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The Art of Mentoring Millennials in the Workplace

December 06, 2016, 07:00 AM

Take a good look around your office. Who do you see? Among the people like yourself -- a seasoned sales manager, you probably see an increasing number of young faces … people new to the sales world, people you may have hired. Millennials.

Unlike generations past, this one requires special attention to develop. They've grown up under the hyper-watchful eyes of helicopter parents who gave them constant feedback about their endeavors, their behaviors. They've grown up co-making decisions with their families (e.g. where to eat, what to watch, where to move). And they've competed in a world where awards were given for just showing up.

Mentoring these young guns takes an artist's touch, and given the right information, mentoring Millennials will come as naturally as training Baby Boomers.

What You Need to Know
This generation will make up nearly 50 percent of the U. S. workforce in 2020, 75 percent by 2030. Their reputation for being difficult to manage by traditional standards is well documented. "Traditional standards" being the key phrase. To successfully mentor Millennials, you have to rethink your standards.

Like previous generations, Millennials' attitudes toward work and life were shaped by cultural factors. In this case, overly doting parents made them accustomed to regular attention and validation. They've always known the Internet, so their desire for instant gratification is high. Social media has made them accustomed to sharing dull and special moments (e.g. what they're eating for dinner, graduation ceremonies). Gaming has shown them how to be competitive, network, and work in groups. Cell phones have trained them to be in constant touch.

Unlike previous generations, Millennials don't want to be managed. They want to be mentored, and they don't care if the mentoring comes from above. They immediately see managers as coaches and mentors, and they admire knowledge and experience more than titles and power. This sets you up to create a mentor pool made up of a variety of people.

Making a Millennial Mentor
One thing you need to realize is everyone is not inherently equipped to be a mentor, but many people are good enough at something to mentor someone. And mentoring is a skill that with work, can be acquired.

Keep these points in mind when building your mentor pool. Great Millennial mentors:

  • Focus on winning and results, but know there isn't one particular way or method to achieve results. Each game requires a different strategy. For example, you would sell one way to a Baby Boomer and another way to a Millennial.
  • Observe, study, and learn the strengths of individual team members. They also know when they need variety on the team for it to be strong.
  • Give one-on-one attention. They don't just hand over standard operating procedures and expect team members to learn on their own. They teach through ongoing feedback, training, and practice.
  • Are relatable. Millennials respond strongly to people to whom they relate as a peer or role model. They do not equate tenure and titles to authority or expertise. (Think Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, his life experience is authentic leadership inspiration).
  • Communicate often. Millennials are accused of being over-sharers, which their social media background and cell phone at the hip habits have trained them to be. Open, two-way communication will yield deeper engagement (and not just with Millennials). Lack of constant communication yields fears they're doing something wrong.
  • Encourage passions. This generation has diverse passions. These natural innovators' outside interests can add new competencies to your business and sales strategies if properly encouraged. Remember, they want to make a difference — to the organization, to the world.

While hiring managers make the most sense to be mentors, supervisors and peers can also play a role. Remember, Millennials respect knowledge and experience more than titles and power. If you have someone on your team who is stellar at some aspect of the job, that person will be a natural pick as a mentor.

Reverse Mentoring
Millennials themselves should also be considered in the mentor pool. Their mentees, the seasoned executives, would benefit from their technological knowledge, creative thinking and problem-solving skills honed over twenty-some years of playing hi-tech games. It's the Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers who would be the beneficiaries.

The process, first publicized by former General Electric Company Chairman Jack Welsh, is called "reverse mentoring," and it's actually been practiced for more than a decade.

Here’s how Alan Webber, the co-founder of Fast Company explains reverse mentoring:  “It's a situation where the old fogies in an organization realize that by the time you’re in your forties and fifties, you’re not in touch with the future the same way as the young twenty-somethings. They come with fresh eyes, open minds, and instant links to the technology of our future.” That's what you want to take advantage of -- their knowledge of technology, social media, and current trends.

The benefits to reverse mentoring are it:

  • Closes the knowledge gap for mentor and mentee. For example, a Millennial can learn business terminology and industry practices while the Baby Boomer can learn social media and trends.
  • Empowers both established and emerging leaders.
  • Brings generations closer.

To make reverse mentoring relationships, or any relationships, successful, you must:

  • Define expectations. Everyone needs to be clear on expectations.
  • Agree on rules. Everyone must be completely committed to the relationship and agree on the rules to be followed.
  • Be willing to learn. Since there are two mentors, each party must genuinely want to learn from and share with the other.
  • Trust. Trust enables each party to push the other outside comfort zones and try new ways of thinking, working, and being.
  • Be transparent. To overcome communication style differences, each party must be open with feelings and thoughts so each can see from different perspectives.

In practicing reverse mentorship, future leaders are formed with minimal monetary investment from the company — it costs nothing to share knowledge, and that's what's happening here.

So again, take a look around your office. Who do you see? Hopefully, you now see a mix of people filled with knowledge, waiting to be tapped through mentorships you now know how to form.

RJ Grimshaw
President & CEO | UniFi Equipment Finance
RJ Grimshaw is the President and CEO of UniFi Equipment Finance, a Bank of Ann Arbor wholly owned equipment finance subsidiary that is headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mi. UniFi was founded in 1978, and serves manufactures, distributors and resellers in four main market segments which include industrial, specialty markets, technology, and health care. Reach RJ at rgrimshaw@unifiedge.com and on twitter @rjgcoach. Learn more about UniFi Equipment Finance at unifiedge.com.
Comments From Our Members

Paul Frechette • View APN Profile
Well done, RJ! I think you've hit a home run with these thoughts. Or, knowing you, scored a hat trick, maybe???
12.6.2016 @ 1:15 PM

Kimberly Esposito
Excellent post! Thank you for sharing your insight. Your advice is helpful for we seasoned professionals. Like it or not, we must adapt to the coming workforce changes.
1.11.2017 @ 9:04 AM
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