Mentoring Millennials: It’s A Two-Way Street

Millennials have a bad reputation. They are seen as spoiled, lazy and have high expectations. Based on recent research, it’s believed that Boomers and Gen Xers have important roles to play in mentoring Millennials and helping them harness their valuable talent.
If young people come across as immature, then more seasoned professionals should offer them help. Boomer and Generation X managers have a role to play in helping Millennials grow out of their “immaturity”. Fulfilling a mentoring role is pivotal to successfully working with them.

It’s believed that Millennials are typically more interested than previous generations in finding a mentor. They have grown up with the notion that one must constantly seek the advice of another, and social media has put this notion on steroids. Millennials live in a world where once you post a picture of a potential purchase on Instagram, which then gets copied to your Twitter feed and Facebook page, advice and comments flood in within seconds.

There are a few differences with mentorship today that were largely unheard of in the past. Firstly, Millennials tend to have multiple mentors; the traditional senior managers, but also peer mentors/coaches. Secondly, mentorship is a two-way road. Back in the day, mentoring was largely one way, from the top down. Today, we see the rise of reverse mentoring, where the mentee helps the mentor 20% of the time and the mentor helps the mentee 80%.

Boomers and Generation Xers need to embrace reverse mentoring to be a great mentor for Millennials. It is part of the postmodern worldview that they have been raised with; they believe, because they were taught this, that their ideas are important and valuable. If you don’t listen, they won’t respect you.

Today, it takes greater commitment and patience to guide Millennials. One of their characteristics is they really, truly, desire a great deal of feedback. As a manager, I have to make a point of giving more thought to providing more feedback than to previous generation of workers. It used to be more of an afterthought, but today I must more actively spend time thinking about not only a couple of points of feedback, but four or five pieces of feedback. In a few weeks, we will put out a post on feedback.

Millennials do not only rely on one mentor. According to Monica Higgins, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, “One senior person can no longer be the only place you turn for career support.” Younger workers are independent and seek short-term, informal relationships that avoid interrupting each other’s day to day lives. They are used to searching for and choosing their own mentors. In fact, mandatory corporate mentorship programs feel forced and unauthentic. Millennials are more apt to find it difficult to connect with an individual that they do not personally deem relevant.

To turn things around even more, there has been a rise of reverse mentoring. You have invaluable knowledge that demands to be shared, but in this technological age, so do Millennials. They understand emerging technologies and social media trends better than the older generations and can teach us more than a thing or two.

Millennials acknowledge, albeit not out loud, that they have certain limitations. They are aware that they lack some crucial elements in order to move forward. They view mentors as meaningful contributors to their personal growth. Millennials consider them confidantes; wiser individuals who can provide guidance. At times, Millennials topics of interest can be controversial, requiring feedback prior to official discussion. Annual salary increases, for example, are best addressed with prior consultation. Mentors serve as fountains of knowledge for these kinds of topics.

When searching for mentors, Millennials do not limit themselves to their work settings. After all, they are active in many different forums. The world of LinkedIn, for example, which provides immediate access to industry professionals from around the world. Users are able to quickly connect and contact influential people. Don’t be surprised if you notice that your LinkedIn profile is being viewed by unknown faces. Millennials are naturally curious. They want to learn more about your academic background and personal career path. Knowing this contributes to their overall understanding of how to move forward in a career.

The principles of mentorship are reasonably simple. The relationship should be mutually beneficial, in that both parties should participate and contribute to one another’s goals and expectations. An openness to change and a willingness to learn are essential.

Secondly, corporations should encourage their older employees to reach out to their younger counterparts by highlighting the benefits of this unique partnership. The definition of reverse mentorship should be clearly explained, highlighting the fact that both parties benefit. You won’t only be giving, but receiving as well.

Finally, the mentor and mentee should think beyond technology. Both individuals have an exclusive opportunity to better understand their generational differences. It is possible to discuss other topics aside from skill gaps.

Mentors cultivate the future generations of leaders. Moderns should and must fill these shoes. It is not a question of volunteering. It is a question of being present and fulfilling three simple actions:

1) Engaging in formal and ad-hoc, positive and negative, feedback

2) Encouraging Millennials to step up and take on more responsibility

3) Demonstrating the characteristics of a strong leader

Successful mentors accept the generational needs of Millennials and over communicate. They hold regular meetings, highlight noteworthy actions and provide constructive criticism. Management, of course, still plays a very important role in guiding and teaching Millennials. In fact, young people want open honest managers, more so than ever before.

At the end of the day, Millennials want you to take notice. Rather than fight them, why not join them? Why not become a mentor? Step up to the plate, embrace the role and accept whoever comes forward. Identify and utilize one another’s strengths. It is a win-win situation for all parties.

The future of every company lies in the ability of their Millennials to succeed. They are the inevitable leaders of tomorrow and you, Moderns, have the ability to nourish the growth of these young employees. You can shape the direction of your workforce. Most importantly, you can work in harmony with Millennials. The offer is on the table and Millennials “are a knocking”. Will you answer?

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