Transform  your way of thinking: Tap into different generations and reverse mentoring!

Published on 05 Oct 2016 by Joséphine Gambade  on CrossKnowlege

Mentoring

The talent within our organizations can be hard to maintain. People and their skills remain within our organization for a short time. In order to retain top talent longer, it is necessary to retain the context  companies must continue to provide their employees growth opportunities that correspond to their needs. So how can organizations offer the personalized, one-on-one continuous training their talent need? And how can companies maintain the knowledge and skills of departing talent?

The answer is to seek mentors within your organization. Mentors may be retiring employees or younger talent. In our digital world, it is essential to consider every possibility for growth and learning. The older generation’s tried and true ways alone will not help companies face the future of the market.

According to Tammy Hughes, CEO of Claire Raines Association, generational differences are one of the biggest reasons that conflicts erupt at work. It is indeed not an easy feat to create teams where any boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials all work together harmoniously. All these generations are now collaborating within the same workspace but their ways of communicating, researching information, and even working together are completely different. Still, this does not have to be a problem: it can be the key to an unlimited wealth of best practices, including innovative ways to retain younger and older talent.

 The question now is: how do we tap into these generational differences and, more importantly, how do we  adapt to the ever-changing world all the while?

The current workplace is a palette of individuals whose social and cultural backgrounds differ entirely from one person to the next. This is true even for two individuals from the same hometown!. How is that, you ask? Development. Over the years, technological development has fostered a new culture of productivity, communication and digital proficiency. As a result, unique generations of workers have taken shape, each having their own characteristics and way of resolving problems and completing tasks. These generations are:

–        Baby Boomers

Driven and optimistic individuals, most baby boomers share a common work ethic of wanting to live up to expectations and work in teams in order to please leadership. Their communication is personal, driven by the desire to make a difference. They prefer democratic, non-hierarchical leaderships and do not respond well to bluntness and uninterested individuals.

–        Gen Xers

Gen Xers are very direct individuals whose motto could very well be “Just do it”. Their skeptical outlook on work and their blasé or even informal  relationship to authority make them functional and autonomous workers, who are looking for a competent leader who will mentor them. They respond poorly to ineffectiveness and incompetence.

–        Millennials

Positive and collaborative are key words to describe the “Yes We Can” generation. They want to be coached and to make a difference in the workplace, while being constantly connected web-like and future-oriented workers, even if cynicism and sarcasm are turn offs to their productivity.

These different characteristics are of course approximate. Each individual is different. These differences can create situations that are difficult to navigate sticky spots, as Claire Raines defined in her 2000 book on the relationships that exist one between Xers and baby boomers. However, her association supports the following theory: understanding who your interlocutor is and being able to communicate about what you want and what you can bring to a project might increase the overall creativity, efficiency and productivity of work groups by focusing on the client rather than on numbers and results.

Learning from each other: reverse Mentoring

Of course, the various talents of each generation can be an obstacle to effective collaboration between these three groups.. As such, it is important to foster a culture where internal mentoring is encouraged, in other words where a baby boomer can mentor a Gen X-er and so forth. Now, these programs must not be mandatory. However, helping employees understand the benefits of being mentored, whether by a new or more seasoned employee, is vital. Likewise, setting up a mentoring relationship between a senior partner and fresh, new talent is key to facilitating the adaptation of your company to today’s challenges. This is where reverse mentoring comes in play.

You might say that this is easier said than done. After all, why reverse mentoring? How will it benefit newcomers? And, how can this type of program be  implemented? All these questions are valid and here are a few tips in answer:

–        Reverse mentoring not only helps solve tactical and technical problems, but it also fosters stronger relationships between employees and will help increase productivity. Of course, this might seem abstract, but just think about it. By nurturing communication between different levels of management in an informal way, you will see a boost in efficiency, information sharing and of course, your office environment will be more relaxed and positive

–        Reverse mentoring is a two-way street. Having a mentor also means giving back. As such, it will motivate your mentor to do better and as the Claire Raines Association promises, you are likely to see mentoring work in favor of talent retention!

–        Implementing it correctly is of course a top priority. The idea is to promote reverse mentoring within your company, but not to undo what is already in place. Your more senior talent  might already have mentors in their personal lives. There are several ways to avoid tampering with these relationships . One idea comes from entrepreneur and CEO Jack Welsh. In 1999, he decided to choose the most suited, new talent of his company and to set up a co-mentoring program where participants would communicate about their difficulties and foster each other’s development. In addition, you might want to have a collaborative, neutral space in your office to encourage communication across departments. You might even want to partner with universities.

And of course remember to always ask yourself these 4 questions before planning anything:

  • What skills do you need to develop?
  • Where should you look for a mentor?
  • How could you approach a potential mentor?
  • What can you offer them in return?

While generational differences have been seen as an obstacle for the past 10 years,in reality they have the potential to increase productivity and efficiency within your organization, all the while helping you meet 2 of the major challenges of the 21st century: being digitally ready and retaining talent. So why not turn to the future and renew your strategy by taking up reverse mentoring?