Work and life constantly bring us new challenges which requires openness to change, learning agility and innovative thinking. We see an increase in the popularity of creating reverse mentoring programmes at the workplace to facilitate new ways of thinking by connecting senior leaders with the next generation of talents. Usually, a mentor is expected to be older and more experienced than the mentee. However, in reverse mentoring the roles are turned around and the younger, less experienced employee is positioned as the mentor.
For many organisations the purpose of having a reverse mentoring programme is to give senior leaders a fresh perspective on rising trends such as technology and social media and to provide a better understanding of the new generation of employees.
Other companies who find themselves struggling to attract and retain younger talents are also experimenting with reverse mentoring programme to address these challenges.
Why do companies do reverse mentoring?
Expanding digital skills
It is a mistake thinking that the primary focus of a reverse mentoring programme should be sharing of digital skills. However, growing up as digital natives, it is very relevant and beneficial for junior mentors to help senior mentees developing their digital skills. Such a reverse programme was recently running at Johnson and Johnson focusing on the adoption of digital capabilities. 88% of senior leaders mentored found the programme “a positive and unique personal experienced” and the initiative drove a double-digit growth in digital capabilities in both juniors and seniors participating[i].
Building intergenerational relationships
First and foremost, reverse mentoring is an efficient tool for building intergenerational relationships based on mutual trust and acceptance[ii]. By giving the role of the mentor to the junior in the relationship, you send a strong signal that the junior person has skills, insight and experience that the senior person can benefit from. Once the mentor/mentee relationships have been established and they start exploring each other’s experiences and skills, they will both gain a better understanding of what has shaped their approach to work, to life and to leadership – and learn from each other how to collaborate across generations in daily life in the organisation. Reverse mentoring is a place to break down barriers and biases between seniors and juniors in the workplace and build mutual understanding.
Through the reverse mentoring relationship, senior leaders gain new perspective and an insight into what skills, expectations and values the younger generation brings to the workplace – and understanding that helps them become better leaders to the younger generations.
Reverse mentoring also nurtures the leadership talent in the juniors who become mentors. Having the opportunity to mentor a senior person requires courage and self-confidence, and it provides the junior with knowledge and insight into what is required to be a great leader in their organisation.
Diversity and inclusion
Very high on the agenda for most larger organisations today is diversity and inclusion. Reverse mentoring can contribute to developing a more inclusive work culture. By implementing reverse mentoring, senior leaders are connected with junior mentors – and through a well-thought-through matching process you may create some very diverse matches that will expose the seniors to a whole new pool of ideas and talents. This will take the seniors out of the comfort zone of relating to people they know – and probably people who are very much like themselves. Thus, reverse mentoring can foster a more inclusive work culture that values the contribution and talents of all employees at all levels.
Increased retention – also of seniors
Many organisations struggle with retention, especially from the younger group of employees. Reverse mentoring provides the juniors with the attention and recognition they are seeking and make them and their talents visible across the organisation. Reverse mentoring also provides the juniors with insight into other parts of the organisation, inspiration about different kinds of career paths and probably also with more insight into their own talents and opportunities.
Employees leave companies because of lack of career development opportunities, current leadership or management, and better job opportunities (higher salaries) elsewhere[iii]. Traditional mentoring – and maybe to an even higher degree reverse mentoring – provides seniors with insight into what motivates and retains juniors and prepare seniors to become better leaders, better talent developers providing better career development and more career opportunities.
[ii] “Effectiveness of Reverse Mentoring in Creating Intergenerational Relationships”, by Katarzyna Gadomska-Lila, Journal of Organizational Change Management, July 2020
[iii] “Why People Quit Their Jobs”, Harvard Business Review, September 2016