

Trust improves the employee experience and can help reduce employee turnover rates. In fact, millennial employees say they are 22 times more likely to work for an organization that has a company culture of trust.

Reverse mentoring can help to build trust among team members. This can contribute to a company culture of cooperation and mutual help.

4. Helps with leadership development

Reverse mentoring doesn’t only benefit senior mentees. It can also boost junior employees’ career development by helping them develop leadership skills. 

By becoming a mentor, they can develop confidence in their own abilities as leaders. But they can also benefit from their mentee’s experience in the workplace and in leadership roles. 

At times, the senior team member may act as a coach. They may do this by helping their junior colleague problem-solve or develop new skills that enhance their career.

5. Boosts junior employee retention

In 2019, 49% of millennials said they would leave their jobs in the next two years if they had the chance. But reverse mentoring programs can help companies solve the puzzle of employee retention

One of the best examples of this is Pershings, a wealth management company under BNY Mellon. After launching their reverse mentoring program in 2013, they achieved a 96% retention rate among millennial employees.

6. Improves digital skills of senior employees

Digital skills are some of the most in-demand skills in today’s workplace. They can also represent the biggest challenge for some older employees who entered the workplace before the digital age. 

Developing their skills in areas such as coding or social media can have advantages for the company. It can also open up new opportunities for older colleagues.

7. Increases employee engagement

Research into reverse mentoring suggests that it has positive outcomes on employee engagement. Higher employee engagement is linked to a number of benefits for the organization, including:

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Obstacles to reverse mentoring

Before you embark on a reverse mentoring program for your team, it’s important to be aware of some of the barriers you may face.

1. Resistance from senior team members

Your senior employees have been around the block. Many of them have decades of experience under their belt and are experts in their area. And while they may still be open to learning, they might doubt that the younger generation has anything of value to teach them. 

Help them to see the value of reverse mentoring by asking where they feel they lack skills and knowledge. Then, explain how their junior colleagues can help address those gaps.

2. Lack of time commitment

People are busy, which can make them reluctant to commit their precious time to reverse mentoring. But a reverse mentoring relationship can only work when both parties are fully committed. 

If you want your employees to commit to their mentorship, help them see its value. You might give an example of a competitor’s success with their reverse mentoring program. Or you may explain how developing new skills through reverse mentoring can help senior colleagues become better leaders.

3. Might not be relevant to all employees

Reverse mentoring has proven to be successful in fields like: 

  • Business 
  • Education 
  • Technology 
  • Medical education 
  • Health sciences 

It can help senior leaders better understand their junior colleagues. It also helps them get inside the minds of younger consumers and clients. 

But when designing a reverse mentoring program, make sure it is relevant to the participants involved. Select mentees based on their need to: 

  • Develop new technical skills
  • Learn new technologies
  • Learn about the target market

Does your company need a reverse mentoring program? 

Reverse mentoring achieves the best results as part of a formal reverse mentoring program. It can complement other employee development initiatives.

Reverse mentoring programs can also be beneficial for virtual teams. It can help to strengthen trust and improve communication and collaboration among remote team members.

A formal program can ensure the success of the mentor-mentee relationship. It allows HR professionals to allocate partnerships based on skills and interests. They can also monitor the success of the relationship and look for ways to improve the program.

If senior employees are reluctant to participate in a reverse mentoring program, highlight some of the benefits to them. These include:

  • Promoting a company culture of learning
  • Leading by example
  • Learning new skills
  • Reducing skills gaps
  • Boosting employee engagement
  • Reducing employee turnover, especially among junior employees

6 tips for designing a reverse mentoring program

If you’re ready to start designing your reverse mentoring program, follow these tips to set it up for success.

1. Match potential partners

Start by gathering a list of employees who are interested in taking part in the reverse mentoring program. You can choose mentors and mentees based on a combination of age and management level.

Then, prepare a short survey for each mentee about their: 

  • Goals 
  • Interests
  • The skills they would like to develop

Create another survey for the mentees about their: 

Once they have completed the surveys, match potential mentors and mentees based on areas of expertise and interest. Where possible, try to ensure they share personal interests to help them connect more easily.

Draw up a shortlist of three potential partners for each participant in the program. Aim to promote diversity through your matches. Finally, allow the mentees to choose their mentor, as they may be concerned about conflicts of interest.

2. Establish communication channels

People’s preferences for communication are often influenced by generational differences. For example, millennial and Gen Z employees may prefer instant messaging or virtual meetings. But older colleagues might prefer traditional face-to-face meetings or phone calls. 

The solution is to help each pair establish a means of communication that works well for them. This could be a mix of methods. For example, a weekly face-to-face meeting with instant messaging in between.

If the mentee wants to develop new digital skills, encourage them to try using new communication technologies.

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3. Set clear goals

The needs of each reverse mentoring relationship will be different. So, the goals they set will also be unique.

Use the SMART framework to help each pair set a goal or goals for the partnership and a timeframe within which to achieve them. 

For example, the mentee might want to learn how to leverage three different social media platforms for business development during a six-week mentorship.

4. Set a schedule

Help each pair decide how frequently they will meet and for how long. For example, once a week for three months or bimonthly for six months.

Next, help them decide if they will have any touchpoints in between meetings, such as a weekly email to monitor progress.

Make sure that both participants block out time in their schedules to dedicate to the mentorship process.

5. Encourage effective communication

Effective communication is essential for a successful mentor-mentee relationship. Help them develop effective communication skills such as active listening and giving constructive feedback. If necessary, provide skills training in these areas before starting the mentorship.

6. Monitor and evaluate progress and results

Evaluate the success of your reverse mentoring program by asking participants for feedback. Knowing what worked and what didn't will help you improve it for the future.

Real-life examples of reverse mentoring

Ready to get started with reverse mentoring? Here are two real-life examples of successful reverse mentoring programs to help inspire you.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) 

PwC launched its reverse mentoring program in 2014 with the goal of improving diversity and inclusion. Millennial and Gen Z mentors meet with their mentees, who are all partners and directors at the firm, once a month. 

Additionally, they have a monthly mentor-only meeting in which they discuss issues. The program has been well received by both junior and senior colleagues as a way to empower young talent while building new skills.

Deloitte 

Deloitte piloted its reverse mentoring program in 2018. Like PwC, their goal was to support women and ethnic minorities among their staff. By pairing junior mentors with senior staff, leaders gained fresh perspectives and insights on ways to meet their diversity targets.

The program received a positive response from both mentors and mentees. In 2019, Deloitte rolled it out to LGBTQ+ employees to increase its impact.

Retain junior talent with reverse mentoring

Reverse mentoring is a win-win. It empowers junior employees to develop confidence and leadership skills. At the same time, it helps senior management develop new skill sets. 

Leaders who are open to learning from their junior colleagues will benefit from their skills and knowledge. And companies that embrace reverse mentoring are likely to be more diverse and resilient.

If you’re ready to get started with reverse mentoring, request a demo of BetterUp’s diversity and inclusion program. It’s the perfect complement to a successful reverse mentoring program.

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Published January 14, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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