Mentoring has been around since the dawn of time, and it certainly has been a central tenet within associations. Many of us can think of the one or two individuals we met through our professional association who provided important guidance as we navigated the early stages of our careers. Many associations have formal mentoring programs, where younger members are paired with more experienced members in the association in an official mentoring relationship (We’re also now pretty familiar with the idea of ‘reverse mentoring’, where younger volunteers or staff can provide training to older cohorts on technology and social media in particular.)
And you’d think the mentoring issue would be one that transcends generational differences, given its long history. If every generation before now has valued mentoring relationships, it seems unlikely it would change with the Millennials. And to some extent, it hasn’t. Millennials who are early in their careers most certainly both want and need guidance from those who have been in the field longer. But I think there is one aspect that may be subject to change when it comes to mentoring with Millennials: the one-on-one aspect.
Millennials are a product of the social internet. They also happen to be the largest generation in American history. This is a generation used to doing things in groups. This is a generation that looks first to its network to solve problems. That doesn’t mean they can’t or don’t do things one-on-one, ever. But it might not be the first way they think to do things, even for mentoring.
Mentoring is about learning. It’s about getting access to knowledge that you don’t have yet, and when Millennials need knowledge, they turn to their networks, particularly online. So as you develop your online community, are you creating space for this new kind of ‘group mentoring’? Are there places where Millennials can ask mentoring questions to a group of more experienced members, rather than forcing them into one-on-one mentoring relationships? Those relationships may develop over time, but it will help to have a group context for getting them started.