print logo
© 2019
International Interior Design Association

Chicago, IL
Toll Free: 888 799 4432
International: +01 312 467 1950

Mentoring 2.0

By B.G. Yovovich

Make no mistake: Major changes are forcing businesses of all kinds to reshape their mentoring tactics in an effort to attract, retain and nurture the design leaders of the future. First of importance is the workplace significance of the more than 70 million Millennials (those born beginning in 1977 who make up Generation Y) who have already begun to enter the workforce as the first of 78 million Baby Boomers head toward retirement. Secondly are the major differences in values, attitudes and behaviors between Millennials and the generations preceding them.

“Everyone is going to have to face this: The Baby Boomers are going to retire, and the Generation X population is roughly two-thirds the size of the Baby Boomer population. Millennials are fast becoming an influential factor in the workplace and an increasingly important part of its future,” says W. Stanton Smith, National Director of the Cross- Generation Initiatives at Deloitte & Touche USA LLP. “There are huge numbers of people moving toward retirement, and very little has been done to preserve their knowledge.”

But turn in any direction and you can see clear signs of how the design community is responding to the distinctive challenges of coaching Millennials.

In San Diego, Viveca Bissonnette, IIDA, LEED AP, Associate at Carrier Johnson + CULTURE and IIDA Vice President of Communications, makes it a point to provide the firm’s younger designers with the steady stream of “timely feedback and performance evaluations that Millennials find especially important.”

Celia Barrett, IIDA, ASID, Principal of Celia Barrett Design LLC in Jackson, Miss., is an adjunct professor at Mississippi College School of Fine Arts. She emphasizes the need for students and young designers to improve their drawing skills, which she says are often under-developed.

Farther north, more than 80 percent of the managers at HOK Canada, recently named one of Canada’s top 100 employers by Mediacorp Canada, have completed an ambitious firm-wide program “designed to train all of our managers to have better coaching skills,” says Lara Koretsky, HR Manager of Consulting, who works out of the Toronto office of the architecture and interior design firm. “It is an important step in helping us build a mentoring culture.

Ready and Willing

Fortunately, as a group, Millennials tend to be very receptive to mentoring opportunities. “Millennials seem more trusting of senior leaders than Baby Boomers and Gen Xers were, and they are very willing to be coached and mentored by those with experience,” Smith says.

Part of Millennials’ willingness to be mentored stems from their oft-noted self-confidence and lofty aspirations. Says Bissonnette, “Young designers coming into the workforce today have more expectations and higher aspirations for themselves, a quality instilled in them by their Baby Boomer parents who told them they could do anything.

“This new generation of workers also has more expectations of their employers than previous generations. They want to know they are on the professional path to success, and they are looking for guidance from employers to help them get there.”

But despite Millennials’ striking confidence and great expectations, they often have a heightened “need for reassurance,” Bissonnette says. “One interesting thing about this generation is that they are looking for validation, and they constantly are looking for feedback.”

Adds Smith, “They really don’t want to make mistakes. As a consequence, they seek continuous feedback, and they will respond positively to it.”

Mentoring the Mentor

This Gen Y desire for frequent evaluations and ongoing communication puts increased demands on those who try to mentor them. The need to meet those demands is a big reason why, for example, HOK launched its mentoring and coaching initiative about two years ago.

“Communication is the No. 1 skill on which we focus to improve managers’ coaching and mentoring skills,” HOK’s Koretsky says. A key component of the program is an approach dubbed SBI, which stands for “Situation, Behavior and Impact.” The initiative is intended to help mentors do a better job of providing ongoing, targeted feedback to their mentees.

“The idea is to help the coach to focus on the specific situation that has occurred, the behavior that was displayed within the situation and the impact of that behavior,” Koretsky says. “The point is to go beyond just telling them what they did wrong or just saying, ‘Good job.’”

The final step in the SBI approach is to “always finish off the piece of feedback with a bridging statement that allows the individual to respond and leaves an opening for continuing the conversation,” Koretsky says. “The aim is to have a dialogue, not a one-way communication.”

These communication tools are especially important when difficult conversations or discussions of performance are needed. Says Koretsky, “When you are about to begin a performance conversation that is not going to be easy, you can start by saying, ‘We have a difficult conversation ahead of us,’ and laying out the specific framework and being transparent about it.”

The Right Fit

Today’s mentoring efforts respond to distinctive Millennial characteristics in other ways, as well.

At Gensler, the architecture and design firm has taken steps to address “Millennials’ particular trigger points,” says Janine Pesci, the firm-wide Director of Learning. “Millennials feel like they need to frequently change jobs in order to develop new skills, so we are creating an environment in which they are frequently exposed to opportunities within our own organization to get that experience without having to leave us.”

These types of inside-the-firm skill-development opportunities can have a significant impact on employee retention.

“Millennials have a desire for a long-term relationship with their employer,” says Smith. “These young people, unlike even 10 years ago, very much would prefer to have multiple careers within one employer.”

Another Millennial trait that employers must keep top-of-mind: They are, as a group, social-beings. To address this point, Gensler has developed a “Rising Professionals” peer-to-peer networking initiative. The program was begun in the firm’s D.C. office by a group of young professionals who saw the need to share ideas about professional development. The idea soon spread throughout the firm. The program also involves an event called “Power Portfolios,” whereby the firm’s young professionals assess the portfolios of design students and offer feedback. “[Rising Professionals] taps into the Millennial mindset of wanting to work through social networks,” Pesci says. “We know that they like to work in tribes, so we look for ways to create opportunities for teamwork, social interaction and collaboration.”

HOK also recognizes the importance of encouraging greater interaction with Millennials. “We have studio critiques every week in our main studio space or library that give opportunities to people from every level of the organization to give presentations about the projects on which they are working,” says Keri Daniel, HR Manager of Programs and Organizational Development at HOK Canada. In addition to serving as a forum for sharing information about projects, these get-togethers also provide a channel for firm-wide interaction and make it easier for Millennials to develop relationships with senior professionals that can lead to mentoring opportunities.

Coming Full Circle

Perhaps one of the top benefits of a successful mentoring program: “Reverse mentoring,” or junior-to-senior guidance, can be just as effective.

Says Smith, “Reverse mentoring is one way to stay on top of rapid changes in technology and how they are being applied.” Pesci cites the example of one young designer with whom she works. “I am mentoring her on her professional career, and she is mentoring me on technology,” she says.

More generally, says Smith, “through their willingness to question established procedures and make suggestions, young people also can help us to identify longtime practices that no longer are effective and that need to be changed.”