Mentoring can be an effective way to develop future leaders in companies. Pairing a more experienced employee with someone who is new can accelerate the learning process and increase engagement. A Study by Moving Ahead found that 87 percent of mentors and mentees feel empowered and have developed greater self-confidence through their mentoring relationships.
However, as the Great Resignation continues, leaders should consider reverse mentoring – by getting the perspective of less experienced employees. The relationship can give business leaders a fresh perspective on rising trends in areas of technology or the future of work, said Laura-Jane Silverman, director of LSE Generate, the London School of Economics’ center for entrepreneurship, which recently launched a formal mentoring scheme Has.
“Reverse mentoring engaged [junior employees] in the mentoring process, equips them with leadership skills and gives them visibility and opportunities for further professional development,” she said. “The younger generation may not be as experienced as their older peers, but they are able to bring new insights into problems to bring or concepts that more experienced executives may not have thought of before.”
The flow of information
Professional services provider EY has a formal reverse mentoring program that helps create deeper connections between workers, said Ginnie Carlier, vice president of talent at EY Americas.
“Through these relationships, senior leaders gain insight into their employees’ roles and unique experiences at work,” she said.
A natural exchange of knowledge can take place around technology. Younger employees are often early adopters of new tools, and executives can use reverse mentoring to better understand them, said Sherry Hartnett, co-author of Effective Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Adding Value to Other People’s Lives (BookLogix, 2021).
“Digital transformation needs digital leadership,” she said. “The younger generation is looking for that in their employer. When she sees that her leaders don’t understand, it creates a lack of respect and uncertainty about how the organization will evolve in the future. Reverse mentoring is a way for leaders to become more digitally savvy.”
Potential insights don’t end with technology. Elizabeth Newman, chief of staff at accounting and tax services firm CBIZ, said about 46 percent of her team is made up of Millennials and 10 percent are Gen Z. While the company initially only put together traditional mentoring programs, company leaders found that value flowed both ways.
“What I’m learning from associating with a young professional brings new perspectives to organizational-level information,” she said. “Your feedback has highlighted both unintended consequences of policies and important areas for improvement.”
Changing demographics and diversity initiatives increasingly require adaptive ways of working, Silverman said.
“Reverse mentoring is proving to be an efficient tool to overcome prejudice, share knowledge, create engagement and build intergenerational relationships based on mutual acceptance and trust,” she said. “This helps foster a more team-oriented environment where ideas and problems can be discussed openly. In this way, the introduction of reverse mentoring helps to meet the needs of not only the new generation, but everyone in this changing world of work. “
How to set up a reverse mentoring program
Setting up a reverse mentoring program is similar to setting up a traditional mentoring arrangement. In Hartnett’s book, she provides organizations with a seven-step framework:
- Define why you want to create a reverse mentoring program, including what you hope to learn from the younger generation.
- Find the right person to lead the formal program, who will call them your “Program Champion.”
- Set goals and metrics. “This is an investment in people and their careers, and goals and metrics will help you know if you’re getting there,” Hartnett said.
- Build the program by determining the application and the matching process. “It’s about finding the right mentees and the right mentors,” says Hartnett.
- Recruit the people you want to attend and figure out how to connect them.
- Maintain your program with regular meetings and help with potential roadblocks.
- Measure success based on the goals you’ve identified and the feedback you’ve received. This information can help you optimize your program for the future.
EY uses an automated matching platform that allows the mentor and mentee to choose the right partner based on answers to questions about their goals and interests.
While formal programs can help increase the success of mentorship, Hartnett says leaders can also build relationships on their own. “I would encourage leaders to step up and become a mentee themselves,” she said.
The key to success
Reverse mentoring is not without its challenges, said Dr. Jack Wiley, Chief Scientific Officer at Engage2Excel, an employee engagement consultancy.
“First, the two parties need to clarify their expectations about how the relationship will work and whether it will meet their respective needs,” he said. “Leaders need to be open to new ideas and suggestions from someone with significantly less experience.”
The partnership must also reflect a high level of respect and a low level of conflict, Wiley said.
“Leaders must be open to feedback on how they are viewed at lower levels of the organization and the younger partner must have the confidence to relay such information,” he said.
Carlier agreed. “To be a successful mentor or mentee, you need to be intentional about nurturing your relationship,” she said. “We encourage [senior leaders in our program] being open-minded and allowing their mentor – the aspiring leader – to drive the mentoring sessions. We also urge our leaders to be vulnerable and share their own experiences.”
Newman added: “We are in the midst of one of the most challenging talent markets I have seen in my career. As leaders, we must recognize that the unvarnished information necessary to move forward is often the hardest part. We find that through mentoring relationships, we have leaders across our organization who are learning more about their organization and how it works by they are exposed to different perspectives and experiences.”
Stephanie Vozza is a freelance writer based in Franklin, Tennessee.