How reverse mentoring can benefit your business

Can the young teach old dog’s new tricks? William Buist, founder of xTen Club, certainly thinks so and explains how.


With age and experience comes wisdom, but all too often in the business world, hubris can come along for the ride too. Subconsciously survivorship and confirmation biases are at work; good decisions are reinforced, and poor ones fall out of the memory – which distorts their real importance.

So, can these experienced executives learn something from Millennials?

According to William Buist, Founder of xTEN Club, the answer is ‘yes’; and the way to achieve this is through reverse mentoring.

Reverse mentoring flips the traditional mentor-protégé model on its head as younger professionals ‘mentor’ their older colleagues. By injecting fresh ideas and a new perspective, reverse mentoring counteracts the inaccurate assumptions, inane biases and business blind spots that come from being in an industry, or a role, for too long.

First popularised by former GE CEO Jack Welch, reverse mentoring acknowledges everyone within an organisation has something to bring to the table. By pairing a younger, less-experienced professional with an older executive, reverse mentoring helps young professionals gain confidence and strengthen their leadership skills while helping older executives stay up-to-date on the latest business technologies and strengthen a business’s competitive edge.

Reverse mentorship is also beneficial for fostering positive attitudes and managing generational diversity. There are clear differences in how employees from each generation work and reverse mentoring reduces these generational tensions by allowing discussion and the sharing of insights in a non-confrontational setting. Of course, as an added bonus, executives can better identify, evaluate and cultivate new talent.

Key reverse mentorship benefits include:

• Reducing intra-generational tensions

• Encouraging frank discussion on current issues

• Driving workplace innovation

• Getting up-to-date on new technologies

• Enhancing leadership, conflict management and coaching skills

How to start a Reverse Mentoring program

Successful reverse mentoring programmes are founded on a mutual willingness to set aside preconceptions and start fresh. The goal for both mentor and protégé is to push one another outside their comfort zones in order to try new ways of working, thinking and being.

1) Play matchmaker

Consider what elements in the individuals background could create a common bond. For example, are they both alumni of the same university? Do they share a passion for cycling? Do they volunteer with the same charity? While these commonalities may seem superficial, they can help foster a shared sense of identity and commitment to the mentorship.

2) Keep the relationship casual

Traditional mentor-protégé relationships typically have a clear, structured objective with regular monthly meetings. While it is still important to meet consistently, this relationship can be more casual. I recommend committing to the time needed, but not fixing when that time is used.

3) Set an initial goal

The first few meetings can be a bit awkward if neither party are sure what to discuss – so set an initial goal. What starts as a basic tutorial, can then blossom into a relationship of respect. Once an open dialogue is established, it will be easier for both mentor and mentee to seek one another out for natural conversations.

When each party commits to giving and receiving constructive insight, both will develop valuable leadership skills, gain behavioural insights, and build strong intra-generational relationships that are key to workplace success.