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In a traditional mentorship dynamic, the senior plays adviser to the junior. But there’s a type of mentorship that works in an opposite way: reverse mentoring, which entails a less experienced staff member mentoring a more experienced one. And if its implementation at various companies is anything to go by, it’s an effective practice that fosters inclusivity and sets employees of all levels up for success.

Keeps the mentee relevant

There are several advantages to reverse mentoring. An obvious one is that it narrows the generation gap.

“At a company I worked for, reverse mentoring was implemented for about a year. The juniors helped the seniors with social media platforms such as Linkedin, Twitter and Instagram. When the senior leaders became comfortable using these platforms, the programme was discontinued,” says Michelle Low, a transition specialist at Avodah People Solutions, which provides career education, guidance and coaching.

It also helps senior employees avoid the “ivory tower syndrome”, which happens when they become so out of touch with the people they manage that they can no longer relate to their day-to-day struggles.

“Reverse mentoring helps to close the generation gap and foster an inclusive learning environment. It also builds up our employees’ confidence and creates a sense of belonging, which makes them know they are valued and comfortable in expressing their views,” says Vivian Chua, Managing Direction of HP Inc.

Michelle Liang, Planning and Performance Manager at Shell Development, has also benefited from it: “Reverse mentoring allows me to learn from people who are typically mentees, and is a fantastic way for an older millennial like myself to stay young at heart. After all, mentoring is all about learning and evolving together.”

Plus, running ideas by junior workers allows senior employees to not only find out how a new policy or strategy is perceived, but also include junior staff in the decision- making process.

“Even if the final decision is not something that the junior member agrees with, they will know that the company sought their input. This is something millennials seem to appreciate,” says Michelle.

Compatibility is crucial

For a dynamic like this to work, it is crucial that the mentor and mentee are a good match.

“The junior member must know how to give feedback and ask questions, while the senior member must be open to it. There should be a no-penalty escape clause so that either party can choose to end the relationship without repercussions,” explains Michelle.

Problems can also arise if the junior employee is unable to overcome feelings of intimidation.

“This can result in the mentee assuming that the younger mentor is incompetent or not confident,” says Alex Tan, an executive coach at Avodah People Solutions. Should this happen, the mentee may deprioritise the mentorship and let it take a back seat. This would then make the pairing counterproductive.

How to find your match

If you’re thinking of reverse mentoring a senior member at your company, it is important that you know how to make your case, whatever your impetus.

“Be clear about what you can offer in terms of expertise and learning opportunities. Also, check your motivation – the mentorship is also about the mentee and setting them up for success,” says Alex. He adds that you should ask your supervisor or HR department for a suitable mentee if you need some ideas about who to approach.

And when you do find a potential mentee, be sure to first suss out the odds of success. Set up an exploratory meeting where the both of you can assess each other before committing to the pairing.

The story first appeared in the August 2021 print issue of Her World.