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Reverse Mentoring: What It Is And Why it’s Critical To The Future Of Work

Reverse mentoring is a new form of workplace mentoring, but it's getting increasingly popular as a way to connect senior leaders with the next generation of talent. By flipping the traditional mentoring relationship on its head, senior leaders have the opportunity to take on the role of a student again and gain a new perspective.

Ryan Carruthers

July 12, 2021

Traditional mentorships have connected senior leaders with younger workers with the goal that the mentor will give guidance and advice to help their mentee in their job and career. However, as the nature of work changes, so too does the face of mentoring. 

From remote mentoring programs to peer-to-peer opportunities to reverse mentoring, there are many different ways that companies can create mentoring relationships. In fact, there are many different mentoring models that companies can adopt and adapt. And with the changes come new ways to learn from each other and to help one another grow and develop along their career journey. 

A new form of mentoring that is gaining popularity is reverse mentoring. This article will dive deep into what reverse mentoring is, its benefits, and how organizations can introduce it within their organizations. We’ll also have several examples of companies leveraging reverse mentoring programs that you can draw inspiration from.

What Is Reverse Mentoring?

Reverse mentoring is defined by more junior employees acting as a mentor to senior leaders or executives. For many organizations, reverse mentorship’s purpose is to give leaders a fresh perspective on rising trends in areas of technology or the future of work. 

Reverse mentoring is also a great way to increase the visibility of minority employees for future leadership opportunities, thus supporting diversity initiatives.

Graphic of someone explain what is reverse mentoring.


Why Is Reverse Mentoring Important?

Reverse mentoring has been on the rise to engage employees, like Millennials, in the process. It presents an opportunity for younger workers to feel like they are active participants in the mentoring process. 

For example, if a Baby Boomer employee approaches a Millennial employee in the company to find out more about coding or social media, it creates a sense of trust. In this way, each participant plays an active mentoring role. The younger employee will help build the skills of senior leaders in the organization. In turn, senior leaders gain fresh perspectives into the next generation of talent. 

Reverse mentoring is a good approach to leadership development. In these scenarios, senior leaders need to listen to employees and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Doing this validates the Millennial employee and creates a foundation of trust that is essential for successful mentoring. 

What Is A Reverse Mentorship Program?

Developing a reverse mentorship program within an organization offers a different avenue of learning and development for employees at any level. A reverse mentoring relationship provides benefits for all participants, including:

  • Cultivating a culture of learning
  • Overcoming generational gaps
  • Leadership development
  • Increasing employee engagement and skillsets
  • Reducing turnover rates for younger workers

Mentoring programs can also be used by companies with remote workers to help develop a unified culture. 

Some leading companies have added reverse mentoring to their list of development and learning opportunities for employees.

Examples of reverse mentoring

  • Heineken - Heineken has been running a reverse mentoring program through Together’s platform since April 2021. The results have been amazing. When surveyed, 86% of mentees - who are senior leaders - wanted to connect with more junior employees to gain new skills and experiences from the next generation of talent. One participant shared that their meeting “was incredibly useful [for] learning about the processes at Heineken to progress through the business. We had a very open and honest conversation and I received a lot of direction and support on how to achieve my goals and ambitions within Heineken.”
  • Caterpillar - The organization has had success with their mentoring programs and have added a reverse mentoring component in the form of ERGs. Vice President of Caterpillar's Large Power Systems Division, Tana Utley, said that Millennials see the work world differently than other generations, which is vital for senior leaders to understand. 
  • GE - The company’s global managing partner Andrew Ballheimer reverse mentoring experience was the inspiration of a FT article demonstrating the positive impact reverse mentoring can have on an organization. Ballheimer’s mentor, MaameYaa Kwafo-Akoto, enjoyed the opportunity to give back to her employer and to help others understand the experience of minority, working moms. 
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What Are The Benefits Of Reverse Mentoring?

Reverse mentoring programs can have several benefits for companies, including

  • Expand digital skills competency among employees. Younger workers have a lot to offer senior leaders when it comes to understanding and integrating technology into workplaces. While many senior employees have had to learn social media, Millennials have a much more intuitive understanding of platforms and how to leverage them. 
  • Leadership development. Even if the goal of your reverse mentoring program is to have younger workers teach senior employees, learning will be a two-way street. Millennials can benefit by improving skills that will make them great future leaders, such as communication. 
  • Improve diversity. Learning to understand and respect differences is a key element to mentorships, including reverse mentoring. Patrice Gordon, an executive coach, specializing in DE&I, did a TedTalk on reverse mentoring and how it’s an effective way to champion employee diversity and inclusive leadership.


How To Introduce Reverse Mentoring Into Your Organization

As with nearly every initiative you start in your organization, introducing a reverse mentoring program requires some upfront work. Here are the steps you can take to create your reverse mentoring program:

Define the objective

Understand why you want to create a reverse mentoring program at your company and what you want to achieve. Consider some of these examples of mentoring program goals to help you. Remember to identify a few KPIs that can be measured, so you’ll know if your initiative is successful or needs some work.


Fill in the details

Once you’ve built an outline of the reverse mentoring program, fill in the details of how the program will run. It should include:

  • Who will participate
  • Registration and matching process
  • How long mentorships will last
  • What is the commitment needed from participants
  • How can you track and monitor the progress of mentorships?

Companies that are transitioning to a hybrid work model following the COVID-19 pandemic can still make reverse mentoring work. While it may look different from in-person workplaces, you can introduce mentoring programs into a hybrid workplace

Depending on the program’s size, the registration, pairing, and tracking alone can be demanding on program administrators. Using mentoring software can free up valuable time for mentoring program managers and keep the program running smoothly. 


Attract participants

The next step is to decide who will be involved in your reverse mentoring program. Do you want it to be open for anyone to register, or will it be closed and participation will be invite-only? 

You’ll also need to decide how to attract people and let them know about your mentoring program. Find out what promotion channels are available to you, such as intranet and emails. 

See our blog on how to promote your mentorship program internally. 


Pairing

Decide how participants will be paired. There are different ways to pair mentors and mentees in your workplace mentoring program, and using mentoring software for mentor matching is one of the easiest and time-effective tools you can use. 

Together uses an algorithm to find potential matches based on your criteria quickly. 


Launch and track your mentorships

Once you’ve defined a program objective, filled in the details, invested in marketing your mentoring program, and created a pairing process, you’re ready to get started. 

Consider having a launch event so that everyone can celebrate the remote mentoring program. Once it is up and running, ensure that you are regularly checking in with participants, getting feedback, and tracking your KPIs to see if the program is working or needs adjustments. 

Encourage participants to find creative ways to connect and build trust between them to have a better mentoring experience. You also need to be on the lookout for toxic mentors, which can lead to bad mentoring experiences and ultimately negatively impact your mentoring program. 

There’s a better way to manage employee mentorship programs. Together Software helps you run internal employee mentoring programs at scale, from registration to reporting.


Wrapping Up

Reverse mentoring is a new form of workplace mentoring, but it's getting increasingly popular as a way to connect senior leaders with the next generation of talent. By flipping the traditional mentoring relationship on its head, senior leaders have the opportunity to take on the role of a student again and gain a new perspective.

Whether it's understanding how Millennials or GenZ think about work, or learning about rising trends reverse mentoring is a way to break down barriers between leaders and junior employees. And both sides stand to benefit from the relationship. While the more junior employee is in the role of mentor they'll undoubtedly draw insights and learning from connecting with an executive in their company.

So the big question: should you have a reverse mentoring program within your organization?

If the following things are important to your company we'd argue yes:

  • Championing inclusive cultures that seek out opportunities to increase visibility of minority employees to leadership
  • Keep leaders up to date on changing trends and new technologies so they can make better decisions
  • Connecting distributed or hybrid workplaces
  • Making sure new hires are onboarded successfully, or
  • Preparing high potential talent for future leadership positions

Are you ready to learn more about starting a mentorship program or seeing how Together's mentorship software can make it easy to register, pair and report on its success? Connect with us to see the platform.

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Download our Whitepaper on Best Practices for Running A Mentorship Program

We draw from the first-hand experience of managers at various companies leading mentoring programs and our own expertise to outline the best practices for running a mentorship program. This white paper is a comprehensive guide to help you build a world-class mentoring program.