Dr Lynda Shaw explores the science and business benefits of reverse mentoring and why L&D is crucial to its success in organisations
Reverse mentoring is a technique that involves pairing less experienced or younger workers with more experienced executives or managers to exchange insights and knowledge. However, for it to be successful, it necessitates an environment and work culture that values opinions and feedback, as well as appropriate structuring to promote learning and empowerment. Reverse mentoring is most effective in larger or more segregated organisations where hierarchy is less integrated or when teams are geographically dispersed or separated.
Why reverse mentoring is better than traditional mentoring?
Reverse mentoring is a method that overcomes the problems of traditional one-directional mentoring, which can result in hierarchical issues or micromanagement of junior employees. With reverse mentoring, both parties benefit from a clear two-way exchange of knowledge and experience, resulting in an increase in confidence, skill set, and knowledge for both individuals. The more diverse the partnership, the greater the benefits.
Reverse mentoring promotes diversity and inclusion by creating a platform for employees of diverse backgrounds to share their perspectives and experiences
Reverse mentoring can be a potent technique for both the mentor and mentee from a neuroscience standpoint. Through mentoring, the release of neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine is triggered, which induces a more favourable state of mind as both parties participate in a mutually beneficial relationship characterised by learning, growth, and motivation. Furthermore, cortisol levels in the body are likely to be lower, resulting in reduced stress and clearer thinking when it comes to problem-solving.
The sharing of knowledge or experience can activate brain regions involved in cognitive processing, memory, learning, social processing, and perspective-taking. Furthermore, regular conversations and learning from someone with a different perspective can help develop the brain’s capacity to form new neural connections, stimulate neuroplasticity, and improve cognitive flexibility. This can result in improved decision-making, creativity, working relationships, task sharing, team morale, mental health, and productivity.
Reverse mentoring has been demonstrated to have beneficial psychological impacts, with studies indicating that it is an effective approach for enhancing leadership abilities, fostering innovation, and promoting better communication and collaboration between different generations in the workplace.
A study published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology highlighted the importance of HRD professionals in unifying their workforce and keeping them engaged, with reverse mentoring being an effective social exchange tool for leveraging the expertise, value systems, needs, and work demands of different generations. Moreover, post-pandemic, reverse mentoring programmes have been observed to have a revitalising effect on work environments, strengthening employee-employer relationships and enabling better communication in hybrid workplaces.
Reverse mentoring is recognised for its potential to enhance collaboration, communication, problem-solving, innovation, and creativity, while promoting curiosity and enabling the acquisition of new knowledge, skills, and insights. There are also deeper, less apparent advantages associated with this approach.
Reverse mentoring promotes diversity and inclusion by creating a platform for employees of diverse backgrounds to share their perspectives and experiences, fostering a culture of inclusivity and increasing the visibility of minority employees. It encourages new thinking, role-modelling of the right behaviours and increased empathy.
Reverse mentoring can reduce bias and stereotypes by providing opportunities to learn from different generations, which can bring fresh perspectives and diminish preconceived notions. By engaging with someone who may not be typically spoken to, we can learn to respect and appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of each generation. Reverse mentoring promotes active listening, mutual understanding, and the cultivation of compassion and empathy, which can prevent microaggressions and bullying.
Reverse mentoring increases engagement by offering equal opportunities for learning and growth and injecting fresh energy into the workplace. Success in this approach requires an open mindset and a willingness to learn.
Reverse mentoring provides a safe and confidential space for both mentor and mentee to develop their leadership skills. Reverse mentors can reflect on their actions and decisions, take responsibility for mistakes, and share joint successes.
This sort of mentor relationship fosters trust and open communication. It is important for mentors to create a safe and supportive environment where mentees feel comfortable asking questions and sharing their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment. This can be achieved by emphasising that no question is too small or insignificant and demonstrating active listening.
Reverse mentors can share their own experiences and mistakes which can promote mutual understanding and respect. When everyone’s voice is heard and valued, it can foster a culture of openness, respect, and individuality.
Reverse mentoring can increase confidence and self-esteem by providing new and successful scenarios and experiences that are empowering.
Reverse mentoring reinforces core company values by promoting reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationships. When company values are built on highly valued principles like respect and trust, engaging in reverse mentoring demonstrates an authentic commitment to these values.
In a thriving workplace, it is important for workers to act as positive role models by being attentive listeners and supportive collaborators who assist each other’s growth, acknowledge their contributions, and make them feel appreciated.
Dr Lynda Shaw is a brain and behaviour specialist, neuroscientist and C-suite mentor. Find out more at www.drlyndashaw.com