Many articles have been published about the different generations in the technology industry, but few focus on the importance of fostering a new era of mentorship between them. Succession planning is vital to the continued success of any company, and while it’s not a new concept, the way it plays out in the best companies is a new concept. That new approach is called mentoring up.

Seasoned Generations

U.S. seniors are employed at the highest rates in over 50 years. While there may be multiple reasons why this is the case – people live longer, need to save more for retirement, etc. – it’s also happening because this group still has so much to contribute, especially to the technology sector. Baby Boomer technologists have grown their skill sets alongside revolutionary technologies such as the cloud, DevOps, Java, and even the internet itself. Seasoned generations quite literally invented these groundbreaking tools.

With so much rich experience to share, top companies leverage the knowledge this group has by keeping ageism out of the hiring process. Passing on a skilled SAP Configuration Analyst just because they might retire in two years is a mistake. Such a technologist can bring valuable skills into your company and positively impact and mentor coworkers. Even if that individual does retire in the near future, they are more likely to give you ample warning and time to prepare a replacement than an employee who takes a new role and gives you two weeks.

Younger Technologists

At the same time, Millennial technologists are moving into leadership roles while Generation Z is entering the workforce and filling junior-level openings. These younger groups are unique because they grew up as consumers and end-users of game-changing technologies such as mobile applications, IoT, and more. This first-hand knowledge grants them a unique perspective and makes them an asset to any technology workforce. Plus, securing younger talent allows you to develop them into ideal employees for your organization. However, that can only happen through proper mentorship and succession planning.

Mentoring Up

According to legendary entrepreneur Chip Conley, we are seeing the end of the traditional three-stage view of life where people learn until they are 20-25, earn until they are 65, then retire. This new normal means technologists of different generations are working together and interacting more than ever before. Chip goes on to say that yearning for the familiar or relying on past career wins in older generations is an unhealthy trend that creates a past-tense mentality instead of a future-minded one. Technologists of any age can reinvent themselves and grow, as long as they ask more “why” and “what if” questions.

That’s where mentoring up, not just down, comes in. Whether it’s called reverse mentoring or two-way mentoring, this idea encourages knowledge transfer from younger to older generations. Companies that effectively adhere to this strategy see revenue increased by 83% compared to 16% for those not focusing on mentorship at all. That’s because collaboration is extremely important in today’s technology sector. A Baby Boomer can teach a Millennial why a certain program was invented, while that Millennial can describe to a Baby Boomer how a 20-year-old end user would actually use that program or application.

This two-way street allows knowledge to pass in both directions, spurring important conversations throughout the careers of all employees. While this helps a workforce stay sharp on technical skill sets, it also maintains the culture that made the company successful in the first place. It inspires younger generations to keep the continued vision of the organization in mind, effectively paying homage to a company’s founders and past leadership while looking ahead to new heights.

Mentoring Up and Bridging the Generational Gap

At some point, older technologists will leave the workforce and younger generations will remain. Connecting these groups now creates synergy, improving current operations while also making leadership transitions productive rather than chaotic. In the end, focusing on mentoring will future-proof your company.

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Written: November 2018