4 steps to start a reverse mentoring program

Organizations can motivate and engage newer employees, and build the knowledge of established ones, through reverse mentoring.
By Sandra Wiley

One way organizations can improve employee engagement and increase retention rates is through establishing a culture of mentoring and coaching. One relatively new aspect is newer employees, including interns, offering counsel to more established workers: reverse mentoring.

Given that mentoring is teaching another person something that will help that person’s career, and that younger generations, digital natives, tend to have different core skills, the newer employees have much to offer.

Let’s start with the most obvious difference: social learning and networks. Interns and newer staff enter accounting with social-media expertise and no fear of new technologies. More experienced staff can run the risk of needing more help in understanding new systems or new applications, why they are important, and ultimately how to use them to the staff members’ benefit. Younger workers can help, but they need the avenue to make it happen. It can be difficult for a firm’s partner, or a company’s CFO, to ask for help, because sometimes that person might be embarrassed to admit not knowing something, such as how to set up a LinkedIn profile. A relationship where reverse mentoring is encouraged is the opportunity to make it happen.

Reverse mentoring also allows younger staff members to take a fresh look at the processes, services, and client or customer relationships within the organization. They can mentor senior staff members and help them see needed changes.

Here are four steps that can get an organization started:

  1. Identify the need, skills gap, or lack of clarity that a senior member has, and identify a newer team member with whom to work.
  2. The senior member should approach the younger team member and ask for help. The more specific the request, the better the reverse mentoring will be.
  3. The mentor and mentee should then determine when, where, and for how long they will meet. This can be several short meetings, but they should be consistent. Setting up regular meetings with calendar requests and agenda items will make it more likely that mentor and mentee show up—and come prepared.
  4. The senior member must remember to thank the younger mentor and offer assistance with any future questions or concerns.

Reverse mentoring is beneficial in that it helps younger team members by building their confidence and showing that they are needed and valued. It also increases the knowledge of senior team members and allows them to build a solid relationship with their young mentors. And providing such mentoring opportunities, either in the traditional model or through reverse mentoring, helps organizations retain both established and newer employees.

Sandra Wiley is senior consultant and shareholder of Boomer Consulting in Manhattan, Kan., and is a speaker on topics such as team building, talent development, and performance improvement.

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