Reverse Mentoring: What it is and Why it’s Important to the Transport Sector
Any business worth its salt will constantly look for ways to nurture and retain its best talent. When people at every level, and in every position, have the potential to excel at what they do, a business can prosper, and its customers benefit.
Mentoring is a popular and proven workplace practice for nurturing the confidence, ability, and otherwise well-roundedness of colleagues.
It traditionally involves a senior colleague offering one-to-one guidance and knowledge to a more junior colleague. With a constant need to innovate, and boasting many senior leaders with decades of experience, the transport sector is no stranger to mentoring.
Mentoring As We Know It Is Changing…
The mentoring partnership has long been considered a cornerstone of professional competence and personal growth. But the way this partnership is being approached is changing. You may have read about it in the press, or perhaps begun exploring it within your organisation. We’re talking about reverse mentoring.
To some extent, this phrase can sound ambiguous, almost counter to what a mentor is and does. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Interested in learning more about reverse mentoring? Read on.
Reverse Mentoring Defined
In short, reverse mentoring empowers less senior, younger, or more unconventional (defined by your workforce demographic) employees to share their knowledge and experience with more senior, conventional, and oftentimes older colleagues. The mentee becomes the mentor!
What Are the Benefits of Reverse Mentoring?
By sharing knowledge, perspectives, and experiences bilaterally, you can better understand – and empathise with – the bigger picture and develop fundamental skills that you may not have the opportunity to within the confines of your professional role.
This could be a novel approach to solving a problem, only immediately obvious to a colleague with different life experiences. Or maybe an idea to improve some aspect of business using tools that aren’t yet widely known.
Comprehensive, balanced, and up-to-the-minute insight and capabilities are, of course, the difference between an effective strategic decision and a choice that doesn’t quite hit the mark. And therefore, a determiner of a fantastic leader.
Reverse mentoring also invites everyone to the table, openly and meaningfully. By flipping the script, colleagues who have previously been underrepresented at an organisational or sector level can have their voices heard. The practice is an excellent way for leaders to take a solid stand for equality, diversity and inclusion and all the positive benefits it brings.
Reverse mentoring recognises that the knowledge, skills, and perspectives required to nurture a well-rounded and successful leader are oftentimes already present within your workforce. Albeit, untapped and perhaps overlooked.
- Fresh ideas, new perspectives, knowledge, and skills that may not have been immediately apparent or even requisite
- Increased confidence of both the mentee and the mentor
- Builds strong connection with leaders
- Fosters a sense of belonging and belief that everyone is valued
- Encourages new perspectives
- Develops, and improves competence
- Encourages and enables improvements in diversity and inclusion
- Modernises ethos and approach
Reverse Mentoring and ED&I
Reverse mentoring is an opportunity for senior leaders to access the tools they need to enjoy professional development and success in a rapidly changing landscape. However, at its heart is equality, diversity, and inclusion.
At Intuitive, we care deeply about improving and accelerating ED&I in the transport sector we love. For more on the subject with practical actions, check out our ED&I Agent of Change Resources.
ED&I is about respecting everyone, free from conscious or unconscious bias. It’s about learning from lesser-heard voices to better understand the world, and how we can play a part in making the workplace a fairer, more rewarding, and welcoming place for all. It’s about being open-minded and taking the time to understand why changing how we say, do, or approach things really matters – even if it doesn’t make immediate sense.
After all, we feel it entirely understandable and in large part inevitable that many of us will end up in a professional “bubble”. What’s important is being self-aware and taking the opportunity to learn from those beyond our professional and life experiences, whenever it arises. Reverse mentoring is exactly this opportunity.
Reverse Mentoring and ED&I in Practice
Take, for example, the growing visibility of personal pronoun preference within the transport sector. This is now regularly seen in our email signatures and uniform badges.
Being able to express a preference – and be referred to correctly – has deep meaning and importance to many colleagues. However, other colleagues may be entirely new to the gender spectrum and make mistakes. These mistakes can be hurtful and harmful, both in terms of disrespecting those we work with, but in discouraging talent from sticking with or getting involved in the transport sector.
Reverse mentoring can help alleviate these misunderstandings and risks through open, non-judgmental, and curious conversation.
Take, for example, an older, gender normative senior leader tasked with improving gender inequality. It makes sense for this leader to acutely understand how discrimination arises and persists. A fresh, up-to-the-minute perspective and lived experience can offer this.
So, why not arrange reverse mentoring from a younger colleague from the trans or non-binary community? There’s nothing better than a good conversation for clearing up assumptions and miscommunication and agreeing on solid steps forward that benefit everyone. Restrictive status quo blinkers removed.
Driving Change with Reverse Mentoring
If there’s one thing that we can categorically say it’s that the passenger transport sector is huge. With so many roles across so many disciplines, it stands to reason that the opportunities for reverse mentoring are abundant.
Here’s an example to think about. A train operator decides to modernise its passenger booking application with a new feature that more easily accommodates customer accessibility needs. This can really improve the travel experience of many – reducing stress and delays and increasing support and freedom.
But doing so requires customers to input sensitive data about their accessibility needs and potentially, their health conditions. The operator must guarantee that data is confidential and secure from day one. This calls for robust cybersecurity and data protection protocol that may differ from that already in place.
Utilising blockchain technology, for example, could enable enhanced data confidentiality, integrity, and availability – essential for the rapid data communication and security needs of an accessibility feature in an app.
Tackling a Challenge with Reverse Mentoring
But what if the leader responsible for the app update wasn’t familiar with blockchain?
Would they be confident taking that route? Would they pass a potentially great solution over in favour of a former method that may be outdated, but they know inside out? Similarly, a leader may simply not know of a new technology or approach.
The result is the same: money and time spent on an improvement measure that could be far stronger for the same effort.
Regular reverse mentoring sessions could prevent (reverse if you will!) this outcome. A senior leader responsible for digital customer experience could tap the brains of a more junior colleague – a person who’s a passionate techie, blockchain native and app-for-everything. By imparting their knowledge and perspective, ideas can be inspired, and confidence fostered, with better outcomes for the organisation and its customers.
Will you try Reverse Mentoring?
As a sector facing a challenge of a generation in the form of net zero, and passenger expectations evolving at breakneck speed, transport could benefit hugely from the fresh ideas, broader perspectives and agile knowledge that reverse mentoring can afford. It’s not about age or seniority. It’s about lifting each other up for a stronger, brighter future.
Will you consider tapping into that melting pot of talent and uncovering the potential in your junior teams?