Reverse mentoring is a unique mode of communication in the world of L&D. Almost all learning and development programs are “top-down”, which implies that expertise flows from someone who is higher up in the organization to someone at a lower level. But reverse mentoring shows that the opposite can be true. Experience and insight also occur at lower levels of a hierarchy, and everyone in an organization benefits from sharing such knowledge.
What Is Reverse Mentoring?
Reverse mentoring is an L&D initiative where employees at one level of an organization mentor those at a higher level. There are many types of reverse mentoring program goals, for example:
- Transfer of technical knowledge
- Explanation of operational challenges and cultural issues
- Demonstration of new processes and technologies
Why Is Reverse Mentoring Important?
Like any mentoring program, the objective of reverse mentoring is to increase an employee’s competency through cooperation with another employee who has a superior skill level. Because mentoring occurs on the spot, instead of (for example) in a classroom setting, both the mentor and mentee can interact in real time and in response to actual workplace situations.
But in the case of reverse mentoring, it is the hierarchical superior who needs to do the learning. A senior employee often works in a “bubble” of a certain type, and reverse mentoring has the potential to expose them to important workplace ideas and functions. Let’s examine the goals listed above as a way to illustrate how reverse mentoring addresses various workplace challenges while leveraging the abilities of relatively junior employees.
When managers are in charge of a technical department, they need to understand how the department functions. Such managers should always have a basic idea of the equipment that is used in production, the raw materials that it requires, maintenance and training issues, and so on.
These allow the manager to:
- Plan production schedules
- Participate in troubleshooting problems
- Hire employees
- Understand the resource needs of their department
Becoming a manager of these types of operations often occurs without the manager having any expertise in that particular area, or even as a manager at all. Some managers are hired or promoted based on general experience or excellent soft skills, including the ability to learn quickly.
Another advantage of reverse mentoring in this situation is that the mentor can be an employee who is the most skilled and knowledgeable in the department. Due to their experience, these kinds of employees can go beyond simply explaining the nuts and bolts of how the operation works. The manager can add to their knowledge through the trade secrets and inside information that such employees are sure to have.
Operational and Cultural Issues
Related to technical knowledge is mentoring in challenging operational situations. Even a hands-on manager might not understand the intricacies of equipment and production problems. They depend on talented employees to explain the situation in terms the manager can understand.
To solve such problems, particularly complex ones, it can be the lower-level employee who needs to critique the manager’s suggestions, which is a way of reversing their usual relationship.
Obviously, not every workplace problem requires an entire mentoring engagement. But there are certain situations where managers require ongoing input and advising from line-level employees, such as comprehensive and interrelated production issues, as well as frequent ramp-ups in activity that cause problems.
A similar mentoring situation can occur for cultural issues. There are important contrasts between different generations and societies when it comes to workplace mindsets and approaches. In addition, because upper level managers are usually older than more junior employees, age differences can also have an effect. One typical example is the attitudes connected to DEIB concepts, because the ideology on which they are based is relatively recent. Mentoring can help senior employees to understand the mentality of workers who are of a different age and/or culture.
New Processes and Technologies
Many organizations undergo rapid changes, and these involve implementing new processes and machinery. For the people at the top of the hierarchy, there’s a good chance that they were involved in these adaptations in some way, but have no idea how the new processes function. It is up to a reverse mentoring program to bring executives together and have people “in the trenches” demonstrate how everything now works.
It can be a similar situation with technology. Something as seemingly simple as social media or a certain workplace app can be a total mystery to older people. But younger employees tend to naturally understand how to use these tools. In a reverse mentoring program, it’s the junior employees who can be most effective in training more senior people in these areas.
Growthspace for Managing Mentors
Mentorship programs are an essential part of any L&D initiative. Whether they are internal or external, mentors are a fantastic resource for enhancing skills and realizing solutions for workplace issues. But when you need to work with a specialist mentor, what’s the most effective talent development platform?
Growthspace lets you engage with top mentors in basically every field and with experience in working at any level of the hierarchy. Whether you are searching for someone to escort your executives during strategic change, or a seasoned pro to support mid-level managers, Growthspace helps you connect and create mentoring programs with the best in the biz.