Mentoring and Generational Diversity

Posted by Kim Wise on Wed, Nov 09, 2011 @ 01:12 PM

Generational Diversity is a fact of life.  Most employers find their teams managing four very different demographic groups in the workplace. This one of the most important Human Capital issues of the early 21st Century, and an area Human Resources professionals will be focused on for years.  This is the fifth of six blogs on the topic, which included their different life experiences, their communication and learning preferences and how these impact talent development.

Click meWe cannot do the differences justice in a single blog. We have written six (this is the fifth) and have summarized these in a white paper. We suggest you subscribe to our blog (in the right) to get future updates and that you download our Whitepaper on generational diversity in the workforce.

Talent ManagmentThe four generations, of course, are Baby BoomersMillennials (Gen Y), the Traditionalists (Silent Generation) and Generation X. Each of these demographic groups has different touch points and is at different stages of their work and life cycle.

As a result of their stage in the life cycle, Traditionalists have the strongest urge to give back and to teach.  The workplace focus on technology may make them feel less valuable or slightly out of touch yet, because of their experience, their ability to negotiate, influence, listen and convey information may be among the best in the organization.  They make ideal mentors for anyone in the younger demographic groups.

The Millennials want significant feedback, so the ideal candidate for their first mentor (during the on-boarding process) is another Millennial.  This mentor should be coached on the importance of assimilating the new hire into the corporate culture and the norms for corporate communication.

In the earlier stages of a career, the technical skills are the source of about 80% of success, with the  “people” skills accounting for only about 20% of success.  But in the middle stages of a career, this reverses, and the “people skills” become the critical differentiator.  These skills include influencing, listening, communicating, negotiating, managing expectations and accomplishing things with people who are not your direct reports. These skills are those which Traditionalists and Baby Boomer mentors can extend through suggestions and support to Gen X-ers and Millennials.

Given all the factors that make up the generational diversity issues in the workforce, and described elsewhere in this series, let’s consider the six types of mentoring and the four demographic groups:

  • New Hires –  This is sometimes referred to as on-boarding. A new employee is assigned a Mentor who is a peer. The Mentor is there to explain the unwritten rules of the workplace and to shorten the learning curve of the new employee. Ideally, this is Millennial to Millennial, Gen X-er to Gen X-er or Boomer to Boomer.   (All new hires need some coaching in getting things done within the organization.)
  • Skill Transfer – This is frequently used by corporations with a commitment to cross training or trying to build “hives” of technical expertise. Since skill development is a central focus of Millennials and Gen X-ers, these demographic groups should be matched with each other or Baby Boomers.
  • Employee Resource Groups (ERG) – Employee Affinity Groups often have desire for a formal mentoring program to enhance their employee’s career advancement. Often these diversity groups want their members to be able to connect and share information about how to succeed in the organization and handling stressful situations.

Mentoring programs within ERGs/BRGs are an ideal way to get Millennials and Generation  X-ers to focus on those softer people skills. The strongest sharing is between employees one or two levels apart, regardless of their demographic group. 

However, as employees move up the ladder, there is an increased need to have a mentor from outside their protected class,  to broaden their perspective.  So ERG or BRG mentoring programs need to be balanced with the career development or talent management sponsored mentoring programs. Generational diversity is only one of the factors to be considered within all of your firm's mentoring programs.

  • Career Development – These mentoring programs are generally set up by Human Resources under the name Talent Management. Their goal is to make sure High Potential employees and “Emerging” High Potential employees acquire the right set of experiences and visibility to move up the organization. In today’s workplace, these generally pair Baby Boomers with Millennials and Gen X-ers.
  • Reverse Mentoring – Is one of the newer areas of mentoring. One of the side effects of a well matched Mentor-Mentee pair, is a broadening of perspective on both sides. This has become an important part of the development of Senior Managers.  Generally, these are Millennials paired with Baby Boomers or Traditionalists in Senior Management.
  • Communities of Practice – Similar to Skill Transfer Mentoring, but longer-term programs for participants in Tech Clubs and other  matrix management type organizational structures. These mentoring programs are geared towards encouraging the development of advanced professional skills, as well as the “people skills.”  Traditionalist and Baby Boomers should be paired with Gen X-ers and Millennials in these programs.

If you missed our webinar on Mentoring and the Four Generations in the Workplace, we enourage you to get our whitepaper, to sign up for future blog updates, and to send us an email if you have questions on best practices.

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Topics: talent management, Age Diversity in the Workplace, Knowledge Management, Communities of Practice