Traditionally, mentoring in the workplace has valued age and seniority, however reverse mentoring turns this concept on its head with less experienced staff coaching and inspiring senior executives in areas that they are naturally more confident and aware.
The premise behind it is that everyone in the organisation has unique skills and ways of thinking that they bring to the table, and that there is always an opportunity to learn from your colleagues, irrespective of department, team or seniority.
In today’s increasingly digital world, reverse mentoring can prove beneficial to an organisation, by leveraging the skills and experience of younger generations – who have grown up with technology – to help drive new ways of thinking, particularly amongst senior employees.
Reverse mentoring was first popularised in 1999 when General Electric CEO Jack Welch instructed 500 senior executives to pair up with junior associates to help drive technical understanding and innovation.
In recent years, reverse mentoring programs have grown beyond just technical competence, to encompass other aspects of diversity, inclusion and cultural change.
In the past 18-months, leading law firm Herbert Smith Freehills has had 134 employees take part in its reverse mentoring program. Freehills credits the program with helping them to build a successful team culture, focussed on disruption and innovation. Other finance organisations such as PwC, KPMG and the RBA also have successful reverse mentor schemes.
The benefits of reverse mentoring
Reverse mentoring disrupts the status quo and can open-up fresh ideas and new pathways within business culture and practices.
Senior leaders will benefit from being exposed to new skills and viewpoints, and junior employees will feel more empowered, knowing they have the opportunity to share their unique skillsets and abilities. This ability to affect real change within the organisation can lead to higher employee satisfaction and supports an organisation’s succession planning and retention of great staff.
Reverse-mentoring can also help to:
- encourage diversity of thought within the business and promote inclusion,
- stimulate creativity and the development of new ideas,
- embed innovative business practices within the organisation,
- make employees feel valued regardless of what level they are at,
- support personal development goals and skills development,
- encourage teamwork and a culture of transparency; and
- build trust amongst employees.
By breaking down traditional silos, encouraging knowledge-sharing and embracing disruption, reverse mentoring can create highly connected workplaces.
In fact, in a recently published report from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR) found that when employees aged 55+ in particular believe they are working for an organisation that supports mentoring and knowledge exchange across age-diverse groups – they also report higher work engagement, job satisfaction, and psychological wellbeing, and are less likely to leave their current employer as well as less likely to experience burnout at work.
Five tips for creating a successful reverse mentoring program
So, what are some of the ways you can embed reverse-mentoring into your organisation to help you build a successful team in finance?
- Establish clear parameters – A formal reverse mentoring program should have the expectations for the relationship agreed up front. Ensure both parties are committed and that your goals are aligned. You should be clear on what skills you want to learn, what knowledge and skills you can provide and how and where you will meet.
- Look for a ‘perfect match’ – Link the right people, passions and personalities with each other. An effective mentoring relationship needs good chemistry. Your ideal partner should have the skills or knowledge that you need and be willing to build a relationship with you. Perhaps someone with different life and work experiences would help?
- Create a safe environment – Confidentiality is an essential part of any mentoring program. Mentors and mentees must have a safe environment to test new waters and not be afraid to ask questions. It can also be challenging to communicate with someone from a different generation, whether that be email, instant messaging or by phone, so make sure you are sensitive to the other person’s communication preferences and needs.
- Have a growth mindset – Mentees need to be primed and ready to have robust discussions and have conventional wisdoms challenged by someone more junior. It’s important to remain respectful, listen actively and without any preconceived ideas. Give encouraging and constructive feedback to help understand each other’s perspective.
- Aim for mutual benefit –The benefits of reverse mentoring need to be a two-way street. Outcomes need to be measured for the mentor, mentee and the team as a whole. Check in regularly and ensure both parties are happy with the relationship and the progress. Brainstorm to discuss new ways to achieve mutual goals.
It is important to note that it’s not always necessary to develop a formal, structured reverse mentoring program to gain benefits from diversity in thinking. Providing regular opportunities and forums for all the team to express their view and bring their knowledge creates a learning organisation. Encouraging this means you are getting a meaningful return on the intelligence and skill in your company and this is a hallmark of great leadership.