Human Capital Musings!

a peek into the human capital world…

Reverse mentoring – a less used, but potent employee engagement tool.


In the human resources function, most of us must be clearly able to articulate the values of a good, institutionalized mentoring process – as  a crucial ingredient in the pie that is organization development.

With good leaders acting as mentors, the mentees – mostly team members, reportee or a colleague – get to learn new technology, a new process in the organization structure, a new and innovative way to handle customers or close a sale. An organization that fosters a good mentoring culture and environment attracts talent that prefers to learn by the day, innovate, contribute and grow in the rungs.

With mentoring having been around for a while, and widely accepted at the personal and organizational level, the benefits are there to see for all.

Not the case with the opposite – I am sure there will be a lot of disagreement here – but the fact remains that ‘reverse mentoring’ is more in theory, that in practice.

Let’s look at a simple definition of reverse mentoring…. “a younger or less experienced Executive helps a more senior manager gain insight into areas, such as computers and changing IT technology, changing mindsets & expectations of the younger generation, new business concepts, thinking out of the box etc.” (with the transforming face of the Gen Y employee, you can just re-phrase this definition in a hundred more ways!)

Going back in history, ‘reverse mentoring’ as a concept in practice, had its roots probably in GE, where Jack Welch used it as a great tool to learn about the internet, technology applications, which later went on to bring in humongous changes in the way of work at GE. Those events, were a beginning to a transformation of GE as a technology driven organization, using the power of the internet to integrate the many components of GE – productions, suppliers, sales, marketing, and customers.

That was just the beginning though. However, it has somehow stuck on that ‘reverse mentoring’ is only powerful to understand new technology, innovation, trends in vogue and so on… It is such a wrong and misconceived notion that ‘reverse mentoring’ works only for those ‘cool’ things. Nothing can be far from reality and the real power from ‘reverse mentoring’.

Whilst it could have been true in a context then and earlier, it is far from true now. In fact this view only puts a cap on the immense potential of the concept of ‘reverse mentoring’, when institutionalized as a ‘strategic component’ of OD in any company.

Some of the areas where a well thought out, planned and implemented reverse mentoring program can help are – improving the processes, raking up ethics issues, strategy and strategic direction, better quality, a honest appraisal of leadership styles, impediments to real growth, bringing in an awareness of market reality and so on. The tangible and intangible value-adds could go on and on, as much as what the organization would want to build in the process.

With senior management, CXO’s and HR grappling for innovative ways to engage the work-force (the knowledge workers!), a prudent and thoughtful integration of ‘reverse mentoring’ in the overall scheme of HR/OD plan will be a must do. It will position the employer as a place where knowledge, critical and valuable inputs from the team and every individual are valued!

This is such a powerful ’employer value proposition’ in the clutter and race for real good talent!

To make reverse mentoring work and add real value, senior line management, the HR function, the CEO/CXO level, and even the board must commit to integration of ‘reverse mentoring’ in the overall scheme of things. This is the most vital need, as without this commitment, the organization can never get the real benefits of the process. Trying to implement reverse mentoring in isolation is as good as it not done at all.

Some steps that can make “reverse mentoring’ really work:

1. The HR/OD team works and gets a buy in for institutionalizing reverse mentoring in the overall scheme of things.
2. The team also gets a ‘reverse mentoring’ manual done, so that, when circulated, the manual makes clear what the process is, what the intent is, how everyone in the team, and in turn the organization can benefit.
3. Each individual program is documented as much by the reverse mentors and mentees; this brings in an element of measurement and seriousness to the program.
4. HR creates a mechanism for monitoring the progress or otherwise of the program. This can be spread across various functional areas, by bringing in the line management into the monitoring process.
5. Get the line management’s trust and confidence in each stage.
6. Identify the blocks to the process in the organization, and work on education/confidence building measures as the need may be.
7. Over a period, measure what positive difference the ‘reverse mentoring’ program’ has given the organization.

This is not an exhaustive and a perfect list. At best this can be a broad guideline; each organization must work with commitment on their own program that will work best for them!

‘Reverse mentoring’, if committed to, can be such a powerful ‘talent attraction’ tool, employee engagement tool, and ’employer brand proposition’. Isn’t it? And if yes, are we doing it in our workplaces??

 

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2 thoughts on “Reverse mentoring – a less used, but potent employee engagement tool.

  1. This is excellent. I hadn’t heard of reverse mentoring. I love it. I work with leaders who are leading major changes. I like the idea of inviting them to find some junior mentors to give them the feedback and potential pitfalls that others might fear to tell them.
    – Rick

  2. Just thought you might like to see my blog comment which build off of your post:

    If you’ve read almost anything I’ve written, you know that I am a big fan of listening to people in the organization when it comes to leading change (and most anything else for that matter.) I just came across a blog post that got me thinking. the writer suggests reverse mentoring. Junior people instruct executives on areas where they might be weak. Apparently this is what Jack Wlech did to get up-to-speed on the Internet and technology applications.

    So, I was thinking, what if leaders were to find a few people who had the courage to tell them the truth about how they lead change and the guts to tell the leader where the pitfalls might be. It could make a huge difference. Leaders could see the potential consequences of what they were planning before they left for the parade. In Hans Christian Andersen’s, story it was the child who could see that the emperor was suffering a wardrobe malfunction.

    My suggestion. Do this informally. I think it is best if the leader picks his or her own mentors. Since it is so easy for us to blow off feedback (or try to kill the messenger), choosing the receive feedback from someone we are willing to listen to could make all the difference.

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