A mentorship is often seen as a professional relationship, with a one-way flow of information and wisdom from a senior-level employee to an entry-level employee. But there is a lot more potential when it comes to cross-generational mentorships.
Cross-generational mentoring is a bidirectional approach to knowledge sharing. In it, anyone can be a mentor, regardless of seniority. And in today’s multigenerational law firms and corporate legal departments, everyone has experience and insight that can inspire and motivate colleagues at any level.
Fostering this type of environment can help transform your workplace into a center for continuous professional learning, bringing many benefits to your employees, your workplace culture and your business. Here are a few tips for implementing a cross-generational program in your office.
Clarify the program’s goals
A cross-generational mentoring program can be a new experience for participants, so it’s important to clarify that they won’t be entering a standard mentor-mentee relationship. Instead, this is a two-way conversation between partners. Each partner teaches something, and each learns something. That’s why everyone must listen as much as they speak.
Make sure all participants understand the rationale behind this approach. Speak with them beforehand to set expectations.
Identify teachable skills
Everyone has something they can impart to a colleague, regardless of either’s age or experience level. A few examples are:
- Legal knowledge— Experienced legal professionals can talk about the nuances of casework and share stories of practical experiences.
- Networking— Established employees can help their colleagues get to know other people in the office and the industry.
- Organizational skills— Some people have excellent time and resource management abilities and can share best practices with colleagues.
- IT skills— Digital natives can help less tech-savvy colleagues understand IT systems, from eDiscovery to social media.
But don’t make assumptions about an individual’s skills based on their age. Not all baby boomers need tech training, and many employees from Generation Z develop excellent organizational skills in college. Determine what each person has to offer and where they might benefit most from guidance.
Cross-generational mentoring is a chance to disrupt invisible barriers or silos that exist between departments or teams and encourage mixing between cohorts. Try to identify areas where there is a generation gap, and help those people get to know each other.
Work toward merging skills
In general, each generation has a different way of approaching tasks. Many baby boomers tend to prefer a hierarchical, disciplined leadership style, while Gen Z leans into a more collaborative, discursive approach to management. They could argue about who’s right, but it’s better if you encourage program participants to talk about ways to merge their skills. Can boomers find ways to be more responsive to feedback? Will Gen Z discover the advantages of decisive leadership? Compromises can emerge when there is an open and honest cross-generational conversation.
This approach applies to all areas of legal work. Tech-savvy employees can explain how analytics and machine learning can improve eDiscovery. Experienced employees who remember the days before eDiscovery can share knowledge about the principles on which the technology is based.
Build cross-generational mentorship into your succession planning
Mentorship is a core pillar of your succession planning strategy. It’s how you identify succession candidates, preserve knowledge during transition and help keep your business in business.
Cross-generational mentoring makes this a two-way process. Not only do you shape the next generation of leaders, but the current generation of leaders gains an understanding of where they are succeeding, where they can improve and what needs to happen right now to secure the future.
Even people approaching the end of their legal careers can benefit from mentoring. With the cross-generational approach, everyone is always learning, and everyone has the chance to teach — resulting in a team that’s well-rounded and ready for any challenge.
Jamy J. Sullivan is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a premier legal staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and global markets and offers a full suite of legal staffing and consulting solutions.