For a Millennial’s “Jungle Gym” Career, Mentorship is their Harness

Sheryl Sandburg’s 2012 HBS graduation speech famously coined a metaphor that most millennials have been embracing since they entered the workforce – career as a jungle gym, not a ladder: “(careers are…) not a ladder; they’re a jungle gym. …look for opportunities, look for growth, look for impact, look for mission. Move sideways, move down, move on, move off. Build your skills, not your resume. Evaluate what you can do, not the title they’re going to give you. Do real work. Take a sales quota, a line role, an ops job, don’t plan too much, and don’t expect a direct climb. If I had mapped out my career when I was sitting where you are, I would have missed my career.”

Now consider this:

  • We know that mentorship is a critical success factor in development and career success
  • Millenials ask for more mentorship, and seem to need it more to succeed than their peers, according to an in-depth study by Viacom.  Their results indicate that “an important distinction about Millennials in the workplace is that they actually want a “perpetual feedback loop.” Whereas Xers may have eschewed any feedback — even an annual review — Shore says, “Millennials are like, ‘Can you give me daily reviews?’ Their drive to self-improve is extremely high, and it reflects the world they grew up in, because they’re in a constant feedback loop.”
  • Millenials, and heck, the rest of us, are having a hard time finding a mentor in our current workplaces.  Whether it’s because we’re approaching our career with a jungle gym approach, causing lots of movement (inside or outside of a company) or we just work for a company that has very few individuals that would qualify as a good mentor, it’s hard to find someone to give you the sage advice you need at the time you need it.  Being “assigned” a mentor seems outdated, and Monica Higgins, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Educate,  stated in this Bloomberg article“one senior person can no longer be the only place you turn for career support.”

So how to bridge the gap between the increasing demand for good mentors and seemingly decreasing supply?  In our upcoming FutureNow event we’ll be talking about this very topic with Everwise, an new kind of mentoring “matchmaker.”  This company is founded on the concept that sometimes the best mentors are outside of your existing organization.  Interestingly, Everwise was co-created by Mike Bergelson and former eBay COO and LiveOps COO, Maynard Webb, who continues to be a personal mentor of mine throughout my own “jungle gym” career.

It’s companies like this that are thinking innovatively about what mentoring means, and how to equip and support a future workforce that will continue to rely more on themselves (vs. the organization) for development paths and opportunities.  Future-thinking organizations must also think about the best ways to provide productive coaching and mentoring to this new workforce, as they are our future leaders, and ultimately the success of the organization lies in their hands.

FutureNow, a 3-day Inspiration Journey is happening June 17-19 in San Francisco and September 30-October 2 in New York City.

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