by Judith Lindenberger

In their book, The 2020 Workplace, Jeannie C. Meister and Karie Willyerd report that the top three things Millennials want from their bosses is straight feedback, coaching and mentoring, and personal development. There is a danger in not providing these kinds of learning experiences in your organization as one in four Millennials anticipate leaving their present employer or work setting within the next year and one in three Millennials admit they are not putting their full energies into their current job.

A Case Study for Managing Millennials

Jack was hired four months ago to work in research and development for a company that specializes in health care products. Jack graduated from college last June and this is his first professional job. He was assigned to a few projects and has done a good job so far. Because Jack has expressed a desire to take on more responsibility, his boss, Karen, asks him to take on lead for researching a new product. Jack is psyched … this is his opportunity to show what he’s got. After a couple of days, Jack has researched a lot of information from specialized magazines, on the Internet, and by connecting with college friend through Linked In and Twitter. He wants to meet with Karen to ask her some questions and keep the momentum going but she has been traveling and sends him a few quick emails in response that don’t really answer his questions. Frustrated, Jack posts on his Linked In page and his Twitter update “My boss is useless … not answering my questions so it’s keeping me from getting my work done.”

What mistakes did Karen make in managing her new Millennial employee, Jack? First, she should have let Jack know the company policy on using social media to be critical of the company. Next, for a new project like this, where Jack will have a lot of learning, she might have had him work in a team with more experienced researchers. And, because she won’t always be around to give Jack on demand coaching and counsel, she could assign him a mentor.

According to Bob Canalosi, chief learning officer of General Electric Health Care, a top leadership competency needed in the 2020 workplace is to be a “legendary builder of people and teams.” Canalosi explains this as “coaching and mentoring both face-to-face and virtually; challenging people to achieve more than they believed they could.” Marshall Goldsmith, executive educator and coach, also predicts that a top competency for leaders of the future will be “sharing leadership.”

The Millennial Generation, born between 1977 and 1998, are the latest generation to enter the workplace. They are 75 million strong in size and are characterized as being self-confident, focused on learning and moving up quickly, team-oriented, well networked, and technologically savvy.

Millennials have one other thing in common: no matter how smart and confident they are, because they are new to the professional workplace, they need and want mentoring. In addition, the timeline for leadership development is ramping up. Millennials may be thrust into leadership roles faster than any other leaders in the last thirty years, as there are not nearly enough Gen X workers to fill the ranks of the departing Baby Boomers. The good news is that they want to be leaders.

Traditional mentoring, long renowned for its success is developing leaders, is typically a relationship between someone more experienced with someone less experienced. “Mentoring,” says author Gordon Shea, “is a fundamental form of human development where one person invests time, energy and personal know-how in assisting the growth and ability of another person.” There are several different ways that you can incorporate mentoring into your workplace.

Years ago, Jack Welch realized that General Electric was falling behind other companies in its use of the internet as a business tool, so he instituted a “reverse mentoring” program at GE. He required more than 500 of his top executives to find a younger, tech-savvy “Web mentor” to teach them how to use the web and understand e-business. Organizations from Proctor and Gamble to the Seattle Public Schools have implemented reverse mentoring programs to help them understand technology, business trends, and pop culture. And, Wharton School of Business requires older MBA candidates with long resumes to partner with younger, full-time students.

Reverse mentoring can be used to teach today’s senior leaders how to use social media to connect with customers. It’s also an effective way to give your Millennial employees a window into the higher levels of the organization, so that when the older mentors retire, the younger generation has a better understanding of the business.

The beauty of reverse mentoring comes from the fact that Millennials thrive on relationships. Powerful relationships are created when younger employers are engaged in teaching senior employees. Because Millennials love sharing their ideas and want to know that they are being heard, if you invite them to give you constructive feedback, you can gain a different perspective and help them learn leadership skills. Reverse mentoring can benefit both Millennials and the organizations they work for.

In a group mentoring environment the mentor works with a larger group than the one-on-one relationship used in the reverse mentoring approach. There are several different types of group mentoring. For example, in facilitated group mentoring, the group may hire an outside expert to facilitate discussion on a topic they want to learn more about. Peer group mentoring brings together peers with similar development needs. Participants present a problem or issue and the other members of the group respond to the problem or issue. The collective wisdom of the group is harnessed to solve problems and value is created for all group members. In team group mentoring, the team defines mutual learning goals and works with one or more mentors who facilitate their learning.

We See The World Global Peer Mentoring Project is a collaboration between Communities in Schools of New Jersey Mentoring Success Center and YouthWorks CIC in Belfast, Ireland. High school students meet with youth from across the globe and discuss topics like human rights and education. The program encourages students to share experiences and learn through video conferencing, social media video and other technology. Following the recent political events in Egypt, they connected with teens there to learn from one another.

Millennials want opportunities to interact with and learn from their peers. Group mentoring may offer these workers a familiar, comfortable setting in which they can interact with peers, while at the same time receive guidance and support from a more senior person. And, group mentoring can be built around electronic communications platforms like Skype, web casts, etc.

Anonymous/on demand mentoring is generally used to move “high potential” individuals to their next level of achievement. This process is often anonymous – the protégé may not know who the mentor is – and commonly uses outside or third party experts selected by the company. Protégés are matched with trained mentors through psychological testing and background reviews.

There are many benefits of an anonymous mentoring relationship including a higher level of discloser and candid interaction. The anonymity frees up the mentor, who may have learned a lot from his or her mistakes and therefore may be more comfortable sharing his or her war stories anonymously. Another benefit is that it ensures that mentors have an agenda-free interest in the protégé’s professional development. And, the protégé may be more willing to open up and discuss problems and uncertainties they experience when their identity is anonymous.

Time zone, issues of geography and culture differences also tend to be less important in anonymous/on demand mentoring as the communication between mentors and protégés is entirely online. This mentoring option is perfect for Millennials, who are technologically-savvy and want timely information and feedback.

Traditional one-on-one mentoring is still a powerful way to develop Millennials. One-on-one mentoring gives them practice with one-on-one interactions and affords them personal attention, feedback, and the opportunity to share and challenge ideas. Millennials like structure and stability, so one-on-one mentoring should include scheduled meetings, clear and consistent communication, and a more take-charge attitude from mentors. Being authentic is important to Millennials; mentors must lead by example. Mentors can invite their protégés to shadow them, have protégés observe them conduct a meeting or presentation, give protégés recommendations of e-books to read, and check in with protégés from time to time just to see how they are doing.

One-on-one mentoring can utilize new technologies such as conducting meetings via Skype, introducing your protégé to others via Twitter, inviting your protégé to participate in Webinars you conduct, or writing on your blog about your protégé.

One of the quickest ways to sabotage a mentoring relationship, for either partner, is to lose trust. Transparency and confidentiality must be discussed such as setting boundaries about what conversations are private and what can be shared with others.

Mentoring is an affordable, creative and smart tool to tap into the talents of your Millennial workers, engage them in your company, ready them for future leadership roles, and meet the challenges of the 2020 workplace.

Copyright © 2015 by The Lindenberger Group, LLC. All rights reserved.