As Mentoring Evolves, Mix the Tech With the Traditional

Young professionals can gain a lot of perspective from workplace mentors—even if they communicate via new tools like apps. But experts say face-to-face interactions still have a major role.

As a new generation of professionals enters the workforce, does mentoring need to change?

In some ways, it does, according to several experts on leadership and the workforce. But while today’s mentors and mentees increasingly communicate using tech tools like apps or text messaging, there’s still plenty of room for a more traditional approach. Here are three trends that could lead to an evolution in the way professionals both give and receive mentoring.

Embracing the Crowd

Crowdsourcing is great when you’re trying to collect ideas for new strategies or projects, but could it have some value as an alternative to one-on-one mentoring?

Sarah Sladek thinks so. The CEO of XYZ University and an author who focuses on generational shifts, Sladek says younger professionals are more likely than their older colleagues to seek insights from a broad pool of peers.

“Millennials don’t rely on one mentor,” she says. “After all, they are active in many different forums, like LinkedIn, which provides immediate access to industry professionals from around the world. In the talent economy, one senior person can no longer be the only place a young person turns for career support.”

Sladek noted that online tools like Rungway and MicroMentor help people gather career advice in smaller pieces. This approach allows for less formal, shorter-term mentoring from a larger group of peers.

“Micro-mentoring allows professionals to have many mentors for brief periods of time and is usually designed to help professionals improve a very specific skill, such as time management,” she says.

Tech Matters, But …

Tech tools have their place, but don’t expect them to replace in-person mentoring anytime soon, says Vincent Randazzo, principal and founder of Capitol Knowledge LLC and an executive leadership coach.

“Technology has definitely allowed professional development to evolve beyond that traditional face-to-face interaction that we’ve been accustomed to,” says Randazzo, who conducts many of his coaching sessions using video chat tools like Zoom. But in-person coaching and peer mentoring still have important benefits, he adds.

Sladek agreed that face-to-face still matters. She cited recent XYZ University research that found that the youngest generation in the workforce, Generation Z, has a strong preference for more traditional interactions.

“According to our research, Zs do love using technology for entertainment purposes but really value in-person meetings and relationship-building opportunities with mentors, leaders, and colleagues in the workplace,” she said.

View From the Outside

In some cases the best mentor may be someone outside a professional’s organization or industry—someone who can provide an outside perspective.

Leadership traits like emotional intelligence and executive presence are common across fields, Randazzo noted.  “It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, it doesn’t matter what profession you’re in—these are competencies that are valued by organizations,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense to get outside the culture of your organization.”

He added that even more traditional approaches, like attending local networking events or participating in Toastmasters, could create ways to build connections outside of traditional industries that can later be followed up on.

“There are so many opportunities to do that—I’m really amazed at how few people take advantage of those opportunities,” Randazzo said.

(Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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