APU Business Original

Reverse Mentoring: Fixing the Skills Gap in Organizations

Employers are facing difficult times. The Great Resignation and labor shortages have caused skills gaps and disruption in their organizations. As a result, some companies use reverse mentoring to address employees’ skills gaps and improve employee efficiency and effectiveness.

With reverse mentoring, an organization’s employees partner to learn from each other. Reverse mentoring involves a collaborative approach beneficial to the organization and the participating employees. 

A Reverse Mentoring Example

Reverse mentoring has less to do with age and more to do with someone’s level of experience or area of expertise. Unlike the traditional mentoring model, a lower-level person in the organization can fulfill the role of the mentor.

For instance, a high-level executive in a company may pair with a lower-level supervisor. That lower-level employee can then share his or her expertise with social media and various technological tools.

In this cooperative relationship, both the executive and lower-level supervisor benefit. The lower-level supervisor gains leadership and management knowledge, while the high-level executive becomes more familiar with social media and different technology tools.

Related link: Being a Mentor Doesn’t Always Have to Involve Excessive Time

What Are the Benefits?

There are numerous benefits to an organization from the implementation of reverse mentoring. Organizations using reverse mentoring will see:

  • Improved relationships
  • A reduction in employees’ skills gaps
  • Improved cross-departmental and cross-functional knowledge
  • Enhanced teamwork that will lead to more efficient, effective operations

Also, bringing together employees from different backgrounds and perspectives can drive organizational innovation and change. For example, pairing employees of different backgrounds and perspectives offers the added benefits of promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace and bridging generational gaps.

In addition, reverse mentoring supports leadership development and succession planning in an organization. As Sarah Grimstead of Fast Company points out, leaders have a responsibility to teach the next generation.

Employees also benefit from reverse mentoring. For instance, both the mentor and the mentee can benefit from learning new knowledge and new skills.

Both employees will be able to grow, think critically and demonstrate empathy toward other people of different backgrounds in the workplace. Often, reverse mentoring can create a more extensive professional network for an organization’s employees. 

Related link: Employee Development Programs and Benefits to Employers

How to Successfully Implement Reverse Mentoring

Although reverse mentoring is simple, it takes some planning and there are several steps to follow. First, it is essential for an organization to identify the goals for using reverse mentoring, such as closing skills gaps by improving technical skills, increasing knowledge of social media, promoting greater diversity and inclusion, or other relevant goals.

Second, the organization must develop a mentoring model in the form of a written document. This document is like a job description, outlining the roles, the responsibilities, and the expectations for both mentor and mentee. At this time, the duration or frequency of mentoring sessions can be defined.

Third, the organization should identify which employees should be potential mentors, based on the organization’s mentoring goals. Ideally, those employees who lead the reverse mentoring initiative should choose people with transferable skills and the knowledge needed by other employees, good communication skills, and a positive attitude toward new initiatives and change.

With leadership and human resources involvement, the company should then provide training and resources on effective mentoring. This training and resources can be in the form of workshops, online training or training manuals. To maximize the effectiveness of reverse mentoring, it is imperative to allow mentors sufficient time for practice and questions.

Fourth, mentors and mentees can be matched with one another. The mentoring initiative should encourage both people to establish their goals and set regular times to meet.

Finally, mentoring leaders should gather feedback from both mentors and mentees after reverse mentoring. Doing so will help an organization to adjust and support the continuous improvement of reverse mentoring.

Reverse Mentoring Is a Powerful Tool for Organizations and Their Employees

Reverse mentoring is a powerful tool for employee development. It is a two-way learning process; both the mentor and mentee have something to gain from reverse mentoring.

The collaborative approach is helpful in knowledge transfer and the development of soft skills, such as communication, presentation, and empathy. By implementing reverse mentoring for employees and leaders, organizations can foster a culture of learning and growth.

Dr. Stacey Little is the Department Chair of Human Resource Management in the Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business. She earned her Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and her Ph.D. in Global Leadership with an Organizational Management Specialization from Indiana Institute of Technology. Her research interests are in barriers to employee relationships, the ethical dimensions of leadership and global leadership development.

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