Collapse the Hierarchy to Gain Fresh Perspectives

My role at The Rainmaker Companies has offered me the unique perspective of working alongside hundreds of accounting firms with various levels of staff from managing partners, practice leaders, emerging stars, marketing personnel, and everyone in between.  The dialogue I often hear at our conferences from all levels continues to be around how to attract the best and brightest, how to give their people more of a work-life balance, and why are we catering so much to this millennial workforce.

One insight I can bring to the table is that too often are we overlooking the opportunity to offer the best and brightest, or our emerging leaders, a seat at the table.  Mentorship needs to get turned on its head in today’s multi-generational workplace, especially now that technology has flipped traditional roles.  Unlike traditional mentoring, in which the mentor is always a senior individual who can pass on experience without much risk of push back from the mentee, REVERSE MENTORING provides an environment where information and insights can freely flow, and where the organizational hierarchy is flattened.  This would not only benefit the younger staff but equally, if not more so, the leaders in the firm.

For many leaders that I meet, their connection to the millennial generation is largely through their parenting mentorship model.  But Reverse Mentoring, beginning to take root in boardrooms across America, focuses on baby boomer leaders seeking out millennials to help them understand the latest in technology, social media, or an aspect of their fast-changing marketplace.  These leaders, once separated by age and rank from younger hires, see the need to collapse the hierarchy to gain fresh perspectives.  They also seek to find common ground with these younger workers whose sense of work-life balance and loyalty don’t match up with their own.

Baby boomers rose in the ranks of a hierarchical workplace where they were told what to do. Millennials have been shaped by social networks; meaning everyone is on equal footing.  They are more than comfortable giving advice as having been raised by boomer parents who consulted them on almost everything- from how to set up the Wii console, what to eat for dinner, and where to go on vacation.  Millennials have grown up being consulted within nearly every phase of their life, so when they arrive in the workplace and are never asked their opinion, they immediately disengage.

Millennials recently overtook baby boomers as the largest generation at work, and by 2020 they’ll be more than half of the nation’s workforce.  And as Generation Z soon enters the workforce, companies need to be taking a renewed interest in reverse mentorship as a business strategy as the workplace.

The concept of reverse mentoring has been kicking around a handful of Fortune 500 circles for some time, but it has been slow to gain momentum.  A research company recently polled 600 companies and found that 56% of them have a mentoring program in place, yet only 14% had a reverse program in place even though 51% of those companies have cross-generational teams.

All of this begs the question, “Why isn’t reverse mentoring more widely used?”

  1. Leaders are unaware of the benefits
  2. Leaders are already engaged in peer-to-peer mentoring
  3. Leaders are pressured to focus on tasks with clear ROI
  4. Leaders lack the time
  5. Leader’s pride gets in the way

Reverse mentoring requires a big cultural shift and successful programs need buy-in from the top.  For reverse mentoring to work, avoid reciprocal mentorship.  Do 100% of the learning.  Think beyond having someone mentor you on social media – consider having them teach you something you think you already know, such as leadership.  Finding the right match is also crucial. Companies need to set up ground rules, spell out expectations, and invest in training.  But when done right, reverse mentoring will provide not only opportunities for your emerging stars, but also can provide growth opportunities within the firm.


Joe Fleenor
Director of Events & Client Relations

Joe Fleenor has developed an Emerging Leader special interest group here at The Rainmaker Companies.  If you would be interested in connecting with other emerging leaders in the industry, or know someone who would be interested, please reach out to Joe Fleenor at  This article is a representation of the topics being discussed in this special interest group.