What is reverse mentoring & how does it work?

    Reverse mentoring

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    What is reverse mentoring & how does it work?

    Mentoring is a proven method of developing employee skills and knowledge. In a traditional sense, mentoring has been used to improve younger employees’ skills and knowledge. Many believe that there is nothing left to learn when employees reach a certain level of seniority. However, many open-minded employers are aware of the fact that junior or younger members of staff have more to offer and can share valuable skills with senior employees.

    Many employers are starting to see the benefits of employees of all levels mentoring each other. This style of mentoring benefits both senior and junior staff members and helps them progress their careers. With increasing multi-generational workplaces, reverse mentoring is becoming increasingly popular.

    This article will explore what reverse mentoring is, its benefits and downsides, tips on how to implement the programme.

    What is reverse mentoring?

    Reverse mentoring is when senior members of staff are paired up with junior members of staff. It’s often used to help fill skills gaps for senior staff members. However, it’s also used from a diversity and inclusion perspective — to pair off senior members of staff with junior members who have different backgrounds from them. It also gives younger employees a better idea of how the business operates and helps them understand how they can progress in their careers.

    One of the common reasons reverse mentoring is becoming so popular is due to the digital transformation workplaces are facing. Some senior employees may be struggling to grapple with the increasing use of technology at work, so junior employees, who have grown up with technology, can lend a hand.

    Benefits of a reverse mentoring programme

    It helps to fill skills gaps of both senior and junior employees

    Junior employees possess many skills that can be passed on to senior members. This is particularly apparent when it comes to skills in technology and social media. Reverse mentoring can be a good way for younger employees to educate older employees about changing technology and how it can be used to help their careers. Plus, it’s a relatively inexpensive alternative to formal training that tends to get lower engagement.

    It helps junior staff retention

    Junior staff members can learn more about the opportunities available in the business, which can encourage them to stay with the company long-term. 49% of millennials say that they would move company if they were given a choice, so anything that can increase staff loyalty among younger workers will be great for your business.

    It helps senior members’ inclusion competencies

    Many senior staff members may be uncomfortable addressing issues of racial inequalities. However, it’s very clear that not talking about issues doesn’t help fix them. Reverse monitoring is a good way to educate senior employees on these issues and improve their skills in dealing with diversity and inclusion issues.

    Encourages cross-team collaboration

    Where you have people from different teams working together, it helps relationships form between teams that can lead to more collaboration. More collaboration across teams can lead to better innovation and communication in your business. It can also help your smarter working initiatives and help you use all the resources available within your business.

    It helps younger employees improve their skills

    Improving the skills of younger employees is the most common use of mentoring. It helps improve junior staff’s knowledge and competency levels to aid them in their career progression. It also helps them learn more about the business and the opportunities available.

    Raises awareness of challenges faced by ethnic minorities in the workplace

    Reverse mentoring helps bring issues regarding racial inequalities to light and highlights the experiences faced by ethnic minorities in the workplace.

    Improves communication

    Being paired with someone you wouldn’t normally work with on a day-to-day business or who has a different background from you forces you to work on your communication skills. It helps a senior staff member to explain complex terms simply and helps junior or younger employees communicate with high-level management, which could be intimidating.

    Helps both parties expand their networks

    Expanding professional networks is a great way to progress in your career and keep up with what’s going on in the industry. Young employees are particularly eager to expand their networks, and it can also benefit older employees too. It can help to bridge skills gaps in the workplace and fill posts with talented individuals.

    Senior staff members set a good example of inclusion

    Reverse mentoring sets a great example in the business. It shows that employees of all ages and backgrounds can greatly impact other employees and help others by sharing their skills. It lays the path for more inclusion in the workplace as it highlights the benefits of having people from different backgrounds in different areas of the business.

    Pros & cons of reverse mentoring

    Improving knowledge and skills

    Sharing skills between people in different roles is a great way to improve competencies. Many junior employees possess skills that could be very beneficial to older and more senior staff members.

    Senior employees may be resistant to change

    As with any kind of change or new idea; you’re likely to experience some resistance — most likely from senior employees who are happy with the status quo or feel like they don’t need to learn more skills.

    Expanding networks and improving relationships

    Having strong relationships between people within your business is always going to be beneficial to business operations.

    Encourages diversity and inclusion

    Reverse mentoring encourages senior members to work with employees who come from different backgrounds and have had different experiences.

    Encourages diversity and inclusion

    Reverse mentoring encourages senior members to work with employees who come from different backgrounds and have had different experiences. Bad pairing could have a negative effect
    Not pairing mentees with the correct mentors could lead to people feeling like they’re wasting time if they’re being mentored on skills they already possess.

    How to implement reverse mentoring

    Clearly define the goals of the reverse mentoring programme

    Make sure you have a clear-cut plan for your reverse mentorship programme to ensure it runs as seamlessly as possible and that your company can make the most of it. You should also identify key skills you believe need to focus on improving with the programme.

    For example, the aim of your programme may be digital skills training. You’ll then seek to pair up younger employers who work with technology regularly with more senior employees who may not be aware of the technology available to them and how it could help them at work. If the aim is diversity and inclusion, you could pair up two employees from different backgrounds to help the mentee understand the challenges faced by different communities.

    Find strong partnerships

    The key to a strong reverse mentoring programme is being able to identify good pairs that will have the best effect on one another. It’s a good idea to have everyone who would like to take part in a reverse mentoring programme take a test that identifies the strengths and weaknesses of their skills and knowledge.

    If you feel it would be better not to pair people up, you can encourage people to seek out potential partners for themselves by displaying the skills or backgrounds of each employee. However, it’s extremely important that you don’t share sensitive information or anything the employee has not agreed to be shared.

    Ensure clear goals and expectations are set in the pairings

    Make sure the reverse mentoring pairs have set out the goals of the partnership. They will easily run into issues if there are different expectations around how much time should be spent together or communication methods.

    Provide quality resources and support

    It’s not enough to pair your partners and hope for the best. You should set up a range of tools and resources that can help the mentee and the mentor make the most of the programme. The content of the resources you provide will vary depending on your goals for the programme.

    For example, if your mentoring partnership is focusing on diversity and inclusion, people may need to discuss topics that are quite uncomfortable to them, so having guided direction will ease the process and help everyone feel more comfortable.

    Make sure progress is monitored & recorded

    You should set out a process for recording progress throughout the mentorship programme. This will ensure that the pairing is beneficial for both parties involved and that no one is wasting time when it could be spent better elsewhere. However, don’t just break up pairing because it doesn’t seem to be working — schedule a meeting to discuss what could be going wrong and explore possible solutions.

    To measure the success of the pairing, you could do a small, informal test or survey to see how far the mentee has come on in developing the skills they were aiming for. For example, sticking with the digital skills goals, you could conduct a test to check their skills in this area.

    Encourage participation

    Finally, and most importantly, you should take steps to encourage employees to take part in the reverse mentoring programme. Without enough people taking part, you won’t have the diversity required to make a real impact within your workforce. Some ways you could encourage participation are as follows:

    • Share success stories from previous reverse mentoring programmes in your company or another
    • Have senior members of staff advertise the fact they’re taking part
    • Hold an information session explaining the programme and the benefits

    Examples of reverse mentoring

    Reverse mentoring can take many different forms and there are endless opportunities for the relationships. Take a look at some examples of how reverse mentoring can work in a real workplace:

    Example 1

    A junior analyst mentors a financial director with 20 years of experience on the latest fin-tech tools. The director has greater knowledge of the business and can come up with creative ways to use the tools the junior analyst showed him. In turn, the junior staff member learns more about the business and can ask the director for practical advice about how to progress in her career.

    Example 2

    A marketing executive with is mentored by a new staff member on how to use Snapchat and Instagram to market a new campaign.

    While young people who have grown up with social media understand it quickly and easily, it can be harder for people who have never used it to grasp. In this pairing, the executive learns about a new platform to advertise on, and the younger employee can take advice and knowledge from the more experienced, senior member of staff.

    Example 3

    A sales director is having difficulty understanding the target market for a new product. The target audience is Gen-Z, so he decides to be mentored by a new start graduate employee to understand the way that generation interacts with social media and advertising.

    From the mentoring programme, the director learned some new ways to gain new leads, while the recent graduate gets a rare insight into the way in which the top-level sales team operates and can ask for advice about the best ways to progress in her career.

    Reverse mentoring FAQs

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    Legal disclaimer

    The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

    Author

    Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

    Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing & Content Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

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