Catalysing the new generation by co-mentoring

But that doesn’t mean the new mentoring resembles anything like the old. Remember the way it used to be?

A seasoned mentor, high up in the corporate hierarchy, would take a young, entry-level upstart under his charge. The senior executive would hold forth, imparting priceless bits of corporate wisdom.

Meanwhile, the junior employee listened wide-eyed and rapt. It was mostly a one-sided relationship, designed to transmit institutional knowledge to the next generation of corporate leaders.

But times have changed. The new world of global business demands an entirely new model of mentoring.

The Millennials, the new generation pouring into corporations everywhere, don’t work the same way their elders do. Nor do they ever expect to. That's because this generation was weaned on social networking.

They therefore have less interest in authority or rigid organisational hierarchies. But at the same time, they possess some of the very skills that leaders need to survive and thrive in the new world of global business.

Most effective

As a new generation of global citizens, they have as much to teach you as you have to teach them. That's why today, the most effective form of mentoring is co-mentoring.

IBM has a pervasive culture of mentoring: every employee has a mentor-called a "connection coach"--from the time they accept the job. We also have informal mentors who coach them around career issues.

Often these informal relationships are ones of co-mentoring.   IBM also makes co-mentoring a part of employee performance reviews. Boiled down, this simply means that IBM is a culture where colleagues influence through expertise.

How does it work?

Start by meeting with your new mentee.  You may have to ignore the casual dress and intermittent checking of the smart phone.

Begin by explaining up front that you both have a lot to teach each other.  That will earn you respect with this generation. It also immediately notifies your mentee that you will do more than lecture on corporate rules.

Next, outline some guidelines for your new relationship. Start by looking for common ground, things you share with your mentee.   Then have your mentee do the same. Do you have a similar academic background? Do you work for kindred lines of business?  Have you shared challenges in getting work done?

Then build trust by revealing something personal about yourself. Chances are, your mentee will share in kind.

Ask lots of open-ended questions. Give yourself, and your mentee, plenty of opportunity to speak candidly without risk. Even when reviewing mistakes each of you have made, remember to conduct those examinations without blame.

The key is to increase the mentee's comfort level: to communicate that you really do want the learning relationship to be reciprocal.

Millennials may understand a lot about communication, but that doesn't mean they know everything. Deconstruct the politics of your organisation for them. Fill them in on institutional history.

Explain the hidden subtexts that exist in every company. Explain how they can get ahead and what they need to achieve before you can help them do so.

Online conversation

All along the way, you should make sure you are learning from your Millennial. If you are a social networking Luddite, don't worry. Don't be afraid to make your mentee your digital guide.

Millennials can translate the worlds of Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites faster than you could ever imagine. By establishing an online conversation with them, they will help you to become a savvy practioner.

As the relationship grows, remember that the relationship will be more beneficial if you both remember to:

* Communicate high expectations for one another. One helpful way to do this is to ascertain a few key strategic objectives. Then agree to hold each other accountable for achieving them.

* Establish empathy from the beginning. Telling your mentee a personal story, especially one involving a challenge overcome, helps to immediately display that you are a caring individual.

* Practice good, active listening with one another. Make sure that you are periodically reflecting back what you heard from each other, as in "I heard you say X, Y and Z." This models active listening.

* Offer encouragement without assuming responsibility for results. If your mentoring partner took one of your suggestions and then translated it into a huge win, refrain from then taking credit. Rather, praise the outcome. Celebrate their success.

* Give feedback. Staying in constant touch will help you provide constant, real-time advice. Remember, you don't always need to schedule calls or meals to convey feedback. Sometimes a quick email does the job.

It's a new world for mentoring. But by embracing the best practices of co-mentoring, this new world can be, for both of you, a true win-win situation.

(The writer is the General Manager for Global Delivery at IBM)

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