As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another - Proverbs 27:17 (NIV).
What exactly does that mean? In the literal sense, the way to sharpen a knife is by use of a stone used for sharpening the blades of knives or other cutting tools. From a biblical perspective, it can mean that individuals believe in seeking counsel from others who can shed light that might not have been visible before to the person seeking answers and knowledge.
How iron sharpens iron is how we can define peer and reverse mentoring.
Peer mentoring is an intentional, one-on-one relationship between employees at the same or a similar lateral level in the organization. People can be from the same department, leadership roles, or cross-department as it relates to the industry. The key here is the worker who is more experienced (not necessarily older) teaches new knowledge and skills and provides encouragement to a less experienced worker.
97% of individuals with a mentor feel they are highly impactful and valuable.
Reverse mentoring flips the typical mentoring relationship as stated above. The goal of reverse mentoring is to take advantage of the fresh perspective a newcomer offers. One of the biggest advantages is the ability to bridge the communications gap between the five generations* in the workforce. You can also count on seeing Gen Alpha nipping at the heels and entering the workforce soon, around 2027.
*Wondering what those generations are?
Silents or Traditionalists (1925–1946)
Baby Boomers (1946–1964)
Generation X (1964–1981)
Millennials or Generation Y (1982–1995)
Generation Z (after 1995)
Reverse mentoring occurs in a number of ways. It can be a new generational team member who has the opportunity to mentor more veteran ones in pursuit of teaching them new skills. It also takes place when developing an intern program. Reverse mentorship acknowledges the idea that there are learning curves on both sides and each person can address their areas for growth with the help of the other’s strengths.
A massive 94% of employees stated they would stay at a company for longer if they were offered opportunities to develop and grow within the company and their careers.
So, let’s review the benefits of creating a skills-based reverse mentoring program blended with an intern program. This has a big impact on your employee learning strategy, organizational culture, and customers.
Benefits for employees
1 - Increases the unique opportunity for organizations to model inclusivity and amplify the voices of underrepresented people within your company. As previously stated, people are made for relationships with one another. Remote work and advanced technology usage can be deterrents to people connecting with others in the workplace.
2 - Accelerated learning that bridges multigenerational communication between different generations within the company. One tip is to have employees ask how they prefer to be communicated such as through email, text, Slack, Discord, and other team communication channels which means establishing better rapport using different methods of technology.
3 - Improves individual communication that is inclusive of verbal, written, listening, and observation skills. And mentoring and leadership skills, one of the biggest benefits is improved communication and mentor/leadership skills. This keeps employees engaged and happy because they provide a positive impact on another person’s growth.
Benefits for company culture
4 - You will see increased communication that focuses on inclusion. When mentors are paired with individuals that speak another language, have disabilities or special needs, it fosters empathy, raises accessibility awareness, and builds strong internal employee relationships.
5 - Improves organizational ideation and creativity. When working with interns and entry-level employees, the opportunity avails itself to ask why are we doing this process this way BECAUSE your intern asks a lot of questions to understand processes, technologies, and policies.
6 - Peer and reverse mentoring levels the mentoring field. That means that both parties understand they can learn from each other. This is a relational partnership that must also reflect high levels of respect and low levels of conflict. Both parties have to be open to feedback and value the perspective of the other person. This also builds trust and confidence in each person.
"Senior managers must be open to feedback about how they are seen at lower levels of the organization and the younger partner must have the confidence needed to relay such information” (Dr. Jack Wiley, Chief Scientific Officer at Engage2.)
For businesses, 67% reported an increase in productivity due to mentoring.
Benefits for ROI
7 - Fulfilled employees stay with their company longer and engage with other employees. Less churn and less new employee onboarding costs.
8 - Employees that find meaning in their work and life are happy. Happy employees say good things about the company they work for. They take time with your customers, which means happy customers.
55% of businesses state that mentoring had a positive impact on their profits.
Benefit for customers
9 - Customers that have a positive experience with your employees will share on social, in the grocery store lines, in their gyms, and with their friends and other coworkers. Happy customers means increased sales.
10 - Increased knowledge transfer and enjoyment of their job, meaning your employees are happy to be of help and solve problems for the customers they are serving.
After implementing a reverse mentoring program, a company experienced a 96% retention rate amongst millennial employees.
To wrap up, there are clear benefits to creating a peer and reverse mentoring program that your training and learning team can consider. It requires thought and a plan to roll out the program to interested employees. It also starts from the top down – leadership has to engage also.
These three key points should be part of the conversation when considering starting a peer and reverse mentoring program, if remote or on-site.
- Ensure a safe experience and space for the participants. Trust is the foundation of any developmental relationship and requires even greater intentionality in virtual mediums. Some ways to do this are by setting some ground rules, such as, that meetings will not be recorded nor shared outside of the mentoring relationship in gossip. Set up a rubric to identify topics and measurable goals.
- Clarify boundaries and the rules of engagement. Establish a schedule that states the frequency of meetings (once a month or once a week) AND a total time frame like 3 meetings or 3 months. Discuss methods of communication such as text, in-person, phone, video, or other social communication choices. Be sure to schedule these as standing appointments to develop consistency and don’t break the appointments. Lunch or a coffee break are ideal because food and beverage help make it feel more relaxed.
- Finally, when possible, collaborate with your mentee. Identifying opportunities to work together on projects may not be as apparent in a remote environment, so seek them out. This will allow you to coach your mentee and see their strengths and weaknesses in practice.