Reverse Mentoring: A Complete Guide to Getting it Right

5 minutes

Over the past few years we’ve seen a surge of interest in reverse mentoring. Yet, with this increasing demand, only 12% of organisations have a formal programme in place for reverse mentoring.

Given its powerful benefits to career development, cultural competency and employee engagement, it’s time to get the lowdown on everything reverse mentoring has to offer.

We all know that traditional mentoring is a well-proven personal and career development tool. Both the person being mentored and the one doing the mentoring gain confidence, perspective and skills from the relationship.

This means that formal mentoring programs are more and more commonly used to develop skills, share knowledge, break down silos, and support diversity and inclusion initiatives.

If you want to take this a step further and supercharge your DE&I initiatives, then we highly recommend implementing a reverse mentoring program.

In this guide, we break down what reverse mentoring is, how to get it right and why you need to start a reverse mentoring program today.

📖 For more on other types of mentoring check out our full guide 📖

What is reverse mentoring?

Reverse mentoring is simply the opposite format of traditional mentoring, where the senior leader is mentored by a younger or more junior employee. Aka, mentoring in reverse.

The process recognises that there are skills gaps and opportunities to learn on both sides of a mentoring relationship. Flipping the traditional format on its head can be beneficial for both parties.

It also challenges the idea of mentoring being elitist, as it’s not about a senior person taking someone under their wing, but a formal relationship for the purpose of skill sharing and professional development.

It’s an essential part of diversity and inclusion initiatives, as well as corporate leadership training given that it both develops future leaders and existing ones.

How is reverse mentoring different to traditional mentorship?

Traditionally, mentoring involves a more senior, experienced person, advising a more junior person. Helping them develop skills, share their experiences and learnings, introduce them to relevant people, and generally support and encourage them.

However, there are a number of different types of mentoring that can be utilised for different goals, including reverse mentoring.

The key difference in reverse mentoring, is that the power dynamic is flipped on its head. It gives a more junior person the opportunity to develop leadership skills and impart wisdom upwards.

Why is reverse mentoring important?

Reverse mentoring has many personal and business benefits and can create a real lasting impact within a company. The likes of KPMG, General Electric, and Fidelity have all found success across different business areas from running this type of mentoring program. From supporting diversity initiatives to engaging and developing their graduate employees, there are many benefits to reverse mentoring.

One company, Pershings, recorded a 97% retention rate of their millennial workforce following a reverse mentoring program. With 49% of millennials stating they would quit their jobs in the next two years given the choice, retention is naturally a key challenge for many businesses. It can therefore offer an effective solution.

As well as organisational benefits, reverse mentoring is a powerful way to build human connections and community within a business. Through mentoring at Marks & Spencer, many senior employees are both being mentors and being mentored. One mentor, James Newton-Brown, spoke of his experience:

“Every time you have a conversation with someone, you learn something. You learn something about people’s behaviour, their motivations, and most importantly you learn something about yourself. For me, it’s a win-win all round.” James, Marks & Spencer

What are the benefits of reverse mentoring?

Further benefits include:

  • Building a learning culture
  • Closing generational gaps
  • Developing leadership skills in younger employees
  • Millennial retention
  • Improving cultural competency
  • Sharing different perspectives
  • Supporting inclusivity
  • Developing communication skills
  • Developing self-confidence and self-awareness

As you can see, the benefits of reverse mentoring are similar to other types of mentoring but with a focus on widening perspectives and improving cultural competency.

One organisation utilising reverse mentoring for a diversity and inclusion purpose is Mazars. Hear from the Program Manager, Sponsee and Sponsor on their experience of reverse mentoring via Guider:

What are the uses of reverse mentoring?

When it comes to workplace mentoring programs, they can be used to support various business impact areas, or achieve business objectives. From corporate leadership training to up-skilling your workforce, there are so many ways that reverse mentoring can benefit your organisation.

These include:

Inclusion

An inclusive workplace is one that factors in all people equally. Where progression opportunities are visible to everyone, and where decision-making groups are diverse. Role models within the business are important, yet it’s hard for employees from minority groups to aspire to leadership when they can’t see anyone that looks like them in those positions.

It also may be difficult for leadership to truly understand and recognise the structural and cultural barriers that affect certain employees within the organisation when they don’t have direct exposure to their experiences.

This is where reverse mentoring can be highly effective. 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.

This provides leadership mentoring for junior staff and also acts as corporate leadership training by improving the cultural competency of senior leaders.

It’s also a great way for BAME, LGBTQ+, disabled, and other underrepresented employees to grow their leadership networks in the business and open doors that are typically harder to get through due to systemic inequalities.

📖 Want to learn more about using mentoring to support D&I? Find out more in our guide 📖

Closing generational gaps

Bridging the gap between generations in a company is a challenge. The graduate scheme intake each year will be welcoming people into an organisation which operates very differently from the way it did when people who have worked there for decades joined – making it difficult to relate to one another. Particularly with digital transformation and the speed at which businesses are changing and developing, there can be a disconnect between older and younger employees.

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. Again, this is a great way to provide leadership mentoring for both future and existing leaders, sharing knowledge, experience and perspectives.

This nicely leads to another common use…

Digital skills development

In the fast-paced modern world we live in, keeping up with technological advancements and skills can be difficult. Even software engineers, the most digitally savvy of the workforce, still require lots of reading, training, and mentoring to keep up to date with new technologies. For some, learning about social media, cloud-based computing and other modern digital skills can be overwhelming.

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 training programs which generally get very low engagement, reverse mentoring is a common and effective approach to increasing digital skills in employees.

This kind of reverse mentoring also contributes to inclusivity, helping tackle ageism and increase confidence when discussing digital topics at work.

Millennial retention

Many companies struggle with retaining millennial and Gen-Z talent. Different expectations of work and changes in culture around job-hopping, mean that many companies are working harder to attract and retain this demographic.

And given that 40% of the workforce will be made up of Millennials by 2025 (and rising), it’s a vital issue to get right.

Reverse mentoring provides more junior or mid-level employees greater access to senior leadership. This can give them the opportunity to develop their skills, progress and provides the recognition and transparency they seek. This all contributes to better employee engagement and happiness, leading to greater retention among these demographics.

Leadership mentoring

Finally, reverse mentoring is a highly effective way of 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.

Naturally, the mentor will also be learning a lot from their mentee as they build their relationship. If they are mentoring someone senior who has been in the business a long time, they can also act as a role model who can increase their aspirations for leadership within the company. Running a reverse mentoring program to develop future leaders can therefore also positively impact retention.

How to start a reverse mentoring program

Step 1: Outline the objective

The first step is to define the purpose of your reverse mentoring program. By identifying which use of reverse mentoring is most critical to your people, you can then outline what success will look like and how to measure it.

For example:

Objective of the program: Digital skills development

Method: The reverse mentoring program will pair junior employees with advanced digital skills with more senior employees that need to improve in this area. The mentors will offer training and support in digital skills the mentees want to develop.

Success: The mentees will have a greater understanding of digital skills by the end of the reverse mentoring program, and increased confidence in discussing technology.

Measure: Surveys and digital literacy tests before and after the program.

Step 2: Design the reverse mentoring program

Once the basics are mapped out, it’s time to work out the details. Here you need to outline:

  • Who will be on the program?
  • Are you selecting participants?
  • How many spaces will be available?
  • 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 naturally vary from business to business and depending on the objective of the program. It’s important to be as detailed as possible at this planning stage to help your reverse mentoring program run as smoothly as possible.

Banner advert for our mentoring for diversity and inclusion e-book

Step 3: Recruit mentors and mentees

Depending on whether your program is open (anyone can apply) or closed (selected participants) you’ll be onboarding mentors and mentees differently.

Using mentoring software like Guider makes things easier, as you can simply send out a link for people to sign up and create a profile. Within minutes they can be matched with a mentor/mentee. If you’re doing things manually, this will take a little longer.

You will need to promote the program through your internal communication channels, as well as identify target participants and invite them personally. Remember to communicate the benefits of reverse mentoring and highlight the skills and experience they will gain.

You may need to raise awareness and answer questions such as ‘What is reverse mentoring’ through content, communications campaigns and events.

Step 4: Matching mentors and mentees

An important part of setting up a reverse mentoring program is deciding how you will match the mentors and mentees. This again may vary depending on how many participants there are in the program and how they have been selected.

Typically, matches are made based on the skill set of the mentor and the desired improvement areas of the mentee, as well as personality traits and common interests. Program managers can either do this manually, using spreadsheets and their own intuition of who could make a good match or using mentoring software such as Guider.

The issue with matching mentors and mentees manually is the risk of unconscious bias or favouritism at play. For example, if the person doing the matching knew some participants personally but had never met others, their choice of mentor/mentee could be affected.

Guider uses a matching algorithm to accurately match people with the best-suited mentors for them, removing human bias and supporting inclusivity. This is particularly important if you’re using reverse mentoring for diversity and inclusion purposes.

Read our article on running a productive mentoring session to provide support to your mentors and mentees

Step 5: Launch and monitor the reverse mentoring program

Once your participants are matched, you can officially launch the program! It’s good to commemorate the launch in some way to make participants feel like they’re part of something and build a sense of community. This will help to increase commitment and maintain momentum as the relationship develops.

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.

Note: this is crucial when the reverse mentoring program is focused on diversity and inclusion. Both mentor and mentee will require training on approaching and discussing uncomfortable topics, empathy, self-awareness, and what to do if the sessions are not going well.

Track how frequently the mentors and mentees are meeting, and develop a sound system for receiving feedback from the participants to know if the program is working towards your desired business objective. As reverse mentoring is very qualitative programs are traditionally difficult to measure, which is where mentoring software again offers great insight and support.

Read our article: How to Measure the Success of Your Mentoring Program

Finally, continue to monitor the progress of the participants and measure the success of the reverse mentoring program against your objective. If you need further reading on how to start a mentoring program, this article is a good read.

By following these steps when setting up your reverse mentoring program, you’re setting yourself up for success! Whether you are looking to improve cultural competency in senior leadership or up-skill in digital technologies, reverse mentoring can help.

As you can see, reverse mentoring is a powerful tool to support your people. With uses across diversity and inclusion, leadership development and digital skills, it’s an important part of your mentoring toolkit.

If you’re interested in learning more or need advice setting up a program, talk to our team today

Discover how using mentoring for DE&I initiatives drives success, and how to plan, run and measure the impact of the programme.

Mentoring For Diversity and Inclusion

Discover how to utilise mentoring for DE&I initiatives, and how to plan, run and measure the impact of your programme.

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