January is National Mentoring Month. Originally created in 2002 by the Harvard Business School, January is dedicated to promoting a culture where mentoring is the focus.
A New Era of Mentoring
Traditionally, mentoring meant matching senior leaders with promising entry-level associates. Today’s workplace is made up of at least 3 defined age groups. Millenials being the fastest growing segment. Have Millennials ever taken a traditional approach to anything?
Jeanne Meister, co-author of The 2020 Workplace., tells us that younger workers may be viewed as less respectful of more experienced colleagues and, in particular, they don’t feel compelled to follow in the same path as their superiors.
Millenials (born 1977 – 1997) have some of their on thoughts on mentorship. For some, this may come across as incredibly annoying – particularly in established corporate hierarchies. Younger, tech-savvy workers consider themselves as more technically equipped for our modern workplace than some of their more experienced (read senior) colleagues. Many within an age-diverse workplace may be intimidated by Millenials because of their impatience and more aggressive stance on career goals.
“Millennials can be bold and hungry when it comes to getting what they want. And today’s new mentorship models are more like Twitter conversations than the long-term relationships of days past.” – Jeanne Meister
Will it now be necessary to conduct mentorship in 140 characters or less? Not necessarily. Today mentoring may be shorter in scope and less formal in delivery but it will still be a very desirable component of corporate life. Millennials have one other thing in common with the rest of their age-diverse team. No matter how smart or how confident, the desire to learn and grow continues to be looked for and it will come in the form of mentoring.
According to an online survey (Multiple Generations @ Work) conducted with more than 1,000 workers, 66% of Millenials believe their personal drive is intimidating to colleagues because they expect to jump in and contribute all they have immediately. Millenials don’t “get” the concept of organizational hierarchies. Waiting in line is not an experience they would choose. Millenials are more keen on creating a plan for growth. One that includes a fluid and flexible mentoring process. One that engages and supports them with meeting their goals and providing opportunities to make a difference.
Carefully designed and created mentoring programs enable the sharing of knowledge and encourage the application of learning. This is what will be of the most benefit to both companies and their people. Solid mentoring programs will continue to identify opportunities and unlock doors to self-expression and awareness. Additionally, these programs will position everyone in the organization to better understand each other and challenge existing ways of thinking. What will it take to build this new mentoring culture?
Mentoring as a Business Strategy
Over the years, there have been a number of larger organizations that have implemented mandatory mentorship programs with great results. These companies have enjoyed the outcomes and benefited from their commitment – particularly in times when qualified talent is not in abundance.
Mentoring programs provide executives with the ability to stay on the pulse of trends. In particular, the trends that are most important to their newer and younger staff members. These employees become actively engaged, build internal relationships and feel more connected. The message is loud and clear. The company is obviously invested in them. They will be able to make better contributions to the improvement of their employer – and at the highest level.
We know that today’s younger candidates are attracted to work environments that are more democratic, collaborative, flexible, transparent, authentic, purposeful, collegial, team-oriented and less restrictive. Although Millennials may have a different view of how they’d like to work, what they still have respect for their more experienced colleagues.
Millenials want to work for people who will inspire them to do great work. They want to be confident that the experienced people will help them through the rough patches whether that is starting at a new company, growing their repertoire of skills or guiding them along the way. Millenials want mentors.
53% of Millennials surveyed said mentors would help them become better and more productive members of the company.
Mentorship Programs & Strategies
Over the last few years, companies have begun experimenting with alternative, more creative forms of mentoring. Rather than impose traditional relationships and settings on the younger generation, it is smart leadership who embrace a modern form of development. Think of this as “mentoring moments”. Different styles have come along since traditional forms were developed. Some of these styles work best in person and others may include the use of technologies such as Skype or Google Hangouts.
Millennials are team players and value group interaction. Peer mentoring is an effective style of mentorship used with like-minded individuals. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg has named this form of mentoring as “Lean in Circles.” The added advantage is that members of ” the circle” can choose someone in the group who best fits a situation that is challenging them at that particular moment.
In the Group Mentoring model, there is usually one mentor for a group of mentorees (anywhere from three to eight). This group counseling method has a double-sided benefit. The group learns from the mentor as well as one another at the same time. The meetings themselves are a bit more casual and there is never a spotlight placed on any one individual.
Speed mentoring is a practice where “fast track talent” work with multiple individuals for shorter blocks of time. The focus is to facilitate learning and encourage reflection. This style develops an independent manager rather than one reliant on one designated mentor.
With speed mentoring , the mentoree is encouraged to feel secure enough to take risks and conquer their doubts or fears. The goal is to help develop good habits that ensure continual learning and growth. Instead of forcing single opinions, mentors explain their own approach and help mentorees find their own individual style.
This style is another take on peer mentoring. In this model, a mentoree seeks out a mentor for a specific task. For example, a mentoree may wish to work on their public speaking skills. The mentoree might approach someone within the organization who is well respected in that area.
Situational mentoring is short term, hyper-specific, and not unlike coaching. This form of mentorship offers one-on-one interaction and practice. It also provides personal attention, feedback, and the opportunity to share and challenge ideas. In some cases, shadowing may be involved along with follow-up sessions
The application of Reverse Mentoring has gained significant traction in newer and rapidly changing industry sectors – particularly where mature workers are interacting with their younger colleagues on a regular basis. In this model, the more senior people are kept current by their younger counterparts. The mature employees will rely on the technical skills and expertise of the next generation to keep up. In this model, it’s not so much about words of wisdom or advice handed out. It is about sharing know-how.
Reverse mentoring has definitely become one of the rising trends in corporate structures. It’s a smart move and one that needs to be fully flushed out. This is not to say that Millennials don’t need older mentors who are established in their fields. Mentors who can share their decades of experience. Why this model is working so well is that it supports more mature employees with input and feedback in new areas of business such as social media, promotion of content, the latest technology trends, etc. Reverse mentoring was popularized by former General Electric Chairman Jack Welch.
Anonymous mentoring is an especially unique model that has more recently been introduced. In this method , the mentor and mentoree have no previous connection. Their contact and exchanges are conducted entirely online. The mentor is most often a professional coach or seasoned executive who will remain anonymous.
This form of mentoring may use psychological testing and a background review to match participants with trained mentors outside the organization. The engagement is generally contracted and paid for by the company, lasting anywhere from 6 to 12 months. It may be regularly scheduled or “on-demand”.
Anonymous mentoring is most effective when “high potential” individuals are required to grow to their next level of achievement. There are many benefits of an anonymous mentoring relationship simply because of the nature of the interaction. There is a higher level of disclosure, more candid interaction, freedom for the mentor to share painful personal war stories, an agenda-free interest and a willingness of the mentoree to open up, share and discuss problems and uncertainties.
Some companies may have very successful traditional mentoring programs. As more Millenials join their company they may not want to abandon what is presenting working with their existing people. This is where a hybrid model may be effective.
It may make total sense to continue offering an established one-to-one program and introduce Situational Mentoring in parallel. The younger mentorees can then choose the model that speaks loudest to them. They may even choose to embrace both programs by having one dedicated mentor and access to other people who can coach them in specific areas, when needed.
Mentoring, while supportive, is about offering a challenge to accepted forms of thinking, cultural norms and an organizational perspective. Ideally a mentor will suspend judgment and encourage exploration, experiment and reflection on a range of options. Obviously, rapport is essential in the establishment of the relationship. Keeping the execution open, honest, fluid and flexible will ensure all parties experience the maximum benefit from the program(s).
Mentors can be cheerleaders or coaches but never critics.
Supporting and encouraging both informal and formal mentoring programs within a business enriches interaction and stronger relationships throughout the company. Mentoring programs engage, encourage and support employees. They also enhance the quality of the employee’s performance, boost satisfaction and grow loyalty and commitment.
Mentoring relationships are never about power. They are focused on learning. When an employee believes their employer is willing to invest in their career, they will reach higher, be less likely tempted to leave and devote themselves to helping their company grow. To coin an old expression – Mentoring Programs are a Win-Win all the way around.
Examples of what some Canadian Companies are doing – The Mentoring Partnership