Why you need Reverse Mentorship
Do you feel you need to step up your digital game to cope with the challenges in your industry? Or do you think you can teach your senior management a trick or two? Reverse mentorship is your solution! Why? Because reverse mentorship is a great way to inject digital DNA straight into all the layers of your company. Its perfect for closing the gap between the average mindset of your market and the average mindset of your company. Often your market is a lot more digitally mature than your leadership and management. Lastly, because it is a key enabler for your digital transformation. Let’s face it, transforming the people within your organization will be much harder than finding the right technology to make your plans happen.
What is Reverse Mentorship?
Now you know why it could come in handy, let’s see what it is. Long story short, Reverse Mentorship is about leveraging the digital knowledge already present in your organization. The digital gems (often juniors) mentor the digital laggards (often seniors) in your organization.
To give you a feeling of what a digital gem looks like, it’s somebody who shops a lot online, understands the tools and platforms of the digital space, is active on social media, understands digital business models and above all, they think digital first. Digital laggards are the ones who don’t.
From one-way to two-way
Reverse mentorship is going from a one-way street to a two-way street. Mentoring is nothing new, seniors have been mentoring juniors for ages based on their years of experience, their industry knowledge and business insights. Reverse mentorship is about adding a stream in the opposite direction. The junior mentors the senior on what he or she has experience in and gives the senior digital insights that are fundamental to do business in the future. Although this new dynamic might feel unnatural for the both of them, it is the key to make your company digital first.
Now you know why you should use it and what it is, I will tell you how to set it up. Check the following 7 boxes, and you will be on your way to setting up your first reverse mentorship program.
1. Select members
This checkbox is about 2 things: identifying participants and matchmaking. You have to find a system to identify those digital gems in your organization.
Defining who’s who can be done through a digital readiness scan. This could be in the form of an interview, survey or by making participants solve tasks. You can use our template here (just click on file -> download and view the Google Form in your Google Drive)
The gems you will find are often junior profiles, but being young does not necessarily make you an authority on digital. You will also need to identify those who need to step up their digital game to stay relevant in your organization. The fun part is, once you have done one, the other becomes much easier.
The second part is matchmaking. It’s not just about putting a mentor and a mentee together. To increase the success-rate, you will have to find the best match. Find a system to match mentors and mentees, or let them choose who to partner with.
2. Define the ‘why’
It’s important that both parties know why they are stepping into the program. Make sure to set clear goals and objectives for the program. Often for a particular team, these link back to the needs of the mentee. Listing the goals and objectives gives you something to discuss during the meetings.
3. Set rules
Good rules make good friends ;-). Setting ground-rules will prevent irritations further along the road. It is an essential part of the preparation.
A reverse mentorship relation is against many traditional company dynamics. During the sessions, the (junior) mentor has to challenge the mentee and lead the way. This is often not accepted by senior profiles. To make it work, ground-rules have to be set and egos left at the door. Other rules might involve platforms of communication, availability and tone of voice (informal/formal).
To stay on track and to keep both participants engaged, intermediate milestones must be defined. This also allows you to break up the ‘why’ of the project into smaller sub-needs, which makes it easier for the participants or organizer to create an agenda for the meetings.
5. Graduation and rotation
Acknowledging the effort the participants put into the program is important for them and to onboard other members in the organization. Setting up a fun graduation moment when a mentor has finished a program is a cool way to do this. It also incentivizes other members of the organization to join and demonstrate their engagement in the company’s future. After graduating, mentees can rotate to new mentors so they keep learning.
6. Choose an environment
The location and environment where the meetings are held can influence the success-rate of the program. Possible locations can be the office of one of the participants, a bar, the lunchroom. There is no best place to hold these meetings, the participants have to decide this themselves. Sometimes an office is the best location to remain professional, sometimes a bar is the best location to loosen up and to lower the hierarchical barriers.
7. Manage expectations
A reverse mentorship program requires several things of the participants besides an open mindset. The main investment will be time. Time to meet, time to prepare, time to execute. The amount of time every participant needs to invest will be different, but is important to think about it before starting the program. Clear expectations will increase the success-rate of the program.
We have constructed a reverse mentorship program canvas to help you check these 7 boxes, check it in the slide deck.
We are Duval Union Consulting, a consultancy firm that helps companies master digital strategies and transformation and land that digital plane. If you need help, contact us and check out our book.