Shaun Cochrane, a cluster manager in our BRC, shares his insights from the Guy’s and St Thomas’ reverse mentoring programme.

I have always enjoyed managing people. It’s incredibly gratifying to being able to have a positive influence on an employees work satisfaction, their career trajectory and success and a staff member’s contributions to Research and Development and the Trusts’ goals. Part of my role involves mentoring junior members of staff, so when I found out about the novel, and somewhat counterintuitive, Guy’s and St Thomas’ reverse mentoring programme, I was very keen to establish what it was and whether it was something I could involve myself in.

It turned out that reverse mentoring is the opportunity for an employee to mentor someone far more senior in the organisation than the mentor. And hence the “reverse” in reverse mentoring. Instead of mentoring downwards, one is, in fact, mentoring upwards. Daunting but exciting. I sent in my application.

Soon after, I was paired up with my mentee, Bernadette Cronin, the Joint Clinical Director for Clinical Imaging and Medical Physics (CLIMP) and invited to a reverse mentor training workshop.

The workshop was enlightening with tools and tips provided to navigate the interactions and, likely difficult, possibly intimidating, conversations with someone who is substantially senior to myself. We were then encouraged to go out and arrange that first mentoring session with our mentee.

I was a bit nervous while waiting for Bernadette but was immediately settled when Bernadette introduced herself and we quickly delved into career backgrounds and our current roles. Then I was ready to ask a list of pre-prepared questions on her management of CLIMP, her staff and the directorate’s operations and strategy. Bernadette was incredibly receptive to the questioning and very open and honest in her responses. When I suggested I observe her in a directorate meeting, she didn’t hesitate to agree and then subsequently invited me to observe a meeting with the Trust’s Executive Directors as part of their directorate review. It was fascinating to observe Bernadette in these situations and provided me with the chance to formulate additional questions and suggestions for our next meetings.

Over three months we had six one to one reverse mentoring sessions and I attended and observed two meetings in which Bernadette was involved. It provided me an opportunity to put my views on how senior management could be looking at things differently. I provided my perspectives on how certain aspects of people management could be changed and my views on how actions by managers are interpreted by the staff being managed. Bernadette took all of this in an incredibly friendly, professional and approachable manner making this a really positive and rewarding experience for myself. I believe it was for her as well.

I would strongly recommend that fellow R&D colleagues take up the opportunity to reverse mentor. The insight, interactions and experience gained far outweigh the initial nerves that most will likely have and the senior management mentees will no doubt gain valuable understanding and awareness from your contributions.

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