How to set up a Reverse Mentoring Program in 10 Steps
In 2011, I wrote a blog called “The Results: How Reverse Mentoring Can Enhance Diversity and Inclusion”. The blog described the benefits, the lessons learned and the most popular areas to mentor from a Reverse Mentoring Program I led at Cisco.
Since publishing this blog, I’ve been touched by the number of people who have reached out to me, both from within Cisco and outside of Cisco from other companies, to find out more about how to set up a successful Reverse Mentoring program. Their interest inspired me to write this blog on 10 simple steps you can use to set up a Reverse Mentoring Program.
- Business Challenge – The first thing you need to think about when you set up a Reverse Mentoring program is “What is the Business Challenge(s) you are trying to solve/reduce with this program?” In other words, how is this program going to help your business to achieve its strategic objectives? Without this, it’s going to be very hard to: convince your business to invest in the program (from a time, money and resource perspective); encourage people to get involved as a mentor and mentee; and keep track of how the program is doing from a metrics perspective (see point 2 for more info)
- Metrics – Once you know the business challenge you are going to address, it is much easier to set specific metrics for your Reverse Mentoring program. For example, if you’ve decided that your program is going to address the Business Challenge of “The total number of women who work for in my organization is X% lower than other organizations in the company and/or industry average”, then metrics for your Reverse Mentoring program could include: matching all 30 leaders in the leadership team with a female mentor who is a Manager or below; raising awareness in the leadership team of the challenges females face at my company and in the X industry (you’d need to measure this awareness in the leadership team at the beginning, middle and end of your program); and having leaders and female mentors to generate at least 2 ideas of how to address this challenge.
- Executive Sponsorship – An Executive Sponsor is someone high enough up in the organization who will champion the program and encourage his/her leaders to get involved, whose name gives weight to communications, etc. A good Executive sponsor is the leadership team’s boss, for example the Vice President of the organization that you are trying to help solve one of its key business challenges. It’s even better if the Executive sponsor is willing to tie this program with the leadership team’s development goals so that leaders are measured on their involvement and contribution. This isn’t mandatory and if you have a good enough business challenge for the program, I have found that leaders are more than willing to get involved.
- Attract Mentees first, then Mentors – People have come to me saying “I had huge interest from the Mentor community (Managers and below), but not as much from the Leadership team. What do I do?” This is a common challenge and one solution is to do it the other way round. First get your Executive sponsor secured, then work with him/her to encourage the leadership team to get involved, and then reach out to the Mentor community. Your program becomes stronger because rather than saying “Thank you so much for your interest – we were overwhelmed that 50 of you want to get involved but we only have places for 20”, you can say “Hey, we have 30 leaders who want to be mentored by people like you to find out what it’s like working at X company as a female”. Using this approach, it is possible that both the number of Leadership Mentees and the number of Mentors increase too because Mentors know that this is something their Leadership team and their business is passionate about! It also reduces the chances of disappointing potential Mentors who want to get involved in the program as you are very clear from the start about how many places you have available and if you have more Mentors than Mentees, you can create a waiting list.
- Executive-Leader Introduction Call – Once you have secured your Mentees and Mentors, work with your Executive sponsor for him/her to host a call with the Leadership Mentees. Your Executive Sponsor should recap on why this Reverse Mentoring program is important to the business, what business objective it is trying to solve/reduce and lay out the metrics that will be used to measure the program. I’ve found that these calls are more effective in the Executive Sponsor can add some personal touches too – for example stories of when s/he participated in a Reverse Mentoring program in the past and their personal experience.
- Resource Materials – Set up a similar call with the Mentors and in addition to covering the points above, you should also provide them with resource materials to help them with their Mentorship. These resource materials should include, but are not limited to: What is mentoring; Mentor and Mentee Responsibilities; Top tips on being a mentor; Areas to Mentor on; Proposed Timelines; Limitations; Challenges you may face and how to overcome them; Where to go if you need help
- Mid-Point Checkpoint – After the mentors and mentees have been matched and start their meetings, it’s important to set up a mid-point checkpoint with both mentors and mentees (ideally separately) to see how they are getting on. Of course, you should be available to both mentors and mentees to help them on their journey, but a mid-point checkpoint are formal meetings to discuss how the mentoring is going, what’s working, what’s not working, what changes you need to make to ensure the program is successful, etc. All mentors and mentees should be encouraged to attend these meetings and it’s a good idea to do a mid-point checkpoint on your metrics too!
- Meeting Review – At the end of your mentorship, host another call with your mentors and mentees for a final review on how well the program has gone, what they achieved, what they weren’t able to achieve, ideas for improvements for next time, etc. This will also provide you with context for your metrics (see point 9 for more info)
- Metric Review Time – Have you solved/reduced the business challenge you set out to tackle and have you met your metrics? Once you have this information, it’s important this is presented to the Executive Sponsor and the leadership team. You can use the information you gathered in the Mid-Point Checkpoint and Final Meeting Review for context on both why things worked well and why things didn’t work well
- Decide Next Steps – Did you mentorship achieve everything you set out to achieve? If not, could you set up another mentoring program (either with the same group or another group) to achieve the remaining objectives? What would you do differently next time?