Reverse Mentoring - How To Make It Work

Mentorship is a very beneficial relationship when starting a new job or changing career paths. The guidance you receive from a mentor is invaluable. Their ability to help you navigate the unknown path, overcome challenges, and reach your goals is what makes them special.

Mentoring relationships range from loosely defined, informal associations (where mentees learn by observation and example) to structured agreements between mentors and mentees (where they formally meet and build relationships over nine to twelve months).


Types of Mentoring:

Reverse Mentoring topics

There are different types of mentoring models that organizations can choose from when developing a professional mentoring program. And reverse mentoring is one of the most powerful models.

The other types of mentoring models are:


  • One-on-one mentoring

This is the most common type of mentoring model where one mentor and one mentee are paired for mentoring sessions. The mentor here is a more experienced person and the mentee is a less experienced one with the need for guidance.

Most people prefer this mentoring model because it provides individual support and develops a personal relationship.


  • Group mentoring

Group mentorship is where a group of 4-5 mentees involves in a mentoring session with one or two mentors at the same time. The group meets as frequently as twice a month to discuss various topics. In every session, not only mentors but also peers help each other learn and develop.

Despite some limitations, this mentoring model is becoming increasingly popular because of its resourcefulness and effectiveness.


  • Training-based mentoring

This mentoring model is directly linked to specific training programs. A mentor, usually from outside the organization, is hired to help employees develop specific skills. 

Training-based mentoring is limited, as it is tied to one particular area of learning.


  • Executive mentoring

Executive mentoring takes place with executives and c-suite leaders of an organization, involved in the process as mentees. This kind of mentoring focuses on imparting wisdom in using one’s skills.

Many people may think that their executives are already trained individuals and do not need mentoring. But according to Harvard Business Review, even CEOs need mentors. Why? Because:

      • It is lonely at the top and mentoring helps build a connection
      • Executive mentoring provides clarity
      • Mentoring increases confidence among executives

Also read: Know the type of mentoring your employees need


Reverse Mentoring

reverse mentorshipReverse mentoring (also knows as upward mentoring) is just the opposite of traditional mentoring. Here executives and c-suite leaders are mentored by young professionals. The purpose is to match employees of different generations to facilitate the exchange of ideas and expertise. For example, an executive can learn about technology, social media, and current trends from a millennial while sharing their knowledge on critical business skills.

Reverse mentorship helps companies foster an environment of continuous learning and development.

Businesses that rely heavily on technology greatly benefit from this mentoring model. It is a way to help older employees pick up speed in areas that tech-savvy millennials are well-versed with.


What are the Benefits of Reverse Mentoring?

There are many benefits of upward mentoring for a mentee (senior employee in the mentorship), a mentor (younger employee in the mentorship), and even an organization. Here are a few of the benefits:


For Mentees:


  • Help stay up-to-date on technology:

Executives may feel intimidated by new technology at times and hence try to avoid them. One of the main benefits of upward mentoring is that it helps executives stay up-to-date on technology and raise their confidence in working with it.


  • Get a break from the routine:

Executives often deal with hectic work schedules on a daily basis. They hardly find time for relaxation. Since mentoring is a more relaxed relation, it gives the mentee a break from the routine; and a dose of freshness.


  • Get a different perspective:

There is a difference between the way older and younger employees see or deal with a situation. By involving in reverse mentorship, senior employees get different perspectives and fresh ideas from young professionals.

Not only that, through upward mentoring, junior mentors can help leaders understand how to motivate and retain young employees.


Also read: Four Overlooked Benefits of Mentoring


For Mentors:


  • Develops leadership skills:

Mentoring is an extremely effective way to improve leadership skills among young employees. By engaging in a mentoring relationship as a mentor, they get to improve their communication skills, practice empathy, learn how to ask questions, and give feedback- all of which are essential to be a good leader.


  • Gives them a voice:

Each and every employee of an organization must have the courage to speak up, for the betterment of the organization. But in most cases, new employees do not want to voice their opinion or criticize current practices. Through upward mentoring, new employees get a chance to speak up in a low-risk environment. It builds their confidence and empowers them to have their say in critical situations.


  • Builds connection within the company:

Mentoring is a unique way to connect employees. Mentors get to build connections with top-level executives through their mentees. Not only that, they get to understand the company culture better and feel more connected to the organization.


Reverse Mentoring meaning, importance, benefits


For Organizations:


  • Promotes diversity and inclusion:

A study by Great Place to Work reveals that after the 2009 recession, companies with inclusive work culture experienced a 14% gain, outperforming their less-diverse peers by 4 times. This happened because diversity and inclusion enable creativity, innovation, employee satisfaction, and even an increase in revenue.

While many organizations claim to be diverse, not many of them are truly inclusive. As young employees are likely to be ethnically and racially diverse, reverse mentoring is a great way to promote diversity and inclusion in workplaces.


  • Increases employee retention:

According to the 2020 Deloitte Survey, 26% of all millennials surveyed plan to leave their job within a year. This can be due to various reasons, poor leadership, poor engagement, or not making the right use of employees’ skills.

Upward mentoring helps employees feel engaged, creates a sense of achievement in mentors, and makes them feel recognized and respected by coworkers. And when employees feel engaged, happy, and satisfied, they are more loyal to their current employers and stick to them for long.


  • Breaks down generational stereotypes

Reverse mentoring can break down the stereotype that we hear- the younger generation doesn’t work as hard, and the older generation is stubborn. When all age groups interact regularly, each group begins to understand each other, which results in better collaboration throughout the company.


What are the Challenges in Reverse Mentoring?

reverse mentoring meaning and best practices

As with any new initiatives, this type of mentoring undergoes some challenges. It can be tough for someone who has been in a company for 10 years to take advice from less experienced colleagues. But younger employees have a lot to offer, especially when it comes to technology, innovation, and collaboration.

Some of the challenges that a reverse mentoring program goes through are:


  • Younger employees are often not seen as experts

Though older employees are skeptical about being mentored by younger mentors, age has no strict correlation with expertise. In fact, younger people can be the expert in a business mentoring relationship.

Because, despite their age, young employees have great expertise in technology, target market, technical skills, and wise reasoning.


  • Resistance to learning from someone younger

This is one of the biggest challenges upward mentoring programs go through. It can be misconstrued as an indication that either senior leaders are not doing a good job or are going to be replaced. Moreover, they often do not want to learn from less experienced employees. 


  • Younger employees are reluctant to mentor senior leaders

Younger people do not tend to advise senior leaders. They either don’t feel they will be effective mentors or don’t think that senior employees would be receptive to their advice. Usually, young professionals underestimate their expertise in front of experienced professionals.


In spite of having challenges, the advantages of reverse mentoring cannot be ignored. Besides, challenges can be overcome by educating mentors and mentees on the immense benefits of this mentoring model.

Also Read: 6 Ways to use reverse mentoring


How to Set up a Successful Reverse Mentoring Program at Your Organization


Reverse Mentoring process


1. Define the program’s purpose

Every company’s goal is different and so is their purpose for implementing a mentoring program. Before you start, you have to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve through your reverse mentoring program. Why are you doing it? 

Is it to bridge the generational gap? Is it to spur innovation by soliciting advice from younger workers? Or is it to improve executive’s knowledge of technology and social media?

Apart from all these objectives, you can have completely different goals for your program:

  • Promoting diverse and inclusive culture in the organization
  • Increasing knowledge sharing all through the organization
  • Improve employee retention rate
  • Increasing employee engagement

Whatever your purpose is, make sure you communicate it well to the mentoring participants.

Also, you must set metrics of success for the program. This will help you determine where you are in terms of goals.


Also read: Mentoring Goals: Examples for Inspiration


2. Mentoring Agreements

Mentoring programs can be hard. Executives work on very busy schedules each day. Finding time for their own growth can sometimes look like less priority for them. But if there is no commitment, there is no success.

Mentoring agreement is an invaluable tool for a reverse mentoring program to be successful. It allows participants to understand and agree on their roles and responsibilities, and gain commitment.

A mentoring agreement highlights the following:


  • Goals and deadlines setting:

    Establishing clear goals and a timeline to complete that goal is essential before starting a mentoring relationship. That is the reason it is an essential component of a mentoring agreement. Besides goals and timelines, it also clarifies how to track the progress of the mentee.


  • Clear expectations:

    The agreement explains what mentors and mentees can expect from each other- their time commitment, mode of communication, their boundaries and confidentialities, how mentees want help from mentors, and what kind of support they need to complete their goals.


  • Honest communication:

    Communication is the key to any successful relationship. That’s why mentoring agreement strives for open and transparent communication between mentors and mentees.


In most cases, the document is completed by the mentee as it increases their ownership in the mentoring process. That said, the mentor must review the document, and both the participants must have a mutual agreement.


3. Choose the Right Mentor-Mentee Matches

Compatibility is crucial for any successful relationship. Likewise, choosing the right mentoring pair is essential to create a successful reverse mentoring program.

Keeping the overall purpose of the program in mind, you can choose what kind of matching you want for your program:


  • Self-matching:

    It enables mentees to find their mentors on their own. This matching type is implemented when a mentee knows what they are looking for in a mentor and who can be their best match. Though this type of matching has a higher rate of success, it has some cons like mentees don’t always initiate the searching process and administration has less control over the program.


  • Admin matching:

    It empowers program owners to have a full-control over matching decisions. This matching type is common among leadership and high-potential program formats. It can take a longer time to create mentoring pairs than self matching.


  • Hybrid matching:

    A mixture of self and admin matching, this matching type is implemented when one type is not diverse enough to fulfill the program’s requirements. Hybrid matching is the longest matching process.


Also read: 3 Common Mistakes While Matching Mentors and Mentees


If you are matching more than 10-15 mentoring pairs, it can be difficult to find the best match manually. Mentoring software streamlines this process and makes it seamless. Most mentor matching software uses an algorithm that analyses data provided by the participants and suggests best matches.

Mentoring Complete is a powerful mentoring software that matches mentors and mentees with a 90% success rate.

Want to setup a reverse mentoring program in your organization? We're happy to help you!


Topics: Mentoring Best Practices, Business Mentoring Articles & News, Leadership Development, Reverse Mentoring