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 savviness. 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.
We’ve worked with business people across generations for many years and whether you refer to their sharing of knowledge and information as love, passion, or, more traditionally, as mentoring, we’ve repeatedly tried to foster the powerful synergistic release of cross-generational sharing, learning, and performance.
Baby Boomers As Successful Mentors
This brings us to the topic of baby boomers as mentors. The youngest baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) have just turned 40 and the oldest baby boomers are in their late 50s. There are 76 million baby boomers and they represent a great deal of knowledge, talent, and experience.
Many baby boomers are looking for new ways to work—and are considering different business responsibilities, new opportunities, ways to give back to their organizations, or avenues for working with younger employees. Research has indicated that baby boomers like collaborative learning and working in teams. Mentoring provides a great opportunity to utilize baby boomers, but only when companies recognize that mentoring is a significant piece of a strategic plan to ramp up recruiting, retaining and increasing the knowledge and skills of talented employees.
Mentoring Helps Younger Workers Develop Their Talents
Younger employees routinely tell us of their disenchantment with their companies as they describe the onerous demands (and opportunitities) 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 tell us 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, who 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 from our experience.
Make mentoring a strategic business imperative. Studies show that there is a positive correlation between a positive mentoring experience and an increase in productivity, employee retention and job satisfaction. Effective mentoring, however, is a tremendous time commitment on the part of the employee and the mentor.
It will not work unless the company strategically acknowledges the value of mentoring by adjusting the mentor’s other business responsibilities. Modeling from the top also works well. If your head of operations at a particular location is a mentor, it sends a powerful message to employees about the value placed on mentoring, and also the focus on people as the most important part of your business.
One senior VP at a financial services firm regularly mentors five or six people … unless he feels that his skills set does not match the mentee’s goals. Then he will recruit a more appropriate mentor for that individual. He sets stretch goals for his mentees and then provides them with tools and strategies to meet those goals. He often encourages them or selects them to present in front of senior management using their new skills.
Learn more about what makes mentoring successful in organizations. See More Guidelines for Successful Mentoring.