Back in the fall of 2019, Peapod Digital Labs (PDL) tried an experiment.
As the e-commerce arm of Ahold Delhaize USA, one of the nation’s largest grocery retail groups, PDL hosted its parent company’s global HR leadership team in the Chicago office. Members from that leadership team would be flying into Chicago from as far as the Netherlands, offering a rare, in-person opportunity for the employees at PDL to pick the brains of some of its most senior leaders.
To seize the moment, the company employed a tactic it had never used before: reverse mentoring.
Reverse mentoring is a learning strategy that pairs a junior team member with a senior team member for a one-on-one chat, where skills are swapped, knowledge is exchanged and conclusions are made to make improvements across the company. Rather than traditional mentorship, reverse mentoring allows both parties to act as mentor and mentee. And according to Cori Pivar, an e-commerce marketing manager at PDL who was paired with two senior team members for the inaugural experiment, it was a hit.
“I had an instant rapport with one of my mentors, and our conversation really took off,” Pivar said. “We discussed where I see myself at the company in 20 years and how to help the international brands better work together. The conversation had no formal agenda, and that was great.”
Today, PDL’s reverse mentoring sessions have led to concrete changes across the company, such as cross-team monthly meetings and a more inclusive culture that features educational lunch and learns focused on topics like the significance of Juneteenth and gender bias in the office. The sessions even led to a more flexible work schedule.
Pivar detailed how PDL (and other businesses) can benefit from reverse mentoring, and how these types of programs can be adapted for remote working conditions, below.
Detail your first experience with reverse mentoring at PDL. Who were you paired with and what did you talk about?
In the fall of 2019, I participated in reverse mentoring with the global HR leadership team from Ahold Delhaize. I met one-on-one with two different members of our global leadership team. The meetings were in person in breakout rooms and roughly 20 minutes long. To kick off the meeting, we discussed why we joined the company, how we think about the future of our work, and where we are behind. I had an instant rapport with one of my mentors. We discussed where I see myself at the company in 20 years and how to help the international brands work better together. It was so awesome meeting with a leader from Europe and hearing that they’ve gone through similar issues we are facing, and learning about how they fixed it.
We discussed where I see myself at the company in 20 years and how to help the international brands better work together.’’
What happens after a reverse mentoring session? How does change occur?
All of the leaders meet to discuss what was talked about in the sessions, and then they formulate key takeaways to implement change. The changes tend to fit into two different categories. The first category is the future of our company culture, and the second category is the future of our careers. There have been quite a few changes over the last year that I think stemmed from our reverse mentoring sessions.
What are some of those tangible changes?
The entire global team switched from Skype or Zoom to Microsoft Teams. This has helped immensely with cross-brand collaboration and knowing how to contact our colleagues at different brands. Our culture has become more inclusive with several informative lunch and learns focused around topics such as Women’s History Month and gender inclusion, and we’ve also implemented a flexible work schedule, which was expedited by the COVID-19 pandemic.
How has PDL adapted its reverse mentoring sessions due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
All participants have still been engaged in the process without missing a beat. We’ve transitioned to using 30-minute video chats to host our reverse mentoring sessions. The first one in this format was in the summer of 2020, when I met with a few different leaders whose titles were director or above. These chats were focused more on PDL, our culture and our cross-channel teamwork. The leaders were very open to suggestions and finding ways to implement new ideas. This helped us feel comfortable enough to bring up more suggestions and feel included in the overall process of crafting the culture and future of our company.
Provide an example of how reverse mentoring has benefited your team at PDL?
I’m on the marketing team, and we now meet monthly with the digital merchandising team, analytics team and the product team to discuss ways we are working together and ways we could be working together. These cross-team monthly meetings are a new addition thanks to reverse mentoring, and they allow me to not only learn what other teams are working on, but also how their work affects my own.
How have you directly benefited from reverse mentoring?
I am more engaged. I get excited when I see something implemented that came from a reverse mentoring session, such as our cross-channel lunch and learns. I’ve also volunteered for more programs like our formal mentoring beta, our diversity and inclusion team and our health and wellness team. And for the first time at PDL, I’ve met with my director to talk about my goals and any growth opportunities to better understand how my future plans align with the company’s plans.
I get excited when I see something implemented that came from a reverse mentoring session, such as our cross-channel lunch and learns.’’
Looking ahead, what’s an example of an addition to the company culture that’s directly related to the reverse mentoring sessions?
We’ve launched a new internal mentoring program that I’m really excited about. We’re still in the pilot stages, but employees will be connected with a mentor who is more senior in the organization, and given the tools and resources to build a long-lasting mentor-mentee relationship.