Soft Skills

Reverse Mentoring: A Powerful Tool for Engagement and Empowerment in the Workplace

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Whether you’re a retired CEO (like Rose) or a new graduate (like Amanda), you have probably noticed the effect of workplace culture on overall happiness, retention, and productivity. In the words of Peter Drucker “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Yet, in the North American oil patch, there tends to be an old school mentality that discredits the effect of culture on organizational efficiency. Luckily, there is a way for employees to improve their skills while simultaneously, almost subconsciously, improving workplace culture through “reciprocal” or “reverse” mentoring.

Most people believe a mentor-mentee relationship is where a mentor donates his/her time for the sole benefit of the mentee. This notion prevents many young professionals from seeking out mentors as they feel like they are asking for too much time from mentors with nothing to offer in return. However, junior or less experienced (either time in role or time with the company) employees often don’t realize that they can be a part of mutually rewarding mentorship relationships, where each person is both a mentor and a mentee—that is receiving and giving simultaneously.

Many organisations, including SPE, have traditional mentorship programs. However, having junior workers mentor their senior colleagues is very uncommon, especially in oil and gas companies, and we should strive to break from this stereotype. Leadership and the board of directors set the tone from the top, and with the battle for talent recruitment and retention, the need to think out of the box to create an enhanced culture of openness and opportunity is critical.  With reciprocal mentoring, you don’t have to choose between what is good for business and what is good for corporate culture; they now both represent the same thing.

What is Reverse Mentoring?

Reverse mentoring is when the junior employee takes an active role in educating or providing feedback or valuable experience to the senior counterpart. It is reciprocal, and it proves that junior staff have knowledge and perspective that is valuable to senior staff and to the company. In this manner, both junior and senior members function as the mentor and mentee concurrently.

Reciprocal mentoring reaches well beyond empowering the individual mentor pairings. It creates an open environment where younger employees are encouraged to suggest ways that senior employees could be more effective, for example, something as simple as saying “I know of a better software we can use for tracking action items,” or “Did you know there’s a way we can all edit this document at the same time?” Junior employees have a unique perspective that is worth sharing. Tips about data privacy, document management, Excel macros, or even something as simple as keyboard shortcuts to get day-to-day things done faster are more valuable than most people think. As well, junior employees have their finger on the pulse of what younger consumers are wanting, so their perspective is important on marketing and product development and overall future corporate growth.  

You can have intracompany mentorship, but you can also have inter-company mentorship, so if the suggested opportunities don’t work internally, there is a world outside filled with people and need.

Amanda’s example: I was surprised at how few of my coworkers knew about the website Wolfram|Alpha, a free website that can solve complex algebra and calculus problems and generate plots in a matter of seconds. I had to remind myself that many of my coworkers didn’t have computers when they went to university. I’m confident every employee could teach the CEO something worthwhile. There is no need to be shy when you notice something that could be improved. You won’t always be right, but sometimes you will be, and senior employees will appreciate your effort regardless.

Rose’s example: As CEO of an energy marketing co-operative, we had an open-door policy and I would frequently seek the team’s advice to obtain perspective. Asking open-ended questions and seeking assistance from “those in the know,” especially for technology, or new strategic ideas seen elsewhere proved to be very beneficial. I have, at a high level, been exposed to Algo-Trading, Python coding benefits for auto-reporting, eliminating the need for manual reporting, Twitter tricks, and opportunities and so on.  The window to knowledge has been great but more importantly, it created an enhanced bond of openness and trust that goes well beyond engagement at meetings or while chatting over a coffee.

Every mentorship relationship can, and should be, mutually rewarding. This includes unofficial mentoring such as that between a supervisor and their reports.

How To Move Forward With Reciprocal Mentoring?

You can find many examples online of how reverse mentorship has helped large corporations, but how do you sell the idea so that it is embraced by leadership? Starting small would be a first step.

Coordinate a few casual pairings in your company. Seek to understand the unique opportunities and potential challenges facing the person you are paired with. Learn what their strengths and weaknesses are. Listen and look for opportunities to share or add value. Is there software that you can offer to assist with, via a hands-on demo or suggestions to streamline their day? Are there social media opportunities to support an idea outside of the company? Have you read of an innovation that could be applied to your organization? It is as simple as asking questions and seeking opportunities to add value and suggestions.

Do not look at reciprocal mentoring as a scenario where the mentor is “lacking” in a particular area. Look at it through a lens of support, enhancement, and adding value. If you support their initiatives and can facilitate positive change, no matter what the size, the ability to forge a strong and long-lasting mentorship bond is created. Workplaces are changing to embrace greater collaboration and interaction. Reciprocal mentoring fosters this at very foundational levels and reinforces the value of both participants.

If you are finding it challenging to foster reciprocal or reverse mentorship inside your organization, trial it on a mentor or coach outside of your organization. People love to help others. It allows them to give to others in areas they know of and can feel good about. To forge a strong mentoring relationship, embrace these simple but key ideas:

  • Relationship. A person is so much more than their job title, get to know them

  • Respect. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and you can’t make someone agree with you

  • Reason. Have a goal in mind for each mentoring meeting

  • Results. Recognize and celebrate achievements

  • Reciprocity. Make sure it is a win-win relationship

Company cultures need to be current and appealing to support the motivation and retention of employees. Furthermore, company results now embrace more than just the financial and core strategic value; they are emerging to include purpose via social enterprise. Results are great, but what is your company doing to make a difference socially? A simple start is with the culture and the team that represents it. Reciprocal mentoring is one way to improve tailored training to employees, while simultaneously creating a culture of openness where even junior employees feel valued.  This results in a corporation that is both effective and revered by employees as a great place to work.

Amanda Calleberg is a natural gas trading analyst at Tenaska Marketing Ventures, based out of Omaha, Nebraska. In 2019, she graduated from University of Calgary with a major in chemical engineering and a minor in petroleum engineering, where she was the president of the SPE student chapter and team lead for the SPE Drillbotics competition. She currently volunteers for the SPE Calgary Section in the young professionals group and the membership and recognition team. Calleberg interned at ConocoPhillips Canada, Cenovus Energy, and Husky Energy. She has conducted university research on the numerical simulation of methane combustion in porous media and modeling downhole drilling parameters.

Rose Marie Gage is a professional board director, consultant, and coach. In 2019, she joined the board of CO2-GRO (TSX-V) and Link Energy. She also serves as chair of the Ontario Agri-Food Technology Association and Agri-Technology Commercialization Centre, vice-chair of the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario, independent director of Hadrian Manufacturing, director of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation, and strategic advisor and former vice-chair of the Women in Leadership Foundation. Gage is the retired Ag Energy Co-operative CEO, a energy co-operative that serves Ontario with natural gas and electricity solutions. She also held c-suite roles with Schneider Electric Canada and GE Canada.

[The artile was sourced from the authors by TWA editor Matt French.]


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