05/25/2016 12:06 EDT | Updated 05/26/2017 05:12 EDT

The Importance Of Intergenerational Networking

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Have you noticed that when you attend a social, business networking, or workplace event that people tend to form conversational 'pods'?

Pods tend to form based on age and professional role. There are a lot of missed intergenerational networking opportunities because of the 'pod' mentality. You miss valuable opportunities to learn from and exchange ideas with people whose varied experiences can benefit you personally.

Intergenerational networking is when different age cohorts interact, providing participants with fresh ideas and inspiration to build their business and rejuvenate their careers. It can take place on an informal, conversational basis at work or in a social setting. It can also be a structured process within an organization where employees share ideas and insights into how to improve business and build trust internally.

Intergenerational Mentoring

Mentoring is a form of intergenerational networking where employees help each other navigate their respective career and business challenges.

Mentors are traditionally older and more experienced than their mentees, but that rule of thumb is fading as older employees learn more and more from their younger counterparts. Progressive managers are realizing that each employee has their own work and communication style. They are are growing less concerned about labeling or 'typing' employees by cohort. They are now more interested in how employees can interact and share valuable insights to build trust and move the organization or business forward.

After more than 30 years, I still learn as much (if not more) from the young professionals I mentor or work with as they do from me. They have a lot of knowledge and enthusiasm to share.

The Goal: Shared Experiences

As they enter the workforce and carve out their own careers, younger employees are seeking:

  • A sense of purpose in their day-to-day work.
  • Opportunities to learn practical skills and to enhance outdated approaches to business.
  • The feeling that they are making a contribution that is acknowledged and valued.

Managers who can successfully deliver that experience to younger employees will benefit older, experienced employees who can also learn from those goals, regardless of where they are in their careers.

All the online learning platforms in the world cannot replace the value of shared personal business and career experience on a face-to-face basis. While many young professionals have advanced technical knowledge and fresh ideas, many experienced professionals offer the same - plus practical knowledge based on years of career and business-building.

Business owners have many opportunities to mine the shared expertise of both groups to boost business growth, employee loyalty, and create a shared culture regardless of age of the business and employees.

Benefits of Intergenerational Networking

  1. Provides team members with a broader window on the workplace and how colleagues and other groups/individuals tick.
  2. Great source of anecdotal research that can flag issues you might not have considered.
  3. In fostering conversations, it can generate practical ideas from the people who are on the front line to improve the business.
  4. It can be motivating and supportive for team members and lead to deeper employee and manager relationships that build trust.

How To Encourage Intergenerational Networking

  1. Endorse the concept of intergenerational exchange at a senior leadership level through internal communications.
  2. Introduce the initiative with a focused discussion of its goals and benefits at an employee town hall. Be clear that the "exchanges" are opportunities for employees to learn more about each others' roles and their perceptions about the industry as it affects the organization's business.
  3. On a quarterly basis, hold events in venues that are conducive to helping people connect with one another. Avoid taking the opportunity to promote your organization's goals but let employees focus more on talking with one another, preferably with those outside their departments who are younger or older than they are.

Engaging Professionals of Different Ages Outside of the Workplace

Intergenerational networking need not be limited to the workplace. You can build networks consisting of other cohorts just about anywhere. There is no prescribed process for engaging others - younger cohorts can approach older cohorts first, and vice-versa. However, you must first earn their trust by taking an interest in their aspirations before pumping them for information, contacts, and/or referrals.

Here are a few tips and tricks to help you build an intergenerational professional network.

  • Don't wait for them to address your needs, be the first to reach out with useful information and/or contacts that will be helpful to them.
  • Consider what else you can offer them besides information. For example, if you are tech savvy, your insights into navigating social media may be of interest to them if they lack those skills.
  • Remember that if you are the one initiating the relationship or conversation, you will need to offer reasons why you want to have the dialogue. Some boomers or seniors may initially wonder why a millennial or Gen Xer would reach out other than to get a job.
  • Be clear about your goals (or as clear as you can be if you are just entering the workplace or job search arena). This will help the other person to provide thoughts and ideas that are relevant to you.

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