The Value of Cross-Generational Mentoring
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Cross-generational mentoring can help small companies boost knowledge, performance, and profit potential.

When you're running a company with a small team, it's essential to make sure you get the greatest productivity from each employee. While training programs help them hone their skills and prepare for new challenges, mentoring creates a culture of learning and support that promotes individual professional development and organization-wide strength. Traditionally, veteran employees have mentored their entry-level colleagues, but that model is evolving to one of cross-generational mentoring, in which all employees learn from one another.

One key to gaining optimal mentoring results is to avoid limiting your expectations of individual employees. It's a mistake, for example, to see less-experienced team members as helpful in understanding new technologies or social media but unlikely to be able to contribute to larger operational challenges. "Focus on circulation of intelligence and the wisdom that everyone brings to the table," says Ann Tardy, chief people officer at LifeMoxie Mentoring and author of Moxie for Managers: The Secret to Evolving from Manager to Leader.

The goal is to create a co-learning culture that benefits the company and "fosters a developmental culture," says Wendy Murphy, a management professor at Babson College and co-author, with Kathy Kram, of Strategic Relationships at Work: Creating Your Circle of Mentors, Sponsors, and Peers for Success in Business and Life. "Opening dialogues and conversations between people that don't normally have access to one another increases social capital in an organization."

When launching a mentoring program, it's important to make sure that employees understand how it will work, what their roles will be, and what the company hopes to accomplish. Find the structures that work best for your team and your goals: in addition to one-on-one relationships, options may include committees, workout teams, and task forces. The purpose is to "invite people from different levels or different generations to the table to have this conversation," Tardy says. "You're communicating that your opinion is important. We want to hear from everyone. We're solving problems together."

One frequently overlooked resource is recent graduates' knowledge of recent research that may offer the company a competitive advantage, Murphy says. With new studies being published constantly, "anyone who's an expert is not an expert for very long in any field," she notes. "People who entered the field recently may bring new information and resources to the table." Their input can help the company to maintain the current business intelligence necessary to pursue emerging opportunities and sustain a competitive edge.

By taking this approach to mentoring, you foster an environment in which employees feel encouraged to seek and share advice, insights, and experiences. "Everyone talks about engagement," Tardy says. "I think we should forget engagement and just start involving people. The more you involve them, the more they will feel connected, feel engaged, and really like their jobs." The result is a more capable and better-informed workforce that's invested not just in individual development and advancement, but in achieving the organization's full industry and market potential.

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