10/16/2019 Molly Moseley

Making Mentoring a Two-Way Street

Many businesses have traditional mentoring programs that support professional development and underscore important company cultural elements. These programs typically place an experienced worker as the lead to help a newer or younger employee learn.

But what about reversing the process?

Reverse mentoring turns traditional mentoring on its head where instead of the experienced teaching the newbies, it’s the younger employees who can offer diversity insight that are teaching the seasoned pros of the organization.

While reverse mentoring isn’t a new concept, it isn’t as popular as you’d think considering the current hiring landscape. HR professionals consistently struggle with issues of employee engagement, retention and hiring in the competitive job-seekers market.

What’s more, connecting older generations to younger generations can be a struggle. This is especially challenging given the shorter tenure of the typical millennial who may only stay at a job a few years before moving on.

Reverse mentoring — also called two-way mentoring — has many benefits. Consider some of the top reasons for adopting this type of program:

Agile leaders

Agility is necessary for a company to survive and it’s the leaders who are the role models in embracing change in the future. By learning new skills and fresh perspectives from younger mentors or mentors of varied diversity, leaders can sharpen their skill set while also broadening their perspective.

Reciprocal benefits

In a typical business structure, a newer employee may not have much interaction with senior employees or executive leadership. Reverse mentoring not only puts them face-to-face, but also allows them to learn about the organization on a deeper level that benefits their career. Not to mention, they feel valued, which studies show is very important to younger generations and can boost retention.

Employees are aging

Thousands of baby boomers are retiring each day. It’s important that when they leave they don’t leave with important knowledge your company relies upon. By participating in a two-way mentorship program, they are able to pass down this critical knowledge to the next generation of leaders. Essentially, it helps close any knowledge gap.

Breaks down stereotypes

In reverse mentoring, people of different generations can learn about each other in a respectful manner. Diversity-focused reverse mentoring (such as when a black woman mentors a white man) provides firsthand insight about each other’s experiences and how that impacts the working environment and their lives as a whole.

These benefits are music to the ears of HR leaders who are constantly seeking new ways to strengthen employee relations. So how do you begin to implement a reverse mentorship program? Every program will be unique to the organization it serves, but here are a few important things to keep in mind:

Good match: Be thoughtful in who you place together. Set goals and know at the onset what one can learn from the other. Defining expectations can help ensure success.

Active participation: Both parties need to be invested in the process. If someone isn’t all in, move on to someone who is. You must be willing to meet, communicate and learn to be in the program.

Set guidelines: Have rules that guide participants. These can mimic an existing mentorship program in suggestions on meeting frequency, discussion topics and length of the mentorship.

Do you have a reverse mentorship program at your company? What advice can you add for others who want to develop something similar at their organization?