The Telco Generation Gap

What does work is mentoring. When a relationship is established between an older person and a younger person and trust is built, it carries over.

What we can do

So, what should the industry do? What are our options? Top-down direction in this kind of cultural area can be helpful, but is not enough by itself. To get these two groups working effectively together requires a bottom-up approach. Senior management can help encourage and incentivize this bottom-up approach.

For individuals caught in this environment, confrontation in large groups is seldom effective. Nor is trying to work on the fundamental problem while engaging in an one-on-one conflict.

What does work is mentoring. When a relationship is established between an older person and a younger person and trust is built, it carries over. Both learn from each other and both take what they have learned into other group interactions. To be effective, these kinds of mentoring relationships must exist outside of traditional management hierarchy chains. Within a particular cellco, these kinds of mentoring relationships between thought leaders in the company can, over time, get the two groups to listen and learn from each other.

Here is a place to start: Each thought leader in the older generation should seek out two people from the younger generation. If you are an older leader, try to pick people that you feel you might be able to have good chemistry with. It doesn’t matter what part of the organization they are in. Pushing and declaring yourself a mentor doesn’t work, so try to strike up a friendship. Let the relationship develop naturally. Be open and try to learn from the younger person. At the same time, don’t create boundaries. Be open and willing to talk about anything: subject matter expertise, job challenges, career planning and, if it comes up, things outside of work. In any case, make an investment in the relationship. It is unrealistic to think that you can maintain a lot of these relationships. They take time and energy. But if you can build two such relationships, count yourself successful.

Thought leaders among the younger group should be open to conversations with people from the older group. When you find someone you are comfortable with, open up a little bit. Try to find out how comfortable you can be with that person. Feel out how much trust you might be able to develop.

It is helpful if senior management talks about and encourages this mentoring process. It has to be done in a way that strikes the right balance. For example, adding mentoring to performance reviews has the effect of killing it. For the mentoring relationship to be effective, it has to exist in a way that is, by its nature, hard to identify, measure, and so forth—counterintuitive in our metric-driven times.

It doesn’t take big numbers to reach critical mass. In a typical cellco, one or two hundred of these kinds of relationships between thought leaders may be enough to fundamentally change the nature of the dialogue. If you find yourself in one of these three roles in a cellco company—younger group, older group, or senior management—think about taking this idea on as a personal initiative.

If enough people do this, we will see vital, thriving cellcos helping society into the future.  If not, well, I’ve already told you what’s going to happen.


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