Engaging Millennials with Mentoring

May 25, 2019

So, you’re new to the concept of mentoring and perhaps need to know why it’s important and what can be gained from it. Understanding where the need comes from and how it can affect individuals as well as an organisation may just be the place to start. The simple fact is that there is now a global interest and a definite need for more mentoring programs to be properly initiated in order for the next generation of leaders to succeed and for businesses to grow.

Mentoring should not have age limiting restrictions by any means, but with the rise of the young millennials joining any workforce, there is a lot to be learned from even the top dog in the company to the newest employee straight out of college. Mentoring programs are there to help organisations to grow and develop as well as developing the younger generation.

Here are some important facts that have arisen from numerous surveys across a range of Fortune 500 companies and further global companies:

  • Up to 71% of young people joining the workforce today feel they are not fully engaged in their job
  • 51% of new workers do not expect to be with the same organisation for more than 12 months
  • Over 50% said they felt unmotivated and were not satisfied with their progress
  • 78% are concerned about the level of engagement from leaders within the workplace
  • 28% of workers that leave an organisation feel they did not get the feedback or reinforcement they needed to continue
  • 13% surveyed said they would have been more likely to stay with the company if they had peer recognition, not just from their bosses and leaders

So, there’s a high number of negative indicators there to think about and actually a quite worrying amount of people who do not feel that their place in the company is valued. With retention rates slipping away and more and more young workers not finding their reason to excel, it is time to go back to this demand for more mentoring programs and start to take them seriously.

If 900 million workers world wide feel they don’t have the drive they need to get to the top or find it challenging to keep motivated enough to even stay with a company long term, the real question is, how do we address this challenge?
500 executives in the Fortune 500 were surveyed and asked how they got to their position. There were two common answers:

  • Early in their career they were given a tough challenge or project that they were able to solve
  • Early in their career someone took them under their wing

So whether there was an actual program in place at the time or not, what this means is they had a mentor or someone who saw the potential in them and pushed them to divert from their comfort zone and provide the support and recognition to keep them engaged within their role.

If the challenge is to keep employees motivated and retention levels high, adopting a new culture and outlook is what is needed for the business to remain successful and getting the most productivity out of employees can be achieved simply by being open to the approach of mentoring.

The Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring

While they both have purpose, there are huge differences between coaching and mentoring.

Coaching

It is more direct and usually comes from the boss or supervisor immediately above the level of a new worker. It has more to do with their current position to ensure that what they are doing is correct based on the job that is required of them.

Coaching would usually have a quick but measurable turnaround in the grand scheme of things and would end with a performance review as well as periodic reviews or updates. Coaching comes more from a performance-based need rather than an aspiring goal.

Mentoring

It is usually over a longer time-frame and not necessarily a worker’s immediate boss or supervisor, but someone instead with a broader view. Mentoring is about discovering career objectives and is goal oriented.

Mentors typically provide guidance and ask questions that enable their mentee to discover the answers themselves. Goals that are set are usually measurable by success and not a number on a page.

Both mentoring and coaching are extremely valid and while the two roles differ, it is good to look at coaching as the starting ground. For example, larger companies may hire multiple numbers of people at once. They are all new to the business and hungry to learn, however they all learn at different paces and some may find certain elements of the role easier than others, while others may excel at a new job straight away.

What coaching does at this stage is sets the boundaries of expectation and delivers a program that enables all employees to do the job required. Coaching at this point is very useful for observing and identifying talent that later on may just be the right candidate for something more involved.

Another example is when a new training initiative or change in company process is being rolled out to current employees, a trainer or coach may be required to ensure full buy in from staff and that the understanding is there. At this stage, a coach is the perfect person to identify where the lack of motivation lies and who could perhaps use the additional help to push themselves further.

It is so important to keep in mind that although the knowledge is there, the motivation may not be and that is where the recognition should be highlighted so that employees who feel stuck at this point in their career, get the chance to progress further. This is where mentoring can step in and become the change in that person’s work life to further themselves up the ladder.

Effective Mentoring within the Workplace

Build a strong foundation – Think about how buildings or houses are built, they are not just built on top of land, with no structure. They go deep under, with steel structures in place and every joint is solid with no room for error. Then the groundwork is laid, and the house or building can be sturdily built on top with confidence that the structure will still stand for many years.

When it comes down to mentoring, the same practice should be applied, and it should not come down to guess work. Laying that foundation is crucial for the candidate in mind to exceed even their own expectations. If you are going to be a leader or a coach, you need to build on a person’s individual strengths, by identifying their natural talents and using that as the foundation, the only outcome can be a positive one as they will not only be able to see a direct path to where they want to be in 5 or 10 years, but they will enjoy the journey as well.

Going back to school years in the pre-millennial world, a lot of education systems focused so much on the subjects that were higher up in the curriculum such as mathematics and science. Children that did not excel as much as others in these areas may have been identified as problematic and pushed harder to catch up, while their real passion and ability resonated with the arts or physical education or dance.

A lot has changed since then and children as well as young adults are encouraged to find their niche and have the support, technology and teachings to enable to them to get better in the subjects they are already excelling at.

In the workplace, while it is natural to assume that everyone is after that top rung position on the ladder, and wants to be the CEO, actually what makes a company successful is that there are employees in many different departments, such as training, marketing or networking and the newest recruit may just be what the company needs in one of these posts and be more goal driven by this.

What this means is to find the employees strength and draw on it. If an employee has aspirations of being a senior manager but math isn’t their strong point, find out what that is instead. They may have a knack for people and would be able to become a leader within the company, not just a manager.

A solid mentoring program is designed to build on these foundations, select the right candidate for the right career path and as an organisation watch the next generation of leaders embark on their journey.

Become a system architect – One of the larger problems organisations face in the current workplace, is that they leave the system up to chance. They have built the foundations, they have the candidates in place and their mentors ready to go. But the program becomes too systematic and more of the same. Mentees are not correctly matched with mentors, timescales become irrelevant and mentees slowly but surely become disengaged. They may even lose trust in the process and think it’s a waste of time.

This is not a good investment as it brings everything back to the initial statistics regarding employee retention and reasons for leaving a workplace. Mentees can easily recognise that they are not valued and even become put off by the idea of having a mentor by thinking they are bothering their mentor too much or they are using up too much of their time. Calls and meetings start to become a run of the mill exercise and the mentee finds that they are not followed up or given feedback.

A good architect for a mentoring program learns from feedback and doesn’t leave it up to chance. They will understand that the program needs to grow and adapt, and they may need to create something more bespoke for individuals such as an Onboarding programme. A lot of this is recognised by the Human Resources team within an organisation, where they have to deal with all aspects relating to people and employee relations, they should be able to access a strong mentoring program to see at the click of a button how the program is doing by keeping in touch with mentors and mentees and tracking progress.

This provides the reinforcement to the mentee that the program is being backed and that someone is acknowledging both parties in keeping up with the mentoring.

Mentor tracking systems are very useful and available to keep things on track, but as someone involved in any aspect of the program, feedback enables you to become your own system architect to ensure the system grows and changes as the need for it does.

If you were the person responsible for putting together the practice of mentoring within the workplace, there are key things to consider and even keep in mind as the program grows.

  1. First is the initial assessment. Why would mentoring work particularly in this organisation? Is there a certain culture that needs to change? Or are they already onto a winning formula but retaining that success is where they fall down? The assessment stage is important to find out just who the people are, who the employees are that need the push to develop their talents and what the differences are between the more experienced generation and the younger millennial generation. Then work on bridging that gap in a mentoring program.
  2. Second is the program development – Find a program that works for you and the company, keeping in mind how learning actually takes place.Up to 70% of learning is drawn from experience, practice and prior knowledge. This is why the importance of mentoring comes from drawing upon a person’s strengths.
    20% of learning is usually social. This comes in the form of networking and learning from other people. Again, mentoring is the first thing that comes to mind.
    10% of employee learning and retaining the knowledge is through formal training. This is such a small percentage when you think about it, and when you compare it to countless meetings or training courses that are similar to a classroom environment if you have ever attended them yourselves, you may start to realise that actually the most important part of those meetings were the social aspects and the practical exercises. So when developing a mentoring system that could work on even the smallest scale, keep that balance in mind and see if it is possible to change the learning paths.
  3. Third is to find reinforcement. You need people that will support the program and preferably higher up in the organisation. It goes without saying that the HR team needs to be on side, but if you have a higher leader providing support and resources where needed, and with a keen interest in how it is going, as well as your own progress, they will see their return on investment and will find it easier to measure from a distance.
  4. Fourth and probably one of the most forgotten parts, yet most important is to plan what happens after the mentoring program has finished. Retention of knowledge slips dramatically once mentees have returned to their normal daily routine and the cycle returns back to the beginning where the feeling of being undervalued and unmotivated returns. Don’t fall into this trap. Having just invested time in building someone up to a potentially successful career path, keep in touch and send reminders of challenges as well as notices of upcoming vacancies or projects you think would suit them.

By following these four points, all bases are covered to create a successful program within an organisation, and it all comes back to having those building blocks and solid structure in place and becoming a great architect of the system, so you can see that you can’t have one without the other.

Learning to Learn

In most organisations it is typical for mentors to be a more senior level and this makes sense as they are there to share their experiences of working up to their position, discuss the challenges they met along the way and pass on ideas of how their mentee could have the potential to do the same. What is also quite typical is that mentees tend to be older in that they have more experience at a senior level.

With the millennial generation is now looking up to their senior mentors to advice and to improve their skill set, there is a shift happening that involves the mentor also being able to learn from their mentee. This is being called reverse mentoring. It is not saying that the roles are reversed, but the younger generation has a lot to offer that may be able to help mentors and senior partners move forward with things like technology or networking.

It sounds very cliché, but it definitely shouldn’t be looked at negatively, as the point of mentoring is to help someone achieve their goals, there is no reason why it can’t benefit both parties and both the mentor and mentee can learn something from each other. As times are changing and businesses are evolving, the importance of evolving with it should be easily recognisable in a mentor, being stuck in the past and older ways of doing business would just not be of benefit to someone young and vibrant with ideas of what the future holds.

Facing Roadblocks

Nothing ever runs smoothly all the time. Even a well-oiled machine needs to be serviced from time to time to make sure it continues to work. Starting a mentoring program may look like it has taken off the ground with success but when faced with a difficult challenge along the way, the machine may just grind to a halt.

Challenges:

  • It is becoming more and more difficult to manage the process
  • It is challenging to identify mentors and matches who are compatible with the right skill set
  • Using a manual system may be harder to measure the importance results and success
  • Busy work schedules can become inconvenient for both parties and individual matches start to slip

Addressing those concerns all comes down to good planning:

  • Start slow. Use a pilot program initially, once you have the support from leaders or managers and HR. Having people on side who are higher up in the company will lead to more success and by rolling out a new initiative before it has been tried and tested will only lead to loss of money, valuable time and not to mention loss of confidence in you and your organisation.
  • Look for the right qualities in mentors. Speak to people who have already helped train, coach or develop other people and who have a passion for it. Mentoring involves a lot of patience, so having the right person for the job is of utmost importance.
  • Use Feedback or surveys or even word of mouth to ask around the organisation to help narrow down your search. You can also find out the needs of the business, who is ready for development and what the general consensus is about current training or mentoring programs.
  • Train your trainers. This shouldn’t be left up to chance. It is a straightforward process to learn something new, but expecting someone to translate this training to somebody else is just leaving the process up to chance, and any serious investor in this program will want to know that it is being carried out professionally and by people that can train others to better themselves.
  • Encourage productive mentoring relationships, once you have the subject matter down as well as career goals, it is time to build the foundation of meetings, calls, and reviews with HR departments. Arrange for company leaders to check in and keep momentum flowing.
  • Leverage technology. We have the technology available at our fingertips now so use this to your advantage. Use a mentoring program that uses algorithms or profiles to match suitable mentors with mentees. Remember that face to face meetings may not be convenient so set up web calls or conferencing functions and create a schedule that is visible to both parties as well as HR. The transparency and availability of information instill confidence in your program.

Summary

By building a strong foundation, creating a system that works and having the support of the influential leaders higher up in the organisation, and by finding the right champions as well as utilising technology for its convenience, you can help the younger generation of millennials understand the business, find their place within it and work their way to a spot that in turn will help them become a mentor to their younger generation. With effective mentoring, you can be a part of this exciting cycle and look forward to finding out who the next big leaders will be!

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