Millennials are the largest generation in history, the largest percentage of the U.S. workforce and on track to make up 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025.

And yet, in most organizations, the leadership development of millennials still isn’t considered a priority.

Despite substantial efforts by learning professionals, a multi-billion-dollar leadership development industry and more than 70 years of leadership research, the overall success of organizations to grow these future leaders remains dismal.

Consider these stats:

  • In 2015, only 20 percent of organizations identified the millennial leader segment as critical for development.
  • In interviews by Deloitte with more than 2,000 global HR and business leaders, only 25 percent said they were building talent in their organizations.
  • In a 2016 survey of nearly 7,700 millennials in 29 countries, 63 percent said their leadership skills were not being fully developed.

Meanwhile, the average age of CEOs in Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is 57 years, and an average of 10,000 baby boomers retire every day in the United States. The forthcoming loss of skills and experience, built up over many years, will leave a significant skills gap in the not-too-distant future.

Given that the workplace – and the workers – are changing, leadership development is a critical management practice needed to ensure an organization’s long-term survival and competitiveness. At minimum, mentorship should be in practice.

Millennials are typically more interested than previous generations in finding a mentor. They believe that their ideas are important and valuable, because they were taught so from a young age. They crave opportunities to learn, because they had access to it from a young age. This passion for lifelong learning is a tremendous strength.

However, lifelong learning doesn’t look the same as it has traditionally. Millennials don’t need classroom-based leadership training. They will respond much better to approaches that allow them to practice and ritualize new leadership behaviors without leaving the context of day-to-day life.

Also, millennials don’t rely on one mentor. After all, they have access to many different forums, like LinkedIn, which provides immediate access to industry professionals from around the world. One senior person can no longer be the only place a young person turns for career support.

Consider the example of Power Home Remodeling. In 2015, this business landed the top spot on Fortune’s list of 100 best workplaces for millennials, even beating out Google. Each new hire is assigned a personal mentor to provide guidance, support and encouragement. Also, every position in every department has a blueprint designed to guide, support and challenge employees to achieve more through mentorship and management opportunities. The senior leaders at Power host quarterly leadership conferences with the objective of bringing a few hundred of the company’s future leaders together to share insights into expansion plans, new product launches, recruitment objectives and general operations.

In the talent economy, mentoring programs aren’t hierarchical or time-consuming. Senior leaders have invaluable knowledge that demands to be shared, but so do millennials. Every generation has something to learn and something to teach, which is where reverse mentoring comes in. In reverse mentoring, younger employees mentor older executives. This trend has a double-sided benefit: Executives stay on the pulse of trends important to young professionals, while the younger participants feel more connected and invested, because they are contributing to the improvement of the company at the highest level.

When IBM is preparing to launch a new product, the Millennials Corps, a digital group of thousands of young employees, tests it and provides feedback on what’s working, what isn’t and if IBM needs to make any design fixes. The Millennial Corps feedback has impacted many of IBM’s recent decisions, according to a report in Fast Company. IBM is learning from the younger generation and heeding its pass advice, which is the first step to collaboration, relationship-building, engagement and belonging.

Another form of mentorship is micro-mentoring. There are even apps and online platforms dedicated to micro-mentoring communities. Micro-mentoring allows professionals to have many mentors for brief periods of time and is usually designed to help improve a very specific skill, such as time management.

BMO Financial and its BMO Harris Bank unit launched a micro-mentoring program for its female employees in late 2016, growing out of employees’ requests for quick access to skill-building opportunities rather than going through formal training. Participants can simply search the intranet for mentors who are experts in the area they are interested in working on.

As our businesses experience more disruption, and our human capital shifts to a younger majority, we owe it to our collective futures to invest in leadership development. We need to mold a generation of leaders who can effectively adapt, continually learn, think outside the box and confidently lead us forward.

We need our leaders to pass the baton, invest in training others and adequately prepare the next generation of leaders. Now, more than ever, we need to prioritize leadership development.

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