What is reverse mentoring?
‘It’s when a less experienced, younger person mentors a more experienced employee. Younger colleagues generally bring a fresh perspective to their work, which generates new insights. Other benefits are that both mentor and mentee can learn from each other’s professional expertise and increase their understanding of each other’s worlds. There’s no way an external coach can emulate this experience. They just don’t know the company well enough, or share the same goal of advancing the organization as a whole.’
Can you describe the program at Rabobank?
‘The program started 18 months ago and now has 20 pairs. The mentor gives the mentee feedback on their attitudes and behavior. For instance, my first mentee was Erik Jansen, the chair of the Management Team at Rabobank Uden Veghel. I shadowed him on many occasions, for instance at MT meetings, in customer interactions and conversations. My role was to observe him and give him feedback. I paid attention to his body language or tone of voice. Or I’d ask him why he had behaved in a particular way. Erik taught me about different styles of leadership, and we became sparring partners. We make each other better. Some mentors and mentees coach each other on personal rather than professional development. That’s another option. Each pair decides on the timeline that best suits their needs.’
How did you come up with this idea for Rabobank?
‘I developed my knowledge and skills in reverse mentoring during my professional training and from personal interest. I studied applied psychology and started my career working with young people with behavioral problems. But the mental strain of that work wasn’t good for me. I applied for a job at Rabobank after I’d heard about the diverse cultures at local Rabobanks in the Netherlands. My first job at the bank was as a floor manager at Rabobank Eindhoven. I soon became chair of the Young Rabo committee for the Zuid-Nederland area. Through my role as the representative of young employees at Rabobank, I came into contact with local and regional bank directors and introduced the idea of reverse mentoring. They agreed to let me do a pilot with Erik as my mentee, and before long I expanded the program to include other pairs.’
You set up this program very quickly – how did you achieve that? What did you learn along the way?
‘I succeeded because I believed in the value of reverse mentoring and I knew how to implement it. I visited lots of local banks to promote the program and that helped me to build a network. Those networking skills are my key take-away from setting up the program. It taught me to talk to colleagues at different levels in the bank. The combination of that network and my personal drive has contributed to my professional growth: in two years time I went from floor manager in Eindhoven to employee-journey specialist at HR at the head office in Utrecht. People who want to start something new at the bank should be aware that having a good idea is no guarantee of success. But with the right motivation and the ambition to get results, you can cover a lot of ground. Fortunately, Rabobank has a culture of encouragement.’
Where will Rabobank’s mentor-mentee program be in five years?
‘It will be much bigger than it is now. I should add that it’s no longer just a one-man show, thanks largely to the board of Young Rabo and the reverse mentoring working group. We are now talking to the Managing Board, the highest executive level at the bank. Some of the board members want to join the program, like Chief HR Officer Janine Vos. And that’s just the start. My ambition is that five years from now, the program will be so popular that every employee in the bank will be a mentor or a mentee.’