Have you ever had an a-ha moment and not realized it until many months later? I experienced this through a reverse mentoring process. Back in 2015, I kept hearing negative comments about millennials, both in the workplace and outside in the community. These comments revolved around their work ethics, tenure with an organization, commitment to one single company, and lack of understanding of the hierarchical structure.
I am not a millennial, and the people I spend time with, including my direct reports, are not millennials, but I really wanted to understand this generation’s mentality and form my own opinions about what I’d heard. To do so, I decided to meet with our company’s human resources department and ask that I be assigned a millennial for reverse mentoring.
The plan was to meet once a month for an hour starting in January 2016. Cynthia was my first millennial mentor. She had been with the company for two years at that time. She worked in the marketing function. Cynthia was married, had a dog and was trying to get pregnant with the couple’s first child. She enjoyed her job and wanted to know more about why we do certain processes in the marketing function the way we do. What she appreciated the most about her department was its teamwork.
Cynthia was on the quiet side and was very family-oriented. She had a college degree and valued learning. UPS was the second major corporation where she had worked in her short career. At the time, there was no thought for long-term employment with any company. Cynthia did have a baby girl in 2017, and chose to have a career as a mom.
After a year of learning from Cynthia, I was assigned Omar, who had a very different profile than my original mentor. Omar had started with UPS in the front line of the air operation and was promoted to industrial engineering supervisor after four years.
Omar was a graduate of the University of Florida and told me most of his friends had headed north to obtain management entry-level jobs. I was curious about why he had decided to start at UPS in operations with less pay, unlike his friends who had moved in search of opportunities that offered higher salaries. He calmly responded, “Because of the work ethic and the integrity of UPS.” It was our second meeting, and I about fell out of my chair. I had never expected that statement from him.
Omar is a very caring person. He’s concerned about a variety of important issues, from employer ethics to the environment, his parents and enjoying life. One of the things I remember the most about Omar is his caring personality. One example is when he stayed in town during Hurricane Irma in September 2017 and helped as many co- workers as he could to board up their homes in preparation for the storm.
It was a pure joy to have Omar mentor me in 2017. By the end of the year, he surprised me again by making a video about his experience being my millennial mentor. The highlight of the video was when he said he had been very nervous when we started, but that getting to know each other had been a wonderful experience. He said his biggest takeaway was that he had grown more confident engaging with different types of people.
It was in the middle of 2017 that my a-ha moment occurred. I realized how much productive feedback I had received in the past year-and-a-half. I started explaining to the external community about my experience and takeaways with my millennial reverse mentoring. I discuss it when I have the opportunity on business panels, in keynote speeches, in general in the business community and, of course, internally on our UPS campus.
At the beginning of 2018, I was introduced to Manny as my mentor for this year. He has been with UPS for eight months as a revenue management specialist. He is a graduate of Florida International University and is looking to obtain his MBA. This is Manny’s second job with a Fortune 500 company.
Manny describes himself as an introvert, a food enthusiast and very caring of his parents. Something he told me that I found interesting was, “When I started college, I told my parents I didn’t need them as parents anymore, I needed them as friends.” I look forward to finishing this year with him. Our conversations are very different from the ones with my two previous mentors.
What I’ve learned through this reverse mentoring experience is that millennials are very caring about everything that enters their world. That speaks of their commitment.
They want to understand the reasons why things are done in a certain way, and they want proof. That speaks of their involvement.
They are hungry for continuous learning, which I find refreshing. This speaks of their will to grow.
Those of us who aren’t millennials need to get to know this generation of future leaders much better. What I’ve found in knowing them is that we will be in great hands as a society and in business.
This two-year journey has been extremely rewarding, and I will continue this path every year.
Romaine Seguin is the president of UPS International, Americas Region. She also serves on the i4 Business advisory board.