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Mentoring Is a Strategic Business Imperative

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Mentoring is a Strategic Business Imperative

Today, in our love affair with what’s new, what’s cutting edge, and what’s technologically cool, it’s easy to forget that knowledge also comes with experience. It may require a few hours of e-training or a semester-long course to learn how an energy pump operates, but it takes years and years of experience to recognize the sounds of a pump that is not operating properly. The only way to shorten that learning cycle is to have someone with more experience help to accelerate learning.

Businesses idolize youth and technological suaveness. Firms recruit new (and less expensive) talent in the belief that that’s the way to build a competitive edge. But companies also recruit and retain mature employees because of respect for their knowledge. The best companies today will help their organizations transform the way they think about all of their employees. Each person brings different knowledge to the organization. Each generation brings something different and valuable to your organizational operations.

Working with business people across generations for many years, refer to their sharing of knowledge and information as love, passion, or, more traditionally, as mentoring, it repeatedly tried to foster the powerful synergistic release of cross-generational sharing, learning, and performance.

Mentoring Helps Younger Workers Develop Their Talents

   

Younger employees routinely complain of their disenchantment with their companies as they describe the onerous demands (and opportunities) placed on them by managers who may have confidence in their abilities, but lack the time or skills to help them succeed. Faced with frustration and afraid that they will fail, many of these younger employees inform that they are planning to move on and look for a more supportive business environment. In fact, the average 30 - 44 year old has had up to ten different positions.

Most businesses could use their more experienced baby boomers, which have deep knowledge, impressive networks, and broad-based business experience, to buffer younger employees against frustration, focus on their career paths, and find places to acquire the skills-based knowledge necessary to succeed. To be effective, mentoring needs to be done strategically and creatively.

Here are some benefits and guidelines about mentoring.

Provide new perspectives. Encourage older workers to stop defining themselves in terms of their job titles and start reflecting on skills they have built, and knowledge that they have amassed. Today, jobs are about more than just upward mobility. Mentors can share their vision and career histories so that younger employees understand what they can learn through lateral career moves and on the job experience.

Share information. Mentoring can help boomers quickly learn about other levels within the organization. Says one mentor at a Fortune 1000 company, “As a leader, it has helped me to see the obstacles we inadvertently put in people’s development.” Mentoring can also help mature employees learn from and understand other generations. For instance, younger employees can help baby boomers with technical skills or provide marketing insights about a new generation of buyers.

Build skills. Mature workers benefit from being mentors by having the chance to learn more about and practice listening and coaching – skills which require maturity, confidence and experience to fully employ.
Reduce generational conflict. Most frequently reported generational conflicts are differing expectations regarding work hours, certain behaviors at work (e.g., use of cell phones), and acceptable dress. Another common issue is feeling that co-workers from other generations do not respect one another. Organizations can reduce generational friction with effective communication, team building, mentoring and recognizing the efforts of all workers.

Enable knowledge transfer. Baby boomers retire; they take with them volumes of experience and information. Good working relationships between older and younger generations are critical in ensuring that this institutional knowledge is not lost as mature workers retire. The greater the mix of generations in an organization’s workforce, the more important knowledge transfer becomes and the more powerful intergenerational synergy can be.

Younger managers may come to their new positions with little or no business-related experience and have trouble building their own credibility and integrating and respecting the knowledge and talent of mature subordinates. Mentors can help these new managers develop business-related understanding and strategize about using the talents of more experienced employees. Here are some tips…

Reward, don’t punish, mature employees for mentoring. To entice baby boomers to become mentors, organizations should reward and recognize them for their contributions. Talk up mentoring in meetings, in speeches, in newsletters, in performance appraisal discussions and include mentoring in corporate awards programs. And, most important, don’t replace mature mentors with their mentees before they retire or mentors will quickly conclude that being a mentor is a very bad idea.
Ask mature employees about someone who enabled them to succeed. In one study of people who had experienced effective mentoring, half of them said the mentoring experience “changed my life.” Those are powerful words. It is equally powerful to know that you were the person who changed someone else’s life.

Share mentoring results. Study after study in which mentors and mentees are asked how satisfied they are with the relationship report that the mentors are more satisfied. It just feels good to help someone else. Says one mentor; “It has been rewarding to be able to help people at critical stages of their career by helping them analyze where they are in their careers. Mentoring gets people in the right groove for long term career success.”

Continue mentoring past retirement. The trait most attributed to baby boomers is the willingness to give maximum effort. Baby boomers are also rated as highly results-driven, very likely to retain what they learn; and low on their need for supervision. Many baby boomers plan to work at least part-time past the traditional retirement age. These characteristics show baby boomers to be eager workers who may be well suited to be brought back as consultants and mentors after their retirement.

The business knowledge of 20-year-olds and that of 50-year-olds is profoundly different. The technology facility and ability to multi-task among 20-somethings is unparalleled and impressive. But the knowledge, experience, creativity, and business acumen of 50-somethings is also unparalleled and equally impressive in a very different way. Cross-generational mentoring provides one of the most significant ways for integrating these diverse abilities. “Think of what's stored in an 80- or a 90-year-old mind. Just marvel at it. You've got to get out this information, this knowledge, because you've got something to pass on. There'll be nobody like you ever again. Make the most of every molecule you've got as long as you've got a second to go."

Contributing Writer:  Sajiri Chidgupkar Employee Relations Manager, 3D PLM Software Solutions Ltd

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