By Jan Ryan
Let’s cut right to the chase. Ever wish there was a generational decoder key? Even though Millennials now make up almost half the workplace in sheer numbers, CEO’s and corporate managers still struggle with how to effectively manage, attract and retain this outspoken, tech-savvy generation.
It’s a common scene: A highly valued Gen X manager blows up at a new Millennial employee. “You’re not qualified yet… I had to wait my turn, and you do too!” Or a long time Boomer employee gets into conflict with a twenty-something team member over an assignment. Instead of jumping right in, the younger employee brings research to support his opinion of how the assignment should be redefined. “Just do what I say!” the older employee bursts out uncharacteristically.
Most of today’s CEOs care deeply about resolving these issues. There is much at stake. How do we lead in such a way that we lose our generational egos and create the blending of generations and their strengths? In a time where 58 percent of Millennials expect to leave their jobs in under three years, and 67 percent claim they would rather start their own business, we need to re-examine how we mentor and develop these younger employees, so they feel connected to the organization, stay longer, and can perform at their best level.
But isn’t this just the ageless issue of new generations colliding with the old? Yes and no. The Millennial generation may actually represent a larger cultural challenge than has been seen before because of the unprecedented overlay of technology advancements and change in our society as they’ve come of age. This accelerated change is their native land. It’s their comfort zone. The need to adapt to new ideas, the constant disruption, new technologies, new platforms, new ways of doing things in our society, this is where this generation not only is comfortable but excels.
Core Workplace Values
Much has been written about the impact of “hovering” Boomer parents on this generation, and how life circumstances such as financial meltdowns have shaped very different core values for them in the workplace. Millennials prefer to work in groups and look for transparency from their leaders. Online social connectedness, the ability to speak freely – all are essential to their job satisfaction. They also value close relationships with authority figures (as they had with parents,) a sense of creativity, work life flexibility, and use of technology.
Let’s examine three outcomes of these changing values, with suggestions for how today’s leaders might help their organizations rethink methods to mentoring and managing this new co-hart.
1) Old Mentoring Approaches Won’t Cut It
The good news is that mentoring is extremely popular with this generation. They crave feedback! Studies show they’ll even leave an organization if they can’t find it. They place high value on being able to learn, to grow and advance. But traditional one-to-one mentoring models fall short where a senior member of the organization is paired with the ‘mentee’ over several months.
Unlike Boomers and the Gen X generation, who’ve been working in hierarchical environments and pride themselves on high individual performance, Millennials prefer to work in groups. They like to be evaluated on team performance and deliverables.
That preference extends to mentoring. Instead of seeking one person for guidance on her career path, the Millennial employee prefers having several people to turn to, choosing the person based on the scenario they’re facing at the moment. A PWC survey suggests a model that resembles group mentoring, where there is one mentor for a group of mentees – say from three to eight. Other team approaches such as the Wall Street Journal article “A New Approach to Mentoring” focus on mentees learning not only from the mentor, but also from one another.
“Situational mentoring” is another new approach that’s meeting with success. Here we have much to learn from new entrepreneurial accelerators and incubators like Austin’s Capital Factory, or YCombinator and Tech Stars. Millenials make up a large percentage of their participants. As these accelerators surround their entrepreneurs with a host of mentors from the local community, one of the most popular programs offered is called Office Hours. During Office Hours, individuals can sign up to meet in a thirty minute speed dating format with different mentors of their choice to ask any questions about any scenario in which they need advice or perspective. In a corporate setting, a form of situational mentoring might be offered on a monthly or quarterly basis, and could drive short-term, hyper-specific advice, akin to coaching.
Lastly, “reverse mentoring” is another approach that many companies such as IBM are experimenting with today. By encouraging young, tech-savvy employees to mentor older generations on technological advances, it seems to be satisfying the needs of both sides and encourage deeper sharing relationships.
2) Job Satisfaction Must Be Tied To a Sense of Purpose
Today’s Millennials want a company whose mission they can believe in, and with work that is personally fulfilling. One study confirmed that the corporate reputation of a company and it’s social impact efforts are important to more than 90 percent of this generation.
As managers and mentors, we must be clear from the beginning – from the first interview – how their contribution will feed into the overall strategy of the company. Focus on the mission early and repeat it often, so Millennials can feel good about digging in and being a part of it.
Some companies are experimenting with perks and rewards, even tying them to the ability to “win” personal time with senior management for a private breakfast, for example, or intrinsic awards such as donating to a favorite cause. Millennials are drawn to companies that provide opportunities to contribute.
Instead of just ping pong tables, beanbag chairs and free food, they want to understand that coming to work is actually a great place to be in it’s impact on society.
3) Career Is Viewed as a Collection of Experiences
One thing that is striking about Millennials is how differently they think about work and careers from earlier generations. Since they came of age in a time of collapsing financial institutions, layoffs and turmoil, they hold no illusions that any company has their best interests at heart. It’s usually not the partner track they’re after, or the prestige and perks that come with a corner office. One survey found that only 13 percent of survey respondents wanted to climb the corporate ladder to become a CEO or president. By contrast, they dream about starting their own businesses, because they want to do work they’re passionate about, with someone they’re passionate about.
In mentoring Millennials, a greater emphasis should be placed on a clear career path and the highest priority: transferrable skills. In the end, the long-term fit may or may not be at the same company. This co-hart of employees wants to know how they can gain mastery in their fields in a way that might help them throughout their career. For instance, how can this job help me gain industry knowledge that will take me where I desire to go, learn technical skills in my area of expertise, or receive coaching to build leadership skills to take on greater responsibility?
The takeaway? Mentoring, done well, may be the single most important way to increase engagement and cross-pollination with our youngest workers. Millennials play an important role in every business’s future, and will be essential to innovate and remain competitive. The best and brightest of this group will be attracted to the companies that offer a clear path, and the mentors and managers that can help them progress.
Jan Ryan is a tech executive and entrepreneur who has founded and sold multiple companies, both in public and private markets. She is now providing consulting services to young companies where she advises CEO’s and Board members on accelerating growth. Twitter: @janryan
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