Over the past two decades, the emergence of the Internet and the influence of social networking have begun to change the way mentoring is viewed in the business world. This shift can often be at conflict with individual generational interpretations of mentoring that also influence how organisations put mentoring into practice. For example, the four generations that work side-by-side today tend to have much different opinions of what mentoring is:
- Traditionalists are hardworking, loyal, and respectful of those in authority. They view mentoring as an obligation to the generations that follow.
- Boomers believe in participative management and work hard for their own personal gain. They view mentoring as a way to advance in their careers.
- Generation X’ers are sceptical of authority and seek work-life balance. They see mentoring as a way to collaborate with those in charge.
- Millennials are multitasking web surfers. They view mentoring as a way to establish learning connections with those who share their interests or know how to get things done.
10 years ago, Generation X pushed Boomers to experiment with virtual relationships and electronic media communication. Today, Millennials are challenging the conceptual framework of mentoring itself, advocating the free exchange of ideas in a virtual environment with multiple people.
This bears the question: What would happen if Millennials ran corporate mentoring programs?
Although Millennials are not in formal power yet in many organisations, they are already shaping the world of communication and commerce through their invention and adoption of social networking technology. Given their growing influence, the way they view mentoring will dominate the future of this practice as a learning and development method. Mentoring programs will likely become more open to everyone and leveraged as a collaborative space where people share ideas and knowledge generously, creating innovative solutions to real business issues. This shift will affect several key areas of mentoring programs:
Purpose and value: While Boomers embraced mentoring for career advancement, Millennials see it as a simple way to learn what they need to know, helping them quickly and effectively meet their most urgent learning needs. Career advancement may be one outcome, but it is seen as a by-product of excellence in their areas of passion and expertise. Millennials’ desire for an open environment to explore and connect with people who have the knowledge, experience and wisdom they seek will have exceptional business value when disseminating learning across organizational, geographical and generational boundaries.
Audiences and advisors: Millennials want an organisation-wide, egalitarian virtual environment for their mentoring programs that allows anyone to participate. They view mentoring as a way to learn by interacting with others from different locations and functions or with people who have different backgrounds and perspectives. This desire for diverse connections helps create a more inclusive culture.
Design and method: Millennials’ beliefs will have an impact on the design and implementation of future mentoring programs. Millennials do not make distinctions between conversing face-to-face, on a phone or via text or IM. For them, it is completely reasonable to expect to connect with and learn from someone they may never meet in person. Millennials want to use technology to find, manage and grow these mentoring relationships just as they do their social relationships.
Millennials also are pushing to abandon the single-mentor methodology of prior generations. In their networked world, Millennials see mentoring as a way to establish learning networks of many collaborators and advisors who share their passions or interests. These learning relationships will span a spectrum of duration and intensity, from long-term career mentoring to need-oriented situational mentoring to interest-focused topical mentoring.
How to Make It Work
The practice of organisation-wide mentoring programs will expand dramatically in the coming years. Here are a few steps learning leaders can take to start moving in this direction today.
1. Add large, open mentoring programs to existing small, targeted programs. Learning leaders do not have to abandon the small, formal mentoring programs traditionally associated with high-potential development. However, to be successful in today’s business environment, they must allow high potentials to have multiple mentors of their own choosing and allow them to mentor others as part of their experience. This builds a culture of mentoring as a shared, collaborative social responsibility. It also helps Millennials engage in mentoring in the same way they want and need to accomplish their daily work: by collaborating with others across functions and locations. If learning leaders do not offer some kind of mentoring experience for all employees, Millennials will see individuals’ exclusion from formal programs as a social justice issue, and they will not be shy about sharing their opinions with their peers inside and outside the organisation. To address this, leaders should create an open mentoring culture where people learn from each other in a wide variety of formal and informal relationships, allowing everyone to reap the benefits of mentoring.
2. utilise collaborative technology to make it easier to get started, connect with others and expand the mentoring experience. This does not mean all face-to-face mentoring relationships should be replaced with virtual ones, but it will require that organisations use technology to help people forge new relationships across traditional boundaries in order to expand learning networks. Mentoring is people-centered learning — technology just makes it easier.
3. Do something now. We all know experienced boomers are rapidly nearing retirement age. Their accumulated wisdom, knowledge and expertise will soon be walking out the door. In addition to this reality, Millennials are actively asking for more mentoring opportunities. They want access to the wisdom and understanding of the leaders around them. Instead of parceling this knowledge to a select few of the younger generation, organisations would greatly benefit from launching larger open initiatives that remove barriers to information flow across the enterprise. This information exchange is not intended to act as a brain dump of data from Boomers to Millennials, but is instead intended to create fertile ground for the birth of new ideas and approaches to an organisation’s most pressing issues.
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