Reverse Mentoring: What Is It and How Do You Do It Right?

Just as younger generations have a lot to learn from their seniors, the opposite is also true – and reverse mentoring is the key

When it comes to retaining millennial and Gen-Z talent, there is a buzzword that employers shouldn’t look past: reverse mentoring.

Much has been written about the Great Resignation, and how procurement professionals are leaving their jobs in droves. However, what is discussed less, but is equally important, is how, even before the Great Resignation, companies were struggling to hire and retain millennial talent. In fact, research has found that in any one year, 21% of millennials and Gen Z’s will change jobs, as opposed to less than 7% in other generations. 

Companies have put in place many initiatives to try and recruit and retain millennials, for example, they’ve raised wages and introduced various benefits, from flexible working to employer-sponsored gym memberships. 

But out of all of these changes, one is leading the way in bridging generational divides and that is reverse mentoring. 

What is reverse mentoring, though? And how do you do it right? 

Here’s a brief guide for any procurement executive or company who knows there’s much to learn from the younger generation, and little time to waste in doing so.

What is reverse mentoring? 

Typically, a mentoring relationship is arranged between someone senior and someone either at the beginning or the middle of their career, for example, a sourcing manager may mentor a procurement analyst. 

As the name suggests, reverse mentoring reverses that relationship. It’s essentially where someone in a more junior position, or from a younger generation, mentors someone more senior. 

And there’s certainly plenty of benefits of this arrangement. One benefit noticed by many mentors who participate in reverse mentoring is that it helps them understand, and connect with, people from other generations. This can help guide business decisions and policies, for example, a procurement team’s attitude to flexible work may change if enough team members express their desire for it. 

Reverse mentoring has other benefits, too. Millennials and Gen Z’s have abundant digital skills to share, which are increasingly important for procurement digital transformations. They also help to promote diversity and inclusion, and can be instrumental in driving cultural change and new ideas. 

How to create a successful reverse mentoring program 

If your procurement team doesn’t already have a reverse mentoring program, it’s clear that it’s time for you to create one. Here are the essential elements of a successful one: 

Create a well-matched pair

Just like with any mentoring program, when organising a reverse mentoring program, ensure you put effort into creating the perfect mentor match. 

Ideally, a mentor ‘perfect match’ is one where the mentor and mentee are a diverse group and can learn off each other, for example, pair an extrovert with an introvert, or someone who specialises in a certain category with a procurement generalist. 

Before you make a mentor match, also ensure that you approach both the mentee and the mentor to seek their approval. 

Create an atmosphere of trust 

Given that most large organisations are hierarchical in nature, sometimes, in a reverse mentoring situation, mentees who might be executives feel a little uncomfortable revealing their lack of knowledge, or their knowledge within sensitive areas, to more junior employees. 

To counteract this, though, ensure that you create an atmosphere of trust with reverse mentoring. This can be achieved by having a facilitated session where mentors and mentees share what they believe to be their strengths and weaknesses, and discuss appropriate professional boundaries. 

Give the program a structure and desired outcomes 

Learning within a mentoring relationship doesn’t occur within a vacuum, so when reverse mentoring, it’s important for the mentee and mentor to create some structure for their relationship, alongside agreement on desired outcomes. 

Some of these outcomes may include: 

  • Understand what millennials and Gen Z’s value at work 
  • Share experiences on the recruitment process and how it might be improved 
  • Understand generational perspectives on procurement and how things might have changed or are changing 
  • Co-create ideas for procurement of the future. 

Have you tried reverse mentoring? What worked for you and what didn’t? Let us know in the comments below.