Reverse Mentoring: What It Is, Why It Matters & How to Do It Right

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Introduction

More and more organizations are turning to reverse mentoring to develop cultural understanding among people of different generations, demographics or backgrounds and to create valuable connections among various levels of an organization for knowledge transfer.

This mentoring format typically enables junior employees to mentor senior colleagues, helping to create a more inclusive and diverse workplace, retain young talent and bridge growing knowledge gaps between generations.

This article explores the benefits and best practices that can help you to address unique challenges and to make the most of this modern mentoring format.

Why it matters: Reverse mentoring programs offer several benefits in the right situations. When used successfully, these programs help older employees get up to speed on technical skills that are native to younger generations. However, reverse mentoring offers many other benefits as well, including:

        • Developing cultural understanding among people of different generations, demographics or backgrounds
        • Creating valuable connections among various levels of the organization
        • Fostering diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging
        • Sparking different ways of thinking and innovation new practices

The Role of Mentoring Software in Facilitating Connectivity

Chronus is designed to facilitate successful reverse mentoring connections, starting with automated matching. MatchIQ® technology makes it easy to find the best match based on your program’s specific criteria, and users can import data from LinkedIn to quickly set up profiles. Our software also provides admins the ability to create guided plans for both mentors and mentees. This creates structure for the relationship that guides learning and productivity in what may be a new mentoring scenario for the partnership.

Expand the following topics to learn more!

    • How to Implement a Reverse Mentoring Program

      It’s important to establish your reverse mentoring program thoughtfully and strategically to create a strong foundation for success.

      1. Start small

      Starting small is one way to ensure that you create a safe environment for all involved. Begin by building a small pilot program. Keep the participation level to a manageable number and ask for feedback regularly. Based on the feedback, implement adjustments and changes immediately, and prepare to solicit feedback again. Once you’ve completed your first cohort, you can prepare to expand your program to new participants, departments, locations and beyond.

      2. Make the perfect match

      Reverse mentoring involves two people with extremely different experiences, backgrounds, and cultures. Therefore, creating the ideal mentoring partnership is vital. Choose mentors who possess good social skills and have the confidence to interact with and teach senior management.

      Finding the right pairings of mentors and mentees is critical to effect reverse mentoring. This starts with vetting candidates for both. Potential participants should have/need the target knowledge/skills, of course. But they also need to be excited about the idea of taking part in a mentorship, open to ideas and eager to teach and learn, and willing and able to make the commitment that successful mentorship requires.

      3. Establish clear guidelines and expectations

      Reverse mentoring can be a new experience for both mentors and mentees, so preparation is important. Participants need to understand what is expected on each side, agree on the goals for the relationship and offer a clear commitment to the process. They should also demonstrate a clear understanding of processes, milestones and what to do in case of problems.

      4. Train both parties in their roles

      Before beginning any mentorship program, the parties involved must know their roles. Reverse mentorship presents new challenges. It might be difficult for a mentor with less seniority to feel comfortable correcting a senior executive mentee. Provide conversation tips and structures for goal setting. Likewise, seasoned staff may have a hard time remaining quiet and receiving instruction when they are used to leading others. Make sure to provide resources on giving and receiving feedback so both parties feel prepared to interact.

      5. Be proactive about communication

      Don’t assume that everyone prefers to communicate the same way. Encourage participants to establish the means and frequency of communication throughout. If your participants are both remote workers, this may mean touching base through a dashboard, messaging system, video conferencing or phone call.

      6. Choose program goals and objectives wisely

      You’ll need to prove to senior leadership that your program is working. The key to measuring success is to choose goals that are easy to measure, e.g., retention of employees who participated in the program as compared with those who didn’t. It’s also important to track other information too, such as changes that are happening as a result of the program and positive feedback, especially from the higher-ups who may be getting mentored for the first time in years. Look at satisfaction of participants, enrollment numbers over time and learnings achieved through the program.

    • Reverse Mentoring Program Best Practices

      Following best practices for your reverse mentoring program will help you reach your goals. These include:

      • Start with a small program, learn and iterate, and then scale.
      • Set realistic and measurable goals
      • Provide easy-to-use tools and channels for participants
      • Establish clear expectations for everyone involved
      • Offer training to both mentors and mentees so they can make the most of their mentoring partnership
      • Create guidelines for communication, including channels and frequency that encourage open communication and active listening
      • Establish feedback loops and evaluation checkpoints
    • Matching Criteria for Reverse Mentoring Relationships

      While matching criteria for the junior employee (mentor) will likely focus on the senior employee's (mentee) areas of expertise, the senior employee must identify the priorities they can leverage from a mentorship with a junior employee. Below is a list of helpful and common matching criteria for the senior employee:

      Technology and digital skills:

      Keep up with current trends and leverage technology for business success. Examples might include AI and any other platforms and skills used by junior employees.

      Social media and communication strategies:

      Understand effective communication tactics through digital channels, both internal and external - effective customer engagement strategies to enhance their organization's online presence.

      Innovation through diversity:

      Work with a junior employee on solving a business challenge by taking in diverse perspectives. Junior employees bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the table. They often have different ways of thinking, unburdened by established practices, and can challenge conventional wisdom within organizations. This can lead to more innovative approaches and creative problem-solving.

      Workplace culture:

      Learn the different expectations of junior employees when it comes to workplace culture such as how to create a more inclusive, flexible, and supportive work culture that meets the needs and aspirations of younger talent.

      Building retention through diverse perspectives:

      Understanding of more junior employees’ perspectives on:

      • How the business is run
      • Whether leaders are communicating effectively
      • The need for greater access to leaders and more exposure to business knowledge
      • Ideas on internal opportunities to upskill
      • Junior employees perspectives on workplace culture

      Cultural trends and market insights:

      Gain a more comprehensive understanding of the evolving consumer landscape and adapt their strategies accordingly.

      Work-life balance:

      Junior employees are often more aware of the importance of work-life balance. Learn their perspectives and how they maintain the balance between work and the rest of their life.

    • Addressing Common Scenarios

      • How can we effectively prepare participants for reverse mentoring?

        • Provide a clear understanding of roles
        • Set expectations
        • Deliver training and resources
        • Keep the door open: As a program admin, be sure to communicate that your door is open for questions.
        • What if Sr. Mentees aren't taking the initial steps to get engaged?

        • Senior participants may be very busy and less likely to log in and get started. Give them a gentle nudge to get them going such as a "vetting" process where they have to login and complete their profile. This will get them take action, in the door, and familiar with the platform right away. It will also weed out people who don't take the time to log in to join in the first place and make sure you have the people that really want to be involved.

        • Consider an application process

        • Match them with the best mentor
        • Consider Timing: Are their new initiatives distracting them from logging in? 
      • How do we mitigate bias?

        • Ask the right questions: What are participants looking to get out of the program, for example, are they worried about the attrition rate of newer employees? These questions can be addressed on the profile in 3 or 4 fields that can be included in the matching algorithm.
        • Consider self-matching vs. assigned matching..
        • Consider anonymous matching
        • Don't allow connections between people on the same team
      • Our Sr. Mentees aren't sending requests to Jr. Mentors

        • Remember your audience and verify willingness to participate
        • Consider a hybrid solution where you provide the match for some of them
        • Ask them what's going on; are their unavoidable challenges to participation?
        • Use a program survey to find out if they're still available and whether they would you like an admin to create a match for them
      • Jr. Mentors aren't feeling confident, Sr. Mentees aren't buying in

        • Ensure they know it's a safe, confidential space
        • Provide space for this feedback (survey or reach out 1:1)
        • Consider providing topics to guide their mentorship discussions
        • Address the feedback
        • Consider whether it just might not be a good match
      • Both mentees and mentors are hesitant to open up and are worried about being vulnerable

        • Reinforce that the mentoring relationship is confidential, safe space; though Sr. Mentees may be concerned that Jr. Mentors would share confidential info with others, studies have repeatedly shown that this has not been an issue.
        • Get the Sr. Mentee to ask more questions, provide some examples

        • Suggest the Clean Sheet exercise such as designing a 'Work from Home' policy from scratch, with each providing their point of view.
      • Our participants don't know where to start or don't know what to discuss

        • Provide sample agendas
        • Provide tools such as conversation starters and reverse mentoring topics
        • Provide resources such as how to set SMART Goals
      • Our participants are falling into traditional mentoring roles

        • Role reversion can be real; have them set goals based on reversed mentoring
        • Send accountability reminders that reinforce their roles
        • Measure this via feedback surveys
      • Our users are connected, but I'm not seeing engagement

        • Once again, remember your audience; they may engaging outside the platform. Find alternate ways to measure engagement, meeting frequency, progress on goals, etc., such as surveys.
        • Consider whether the mentorship goals were reached early and it's time to close the mentorship. 
      • How do I measure ROI?

        Determine your desired outcomes and survey participants to obtain qualitative and quantitative data such as:
        • Was a potential future leader discovered?
        • What knowledge transfer was most valuable to the Sr. Mentee or Jr. Mentor?
        • Did having access to a leader impact the Sr. Mentee's feelings about the company and their career there?
        • Did having access to a Jr. Mentor provide valuable information that will help senior leaders work to increase retention among more junior staff?

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