The idea of reverse mentoring is credited to the former boss of General Electric, Jack Welch in the late 1990’s. He noticed that with the increasing popularity of the internet, it was his most junior staff who were the more technically savvy and so he asked his senior management team to meet the newest recruits to the business to share their experience of the latest technology that they were using. It was a great success all round, as the senior team received great insights into the latest tech and at the same time, they could champion the new recruits they met through the business and open up a line to top management for them.
Reverse Mentoring is just the opposite of mentoring; the wise, experienced senior member of the company taking on a junior entry-level recruit and instead of imparting their wisdom, they listen and learn from their junior colleague. But ‘teaching grandma to suck eggs’ is surely pointless and insulting? As Jack Welch discovered, it can work really well and in unexpected ways. These are some of the advantages experienced by organisations who have given it a try:
Many large companies, particularly financial services companies, find it hard to attract and retain Millennial talent, but also how to stay relevant to their younger consumers. The simple solution; just asking them, is surprisingly not something many companies seem to have thought of, until recently. This has been another way that Reverse Mentoring has come into its own. Just being asked their thoughts and ideas can have a positive impact on the wellbeing of younger staff, but knowing that what you have suggested is being acted on and used in the business, is going to empower and inspire that younger generation to stick around and continue to make a positive impact, and as BNY-Mellon Pershing’s experience, as mentioned below, is anything to go by, achieving a 96% retention rate for the first cohort of Millennial mentors is an impressive and enviable result.
Large organisations have started Reverse Mentoring projects for different reasons, but with the same underlying aim of finding out information that they have been unable to find in other ways.
The global law firm Allen & Overy piloted a reverse-mentoring program in order to improve leadership’s understanding of minority issues, including those of LGBT and ethnic minorities. And in 2014, PricewaterhouseCoopers launched its reverse-mentoring programme as part of its drive for diversity and inclusion. The program now has 122 Millennials mentoring 200 partners and directors worldwide.
Estée Lauder’s CEO, Fabrizio Freda, decided to implement a reverse mentoring programme initially to help educate senior executives on the importance of social media influencers for the overall shopping experience, and the millennial mentors developed Dreamspace, a knowledge-sharing portal to exchange ideas. “We understand the importance of giving our millennial and Gen Z employees a voice, and through reverse mentoring and advisory boards, we are engaging and empowering this group to make a meaningful impact on the business,” said Freda. “Connecting young people’s new view of the world with the expertise of our senior leaders is adding incredible value for our company. This unique connection is creating magic.”
The former CEO of BNY Mellon’s Pershing, Ron DeCicco, and his Millennial mentor, Jamilynn Camino, co-developed fireside chats to increase the CEO’s connection with employees. In these chats, which ran for over three years and were the most highly attended company event, DeCicco discussed critical issues and solicited employee feedback. BNY-Mellon Pershing experienced a 96% retention rate for the first cohort of Millennial mentors.
Retailer Sainsbury’s use an approach similar to Reverse Mentoring in their Great Place to Work initiative, enabling regular dialogue between colleagues and senior leaders in each area of the business. Internal social media channels are routinely used as part of its engagement approach; which many younger colleagues prefer and find easy to use to feedback directly to leaders on their views, questions and ideas for improvement. This approach ensures everyone can routinely have a say at a time that suits them on a whole host of subjects that colleagues feel passionate about. Through Great Place to Work, leaders benefit from a diverse range of local colleague insights and needs that often contribute in making the business a better place to work for the benefit of existing and future colleagues.
Sainsbury’s Argos was named the 2019 best place to work at the annual Talent in Logistics Awards, in recognition of its high employee engagement, and their former Marketing Director, Gary Kibble believes breaking down hierarchical barriers and reverse mentoring are key to building modern teams. “You’ve got to lead by example,” he explained to Marketing Week. “It’s very interesting to find out what they think about what I do and how I conduct myself – they give much more direct feedback than those that come from traditional hierarchies.”
Those companies operating a Reverse Mentoring project have offered the following advice on how to make it work.
There has been so much positive coverage of Reverse Mentoring, it is hard to believe there are people who think it won’t work. Mentoring, reverse or otherwise is simply a knowledge exchange between co-workers and when it is labelled ‘reverse’ mentoring, there is an implication that the benefits are linear and uni-directional when they can be much more collaborative than that. Removing the word ‘reverse’ and encouraging a two-way exchange between colleagues of different seniorities, the problem is removed. If the guidelines and goals are clearly set beforehand, any stigma between those involved can be resolved and with the reassurance that everyone has something valid to contribute to the organisation, any initial reluctance to speak ‘truth to power’ should be removed.
Collaborative mentoring has been very successful and produced many advantages that were initially surprising, but later embraced. We have talked with many of our contacts about their experience of Reverse Mentoring and were surprised to find that although they were all enthusiastic about the concept, most of them had only experienced it on an informal basis or it has happened by accident. Some felt that it was better used as part of a more general development programme or as part of a Learning & Development initiative. When Reverse Mentoring is used informally like this, it is harder to measure any success or failure, and general conclusions are subsequently difficult to make. Good communication throughout an organisation can never be a bad thing, and how each organisation decides to enable their workers with the tools to improve internal communication, is their call. We at Chapple, watch with interest to see how all types of mentoring in today’s hyper-connected world, might improve employee engagement and retention.
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