Warning – reverse mentoring could seriously improve your culture

5th August 2020

About five years ago, I was reading an article by the Head of Diversity and Inclusion for the company where I worked. He was talking about something I’d never heard of – Reverse Mentoring and I was curious to find out more. What did he mean by Reverse Mentoring? So, I penned him an email, explaining why I was interested, that I was studying for an MSc in Behaviour Change – and that to me, the two topics appeared to merge nicely. It was worth writing to him. A few months later, I was accepted to be part of their first cohort of Reverse Mentors and was teamed up with the Executive Director of Programme and Strategy.

Reverse Mentoring is where an employee mentors a senior member of the company. So, instead of the senior person revealing and sharing their knowledge and wisdom like they would normally, they listen to the employee and learn from their experience of working in the company – and what it feels like to be an employee. This isn’t a whining session by the way (well, it’s not meant to be), but an opportunity to express observations, concerns and areas for improvement – as well as innovation or new, fresh and exciting ways of doing things.

Here’s how it works. The mentor and mentee are paired up so that they’re from a different department, generation, gender or background. This way, it means you’re more likely to have different ideas and perspectives. The senior person listens to what’s being said, and then looks at how they can help to improve the topics raised or, implement new ideas. It shows that the leadership team is listening and actively getting involved with ‘doing the doing’ – to improve company work practices and culture. It can form part of the senior person’s performance measures too because the actions are to be completed by the mentee and not the reverse mentor. Accountability stayed firmly with the mentee, to ensure meetings took place and actions were completed.

The thing is, no matter who we are, or what job title we hold, many of us have some great ideas which never get heard or see the light of day. It’s such a shame really because this is where the gold can be found. And that’s why Reverse Mentoring works.

The first time I met my mentee, it’s fair to say I was a tad nervous. He came with quite a reputation. When I told the other reverse mentors who I had, there were rapidly raised eyebrows along with looks of concern and less than encouraging words of: ‘Oh, really’ or ‘Hmmm, good luck’. But you know what – he was a really nice guy, we got on well and it turned out we grew up within five miles of each other. I was also brave enough to tell him he didn’t live up to his fearsome reputation! I had the opportunity (and I took it) to be completely honest with him because we spent our first session building rapport. We got to know each other and not once during the reverse mentoring project, did he tell me my opinions were wrong or that I misunderstood the reason behind a business decision. Reverse Mentoring is a great way of building bridges because it allows us to create the support structures to reach out to the people we work with. It allows change to happen.

Reverse mentoring was new to both of us. We scheduled in twelve sessions for the year, to make sure we met up over a coffee and had full and frank discussions about how things felt at the ‘shop floor’ level. It was an opportunity for me, the Reverse Mentor, to be seen as an equal, to be listened to, ask questions and to be recognised at a level I wouldn’t normally interact with. We both agreed that we got a lot out of our meetings. For my mentee, he enjoyed our talks together. It helped him realise that his understanding of what it felt like to work for the company, was quite different to mine. It also challenged him. At his level, as a leader, it was rare for someone to challenge him about day-to-day life at work. He realised though, that together, we could design new ways of working and develop some of the ideas we’d been mulling over.

Over the years, I met another two executives who I Reverse Mentored and it really was a fulfilling and enjoyable experience. Give it a go – you may be pleasantly surprised what you discover. Be prepared though – it can be a full-on experience and you may hear some things which are very different to your expectations. One thing’s for sure though, there’s every chance it will help to improve the culture and behaviours within your organisation – so, let’s start building those bridges now.

To find out more about how Broadhead Global are supporting organisations to do exactly this, please get in touch with the team. We’d love to hear from you.

Written by Sarah Prince

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