by Melanie Harrington, President
Pamela Arnold, President-Elect

American Institute for Managing Diversity, Inc.

In the Last decade, there has been considerable information shared about the four generations in the workplace, with a growing body of literature amassing on the youngest of the working generations, due in part to the management challenges they are causing Baby Boomers.

The diversity challenge for employers with multigenerational workforces is how to increase productivity and engagement across the generations. Often, cross-generational language, behaviors, and even values can be different, adding complexity, and sometimes tension, to the work environment. To overcome these issues, employees and employers need tools that foster greater generational diversity awareness and intergenerational relationships.

One of the more effective tools organizations are using to foster engagement across generations is mentoring programs. An AIMD focus group participant recently noted, “without mentoring, your successes are dependent on chance and serendipity.” Mentoring remains a critical path to success for the overwhelming majority of today’s organizational leaders.

In a 2009 AIMD study of cross-generational mentoring programs, researchers discovered critical factors that can hinder or facilitate the effectiveness of the program. Whether an organization is launching a new program or modifying a mature one, the following program traits are important considerations for an organization seeking to improve employee engagement.

Mentor programs tend to fail when:

    Mentors and/or senior employees don’t see mentoring as a responsibility
    • No one wants to be accountable for advancing the next generation of employees

    There is poor mentor/mentee matching
    • Mismatch in mentor/mentee work goals, interests, and needs creates challenges
    • Personality differences create tension
    • Mentor or mentee stereotyping and biases generate disrespect and contribute to the erosion of the relationship
    • Mentor’s and/or mentee’s availability is too limited

    There is a weak program structure and design
    • Follow-up and feedback meetings are not incorporated in the structure of the mentoring program
    • The employer has not sufficiently integrated the mentoring program into the organizational strategy
    • The mentoring program’s goals are perceived as fuzzy and unorganized

    There is poor mentoring
    • Mentor lacks motivation
    • Mentor doesn’t provide guidance or transfer knowledge to the mentee
    • Mentee doesn’t view mentor as authentic and trust fails to develop

Mentor programs tend to succeed when:

    The program has a strong visible purpose
    • The employer establishes a clear and strong purpose for the mentoring program at the beginning and continues to communicate the purpose regularly
    • The goals and purpose of the program are displayed on the organization’s website, social board, at the mentoring opening session, in their mentoring package, etc.
    • Mentoring program goals are clear, helping sustain motivation among employees

    There is effective match-making
    • The program driver matches the mentor’s skills, knowledge, and abilities to the mentee’s professional and personal developmental needs and goals
    • Self-assessment tools are used to set mentor/mentee relationship goals and improve mentor/mentee match-making

    There is a supportive organizational cultural
    • The employer fosters a mentoring culture within the organization that rewards the constructive investment of time and effort that mentors give to the mentor/mentee relationship
    • The organization tracks progress against the program’s stated goals and instills a sense of accountability among all participants
    • The program incorporates feedback meetings with established guidelines to give mentors and mentees the opportunity to provide concerns or suggestions periodically
    • The program includes an evaluation of the mentor and mentee, fostering accountability among all the parties

Finally, two of the most critical factors of a successful cross-generational mentoring program are the creation of an organizational culture that supports and encourages mentoring, and a culture that visibly values the potential contributions of all generations. Time and time again, our most accomplished leaders attribute their successes to mentors. As organizations employ workers from age 16 to 70 and older, mentors and mentees can decode the generational mysteries together.