Need to Learn Technology? Get a Younger Mentor.
Business leaders are constantly encouraging executives and entrepreneurs to share their experience and business acumen with greener students and young professionals, but what happens when the teacher needs to learn a few new tricks herself? There’s an increasing trend to bring on interns and young mentors to help the Gen X and Boomer generations learn the ins and outs of social media and technology that has thus far eluded them.
Breaking Down the Generations
· Millennials (Gen Y) - Americans born between 1980 and 2000.
· Generation X – Americans born between 1965 and 1979.
· Baby Boomers – 76 million people in US born between 1946 and 1964.
Before you run out and grab whatever graduating college senior you can find to show you how to Tweet and use social media, consider your own business’ needs and ability to integrate the youth mentor into your company. If your business situation isn’t conducive, consider an alternative. Schedule an initial consultation meeting to learn about each other and then, if all goes smoothly, schedule additional time to move your project forward.
Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know. Having a younger employee providing you with advice may seem uncomfortable at first, but remember why this relationship is mutually beneficial. You can provide insight and life experiences to your Gen Y mentor, where as your younger counterpart can guide you in the ways of social media, youthful perspectives and market habits, and if stepping into foreign markets, even cultural nuances and protocols., Reverse Mentoring, a term coined by former General Electric (GE) Chairman Jack Welch, can also provide great insight into recruiting and how to reach out to their Millennial counterparts. “The millennial generation wants to have their voice heard early in their careers,” says Wendy Murphy, an associate professor at Babson College in Massachusetts. Reverse mentorship opportunities offer the young workers a chance to learn on the job while still providing valuable contributions to the organization. Reverse mentorship doesn’t need to end with recent college graduates either. Consider polling a segment from each generation within your company to gather a full range of market opinions, preferences and points-of-view.
There’s more than one way to crack an egg. If the idea of having a young mentor at work every day isn’t palatable, try a different approach. Consider using a college or post-graduate student to consult with you. These meetings can be done by phone, or even on video chats like Facetime. Once you’ve established a rapport, then it may be a good idea to bring your mentor into the company for a tour or even to work for a short period. Working up to a longer term relationship can be a great way to test the waters; not just for you but also for the mentor to see if they feel comfortable as well. If you’re short on time, try ‘speed mentoring’, which as it sounds, is like speed dating but with prospective mentors in “short bursts of advice and a cache of business cards,” says a report on Bloomberg Businessweek. Made popular by Colleges and Universities across the country, these speed mentoring events can be a great way to meet experienced young professionals and see who you really connect with.
Set clear goals. By establishing ground rules and open lines of communication expectations are realistic, and achievable rather than frustrating and overwhelming. Be sure to ask your mentor what s/he expects to get out of the relationship. Just because you sought out a youth mentor, doesn’t mean that the mentor is only in it for your benefit. Remember, the best relationships are mutually beneficial.
Know that with youth comes energy and enthusiasm. What can be wrong with that? For Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers, this energy can be interpreted as impatience, ego, and short-sightedness. For the Millennials, entering an established corporation with many layers of management can feel stifling and bureaucratic. Understand that there are very specific cultural and social differences between these age groups and plan to talk about them openly with your staff.
Lastly, review your business’ policy on social media and be ready to provide parameters for using social media during the work day. If you allow your Millenial mentor to Facebook and Tweet, you’ll need to make sure you’re setting fair expectations for the rest of the company as well.
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