When people think about what good mentorship looks like, they often think of Luke Skywalker honing his Jedi skills in the swamps of Dagobah, as Yoda offers him cryptic wisdom like, “Do or do not. There is no try.” (At least that’s how I used to think of mentorship.) While that might have worked a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Yoda’s mentoring style would never fly with today’s millennials.
Millennials are now the majority of the workforce. A survey by Pew Research Center found that they surpassed Gen X in 2015. But millennial employees are still young and have a lot to learn before they become the next wave of leaders.
The problem is that the traditional mentorship relationship isn’t something they relate to. If we want to provide millennial workers with the career development support they want and deserve, it’s time to rethink how we approach mentoring them.
The first step is understanding what’s different about the millennial generation:
Why Millennials are Different
Since Millennials entered the workforce, business leaders have tried to unlock the key to understanding them. They don’t respond to the same recruiting strategies and expect new and different things from employers.
Without going too far into a subject that’s been discussed ad nauseum, it’s because Millennials grew up in a time unlike any other. And that’s made them unique.
Advances in technology and how people gather and process information has made them fast learners. A 2015 survey from Elance-oDesk and Millennial Branding found that 74 percent of millennials and 60 percent of hiring managers believe that the millennial generation picks things up more quickly than previous generations.
The study also found that 72 percent of hiring managers think millennials are more open to change, and 66 percent think they are more creative compared to Gen X. That means it’s going to take mentors who also think outside-the-box to relate to them.
And this is how we adapt the process to them:
1. Crowdsource Mentoring
Before the rise of Google and social media, if a young professional wanted advice, the best source was their mentor. And they had to trust that whatever their mentor said was the best advice available.
Now, millennials have access to countless founts of information. They can watch how-to videos on YouTube to learn how to network effectively, and they can follow industry leaders on Twitter to get up-to-date tricks of the trade.
Before you think “Well, I guess that means they don’t need me as a mentor,” you should understand that there’s also a lot of bad information out there. Anyone can write a blog about being successful in business, but that doesn’t make them an expert.
Help millennials navigate through it all by recommending places they can turn to for more advice and tips. Introduce them to worthwhile podcasts and share insightful articles with them on social media. That way, they can delve into reliable sources and gather the information that is right for them.
2. Focus on Their Morals and Values
For millennials, personal morals and beliefs are extremely important, and they want them to be a part of the work they do. A 2016 Deloitte survey found that 82 percent of millennials who stayed with the same company for more than five years felt their values aligned with those of the organization.
In order to achieve a successful mentorship with millennials, you need to know what they believe strongly in. While you don’t need to agree with every opinion they have, a good mentor will show them how to incorporate their values into their work, making their job more meaningful.
For example, if a young millennial feels strongly about environmental sustainability, encourage them to find ways to make their department more green. Whether they decide to increase efforts in recycling or look into reducing the environmental impact of their company’s data centers, they’ll gain valuable leadership skills implementing their idea. Also, take any opportunity to tie those values back to the organization so they can see their personal values at every level of what they do.
3. Embrace Honesty
For many millennials, honesty is a paramount part of leadership. In fact, 52 percent of millennial respondents in a Randstad survey said honesty was the most important quality in a leader — more so than their vision, confidence, or patience.
Even if the truth involves negative feedback they won’t enjoy hearing, millennials would rather hear it straight. And don’t withhold vital information from them as a learning tool. The old “you learn more by figuring out the truth for yourself” trick won’t cut it. In fact, they’ll probably feel betrayed, and it’ll do more to hurt than help the mentorship. They’d prefer that you save them time and energy by giving them all the information they need up front so they can properly apply it.
4. Let Learning be a Two-Way Street
If you’ve ever had a tech problem and immediately turned to a millennial for help, then you know that there are just some skills they have more experience with. From social media to cloud storage, things that still seem unfamiliar to older generations have almost always been a part of their lives.
A millennial mentee also has a lot to teach their mentor. And they want to do just that.
The Randstad survey found that 52 percent of millennials want a superior who listens to and respects their ideas and opinions. So if you’re facing an issue, don’t shy away from bringing your mentee into the problem-solving process. Ask them what they think is the best option. Don’t be surprised if their answer sheds some much-needed light on the situation.
Millennials are a different breed of employee, and that means they need a different type of mentor. This new type of mentorship might seem strange to you at first, but it’s what leaders will need to provide millennials if they want to reach them successfully.
What are some other ways to make mentorship more millennial-friendly? Share in the comments below!
Aaron Michel is the co-founder and CEO at PathSource, a career exploration solution helping students and job seekers make better career choices. To navigate your infinite career possibilities, connect with Aaron and the PathSource team on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.