Most people think of mentorship as a one-way street. An experienced person provides guidance and support to a less experienced person in exchange for the latter’s time and attention. But what if the roles were reversed? What if, instead of being the mentor, you became the mentee?

In this article, GrowthMentor will be doing a deep dive into the concept of reverse mentorship and why it might be beneficial for your startup.

Let’s get started!

What is reverse mentorship?

To put it simply, reverse mentorship is an alternative approach to the standard mentor-mentee relationship. Rather than a one-way relationship in which an experienced mentor imparts their wisdom onto an inexperienced mentee, a reverse mentorship is when a more senior employee (mentee) is mentored by someone who usually has less experience (reverse mentor).

The idea behind reverse mentorship is that there are always things to learn, no matter how much experience someone has. We can all benefit from learning from those who have different perspectives to draw on.

While less experienced employees may lack the job-specific skills of a senior employee, they may have a stronger understanding of other skills and concepts as a result of their age, expertise, or position within the company, such as:

  • Marketing
  • Mindset
  • Partnerships
  • Technology
  • Startup growth
  • Various industries

Psst: You can find mentors in all these areas on GrowthMentor!

These insights can particularly be vital for startups to succeed. In fact, we often suggest that founders get mentorship from experts to figure out how to effectively scale a system and unlock growth in the process.

An Example of Reverse Mentorship in Action

As you’d expect, there isn’t one correct way to design a reverse mentorship program within a company. The important thing is to make sure that there is a clear purpose for the program and that both parties are committed to making it work.

AXA—a global insurance company—also has a purpose-driven reverse mentorship program. AXA’s program was designed to help the company achieve its goal of a “digital transformation” by bringing senior employees up to speed with key digital tools.

The structure is simple: digital natives (i.e., younger employees) can apply to host bimonthly sessions explaining a digital tool or concept to motivated, senior employees. Topics vary from week to week, and the structure of sessions depends on what the presenters think will be best.

So far, over 1,000 employees have voluntarily taken part in these sessions. The result (according to the company), has been an increase in digital literacy, an increase in digital tool adoption, and a period of rapid productivity growth for the company.

Tip: Are you trying to learn or adopt a new tool to take your startup to the next level? GrowthMentor can help! The platform can help connect you with mentors who are experts with tools like Salesforce, Mailchimp, Intercom, and more. Get tailored advice based on your startup’s circumstances and start making the most of the tools you use!

What Are the Benefits of Reverse Mentorship?

There are a number of potential benefits of implementing a reverse mentorship program at your startup. To make things simpler, we’ve broken them down into benefits for the mentee, the mentor, and the company as a whole.

Let’s go through a few of the major ones!

Benefits for Mentees

The most obvious benefits of reverse mentorship programs are benefits to the mentee (i.e., the more experienced employee).

1) Improving leadership skills

A reverse mentorship can also be a great opportunity for mentees to develop their leadership skills. By working with someone who is less experienced, mentees are encouraged to practice their ability to communicate clearly, give feedback constructively, and manage relationships effectively. These are all essential skills for any leader.

2) Gaining new perspectives and skills

When you’re the one in charge, it can be easy to get stuck in your ways and resist change. Reverse mentorship programs help draw mentees away from this mindset, allowing them to stay up-to-date with developments, trends, and experiences in areas like:

  • New technology
  • Building a team
  • Growth
  • Generational ideals

By hearing about these things first-hand from someone who is actually living them, mentees can develop a more nuanced understanding that they can then use to inform their decision-making.

3) Building stronger intergenerational relationships

In addition to the benefits mentioned above, reverse mentorship programs can also help build strong relationships between different generations within a company.

According to a 2020 study from the Journal of Organizational Change Management, reverse mentoring programs create a more positive work environment by increasing understanding and respect between employees of different ages—a key ingredient in any successful team.

When people from different age groups work together on a regular basis, they have an opportunity to get to know each other as people, rather than just as employees.

Reverse mentoring programs facilitate these interactions, which have the knock on effect of improving employee engagement and satisfaction.

Benefits for mentors

In addition, there are also benefits that are unique to the mentor (i.e., the less experienced employee).

1) Developing new skills

One of the most obvious benefits of being a mentor is that it gives you an opportunity to develop new skills. Through the process of explaining things clearly, giving feedback constructively, and managing relationships effectively, mentors can hone their communication, leadership, and people skills.

This process can either be the passive result of mentoring another person or the active result of learning from the people they mentor. As we mentioned earlier, reverse mentorships are two-way streets!

2) Boosting confidence

Another great benefit of reverse mentoring is that it can help boost the confidence of younger employees. When you’re able to share your knowledge and expertise with someone else, it can help you feel more confident in your abilities. This increased confidence can then carry over into other areas of your life—both personal and professional.

3) Building a network

Reverse mentoring can also be a great opportunity for younger mentors to build their professional network. By mentoring an experienced employee, mentors can make valuable connections that can help them in their career and demonstrate their value to company management.

One clear example of this is in the fact that women who participate in reverse and traditional mentorships are far more likely to be promoted to leadership positions. While there are many reasons for this (as we’ve covered), connections and networks are two factors that are often cited as influential.

Benefits for startups

Last but not least, there are major benefits to startups that make the effort to implement reverse mentorship programs.

1) Onboarding executive hires

Executive onboarding is crucial for the success of any startup scaling growth. When a new executive enters the building, they need someone to act as their guide to things like company culture, values, and norms.

Reverse mentoring can be a great way to support executive onboarding. By pairing the executive with a more junior employee, companies can give the executive a crash course in what it’s like to work at the company.

This first-hand experience can be invaluable for executive hires who are coming from a vastly different company culture—helping them assimilate quickly and enabling startup growth.

2) Growing new processes

While growing too fast is a good problem to have, it’s still a problem that many founders are often ill-equipped to manage and can result in having a team that’s burnt out or unhappy customers leaving in droves.

Therefore, founders need to have humility to be open to getting mentored by someone more junior in the team to get ground-level insights into how the startup can improve its operations, or to get mentorship from an outside specialist who knows how to grow and manage a certain aspect of the company.

3) Enhancing employee engagement

The current state of employee engagement in the United States (and globally, to a lesser extent) is grim. Gallup reports that only around 36% of the workforce is engaged—a number that startups should be wary of, as it implies less productivity and higher turnover.

Reverse mentoring can also be a great way to enhance employee engagement. One study from Synergy found that employees who were currently part of mentoring programs were significantly less likely to report being disengaged at work.

In other words, by giving employees the opportunity to mentor—and be mentored by—others, companies can create a sense of purpose, meaning, and connection in the workplace.

4) Increasing employee retention

Reverse mentoring can also help companies to improve employee retention. A report from Forbes found that while the average retention rates for employees who are not involved in a mentorship program is 46%, the average for employees who are is 70%.

Another report from the Association for Talent Development found that companies can improve the retention rates by as much as 50% if they can implement a comprehensive, formal mentoring program!

That same study also found that employees who did have a mentor were twice as likely to stay with their company for more than five years.

To summarize, when startups engage their employees with reverse mentoring programs aimed at promoting personal and professional growth, they’re more likely to stick around. That means there’s a stable team to act as a foundation as your startup grows and scales!

5) Developing future leaders

Turnover is expensive and—despite the section above—unavoidable. Studies estimate that the cost of replacing an employee starts at roughly 50% of their annual salary and tops out at 200%. Much of this cost is due to time lost during the recruitment, onboarding, and training stages of the hiring process.

Reverse mentoring can be a great way for companies to develop future leaders and minimize downtime in the event of turnover. By investing in the development of young employees, companies can create a pipeline of talent that will be ready to step into leadership roles in the future.

6) Asking the tough questions

When a startup stops growing, it’s easy for founders to get frustrated. From their perspective, they’re doing all they can and nothing seems to be working. This headspace can lead to impulsive decisions, poor morale, and thoughts of calling it quits.

In our experience, a mentor is one of the most important tools in your arsenal at times like these. A great mentor offers an outsider’s perspective that can help you see the bigger picture.

Reverse mentoring can be a great way to get this type of feedback, as it forces you to think about the business from someone else’s perspective. By talking to a more junior employee, you can get honest feedback about what’s working and what’s not.

7) Increasing diversity and inclusion

Time and time again, reverse mentoring programs have been shown to improve organizational outcomes for underrepresented groups. By pairing employees from different backgrounds, companies can create opportunities for employees to learn from each other and develop a better understanding of diverse perspectives.

Personal connection shouldn’t be underestimated as a tool for improving working conditions with a startup.

How To Successfully Implement A Reverse Mentorship Program

If you’re thinking of implementing a reverse mentorship program at your company, there are eight steps you should follow to ensure it’s successful:

  1. Define the program’s goal. What do you hope to achieve with the program? Is it to boost digital transformation, gain expertise, increase diversity and inclusion, enhance employee engagement, or develop future leaders?
  2. Find a senior sponsor. It’s important to have buy-in from company leadership for the program to be successful. Find a senior sponsor who can champion the program within the company.
  3. Set expectations. Be clear about what you expect from the program and what participants can expect from each other.
  4. Recruit participants. Reach out to employees from all levels of the company and encourage them to participate. Get HR and department heads involved to increase the amount of airtime the program gets. If you don’t have enough participants, you can recruit external mentors through GrowthMentor.
  5. Pair participants. Once you have a list of potential participants, pair them up based on interests, skills, and goals. While it’s nice to help facilitate friendships, remember that it’s more important to match people in line with the program’s objectives.
  6. Kick off the program. Once participants are paired up, kick off the program with an orientation meeting to set expectations and get everyone started. Make sure you provide documentation (e.g., templates, guiding questions, short-term goals, etc.) to help set the tone for the program.
  7. Check in regularly. Check in with participants on a regular basis to see how they’re doing and to make sure the program is on track.
  8. Evaluate the program. After the program is complete, take some time to evaluate its effectiveness, set some benchmarks, and make changes for future iterations.

By following these steps, you can ensure that your reverse mentorship program is successful and achieves its goals.

Find the Right Mentor for Your Startup

If your startup is looking for ways to improve communication, diversity and inclusion, or simply boost morale, reverse mentorship might be the answer. It’s a win-win situation for both parties involved, and it can lead to a more productive and positive workplace overall.

At GrowthMentor, we connect founders with expert mentors who can help them (and their teams) achieve their professional goals. If you’re interested in finding a mentor for your startup, we can help!

Browsing mentors by skills, industry, or experience, and gain the skills you need to take your business to the next level. Book one-time sessions or become a member for unlimited calls with a range of experts—it’s up to you!