101 Reverse Mentoring – What is it and why do we need it?

October 31, 2016


Reverse mentoring is an innovative social learning approach to give business leaders an understanding on the topics of social business collaboration and social media. The traditional roles you would normally see in a mentoring relationship thus get reversed. The experienced executive takes over the unfamiliar role of the student (mentee) while the young employee, being a digital native, becomes the teacher and advisor (mentor). Due to this untypical distribution of roles, the approach develops an unusually strong dynamic.

As an attractive learning format, reverse mentoring therefore offers a way to experience digital learning in addition to already existing social business learning formats such as MOOCs (massive open online courses), barcamps or learning journeys. Here, the social business learning landscapes provide a more specific overview on the classification of reverse mentoring as a learning format:

Source: Social Business Learning Landscapes of the university of St. Gallen


The need for a reverse mentoring program is brought up mainly by the digital transformation, which has been entering the companies for the past several years. The knowledge required therefore is often not covered through the experience of the older generation. The young employee in turn is very familiar with digital topics and thus supports the executive in gaining knowledge as well as a better understanding of the social media and social business collaboration world inside and outside the company. Openness, trust, respect and mutual reinforcement serve here as a basis for dealing with each other.

Reverse mentoring is also better than a dry workshop, because one is able to learn quite differently through a direct exchange among each another rather than a powerpoint presentation. In classical qualification events, many managers do not dare to ask specific questions, while the inhibition threshold is significantly lower under four eyes. Another advantage is the flexible content and timing layout of the program sequence.


The program itself takes place over a period of 4-6 months. During this time the mentor-mentee constellation offers the managers a protected space to approach the social media and social business collaboration in a 1:1 situation. That way mentor and mentee can share their knowledge with each another by experimenting with options for action. For the individual monthly sessions each mentoring pair receives a tailor-made session plan with proposals for various digital topics that can be edited together. For the content orientation the participants receive short tutorials or create some on their own. These can be flexibly designed and may include the following topics:

  • Social media concepts, insights and principles
  • Social media and social business collaboration areas of application in the own company
  • Insights into the company’s social intranet
  • Practice-oriented social business collaboration features and functions
  • Social business collaboration use case options for executives

The latter offers the executive the possibility to prepare for future use cases in his or her own area of responsibility. The program is rounded off by joint presence events at the beginning, half time and at the end of the reverse mentoring.


Regarding the digital change taking place, reverse mentoring offers a valuable opportunity to curb the generation conflict between older and younger employees, thus enabling dialogue. Leaders can benefit from the experience of the mentors and learn in interesting conversations what young people think and how they deal with social media outside the company. In addition, they get the opportunity to reflect on their own work environment and their own role understanding from a young employee’s perspective. That way the executives get the possibility to presently benefit from the fresh perspectives of tomorrow’s leaders.

The mentors benefit from the program as well. They are given the opportunity to actively participate in the digital revolution of the company they work for, helping to shape its future. This in turn strengthens the feeling of being connected to their own company. In addition, the personal professional network is being expanded and the own competences get further developed. In general, the cooperation and mutual exchange among each other are perceived as effective, refreshing and inspiring by all participants, which greatly contributes to increasing the fun factor of the reverse mentoring.


Although still almost unknown in Europe, reverse mentoring is by no means a new approach. Originally developed by the idea of Jack Welsh, former CEO of General Electric, this attractive learning format has become an integral part of personnel and organizational development in the United States. This is demonstrated by examples from General Electric, IBM, HP, Dell and Cisco. In Germany, companies such as Deutsche Telekom AG, Lufthansa, Merck or Bosch have successfully rolled out and executed reverse mentoring programs as well. These and other programs will become indispensable in the future to offer young potential employees an attractive workplace and remain competitive.

profilbild-milos-2Milos Vujnovic, who studied technical oriented business economics at the University of Stuttgart, has worked as a social business consultant since 2010. He joined the Berlin-based social business consultancy and technology provider Pokeshot in September 2016, where he leverages his extensive social collaboration and user adoption expertise to consult organizations on how to optimize their change management and enable the usage of social collaboration tools and practices. He is also responsible for setting up and executing reverse mentoring programs for executives, enabling them for digital leadership. He further has deep insights into various studies regarding the current state of social business in general.