Reverse Mentoring
For belonging and trust

The impact of COVID-19 on diverse talent over the past 16 months has been massive. Emerging from this period, we now find ourselves in the middle of one of the most competitive job markets in decades. Any forward-looking leader will appreciate this as a critical moment to consider their employees experience at work.

Launched this month, Employee Experience: The Definitive Guide from Josh Bersin, explores the findings from their latest, most important research study yet and cites as the top finding; “Practices related to trust, transparency, inclusion, and caring have a disproportionate impact (when related to financial, people, and innovation outcomes). Important practices include regular and transparent communications from leaders, demonstrations of care for employees, an emphasis on integrity and empathy across an organization, a well-defined company mission, and a culture that cultivates a sense of belonging and inclusion among all employees.”

Over the last 20+ years we have seen time and again the impact that classic mentoring can have on employee experience, retention of talent, and on leadership development. Accelerating career progression, breaking down silos, building trust, and improving a leader’s conversational skills, to name a few.

In the last five or so years, our experience of launching and supporting reverse and reciprocal mentoring programmes has shown that, when implemented with care and expertise, these programmes significantly hit the following points, highlighted by Bersin:

  • Employees want a feeling of purpose from their employer.
  • They want to trust their leaders and institutions.
  • They want to feel that they belong and that their team will take care of them.
  • They want to be treated fairly, respecting their uniqueness and identity as a person.
  • And they want to see the company investing in their pay, growth, and advancement.

Reciprocal mentoring plays a huge role in influencing and growing inclusive cultures, building trust in leaders and nurturing a sense of belonging for all.

Yet, there can still be resistance to invest resource and time at the very top of the organisation. A recent CEO on one of our programmes has consistently challenged the time invested in the setup and launch of it, questioning why there can’t just be ‘a briefing note for pairs and off we go’? Whilst that is one option, we have seen the added value of a formal and structured programme that brings participants together from the start, to share their experiences and learning.

It is interesting to consider why the resistance… Is it just not wanting to invest the time, or could it be a deeper more personal reason? Might there be an underlying fear of not wanting to be exposed, get ‘it’ wrong or say the wrong thing?

Things have moved on so quickly in society over the past few years that those at the top may potentially be feeling vulnerable and not want to face into what’s really happening on a personal level.

When reciprocal mentoring works, it really effects change. Here are a few of the ways in which it does;

  1. Bringing together a group of widely diverse people from different levels and functions across the organisation and supporting them to collaborate and focus on the purpose of the programme over time. This enables a sustained, collaborative, and inclusive approach to innovation and problem solving.
  2. Setting up and supporting one-to-one, trusted relationships. Being matched with someone very different in a work context, provides opportunity to hold difficult conversations that are often shut down due to fear of saying the wrong thing. The requirement for both the mentor and the mentee to step into a vulnerable space and take risks in their conversation enables deep learning and behavioural change towards a more inclusive culture.
  3. Starting with the most senior people in the organisation. This demonstrates visible commitment to the purpose of the programme at the top of the organisation. Having decision makers involved as participants accelerates trust in leaders, the organisation, and increases the potential speed of change.
  4. Modelling a psychologically safe environment at every programme touchpoint and helping participants understand how to do this in their pair conversations. This enables mentors to share their lived experience with honesty, speak their truth to power within the organisation and really be heard. And it helps mentors remain curious in the space of learner rather than expert (a real challenge as we get more senior!)
  5. Putting conversation and learning into action. Including a full group idea generation session within the programme gives a platform from which to act on best quality, creative and diverse thinking.

Reciprocal mentoring offers so much more than the obvious and well cited (often tech or social media) knowledge transfer. Organisations that are brave enough to invest the time of their people, take the risk of opening critical yet often challenging conversations and get the right support from the start, are well poised to grow strength from within and be at the forefront of truly inclusive workplaces.

If you would like to have a chat about how Reverse Mentoring can impact your ED&I agenda, please get in touch.

By Emily Cosgrove

Case studies

Retention / Career Development / Employee Experience

Mastering Conversations

Talent development / Performance / Employee Experience

Conversations in fashion

In their words...

"I have just completed the Advanced Mentor Skills programme run by Conversation Space. Without doubt it was the best virtual training programme I have been on. As a trainer myself I know how hard it is to create behavioural change, especially in a virtual environment, and this programme delivered. Run over 3 x 90-minute workshops, I found it incredibly thought-provoking and easy to fit into my working week, and I came away with lots of ideas to embed in my mentoring conversations, as well as the organisation."

Melanie Palethorpe
Learning & Talent Development Advisor / Michelmores

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