How to Start a Reverse Mentoring Program

Your advisors can shape who you are as a leader. We're sure you already seek out advice from trusted peers and experienced mentors. But you may be overlooking a critical source for learning: younger colleagues.

Reverse mentorship pairs a senior leader with a younger employee (typically, one who’s been identified as an emerging leader), but in this situation, the younger employee serves as the mentor. It’s not a one-way relationship, though: while you get information about a subject or perspective you’re less familiar with, they get access to your leadership experience, which keeps them engaged and improves retention rates. Best of all, the knowledge exchange will help both you and your mentor gain a broader understanding of your organization and its potential challenges.

While startups are often the first companies to adopt new practices, when it comes to reverse mentorship, companies like PwC, P&G, Deloitte, and Microsoft are leading the way. In other words, if traditional firms can do it, yours has no excuse. Here are three tips to get you started:

  • Focus on the right subject for mentorship. Younger colleagues are a natural source of information on social media or the latest technology, but they have more insights to offer: use them as an internal focus group to better understand younger customers, or ask them to contribute ideas to improve diversity and inclusion initiatives. 
  • Identify a goal and metrics. While it’s enjoyable to swap stories and make friends with colleagues, make sure mentoring sessions address a clear need. Figure out how to measure progress and get feedback so that you can see where you succeeded, and what you need to change for future rounds. 
  • Get buy-in from the top. We’re sure YOU would never dismiss someone because of their youth or inexperience, but others might. Make sure participants are open-minded, and get a well-respected, senior-level leader on board so everyone takes it seriously.

It can be a little humbling to seek advice from a younger colleague, but it can also be invigorating, giving you a new perspective and renewed enthusiasm for the job. So this Monday, set aside some time to learn from a younger colleague. And if you want to go a step further and implement it on a team or organizational level, we’ve broken down, step by step, how Cisco and The Hartford have each implemented a reverse mentoring program.


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