Millennials’ attitudes about work-life balance, career aspirations, and technology are reshaping workplace culture. While significant attention has focused on how to manage millennials, some organizations have overlooked a critical component of the multi-generational workplace: mentorship programs. With the oldest millennials entering management ranks and the youngest carving out early career paths, this generation is at a prime age for mentorship.

A company-wide mentorship program can help your organization capitalize on its greatest resource: your people. Mentorship programs that strategically develop talent drive innovation and improve performance. These programs also signal to younger employees that your company takes their career growth seriously, in turn strengthening their engagement and loyalty.

Structure for Success: Setting Up Millennial Mentorship Programs

Successful millennial mentorship programs are about more than just imparting best practices. Millennials crave purpose, direction and consistent feedback. They’ve been raised to ask why, how and what’s next. They need to know how their work contributes to the company’s future and a bigger purpose. They’re adept at working fluidly through the day rather than a standard 9 to 5. By re-structuring your company mentorship program, you can better support millennial talent development and strengthen your entire organization. Here’s how to get started:

Identify needs and motivators.

Consider the millennial mindset and how this mindset impacts millennials’ relationship with work and their needs as mentees. For example, many millennials consider work to be a key part of their life, not an activity that needs to be “balanced.” They may derive a deep sense of fulfillment and purpose from their work and seek opportunities to learn new skills, tackle challenging problems, and connect to a larger purpose. Mentors can help their millennial mentees better understand how their work connects to the company and the broader industry, sharing industry or functional knowledge. Mentors can also support technical skill development and help their mentees tackle personal productivity or self-management challenges, like strategies for time blocking, which are essential to master for professional growth.

Set expectations up front.

While informal mentor-mentee relationships may already exist at your company, a structured program is important to truly maximize the benefits of mentorship. A structured program is carefully designed to mentors and mentees, establishing ground rules that hold both accountable for program success. This includes establishing meeting frequency. Millennials grew up in a loop of constant feedback, and as mentees, they crave similar, consistent connection.

A structured approach also ensures that the values and benefits of mentoring are well understood. This is key to gaining employee buy-in and answering the “why am I doing this?” question your millennial employees are apt to ask. At the same time, reminder millennials that every mentoring relationship will be unique and that the mentor and mentee may help each other in ways not defined by your program.

Play matchmaker.

As you setup your program, consider which pairings will be mutually beneficial for mentor and mentee. For example, many millennials respond best to someone who is closer to them in age, like a Gen Xer, rather than an older Baby Boomer. A Gen X mentor may also be able to reflect back on their own career challenges at that stage. Gen Xers also remember the generalizations made about them as young workers and can share their strategies for overcoming these stereotypes.

Hold a kick-off event.

Don’t leave it to the mentor or mentee to make the first move. Instead, set aside time during the workday for all mentor-mentees to have their first meetings. For example, you might hold a company-wide mentor-mentee catered lunch hour or a mid-morning coffee chat. Start with an orientation kick-off so all mentors and mentees have the opportunity to interact with one another on a level playing field then allow space for the relationship to develop.

Consider reverse mentorship.

Reverse mentoring, popularized by former GE CEO Jack Welch, is an approach to mentoring that acknowledges everyone within an organization – regardless of age – can be a mentor. Reverse mentoring helps millennials gain confidence and strengthen their leadership skills while senior mentees learn how to be comfortable listening to and being lead by younger millennials. Reverse mentoring is also an opportunity for young professionals to help older executives stay up-to-date on the latest digital technologies and trends, like social media.

In the world of mentoring, there is no single oracle of truth! Career guidance and industry insight can come from anyone at any time. Who have been the most important mentors in your career? I invite you to share your mentorship experience in the comments below.


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