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Bridge The Generational Gap

“DUDE, YOUR BLOG IS SICK!” This statement was a serious contender for the title of this week’s blog. As we all know, TITLE is everything in attracting readers. Since my intention is to attract people from all generations, I decided to tone it down a bit… but that’s where it ends! The rest shall have flavor for everyone: Hot & Spicy for the Millennials, Exotic & Colorful for the Gen-X‘ers, Low-Salt or Sodium-Free for the Baby Boomers, and Bland with a bit of Honey will be served to the Traditionalists with a smile.

Bridging the generational gap is very important to enhancing communication, effectiveness, productivity, and profitability across all levels of an organization. In reviewing The New Map of Adult Life (Sheehy 1995, 10-11), I first thought I was looking at a map of Middle Earth (ref: Lord of the Rings trilogy). Many of the descriptions and diagrams under Provisional Adulthood and First Adulthood hit home. Suffice to say, I have dipped my toe in Middlescence with the recent purchase of a bright red BMW. Manual transmission, all-wheel drive, and tan leather interior.

It’s PHAT!

Could I possibly demonstrate a better expression of an early midlife crisis than this?

I don’t think so!

But how can we more effectively work with “The Others” (people from other generations, I mean)?

Today I propose one unique approach that may help bridge some of the generational gaps. The concept is Informal Mentoring. “Informal mentoring is about being in the right place at the right time and fostering boundless professional support and guidance within organizations” (Lois J. Zachary). Young employees often struggle with finding a perfect mentor match, while significantly tenured employees struggle with swallowing their pride and asking for help (often with technological challenges). Informal mentoring is casual, spontaneous, self-initiated, personal, unstructured, and self-managed. The success for implementing an informal mentoring strategy is dependent upon how effectively an organization trains all employees on its benefits. After all, every unique individual is motivated by the question of WIIFM (What’s In It For Me)?  This is a question that drives engagement from all employees, regardless of their generation.

Although informal mentoring is still regarded by many organizations as both less significant and less legitimate than formal mentoring, it is a much better approach to helping employees who need mentoring actually get it when they need it. Why? Because the employee is personally investing their time and energy into their own growth and development (as opposed to doing something they were TOLD to do). More importantly, it can be a catalyst for effectively breaking through the generational walls of misunderstanding and foster more effective communication across wide variances in tenure. By creating an action plan to support and enhance informal mentoring in an organization, generational gaps will shrink and all types of mentoring will be enriched.

So what’s the word, POPS?

In the words of President Ronald Reagan:

“Tear Down This Wall!”

(June 12, 1987)

Sincerely, Cheers, Yours, Dude, CU L8R, I’m Out,


  1. Cameron
    October 19, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    That’s something I think I really like about my profession. It breeds a sense of curiosity and of not always being an expert. We are trained to seek out others advice often and I think that’s something I forget is not common among others areas and professions. I remember talking to a young medical doctor once who thought it was weird that I suggested consultation when they were not 100% sure about a diagnosis. They said, “well I’m the one responsible for the patient, so it has to be my decision.” Also, the what’s in for me, could be what’s helpful for others too? There are a lot of people that mentor just because it satisfying and adds purpose and meaning to their work and lives. I know I love supervising and teaching, because it’s so cool to see others learn and grow (which I gues sis part of the what’s in it for me), but then we might get into psychological hedonism……Hmmmm, things to ponder keep coming up when I read your posts….. very intriguing.

  2. Allison Friederichs
    October 19, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    Oh my gosh, Tom. I echo Tobi’s sentiments! I always enjoy your posts, but this may be your best one yet.

    I must admit, you and I share a (dare I say) nerdy mental reference b/c I thought Sheehy’s map looked very LOTR-like as well when I first saw it! lol. But I appreciate that she offers that as a visual way to imagine the developmental paths she offers up.

    Your suggestion for mentoring is interesting. As an organizational member, I would have some questions, such as: How do I find a mentor/mentee if it’s not “sanctioned”? And what processes are in place to help facilitate a truly helpful relationship (organizationally speaking)? To be sure, it is an interesting idea, though. I can see how pairing people from different generations might help close that gap, especially given that generational differences are a REAL problem with which today’s organizations struggle. Those that ignore it are likely to suffer.

    I can think of several of your classmates who could probably benefit from trying this idea in their organizations. Anyone up for it? Want to report back to us? 🙂

    Thanks, Tom!

  3. October 19, 2010 at 10:34 am

    LOL!! Tom, you are such an excellent writer. I hope you continue to blog well after this class ends, and I promise I will keep reading!

    I find the informal mentoring concept very interesting. I will definitely be researching that further as I investigate methods to support employee engagement for my capstone.

    Thanks for the humor, and for always making me think!

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