By Milan van Berlo – Project & Partnerships Manager CEO Office Thomas Thor Associates
In the past decades, mentoring has been used as a tool by many businesses, organisations and universities. In a previous blogpost, we focused on mentoring software and during this research we observed an increasing number of references to ‘reverse mentoring’. What is it and how can it be beneficial for the current and future workforce? This article will answer these questions accordingly.
Traditional mentoring is often spoken about and widely implemented in businesses and organisations. In this hierarchical partnership, a more experienced senior mentor guides a less experienced mentee. The mentors share their knowledge and experience to prepare their less experienced counterparts as they develop their careers. Hence, this collaboration focuses on a rather top-down approach and inadvertently dictates that the younger generation absorbs advice and cannot serve as a knowledge source themselves.
Reverse mentoring attempts to break away from this traditional hierarchical approach to mentoring. Instead of a top-down program, reverse mentoring focusses on a more equal relationship between the two parties. In this scenario, a less experienced, normally younger, employee is matched with a senior employee. The idea is that, although the younger employee might not have as much experience as the senior employee, younger generations do have a different skillset from which more senior people can learn from.
Transfer of technological skills
To reverse the traditional direction of mentoring has many benefits for the workforce of a company or industry. Several research papers have addressed these benefits, of which we will highlight four of the most important ones. Initially, reverse mentoring was proposed to transfer technological skills between employees. In the late 1990s, the pioneer of reverse mentoring, Jack Welch (then the CEO of General Electric), recognised that senior managers had a lack of technological skills and that younger employees were an important source of technological knowledge. Younger generations which were born in the midst of the digital revolution can be better equipped and familiar with social media, advanced computer skills, and editing software compared to their senior counterparts. A reverse mentoring collaboration can thus facilitate the access and understanding of senior employees when it comes to technology.
Besides the transfer of technological skills, a reverse mentoring program can also familiarise senior employees with a different mindset. Being a mentee to a junior mentor can help more experienced people to better understand the needs of younger generations. The workforce in almost any industry is far more flexible than before. People change jobs more often than historically and rarely stay with the same company for their entire career. According to a 2018 Deloitte Survey, 43% of ‘’millennials’’ plan to leave their current job in the next two years. Hence, understanding their needs is crucial for senior managers to attract and retain the most qualified junior professionals. A concrete case in point of the effectiveness of reverse mentoring comes from the example of Pershing, a financial services company. After implementing a reverse mentoring program, the business managed to retain 96% of millennials working for the company. In addition, reverse mentoring will also foster communication and collaboration between different generations in a company. This will enhance the overall atmosphere and the mutual understanding between employees.
Development of leadership skills
Next to the technological benefits for senior employees and advantages for retaining a company’s workforce, reverse mentoring is also beneficial for young professionals. Pairing up relatively new employees with senior employees will empower the less experienced participants with confidence, provide networking opportunities and enable the development of important leadership skills. Hence, the benefits from a more traditional mentoring program will still be retained with the added benefit that the young professionals are given the confidence and trust to share their knowledge with those more senior.
Diversity and inclusion
Lastly, reverse mentoring can also be launched in tandem with a diversity and inclusion agenda. The senior leadership can learn a lot from a mentorship pairing with someone representing an underrepresented group in the company. For example, the global law firm Linklaters launched a reverse mentoring program specifically aimed to improve the understanding of senior managers regarding issues faced by underrepresented groups. In addition, Procter and Gamble implemented a similar program to match senior male managers with junior female mentors to provide feedback on the needs and concerns of women in the company, which unsurprisingly led to increased retention rates among women.
In summary, reverse mentoring breaks away from the traditional top-down approach and reinvents mentoring as a useful tool to transfer technological knowledge, retains and empowers a young workforce, and improves the understanding of diversity and inclusion issues inside a company.
If you would like to send comments, questions, or suggestions, contact Milan van Berlo at: firstname.lastname@example.org.