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How to Make Reverse Mentoring Work

Keeping up with change is a challenge for any company. To combat obsolete ways of doing business, industry leaders are switching things up and looking to their youngest employees to upskill their teams.

Millennial employees have key insights about the modern consumer and can help fill knowledge gaps about everything from tweeting to advocating for diversity. To tap into this info, companies are leaning on reverse mentoring programs, which involve junior team members coaching more senior ones on specific topics.

Yet, creating a reverse mentoring programme can be tricky to get right. At MentorCruise, we’ve put together expert coaching tips and tools so you can make reverse mentoring work and glean savvy insights from younger generations for your business’s future.

What is reverse mentoring?

Reverse mentoring matches junior team members with more senior ones to guide them on strategic topics typically related to technology and diversity.

Often, reverse mentoring is a part of a company-wide effort to modernize the skillsets of their employees and align them with younger generations’ consumer behaviors and mindsets.

With the younger, less experienced mentor being paired with a senior mentee, the mentoring relationship breaks the traditional mentoring mold and creates a more dynamic exchange of ideas.

The mentee benefits from fresh perspectives, while the mentor learns more about leadership skills and company culture. The meeting of the minds can help improve communication and collaboration within the organization.

Reverse mentoring not only closes the skills gap but also helps bridge organizational hierarchies. This encourages employees to communicate better, which creates a harmonious co-existence conducive to teamwork and cooperation.

Having a reverse mentoring program creates an opportunity to harness the power of multi-diverse and multi-generational workforces to accomplish business goals with less friction and resistance.

Senior Peers as Mentees

What is reverse mentoring from the perspective of senior executives? For one, reverse mentorship pushes them out of their comfort zones. They will be introduced to new skills, new approaches, and new ways of doing things that may be overwhelming. It may also mean unlearning some processes that have become obsolete over time.

It’s not uncommon for senior peers in the company to show some resistance because it may be unthinkable for them to be mentored by younger and inexperienced peers. However, if the goals of the reverse mentoring program are clearly laid out, it would be met with less resistance.

If senior executives see the benefits of reverse mentoring, they’ll be more receptive to learning from their junior peers. In the case of a senior leader of a tech company, learning new skills and getting used to new technology are direct benefits of reverse mentorship.

If you are a senior executive, a reverse mentoring program allows you to gain a window to the world of your younger mentor and help you see things from their perspective. This gives you fresh ideas and new insights that can help inform your business decision-making.

Updating your skills and gaining new knowledge can help you create a business strategy that will help future-proof the company and its workforce.

Junior Peers as Mentors

What is reverse mentoring from the perspective of a younger mentor? There will always be some degree of fear and unease when a younger person mentors a senior member of the company. More so if the person is well-respected and highly influential.

There may also be some resistance from the older and more experienced mentees. After all, reverse mentoring defies conventional wisdom. If you’re a millennial peer assigned to mentor someone more experienced than you are, you have to approach it from the standpoint of how the exercise can benefit both parties and the company.

Your older mentee will learn from your skills and expertise as well as your fresh take on issues and challenges facing the company. On your part, you stand to gain from the mentee’s wealth of experience by learning leadership and management skills, which you can integrate into your work process.

Additionally, you can gain access to the mentee’s professional and social networks, which may be beneficial for your career and professional development.

How does reverse mentoring work?

In reverse mentoring, the junior team member (mentor) will meet with the senior one (mentee) and work on key topics together. Just like traditional mentoring, these 1-on-1 meetings focus on discussion and task guidance, according to the mentee’s goals.

Because of the role reversal of this type of mentoring, companies will often start a pilot program with select employees to better understand how reverse mentoring works and benefits teams.

What are common reverse mentoring topics?

Reverse mentoring topics can run the gamut, but often focus on modern workplace values such as: - Digital skills development - Inclusion and diversity - Leadership development - Communication improvement - Management priorities

For example, a millennial mentor may run a session about understanding and using hashtags. Or he/she may identify and discuss brand styles that are really connecting with young consumers.

At the same time, reverse mentoring questions may center on soft skills, such as how to support diverse teams or avoid millennial management pet peeves. Here are some reverse mentoring questions. - What are some apps and online tools can we implement to improve our operations? - How can we encourage diversity and inclusion? - How do millennials and Gen-Z think interact with brands online? - How can we make people of color feel valued in the workplace? - What can managers and senior executives do to make interns feel more welcome?

Finally, mentees may have a clear sense of skills or topics they want to work on in order to boost their impact as communicators and leaders. Depending on their interests, mentors can tailor sessions by using expert resources on MentorCruise and learning from industry-leading mentors.

Why is reverse mentoring important?

For many companies, reverse mentoring is an effective way to refresh the skills of senior employees, as well as create a leadership pipeline for junior employees. When done right, it can help mentors and mentees alike for better business results overall.

Here are some key ways reverse mentoring supports companies: - Increase millennial retention by empowering junior team members - Promote diversity through cross-generational discussion - Improve workplace culture by giving employees a clear sense of purpose - Uplift digital tech skills in senior team members - Strengthen leadership and talent pipeline - Improve communication skills across the board - Lead cultural change, when appropriate - Boost company morale

In particular, 43% of millennials will change jobs within the next two years, which means companies have to make a better effort to keep them on board. For this reason and more, reverse mentoring can be an excellent way to empower employees and solve certain company-wide challenges.

Why does reverse mentoring fail?

Of course, reverse mentoring programs must be well-designed and managed in order to work. In addition, it’s essential to get senior team members on board for this type of mentoring to be effective. Some common pitfalls include: - Unwilling attitude from senior team members - Lack of confidence from junior team members - Lack of dedicated time for mentoring - No clear reverse mentoring topics or goals - Role reversion - Poor mentor-mentee match - Poorly designed reverse mentoring questions - Low prioritization of reverse mentoring program

As you consider creating a reverse mentoring programme, it’s important to understand these stumbling blocks to success. By thinking about them beforehand, you’ll be able to build a program that reduces or avoids these issues entirely.

How to create a great reverse mentoring program

Reverse mentoring can be a win-win for your business, but only if you take the time to build an effective program. For great reverse mentoring, you’ll need to motivate all the players and get company-wide support.

Here are some practical tips from our experts at MentorCruise to hit the ground running with your reverse mentoring program:

1. Get the right mentor-mentee match through a survey.

Mentorship relationships can be powerful… or a source of problems. You can avoid personality clashes by matching your mentors and mentees with care.

Ideally, this should be done with a human touch, either with an HR representative who knows everybody or through some type of mentorship survey. The advantage of a survey is that it can help uncover unexpected common ground between employees.

It’s important to consider the backgrounds of the participants and pair them across different departments, locations, and regions to make good use of the diversity that exists in the company.

Finding the right match involves consultation with the mentee and the mentor to know their preferences, expectations, and what they wish to get out of the mentorship program. This is also a good opportunity to design reverse mentoring questions that will facilitate the one-on-one meetings.

Senior executives may be selective of who they will be mentored by, so they need to be consulted. If they see the real benefits, they are likely to stay committed to the mentorship program.

Matching different personalities and experiences work particularly well because they draw from each other’s strengths. But regardless of the matching method, it’s essential to bring together employees who will maximize their mentorship relationship.

2. Train mentor and mentee for aligned approaches.

Ready, set, go isn’t the best way to make the most of mentorship. For a reverse mentoring program to work, you’ll want to do some preliminary training so that mentors and mentees are prepared.

It’s a good idea to put together a reverse mentoring toolkit with tips for building a strong relationship and examples of useful discussion topics. This is also an opportunity to inspire mentors and mentees with the potential of their collaboration.

Part of the reverse mentoring toolkit is structuring the mentorship sessions in a way that encourages committed participation so that the program can maintain momentum long enough for a solid mentoring relationship to develop.

3. Tie mentoring goals to a business need.

Reverse mentoring goals are most constructive when tied to a business need. This is because both the mentor and mentee see the mentorship program as part of the solution to achieve the company’s business goals.

Encourage your employees to choose reverse mentoring questions and topics that relate to their job description or departmental objectives.

For example, a mentee who’s an executive in the marketing department may want to do a deep dive into new online hotspots, such as Snapchat, TikTok, Reddit and video gaming platforms. In turn, this knowledge can be applied to strengthen marketing goals for Gen-Z consumers.

Another example would be that of a tech startup whose goal is to market its mobile payment app to the younger generation. While the mentee may have solid experience in marketing, he may not have an updated view of how to tap into the millennial consumer market.

This is where the young millennial tech startup mentor can provide insights into the needs, wants, and preferences of the younger customer base. The mentor can also show ways how to digitally connect with the target market using social media influencers.

Whatever the case, reverse mentoring is most effective when it reaps practical insights that help power business goals.

4. Get company-wide support for time commitment.

Our fast-paced business world doesn’t allow for spare time, which is why it’s important to make it. If you believe reverse mentoring can have a positive impact on your company’s future, you’ll need to get buy-in, especially from your executive team.

The reality is that not everyone will be onboard a reverse mentoring program. The reasons for the reluctance vary among senior executives. Taking on an additional responsibility may be too much to handle with their already busy schedules.

One way to encourage participation and commitment is to propose the reverse mentoring program at a leadership meeting and get support for a weekly or monthly time commitment. By highlighting the merits of this program from the start, you may get more support from senior team members.

At the same time, you should consider creating a reverse mentoring programme with volunteer mentors and mentees. This way, you’ll identify interested employees who are more likely to be dedicated to it.

5. Don’t mix and match programs.

Reverse mentoring is just one type of internal program that can boost company objectives. If you’re keen on trying several different programs, make sure you’re not throwing too many variables in the mix.

If you must run several programs at once, make sure they’re not involving the same group of people. Otherwise, you might jeopardize the potential of creating a reverse mentoring programme.

You might also consider doing a six-month trial for reverse mentoring before undergoing another type of program, or at least schedule mentorship pairs at different times of the year.

Before starting a program, consider the following reverse mentoring questions to ask: - Who will participate in the reverse mentoring sessions? - Who are selecting the participants? - How do interested parties sign up for the program? - How are mentors and mentees selected? - What should be included in the reverse mentoring toolkit? -What reverse mentoring topics should be discussed? - How long will the reverse mentoring program run? - What is the time commitment expressed by senior executives? - How will the reverse mentoring program be monitored? - What are the metrics to measure the success of the program?

6. Look beyond IT.

Digital skills are crucial, but they’re certainly not be-all and end-all. Motivate your employees to think outside the box and identify reverse mentoring questions and topics that go beyond IT.

Besides technology, junior team members have plenty of insights to share about inclusion, leadership, communication and management. For example, an HR mentee may be intent on discussing employee benefits that actually matter to millennials, or analyzing how transparency measures could impact employee inclusion.

What some companies fail to realize is that there is a need to empower emerging leaders within the organization. This can be done successfully through reverse mentoring programs.

Reverse mentoring can be especially beneficial for younger employees who are looking to accelerate their careers and have the potential to be the next leaders of the company. They can learn leadership skills, receive guidance on their career paths, and get advice on how to navigate the company culture.

Meanwhile, senior employees can benefit from developing new skills and deepening their knowledge of current trends. At the same time, they are imparting valuable wisdom that can motivate and inspire the younger mentor to stay in the company for the long haul.

The benefits of reciprocity go beyond technical skills and technological know-how. So, don’t just stick to digital skills, but take a more holistic approach to your junior mentor’s abilities.

7. Reward great mentors.

Millennial mentors can learn a lot from their mentorship relationship. They can build confidence, improve communication skills, create change in their workplace and feel more connected to their employer.

Ultimately, these qualities are ideal for bringing out new leadership potential in your junior employees. By expanding their skillset and rewarding them for a job well done, you’ll build a leadership pipeline in a low-stakes environment.

Be sure to recognize your mentors when they thrive in this new role, so that you can start retaining talented leaders in your ranks. Case in point: Pershing achieved a 96% retention rate among millennial employees through their reverse mentoring program.

Build your reverse mentoring toolkit with MentorCruise

Now that you understand what is reverse mentoring, how does reverse mentoring work and how you can maximize your company’s program, you can collect the tools you need to make it a success.

Start by putting together a reverse mentoring toolkit for your employees. For example, include a tip sheet, example reverse mentoring questions and topics, a goal setting framework, a matching survey and extra resources for the most effective reverse mentoring toolkit.

Get even more tips and tools on MentorCruise, a leading hub and platform for mentorship and coaching. Here you can find a mentor and learn about the ins-and-outs of great mentorship, so your reverse mentoring program is a success!

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