Reverse mentoring – what is it and why is it important?

November 5 2021

Odwrócony mentoring


Reverse mentoring is already present in many companies. As the name itself implies, it’s a simple role reversal. Leaders learn from employees who have less experience, even juniors. It’s a response to dynamically changing hiring conditions and working landscape, where there are even 3-4 generations of employees under one roof. They can even work from home now, half part-time, starting and ending the work on different hours. They have different knowledge and experiences that enhance a leader’s view and give him the ability to make better decisions.

In the traditionally understood model of leadership, the leader is the person who sets the direction and methods of operations. The knowledge cascades from there. Always from the top to the bottom. This model of working conditions and entire organizations is heavily outdated and doesn’t match overall market conditions (including dealing with competition). This model doesn’t even match current human relationships. The world is changing and people are with it. Sometimes juniors have a serious amount of knowledge. With a different take on many problems, they can serve the organization and help them with daily tasks. To cut things short – they have ideas and they are worth taking seriously.

What is reverse mentoring?

Reverse mentoring is the answer to all these troubles and much more at the same time. Reverse mentoring assumes that the leader’s role is no longer sharing knowledge (which I strongly oppose) because it’s easily accessible nearly everywhere, including the internet. The new role of the leader (which I strongly agree with) is walking in the mentor’s shoes and helping employees in professional growth. Not only juniors.

Let’s stop for a second. The knowledge on the internet is elusive at best. Shallow, dispersed, not backed by experience. Juniors often can’t differentiate quality knowledge from something that someone, for whatever reason, put on some website. They lack tools for critical analysis, and experience to put already found knowledge in a context and accurately use in a company.

At the same time, people who already know this stuff, are often… bored. A healthy (pun included) percentage of people quit their jobs not because they don’t like the firm, frameworks for work, projects, or money but because they can’t find room to grow. They can’t find new competencies, challenges. One of the tools to manage this crisis is reverse mentoring.

With it, younger (by age and experience) employees, teach managers skills of the future. With this informal knowledge transfer, employees teach owners and managers topics like new technologies, social media, new tools, market and management trends. There’s a natural knowledge transfer – younger teach experienced ones things that are necessary in today’s world. Experience folk teaches young ones business skills that are necessary to work in the first place.

Why reverse mentoring is so important?

The internet is full of reports about the job market of the future. They say that the number of millennial employees (born in the 80s and 90s) will be at 75% by 2025. This seems a little bit far-fetched but the fact is a fact – new generations replace old ones. The new ones have a few key characteristics:

  • they are digital natives, so they don’t know the world without the internet, cellphones, new tools
  • because of that, they don’t know the world without new meanings of communication
  • they badly handle routine, work without business justification, meaning, goal, or even mission

It’s not about transforming every company to meet the needs of the youngest employees. It’s about making changes that can highlight the strengths of every generation that’s inside the company, with leaders gaining new skills. Achieving these skills begins with a change in mindset.

No matter how many millennials there will be on the market, the fact is that is going to be plenty. This generation wants to act now, in a matter of minutes, even seconds. Often it doesn’t have a filter to assess their own ideas. The people from generation Y (it’s the second name in use) don’t want to waste time. This approach has value (mobilization, grasping market occasions), but also important faults (acting without thinking things through, often lacking a plan, disregard for consequences).

Organizations that want to change, should bet on reverse mentoring for gaining competencies the company is lacking, and on the other hand, to mitigate potential faults of the young generation.

What are the benefits of reverse mentoring?

Many leaders are worried about weakening their position in the company. Accepting that they don’t know everything is difficult for them. In reality, it’s nothing bad or strange. Every human being learns through the scope of his life; gaining new skills is natural for us. Nobody knows everything, it’s impossible. That’s why we need to specialize in something and transfer wisdom. Not only in agile organizations but everywhere.

Reverse mentoring gives these benefits:

  • it creates a culture of learning and development
  • allows the development of communication and group work
  • allows for an internal knowledge transfer and gain of new skills
  • optimizes decision-making process and speeds-up overall decision making
  • enhances employee experience, activates people, and invites them to cooperate (across different departments as well)
  • allows for gaining distance, perspective, empathy towards other people and respect their own points of view on the same issues in the company
  • allows experience exchange among different generations
  • builds and strengthens employee loyalty towards the company – an employee sees the organization as modern, agile, and future-proof. He wants to invest his time and talent
  • allows experience exchange not only between a leader and an employee but also between employees as well.

From my point of view, the last point is very interesting. In a traditional model, a leader (owner, manager) is introduced to new skills or knowledge by a younger employee. In my opinion, the idea of reverse marketing should be embraced by the entire organization. It’s good to include not only the leader alone but all departments who can potentially benefit. Reverse marketing becomes a great tool to experience group cooperation. It’s the skill of the future, but also a necessity of today. The school doesn’t always help in this regard.

How can you launch reverse mentoring in your company?

It’s good to have a methodic approach and do it step by step. Here’s a quick guide:

  • think about which goals you want to achieve through the implementation of reverse mentoring in your company
  • collect sign-ups in the company, think how you can effectively get them
  • assign the mentor to the mentored (ask leaders who can help, they are closest to all employees)
  • reserve the room in the office
  • go through with the training
  • monitor progress
  • expand the program onto the whole company

Here are a few tips that I think would be valuable. Because organizations, even similar ones, have different characters and take on things, employ different people with various experiences (both professional and personal), this training program should be voluntary. Launch a pilot program, show benefits, allow people to shine (mentors) and gather knowledge (juniors). Let people see the real benefits. Give yourself six to twelve months. In larger organizations, it could even take two years, but don’t stretch beyond that. In general, effects should be seen after a maximum of one year.

Do you need assistance?

People see a turn of events and changes for the better, you just have to give them a chance to experience them. If you don’t know how to approach the idea of reverse marketing and business scaling, contact me. I will help you launch the program in your company and, if necessary, use other tools at my disposal to optimize business processes. Reverse mentoring and its benefits are elements of a bigger picture. They help organizations and their current goals and fight against the competition. It fuels sales, which is an element of the bigger picture.

Contact me, I will help and strengthen your company.