Learning & Development

How-Tos of Reverse Mentoring: Part 1—What Is It and Who’s Doing It?

Mentor relationships in the workplace are a great way to build relationships between employees, share knowledge and corporate culture, and retain employees. Traditionally, we think of a mentor relationship as between an experienced mentor with a lot of time spent in the industry and the company and an inexperienced mentee. Typically, this mentee is new to the company or may have some experience at the company but has been pegged for potential leadership development or a new role within the organization. But some organizations have begun experimenting with a new process known as reverse mentoring. As the name suggests, reverse mentoring involves having a young or newer employee act as a mentor to a more senior or older employee.

While it may seem a bit counterintuitive at first, the practice is gaining in popularity. As Chauncey L. Alcorn writes for Fortune, “these days, the students are more quickly becoming the teachers as companies going through the Millennial workplace revolution are getting their 18- to 35-year-old employees to teach Generation Xers and Baby Boomers a thing or two about integrating tools like social media and crowdsourcing into their modus operandi.”
In this article, we’ll look at some examples of successful reverse mentoring programs, discuss the benefits to both mentor and mentee and share some tips for implementing a reverse mentoring program in your own workplace.

Who’s Implementing Reverse Mentoring?

Reverse mentoring isn’t just a fad among start-ups or small boutique businesses. Major Fortune 500 companies are finding benefits from the programs as well. In a July 2016 article for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jackie Crosby looked at two of the heavy hitters of Minnesota’s corporate world—Minnesota is home to 18 Fortune 500 companies— Target and UnitedHealth Group.

UnitedHealth Group

Let’s look first at UnitedHealth Group. Crosby writes, “Healthcare giant UnitedHealth Group sees value in turning the tables. The Minnetonka-based company rolled out a reverse mentoring program this summer that paired eight senior executives in its insurance division with eight Millennials seen as ‘emerging leaders.’” The average age gap between mentor and mentee is a whopping 25 years.


Minneapolis-based retail chain Target has also implemented a reverse mentoring program. Julie Guggemos—senior vice president of product design and development at Target—was interviewed for Crosby’s article. Guggemos noted the rapidly changing business environment as a key motivation adopting reverse mentoring at Target.
According to Alcorn, “Target contracts with a third group called Techstars, which partners tech start-ups with large corporations to help fast-track their growth and teach Target execs best practices from the start-up world.”

Other Adopters

There are too many companies getting on board the reverse mentoring wagon to name them all, but some of the more prominent mentioned by Crosby include The Hartford, PwC, Cisco, Proctor & Gamble, and Facebook.
Part5 2 of this article talks about benefits of mentoring for mentors and mentees.