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The power of reverse mentoring

Those of you who regularly follow IDC's monthly viewpoint will know the importance we attach to leaders fostering an inclusive culture through the example of their behaviour. This is important because 80 to 90 percent of the way people behave in an organisation is influenced by the behaviour of those in leadership roles (research by Prof Ed Schein, Harvard and INSEAD).

This approach involves leaders in a business identifying the behaviour that needs to be adopted throughout the organisation to successfully drive the delivery of their diversity action plan. Once these have been agreed, the leaders commit to practising and setting an example in they way they act.

To enable them to do this, they receive regular 'pulse survey' feedback (i.e. every 3, or 4, months) on the extent to which they are practising the behaviours. They also receive expert coaching so that they can improve their example in those behaviours their feedback indicates they are weakest at.

We have developed several approaches that provide reliable feedback to leaders. These include online questionnaires completed by observers, suppliers or customers who see them in action regularly.

Another approach we have developed with two clients - a global investment bank and the other a UK central government department - involves each leader having a reverse mentor assigned to them. The mentor is a high-potential individual whose diversity is different to that of the leader they will mentor, e.g. younger, different gender or ethnicity or sexual orientation, etc.

IDC coaches each reverse mentor so that they have the skills they need to give their leader feedback on the inclusion issues for the mentor's particular diversity aspects, and also feedback on the extent to which the leader is practising the inclusive behaviours they have committed to. They also make suggestions, using their observations of him/her in real business situations, about what their leader needs do more of, and less of, to be a more effective diversity role model.

This has two benefits: it helps senior managers and executives understand the barriers to success that exist for younger, diverse, talented employees in their organisation and it provides leaders with feedback on their practice of inclusive behaviour in real work situations.

It is also powerfully developmental for the high-potential reverse mentors, who learn about the challenges of senior management and gain a better understanding of leadership, diversity and inclusion.

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