In reverse mentoring, there is no pupil and no teacher. But rather a mentor (a young ‘digital native’ at home with new technologies and social media) and a mentee (a manager, CEO or top manager). The other typical feature of reverse mentoring is that it’s informal: no classroom, no group lessons. Training takes place face-to-face, for a very simple reason: it’s not always easy for a top manager to recognise his weaknesses in public. Clearly, to learn, you have to check your ego at the door.
Creating transversal communities
At ENGIE, both Isabelle Kocher and Gérard Mestrallet have been mentees. In Belgium, the project was launched in 2013. “ENGIE is developing a strategy based on the digitalisation of solutions we want to offer our customers”, explains Anne-Sophie Hugé, spokesperson for ENGIE Electrabel. “This assumes, among other things, training for personnel as well as for leaders take strategic decisions. Our CEO, Philippe Van Troeye, has been part of this.”
In 2015 and 2016, three waves of reverse mentoring training were launched at ENGIE. In addition to social media training, there is also training in big data, blockchain, the Internet of Things and so on. “This programme makes it possible to benefit as much as possible from in-house skills and to create transversal communities which will contribute to our digital transformation”, emphasises Anne-Sophie Hugé. “Reverse mentoring is enjoying real success within the Group, with more than 300 mentors and mentees!”
Human-oriented, information-based interaction
Obviously, mentors will not be let loose without a bit of training. Advising top managers is not something you can do off the top of your head. “We received a day of training”, explains Ihsane Haouach, Pricing Engineer at ENGIE Electrabel. “We did some role-playing exercises. The mentors in the previous wave explained how to transform the sessions into a human-oriented, information-based interaction. The mentees deserve a lot of the credit. They are asked to get out of their comfort and excellence zone, to follow the advice of someone younger and to adopt a humble approach. Frankly, for us it’s both fun and rewarding!”
Reverse mentoring also enables the cross-fertilisation of ideas. Mentor and mentee never belong to the same division, so they don’t end up talking shop. In other words, the mentorship brings together individuals who, normally, would never have met. For instance, Ihsane Haouach is mentoring Jan De Smet, Head of Customer Service and Operational Processes B2C & B2B. They’ve built up a rapport. “It really is an opportunity for mutual enrichment”, she explains. “In our sessions, we’ve focused a lot on Twitter. Today, it’s going well. Jan is sending out one tweet a day!”
“Digital is an important component in my business and in the businesses I oversee”, says Jan De Smet. “I don’t have to know all the channels or all the apps, but I have to be open to them and understand them. For example, paperless billing enables a new dynamic with customers, with, why not, one day being able to open a messaging session by simply clicking on the e-mail in case of questions or problems. So it’s important I understand all that. A company like ours, a Belgian energy leader, must make rapid progress in learning new means of communication, otherwise we might be overtaken by a pure digital player.”