HRM Five: Enabling successful reverse mentoring

Pairing senior executives with younger employees can be beneficial - here's how HR can help talent get the most out of such mentorships.

Organisations are turning to younger members of the workforce to mentor more senior colleagues, but it takes training, a safe environment and an openness to new insights to make this relationship work.

“In the last decade or so, the traditional image of the mentor has been radically turned on its head,” says Grant Torrens, Business Director of Hays in Singapore.

“In the corporate world, many organisations are encouraging reverse mentoring, where senior-level executives are coached by millennials and young recruits. This helps foster diversity, skills development, the idea of lifelong learning and an inclusive culture,” adds Torrens.

Donna Miller, European HR Director at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, says their reverse mentoring programme developed from an initiative that saw mostly baby boomer leaders mentor primarily millennial junior to middle manager women.

“Our senior directors quickly realised the value of spending time with younger team members (generally an hour a month), who were at the operational coalface and brought insights from different life experiences as well as different ways of working, particularly around innovative ways to communicate more effectively using technology,” says Miller.

She added, “Their experiences and insights are invaluable in informing the business strategy, and this is an enormous benefit of having reverse mentoring.”

Here are five tips for creating a successful reverse mentoring programme.


5. Help people solve a need

For reverse mentoring to succeed, it helps if the mentees have specific problems that mentors can help to solve. For example, if they want to find out more about the needs of the millennial demographic, or to better under social media, link them up with mentors who will be able to assist them in these specific topics.


4. Establish guidelines

Any successful mentorship must be structured. HR will need to create guidelines to help both mentor and mentee understand what is expected of them, and also to form boundaries for the mentorship. Guidelines should explain each party’s obligations, and perhaps even provide simple templates for goal-setting and progress-tracking.


3. Monthly meetings

PwC launched its reverse mentoring programme in 2014 as part of its diversity and inclusion drive. Kalee Talvitie-Brown, Head of People at PwC Consulting, says: “Diversity is something we value at PwC and it is also really valued by the younger generation. We wanted to empower them, to make them feel that their viewpoint was valid and look at different perspectives.” They currently have 122 millennials mentoring 200 partners and directors. The mentors meet with their mentees once a month, while mentors meet quarterly to discuss any issues.


2. Train mentors

PwC also runs a training programme for the mentors every January which looks at the dynamics between different generations, what their role will entail and hierarchical boundaries. It’s important that age or seniority does not dictate who leads this type of relationship. “The relationship between the mentee and the mentor should be led by the mentor, rather than the senior-level executive,” says Talvitie-Brown. “We want the mentors to feel as though they can ask challenging questions to the partners and to be clear about their purpose.”


1. Create a safe environment to share experiences

“What I have enjoyed most is the ability to share my experience as a woman within the firm to challenge the partners’ views and ways of working, in a safe environment,” says Krystal Allen, a millennial mentor and Manager at PwC. “We want to help shape our partners to appreciate and recognise differences, and the reverse mentoring programme gives you the space and ability to do just that.”


Yamini Chinnuswamy offers five important points on everything you wanted to know about HR practices today, but were too afraid to ask. Check out previous editions of HRM Five here.


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