Mentoring: A Cost-Effective Way to Develop Millennial Leaders


By Joanne Wells

It finally happened. According to Pew Research, millennials have overtaken Baby Boomers and Gen Xers in the workforce. With this in mind, it’s time for organizations to start thinking about millennials as the next wave of future leaders and prepare opportunities to develop their leadership skills in ways that meets their particular needs.

Mentorship is a development tool that particularly taps into millennials’ reputational desire for receiving frequent feedback and maximizing relationships. And it doesn’t hurt that mentorship is a cost effective development activity, requiring very little in the way of external resources.

The benefits of mentoring for millennials
According to PwC’s report Millennials at work: Reshaping the workplace, millennials put a lot of stock into organizations that offer continuous learning opportunities. The report notes that 35 percent of respondents said they were attracted to employers who offer excellent training and development programmes. Can you guess what development opportunity ranked highest, even more so than e-learning?

You got it: Working with strong coaches and mentors. This indicates that successful mentorship can enhance engagement, improve retention and have a positive impact on leadership development for millennials.

While one should always be cautious about making generalizations about any group of people, there are some traits we see in the millennial generation that make mentoring particularly useful for them.

  • Development: Millennials entered a marketplace where there is no longer an expectation of staying with a single organization for an entire career, so they understand they must take control of their own career development. Many organizations implement mentoring as part of a leadership development program, particularly for high potential employees, and millennials value opportunities for development.
  • Networking: Seasoned mentors not only add an element of social connection, but can open networking opportunities to their millennial mentees. Having a broad internal social network may help millennials feel more connected to their organization and improve retention, perhaps by facilitating moves within the company.
  • Meaning: Assigning a peer or senior mentor on a short-term basis as part of the onboarding or as a longer-term, more formal development activity, can help millennials quickly build necessary skills and adapt to the organizational culture. Mentors have the opportunity to share organizational strategy and priorities, helping mentees see how their work contributes to the bigger picture. This can particularly appeal to millennials who are more interested in finding meaning in work.

Best practices for mentoring programs
There are a number of ways mentoring programs can be adapted to engage millennial employees. Here are several considerations that include both traditional and innovative practices.

  • Formal or informal: Both formal and informal mentorship programs for leadership development have advantages and drawbacks. Formal programs tend to be finite in length, while the relationships in an informal mentorship may extend longer and have greater initial appeal to the more casual millennial generation. However, participation in a structured program that requires record-keeping and accountability tends to enhance the commitment level from both sides. A hybrid approach allows mentees to find or have input into the selection of their own mentors, then provides program oversight.
  • Trust: An essential element of successful mentorships for any generation is the creation of a confidential and safe environment where the mentee can discuss anything knowing it will not go beyond the mentor’s ears. This is particularly important to millennials, who tend to value authenticity and transparency. To facilitate this kind of environment, it is best to carefully match mentors with mentees outside their reporting line.
  • Ownership: Both participants should accept responsibility for the success of the mentoring relationship, but when mentees take the lead in establishing the goals and agenda, they will tend to get more out of the program. This will also help millennials, who want to see meaning in their work, see what’s in it for them. Establish program goals early in the process that are linked to organizational priorities as well as the career goals of the mentee. Unlike training programs, mentorship for leadership development is an opportunity to focus on imparting critical organizational knowledge and skills specific to the company that will strengthen the organizational culture and set the mentee up for success in their career as a whole.
  • Leverage technology: One of the benefits of mentoring today is that it’s not limited to geography thanks to the technology we have at our disposal. After all, technology helps connect with individuals from around the globe. The Harvard Business Review reports on a number of organizations using variations of traditional mentoring that rely heavily on social technology tools that particularly appeal to millennials, such as:

    Reverse mentoring: In this win-win initiative, younger, technology-savvy millennial employees are paired with older employees to enhance their technical skills. While this is the ostensible purpose of the program, the mentoring naturally becomes mutual, with both parties benefitting.

    Group mentoring: Single or multiple mentors host largely online, groups of mentees, self-identified by topics of interest and relevance. This program maximizes the impact of a limited number of senior mentors by utilizing online community and social media tools popular with millennials.

Mentoring millennials today for success tomorrow
There’s no doubt mentoring programs are useful, cost-effective elements of a robust leadership development program. As the next wave of leaders hone their skills, organizations will greatly benefit from having mentoring programs with millennials in mind and based the principles of the program on building relationships, feedback, skill-building and technology, they can also appeal to most millennials and help organizations span generational gaps.

Joanne Wells is Manager, Learning Centre of Excellence at Halogen Software. Joanne has over 20 years of experience in managing, coaching and mentoring skilled professionals. In her current role, she is responsible for employee skills development and career progression.

Interested in mentoring? Applications accepted now until August 31, 2015 for HRMA’s Professional Mentoring Program.

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