Group working and discussion

The millennial generation are entering the workforce in droves. According to Forbes, Millennials will make up 46% of the workforce by 2020. Even now the millennial generation accounts for over 33% of the workforce. Companies can no longer afford to think of this group as interns and individual contributors. And soon, companies will be dealing with Generation Z. This new generation, born after 1995, raised in an Internet-ready world, could accentuate many of the characteristics of the millennials.

This means huge potential for innovation and advances technologically, as these employees will be geared to work in a constantly connected workplace, where teams are not driven by location or expertise but rather through the nimble ability to work across boundaries. However, there are challenging aspects that companies will have to deal with as the workforce becomes younger, leaner and more imperative to the success of the organization.

Common criticisms for millennial workers—being self-involved, quick to change and lose focus, overconfident, digitally connected but lacking in the experience of actual collaboration—will potentially be even more apparent in this new generation. Companies that understand leadership in a different lens and a new way, will also understand the promise that this generation holds.

But try telling that to a Baby Boomer manager who has been with the company for 20 years, holds an advanced degree, has traveled and seen the way business works and can’t see eye-to-eye with someone less than half his age. Then ask a millennial or a 20-year old worker to figure out how to best learn from what they may see as the stodgy “old guard.”

It’s a fact that no matter how difficult it will be facilitate this kind of collaboration, knowledge transfer will need to happen in order to facilitate productivity and keep companies strong.

What this means for organizations now is to embrace the potential of tomorrow’s leaders and the knowledge of today’s leaders—trainers, leaders and the organizations are at an imperative to facilitate an environment where mutual learning can take place. But what questions should we be asking ourselves in order to gear up?

I was just at an incredible forum with innovative leaders and thinkers from across industry. We sat around a table and discussed many of the trends that will shape the workplace (and life as a whole) of the next 10, 15 or even 50 years. It seems crazy to think of a 16 year old as a leader, but more and more companies are going beyond “prepare” mode and into “action” mode. One leader at the meeting, who heads HR for a multibillion dollar clothing company, said that their company had an internship program for Generation Z and Millennials. He mentioned a story of a 19-year old Chinese intern who was able, outside of what his internship specified, to devise a new way (using completely new code) to complete a manual, complicated process that took several hours each week.

How much money will this save the company? How much time? Without an openness to learn from this generation, they’d still be doing things the old way. And, that intern was able to teach their workers how to use the system and even improve upon it.

This is mentoring at its finest, and that strategy will be what will facilitate knowledge transfer, accentuate different approaches, diversify skill sets and position companies for the future.

Mentoring used to be done from the top-down, but with the vastly different mindsets, behavioral tendencies, skills and experience, mentoring can be done in a holistic manner. Organizational development specialists, HR and Learning and Development talk a lot about “reverse-mentoring,” where the younger generation can actually mentor older generations.

However, we are getting to a place where organizations can have the capacity to create a 360 degree mentoring process. When communication lines are opened and mutual respect and trust is created, employees from throughout the organization should be able to provide a mentorship opportunity to others.

The ability to impact the organization and create a difference is a clear priority for the millennial generation and Generation Z, so tap into this desire by putting the structures in place to facilitate active knowledge and perspective sharing.

Want to see more on mentoring and how different generations work?

  • Download our case study with MillerCoors, where mentoring programs were developed based on unique thinking and behavioral elements.
  • Check out this blog on the power understanding personal motivators when mentoring and developing people.
  • Read this article written for Inc. Magazine by our Founder Dr. Geil Browning on how to best manage millennials.
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