Posted on Across the Ages: December 4, 2008 3:15 PM
Lots of companies are recognizing that it makes sense to get older and younger employees talking—sharing knowledge and ideas, combining perspectives in new and interesting ways.
But most are going about it in ways that are pretty old school—top-down, highly managed and overly scheduled approaches to building relationships that need, over time, to be based on trust and mutual respect.
What I see most often are programs in which a central group "assigns" senior individuals to more junior counterparts—of course, with a genuine good-faith effort to match interests and personalities—but still very much an arranged marriage. Many find these programs are minimally effective. Follow up may be spotty—some mentors take their mentee out to lunch once, then check that responsibility off their "to do" list. Other mentors rely on regularly-set sessions—whether or not the schedule matches the tempo of the mentee's questions.
Here are some principles for effective mentoring:
• Create a "gift culture." In other words, encourage anyone and everyone to give freely of their time and insight to help colleagues. Make this common practice throughout the organization. No one should require a formally assigned relationship to ask a colleague for input or assistance.
• Start with specific work needs—a project or business goal that one person has and to which the second person can contribute. This gets the initial relationship going in a comfortable, useful way. Later, if the chemistry between the two is strong, the relationship may evolve into a broader discussion of career goals and personal aspirations, but that's a hard place for most people to jump in cold.
• Put the onus on the mentee. Allow the mentee to seek out the mentor(s) if and when desired. By far, the most effective approach is to give the mentee the names of 2 or 3 people, and encourage him or her to reach out if and when input is needed—to one or to all.
• Make it two-way. In other words, encourage older employees to seek out younger employees, again with specific questions or for advice in areas of the younger employee's expertise.
In the spirit of the above, I've launched my own offer of a digital "gift culture." As some of you may have seen promised on the jacket of my latest book, Plugged In, I have added an "Ask Tammy" feature to my personal website,www.tammyerickson.com. I invite you to ask a question about something you're facing on the job or wondering about in the sphere of organizations and work; I'll give you my best thoughts—or let you know who I think might know a lot more than I do about the topic.
I'm excited about this feature—it will allow us instant communication (well, almost—it takes me a little time to respond) on topics that you're concerned with today—one of my friends called it "Chicken Soup for the Downturn-Nervous Soul." I hope you'll add to the growing body of questions (the full names of those asking the questions are not displayed, but all the previously-asked questions, and my answers, are posted in the hope that you can learn from what others are asking).
And I hope you'll look for ways to share your knowledge and insights within your organization. As I explained in last week's post, "feedback" today is becoming more about teaching than evaluating. It pays to create a gift culture.