How to Make Reverse Mentoring Work

Aug. 24, 2021

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.

How to Make Reverse Mentoring Work

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.

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
  • 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

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.

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, 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.

3. Tie mentoring goals to a business need.

Reverse mentoring goals are most constructive when tied to a business need. 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.

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.

One way to do this 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.

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.

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!

What can mentorship do for you?

Our 'state of mentorship' report sums up the benefits, reports and effects that mentorship has on the modern working environment.

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