Chances are, if you working in one of today’s organizations, you find yourself surrounded by millennials. According to the Pew Research Center, as of April 2016 there were an estimated 75.4 million millennials ranging in age from 18-35, who now comprise the largest share of the U.S. workforce. These young people are filling everything from entry-level to middle-management positions, and more than likely one or more of them is looking to you to be their mentor. Indeed, this generation has been taught that to be successful they need to look for mentors; however, they may not have the tools to effectively engage in mentoring relationships. This presents several challenges for you as the mentor as well as opportunities to impact both your mentee and the organization as a whole.
Challenge: Millennials are used to and expect “just in time” learning moments. They want what they want when they want it or need it, and don’t see the relevance of learning for learning’s sake. Due to technology and the breadth of resources available on the internet, they know that they have a world of instruction and tools available at their fingertips when these needs arise, and they are perfectly capable of meeting those needs on their own.
Opportunity: As a mentor, your value lies less in the day-to-day learning moments and more in the long-range planning and advice-giving. You can help your mentee to see the bigger picture and provide some connective tissue between daily tasks and the greater strategic goals of the organization and the mentee’s own career plan. Help him or her to set some longer-range goals and develop a plan of action to accomplish these that incorporates some of these tasks.
Challenge: Millennials want immediate feedback; however, they don’t necessarily know how to ask for it or how to receive it appropriately. For many of these young people, they have spent their entire lives being told “you’re the best,” and, “you can do anything,” and getting trophies just for showing up. Most of them don’t believe this hype – they know they have areas where they need to improve – but they lack the self-awareness tools to know what these areas are and how to work on them.
Opportunity: As a mentor, you do a great service to your mentee when you deliver the “hard news” that others won’t. Help your mentee to understand what his or her own “growth opportunities” are and how they may be holding him or her back, professionally. And encourage him or her to seek out objective feedback from others to practice having those difficult conversations and to begin to learn about personal strengths and weaknesses.
Challenge: Even if a millennial mentee welcomes or seeks out your guidance as a mentor, he or she may not know how to successfully engage in that sort of relationship. This is a generation that has been largely over-resourced with teachers, tutors, coaches, and other support systems to make sure that they have productive lives. The result is that they lack some of the tools required to engage in a professional, respectful relationship, and may seem to lack commitment or consideration when it comes to your time and investment.
Opportunity: As a mentor, one of your roles is to help your mentee to understand what it means to be a professional, which includes showing up on time, being present, and doing the work that is expected. You role model expected behavior in the way that you engage with your mentee. You should also set expectations at the beginning of the relationship, and hold your mentee accountable when he or she does not meet those expectations. In doing so, you not only teach your mentee valuable lessons for this specific relationship, you also are teaching him or her important lessons for what it means to be a professional in general, lessons that will not only benefit your mentee but the organization at large, as well.