Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus convallis sem tellus, vitae egestas felis vestibule ut.

Error message details.

Reuse Permissions

Request permission to republish or redistribute SHRM content and materials.

The Power of Reverse Mentoring

Two arrows pointing in different directions.

​Mentoring can be an effective way to groom future leaders in companies. Pairing a more-senior employee with someone new can speed up the learning process and boost engagement. A study from Moving Ahead found that 87 percent of mentors and mentees feel empowered by their mentoring relationships and have developed greater confidence.

As the Great Resignation continues, however, senior leaders should consider reverse mentoring—seeking the perspective of less-experienced employees. The relationship can give leaders a fresh perspective on rising trends in areas of technology or the future of work, said Laura-Jane Silverman, head of LSE Generate, the London School of Economics' entrepreneurship hub, which recently launched a formal mentorship program.

"Reverse mentoring engages [junior employees] in the mentoring process, equips them with leadership skills, and gives visibility and opportunities for further professional development," she said.  "The younger generation may not be as experienced as their older counterparts, but they are able to bring fresh new insight to problems or concepts, which more-senior leaders may not have thought of before."

The Information Flow

Professional services provider EY has a formal reverse mentoring program, which helps create deeper connections between workers, said Ginnie Carlier, the vice chair of talent for EY Americas.

"Through these relationships, senior leaders gain a view into their people's roles and unique experiences at work," she said.

A natural knowledge sharing can happen around technology. Younger employees are often early adopters of new tools, and senior leaders can use reverse mentoring to gain a better understanding of them, said Sherry Hartnett, co-author of High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People's Lives (BookLogix, 2021).

"Digital transformation needs digital leadership," she said. "The younger generation is looking for that in its employer. If they see that their leaders don't understand it, then it creates a lack of respect and uncertainty on how the organization is going to move forward in the future. Reverse mentorship is a way for leaders to become more digitally savvy."

Potential insights don't stop at technology. Elizabeth Newman, chief of staff at the accounting and tax service provider CBIZ, said about 46 percent of her team are Millennials and 10 percent are Generation Z. While the company initially only put traditional mentorship programs together, company leaders found that the value flows both ways.

"What I learn from being connected to a young professional brings new perspective to organization-level information," she said. "Her feedback has identified both unintended consequences of policies and important opportunities for improvement."

Changing demographics and diversity initiatives increasingly require adaptive methods of operation, Silverman said.

"Reverse mentoring is demonstrating itself as an efficient tool for navigating biases, sharing knowledge, creating engagement and building intergenerational relations based on mutual acceptance and trust," she said. "This helps to promote a more team-oriented environment, where ideas and issues can be discussed openly. In this way, the adoption of reverse mentoring assists meeting the demands of not only the new generation, but everyone in this changing world of work."

How to Set Up a Reverse Mentoring Program

Setting up a reverse mentoring program is similar to setting up a traditional mentoring arrangement. In Hartnett's book, she provides a seven-step framework for organizations:

  1. Define why you want to create a reverse mentoring program, including what you hope to learn from the younger generation.
  2. Find the right person to lead the formal program, whom she calls your "program champion."
  3. Set goals and metrics. "This is an investment in employees and their careers, and goals and metrics help you figure out if you're achieving that," Hartnett said.
  4. Build the program by determining the application and matching process. "It's all about finding the right mentees and the right mentors," said Hartnett.
  5. Recruit the people that you want to participate and figure out how to connect them.
  6. Nurture your program with regular meetings and help for potential roadblocks.
  7. Measure success based on the goals you identified and the feedback you receive. This information can help you tweak your program going forward.

EY uses an automated matching platform that allows the mentor and mentee to select their match based on responses to questions about their goals and interests.

While formal programs can help boost the success of the mentorships, Hartnett said leaders can also take it upon themselves to form relationships. "I would encourage executives to reach out and become a mentee themselves," she said.

The Key to Success

Reverse mentoring is not without challenges, said Dr. Jack Wiley, chief scientific officer at Engage2Excel, an employee retention consulting firm.

"First, the two parties must sort out expectations about how the relationship will work and if it will meet their respective needs," he said. "Senior managers must be open to new ideas and suggestions from someone with significantly less experience."

The partnership must also reflect high levels of respect and low levels of conflict, Wiley said.

"Senior managers must be open to feedback about how they are seen at lower levels of the organization and the younger partner must have the confidence needed to relay such information," he said.

Carlier agreed. "To be a successful mentor or mentee, you must be intentional in cultivating your relationship," she said. "We encourage [senior leaders in our program] to be open-minded and allow their mentor—the up-and-coming leader—to drive the mentoring sessions. We also urge our leaders to be vulnerable and share their own experiences."

Added Newman: "We are in the midst of one of the most challenging markets for talent I've seen in my career. As leaders, we have to recognize that often the unvarnished information that is necessary to move forward can be the most difficult to get. We find that through mentoring relationships, we have leaders across our business who are learning more about their businesses and how they operate by being exposed to different perspectives and experiences."

Stephanie Vozza is a freelance writer based in Franklin, Tenn.


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.