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Patrice Gordon

EMINERE

CEO

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Seven ways to create an effective reverse mentoring programme

How to build a reverse mentoring programme that works.
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Reverse mentoring is when a senior leader is mentored by a person from an under-represented background – by means of gender, age, ethnicity, disability to name a few. They become the novice and lean into their growth mindset to understand their biases and drive change when it comes to equity

In a rapidly evolving landscape where diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) have become cornerstones for organisational success, reverse mentoring serves as a transformative strategy. Merely introducing a reverse mentoring programme, however, doesn’t guarantee its success.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating an impactful and psychologically safe reverse mentoring initiative.

Preliminary step: Pre-assessment phase

Before you start, is there an effective DEIB plan in place? It’s crucial that your organisation has a well-defined plan. Plus, continued investment in DEIB training ensures that the organisational culture is fertile ground for the success of the initiative. Without it, your efforts will be fruitless.

Psychological safety within the organisation, as well as between mentors and mentees, is indispensable.

Not the silver bullet

Reverse mentoring is a potent tool but not a universal solution. What organisational challenges are you targeting? A comprehensive needs assessment should be your starting point.

This exercise involves interviewing a range of stakeholders to identify specific issues that reverse mentoring could address. The insights gained during this phase are invaluable and will shape the contours of your initiative.

Step one: Ensure an atmosphere of psychological safety

Trust is not just a word; it’s an ethos. Psychological safety within the organisation, as well as between mentors and mentees, is indispensable.

It is imperative to provide leaders with clear guidance on their role in this dynamic and the expectations placed upon them.

Utilise data analytics tools to analyse historical employee engagement data, sentiment analysis, or even periodic pulse surveys to gauge the level of psychological safety and identify areas that may require focus.

Remember, organisations that have a high level of trust are more inclusive and have higher levels of productivity, leading to better organisational performance.

Step two: Nourish the leadership’s growth mindset

Ahead of the programme being announced, it is imperative that the leaders are clear about what they are signing up to, and the expectations of them as a group as well as individuals.

Discussing the growth mindset in relation to driving sales or achieving operational excellence is relatively straightforward. Understanding the complexities of mindset change, however, can be more challenging.

It is imperative to provide leaders with clear guidance on their role in this dynamic and the expectations placed upon them.

Step three: Articulate crystal-clear objectives

Your reverse mentoring programme should be designed to solve specific challenges. Is it to dismantle the hierarchical barriers, enhance cross-generational collaboration, or perhaps foster a more inclusive leadership style?

Part of the intention of a reverse mentoring programme is to build a culture of belonging in an organisation.

Ensure these objectives are clear prior to starting the programme and again for the individual mentors and mentees as they start the programme. Doing so facilitates more effective evaluation metrics and holds leaders accountable for delivering tangible results.

Step four: Implement a scientific matching process

The compatibility between mentors and mentees can make or break the programme. Instead of a laissez-faire approach, opt for a more systematic method, perhaps using machine learning algorithms or psychometric assessments to ensure optimal pairings.

My method of matching focuses on ensuring both the mentor and mentee complete an application to be eligible to join the programme.

The questions are based on the objectives of the programme and then matching is based on the characteristics that are being sought, the gaps, the hierarchies,  and for the mentors their historic involvement of being involved in culture-changing activities.

Step five: Facilitate training programmes separately for the mentors and mentees

Part of the intention of a reverse mentoring programme is to build a culture of belonging in an organisation.

I always find it fulfilling when I run training sessions with both mentors and mentees as if it were a cross-organisational programme, where 90% of the time participants are meeting each other properly for the first time. This helps to build networks inside of networks.

Reverse mentoring is far from a box-ticking exercise or a fleeting trend. It is a transformative tool when implemented correctly.

This cohort-based approach allows participants the opportunity to have a trusted group who are journeying together. Midway through the programme, I do a formal check-in with them.

In addition, I set them up using relevant collaboration tools to ensure they can check in with each other throughout the programme and share their experiences.

Step six: Ensure wellbeing through support mechanisms

The emotional landscape of reverse mentoring can be complicated. To navigate this, provide both mentors and mentees with mental health resources, or even dedicated counsellors, to consult when needed.

Step seven: Examine the bigger picture beyond individual stories

While personal stories are powerful catalysts for change, they should not serve as the blueprint for wholesale organisational transformation.

Always corroborate individual experiences with broader data and research before integrating them into your organisational strategy.

Reverse mentoring is far from a box-ticking exercise or a fleeting trend. It is a transformative tool when implemented correctly and a strategic imperative for any forward-thinking organisation committed to genuine and lasting change.

This is not merely about altering practices, but about recalibrating the very DNA of an organisation, from its leadership to its rank and file.

It’s not just about achieving diversity or smashing glass ceilings; it’s about creating a sustainable, inclusive ecosystem where every voice is heard, every leader is a learner, and every action is a stepping stone to a better, more equitable future.

If you enjoyed this, read: Eight powerful ways that reverse mentoring can benefit the workplace.

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