Innovative Mentoring Strategies to Engage Gen Y

Throughout my university career, I have thoroughly enjoyed the privilege of serving as a human resources consultant for my undergraduate society and various student-runned clubs. In retrospect, not only have these invaluable experiences enabled me to widen my perspective, cultivate a client-focused mindset, but also it allowed me to further hone the core competencies indispensable for an effective HR professional.

I’d like to share my thoughts on a fascinating article I read in the May issue of Harvard Business Review on strategies for engaging top performers and Millennials.Check out: Mentoring Strategies (HBR Article)

Speaking of Millennials, I, too, happen to be one. The interesting part is that since I’ll be working as a HR professional, I have to think primarily in terms of the interests of the organization. At the same time, I happen to a Gen Y, so I find this ability of putting on multiple hats and switching them anytime and anywhere a key competency of a HR professional. Namely, HR desperately needs to understand the various perspective of the diverse needs of stakeholders in an organization to lend credence in whichever productivity-related initiative they propose. Unfortunately, this lack of credibility has partially contributed to the tainted image of HR in most industries. HR is currently experiencing ‘growing pains’  where HR is now becoming a strategic imperative where meaningful impact is displayed through people solutions. 

Going back to my main point, the article suggests the following innovative strategies to engage the top talent in the Gen Y offered by some of the best-in-class companies. These strategies are particularly effective to Gen Y, but not restricted of course to this cohort.

1. Reverse Mentoring

“Reverse mentoring is where the responsibility of the mentor and mentee is essentially reversed. A Millennial is matched to an executive and assigned to teach him or her how to, say, use social media to connect with customers. The key benefit of reverse mentoring is that it allows junior employees a window into the higher levels of the organization so that when the mentees retire, the younger generation has a better understanding of the business. This arrangement is effective for building relationships. The mentors are getting access to more senior people, and they get to go behind the scenes, so to speak, to see how leaders thinking and offer insights. Also, the added benefit to the younger worker is a potentially accelerated career track as the mentoring arrangement raises their profile among senior executives in the firm.”

2. Group Mentoring

“Group mentoring involves a more senior manager or peer-to-peer where the company sets up a technology platform that allows employees to define mentoring in their own terms. BT, the British telecommunications firm, offers a peer-to-peer learning program called Dare2share. “We found 78% of our employees preferred to learn from their peers, but little money or attention was focused on this,” explains Peter Butler, the head of learning at BT. Dare2share is a social collaboration platform that allows employees to pass on their knowledge and insights to their colleagues through short (five and ten minute) audio and video podcasts. This has a huge benefit as new hires now get up to speed more quickly and training costs are decreased.”

3. Anonymous Mentoring 

“This type of mentoring uses psychological testing where mentees are matched with trained mentors outside the organization. Exchanges are conducted entirely online, and both the mentee and the mentor, who is usually a professional coach or seasoned executive remains anonymous The engagement lasts six to twelve months. The anonymity aspect is a boon. “I would never have shared with my mentor some of the things I did if he or she had known my identify or my company.” says a mentee of VP creative services for Decision Toolbox.”

Ultimately, enhancing the company’s ability to give employees honest, timely, and useful coaching won’t benefit just the 20-something works. “Am I continuing to learn and grow?” is the key question that all companies face. The way the company answers the question may give companies the competitive advantage. in attracting, developing and keeping tomorrow’s talents.

Mentoring with Microfeedback

One tool that can satisfy the thirst for guidance with minimal resources is microfeedback. Think of it as performance assessment for Twitterholics—succinct and nearly real time.

Susan Hutt is now the senior vice president of services and product development at Camilion Solutions, a Toronto-based software company. At her previous job as a senior VP of Workbrain, a San Jose–based software company, she realized she needed to change the way she coached her staff. Millennials made up most of her workforce and, she says, “wanted constant feedback and information on their career progress.”

Hutt instituted quarterly reviews and an online, on-demand assessment system that limited feedback to 140 characters. To employees accustomed to instant messaging, texting, and Twitter, the brief advice and suggestions for improvement felt digestible and timely, not curt. The system also allowed them to hear—quickly—from a broad set of people and find out whether they were on the right track. For instance, after an all-hands meeting, an employee could send requests for feedback to five people. “Was it relevant?” they might ask. “Did it cover the content you needed?”

The length limit forces people to think carefully about their responses, and because they must respond so immediately, they’re able to provide useful detail. The software involved also collates the responses into a performance dashboard, so employees can track their own private trend lines on skills they are working to improve.