Barclays' Reverse Mentoring Scheme Turns Generational Hierarchy on Its Head

Apr 13, 2018 9:05 AM ET

Barclays Citizenship Stories | Careers

Barclays’ Reverse Mentoring Scheme turns hierarchies on their heads, with junior colleagues coaching their senior partners. One pair – Lucy Eyers and Martin Hyde – explain how their relationship has led to shared insights and new plans.

“We were quite lucky in that we’ve got similar personalities and got on right away.” Lucy Eyers and Martin Hyde are talking over a coffee in an atrium of Barclays’ headquarters at Canary Wharf in London. As participants in the bank’s Reverse Mentoring Scheme, they meet regularly, discussing their professional lives and seeing how they can learn from one another’s differing perspectives.

“I was late,” says Lucy of their first meeting. “I deliberately hadn’t worked out what I wanted at the beginning. The first meeting was about seeing what Martin was like. How can you mentor someone if you don’t know what they’re like as a person? How can you adapt your style?”

“It was comfortable,” says Martin. “We got to know about our roles and backgrounds, and got a handle on the different issues we’d like to deal with. I do remember going in knowing that something I wanted to get more of a grip on was internal mobility. As a mentee, I was going in knowing that I was going to be mentored, so I prepared some questions. Luckily, the conversation flowed.

"A lot of leaders won’t have the best idea of how their behaviours and strategies are coming across at a more junior level, it’s important that they’re able to get feedback from their reverse mentor. A more casual, informal relationship can work better than getting feedback in more formal, traditional channels, where maybe a more junior member of staff would be less open to being honest.”

Generating partnerships

Lucy, 26, has been a Relationship Director in the education sector for Barclays Corporate for the last nine months. Martin, 32, is a few steps up the ladder as a Director in the Debt Product Management team, owning and managing debt products offered to Corporate Banking clients. As they both say, Martin and Lucy are “near enough from the same generation”, but the texture of mentor/mentee relationships vary among the 100 pairings currently active in the project.

“You might get some relationships where you have somebody super-senior with someone very junior, and one is 30 years ahead in their career,” says Martin. “In our situation, I’m more like four or five years down the road from where Lucy is, so that means you have a different relationship. A lot of the challenges that Lucy is going through at the moment I can relate to because I’ve gone through them relatively recently. From that perspective, it helps the two of us in a different way than if we were further apart.”

Lucy, who helps organise the scheme and select the pairings, says the partnerships differ from traditional mentor relationships: “I have a traditional mentor as well, and we chat and he asks questions and he suggests things here and there, which enables me to reflect. In this pairing, Martin does a bit more of the talking but I’m asking the probing questions.”

Martin adds: “In a regular mentoring relationship, the mentee is purely trying to get advice and insight from the senior partner. It’s not so much a two-way engagement about whether the partners are doing the right thing and displaying the right behaviours. What it can also do is, with Lucy, validate some of the concerns I have about the way the organisation is being run, and see if it resonates with her and whether she has advice on how things can be done in a better way.”

Martin and Lucy, having had no working relationship before the Reverse Mentoring Scheme began, are now developing an initiative together that originated in their meetings. Martin explains: “We’ve been looking at – and not just talking about – how we can, together, change the way the organisation is doing things. We’ve put together a business plan on how certain internal mobility issues can be tackled, and we’re now sharing that with people in the bank who are championing internal mobility, and with HR professionals who can take the ideas we have and move them forward.”

Match points

Internal mobility quickly became a theme of the pair’s conversations, with reverse mentoring naturally giving each participant exposure to and contacts in new areas of the bank. One of the outcomes of the scheme is a greater understanding of what Barclays does as a whole, and what hidden opportunities it could contain. As Martin says: “Lucy wouldn’t know whether she’d like to work in my area because she wouldn’t have had exposure to this area – which is more strategic and less client-facing – before. We want to encourage people to have broader careers where they have experience of a Relationship Manager role but also of a role like mine.”

Lucy adds: “At my level, you tend to do a role for two or three years then look for your next step. I guess from my perspective, often your next step is completely upwards, but that’s not necessarily the best way to go. There are other avenues out there in an organisation like this, and how do you get into that?”

“Teaming up and making proposals might not be the key aim of the reverse mentoring partnership,” says Martin, “but it’s a positive outcome.” Lucy, with her experience managing the scheme, says some relationships are “very much a sounding board”, where the senior partner turns to the junior and says: “This is what we’re planning on doing. What do you think?”.

The pair dispel any ideas that modern reverse mentoring is – as it was when legendary CEO Jack Welch introduced it at General Electric in the 1990s – a matter of tech-savvy youngsters teaching older executives how to use the internet.

In selecting matches for the most senior colleagues, Lucy and her team will often suggest more than one mentor, each of whom would have a coffee with the senior mentee, before a decision is made on whose personalities blend best. In Martin’s experience, “the reverse mentoring situation will always work better if people are being completely honest with each other. If the mentor felt they couldn’t challenge the senior colleague who was the mentee, that would be a problem. Hopefully, most of the relationships don’t work in that way.”

As the meeting ends and the coffee cups are cleared away, Martin and Lucy return to different floors of Barclays’ headquarters confident that their reverse mentoring partnership is benefitting them both.

The Reverse Mentoring Scheme forms an integral part of Barclays’ Emerge Network, a Multigenerational Network ‘connecting colleagues early in their careers’. Find out more.