Which of the following means the most to you?
- Elvis joins the Army.
- Jimi Hendrix dies
- MTV debuts.
- Kurt Cobain dies.
Your answer, of course, depends on your age—or
more specifically, on the generation you belong to.
While pop music milestones may not seem all that important,
the sum total of experiences, ideas and values shared
by people of different generations makes for a melting
pot of work approaches and priorities. Once you understand
where the newer generations are "coming from,"
as a Boomer (born 1946-1964) might say, it’s easy
to target your mentoring style to bring out their strengths
and make the most progress. Remember to discard biases
and pre-conceived notions, and you and your mentees
from all generations enjoy your generational differences—and
Born 1977 –
Rewrite the rules
Irrelevance of institutions
Friends = family
· Casual, friendly work
· Flexibility and freedom
· A place to learn
· Structured, supportive work
· Personalized work
· Interactive relationship
· Be prepared for demands, high
Source: The Learning Café and American
Demographics enterprisingmuseum 2003.
Generation X: Declaring their Independence
The 51 million members of Generation X, born between
1965 and 1976, grew up in a very different world than
previous generations. Divorce and working moms created
"latchkey" kids out of many in this generation.
This led to traits of independence, resilience and adaptability.
Generation X feels strongly that "I don't need
someone looking over my shoulder."
At the same time, this generation expects immediate
and ongoing feedback, and is equally comfortable giving
feedback to others. Other traits include working well
in multicultural settings, desire for some fun in the
workplace and a pragmatic approach to getting things
Generation X saw their parents get laid off or face
job insecurity. Many of them also entered the workplace
in the early '80s, when the economy was in a downturn.
Because of these factors, they've redefined loyalty.
Instead of remaining loyal to their company, they have
a commitment to their work, to the team they work with,
and the boss they work for. For example, a Baby Boomer
complains about his dissatisfaction with management,
but figures its part of the job. A Gen Xer doesn't waste
time complaining-she sends her resume out and accepts
the best offer she can find at another organization.
At the same time, Generation X takes employability
seriously. But for this generation there isn't a career
ladder. There's a career lattice. They can move laterally,
stop and start, their career is more fluid.
Even more so than Baby Boomers, members of Generation
X dislike authority and rigid work requirements. An
effective mentoring relationship with them must be as
hands-off as possible. Providing feedback on their performance
should play a big part, as should encouraging their
creativity and initiative to find new ways to get tasks
done. As a mentor, you'll want Gen Xers to work with
you, not for you. Start by informing them of your expectations
and how you'll measure their progress and assure them
that you're committed to helping them learn new skills.
(Members of Generation X are eager to learn new skills
because they want to stay employable.) Gen Xers work
best when they're given the desired outcome and then
turned loose to figure out how to achieve it. This means
a mentor should guide them with feedback and suggestions,
not step-by-step instructions.
The Millennial Generation: Up and Coming
Just beginning to enter the workplace, The Millennial
Generation was born between 1977 and 1998. The 75 million
members of this generation are being raised at the most
child-centric time in our history. Perhaps it's because
of the showers of attention and high expectations from
parents that they display a great deal of self-confidence
to the point of appearing cocky. As you might expect,
this group is technically literate like no one else.
Technology has always been part of their lives, whether
it's computers and the Internet or cell phones and text
Millennials are typically team-oriented, banding together
to date and socialize rather than pairing off. They
work well in groups, preferring this to individual endeavors.
They're good multitaskers, having juggled sports, school,
and social interests as children so expect them to work
hard. Millennials seem to expect structure in the workplace.
They acknowledge and respect positions and titles, and
want a relationship with their boss. This doesn't always
mesh with Generation X's love of independence and hands-off
All Millennials have one thing in common: They are
new to the professional workplace. Therefore, they are
definitely in need of mentoring, no matter how smart
and confident they are. And they'll respond well to
the personal attention. Because they appreciate structure
and stability, mentoring Millennials should be more
formal, with set meetings and a more authoritative attitude
on the mentor's part.
Provide lots of challenges but also provide the structure
to back it up. This means breaking down goals into steps,
as well as offering any necessary resources and information
they'll need to meet the challenge. You might consider
mentoring Millennials in groups, because they work so
well in team situations. That way they can act as each
other's resources or peer mentors.
Diane Thielfoldt and Devon
Scheef are the co-founders of The Learning
Café. They collaborate with clients to make peace
with multiple workplace generations, create leadership
development initiatives, and craft mentoring initiatives
Their work on generational issues is featured in the
thought-leadership compendium Human Resources in
the 21st Century, published by John Wiley &
Sons Inc. Their breakthrough advice on generations in
the workplace is featured in Love ‘Em or Lose
‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay. They are
the co-authors of Mentoring: A How-To Guide published
by the American Society for Training & Development,
and their popular Talks on Talent have provided practical
on making mentoring work to thousands of business people