Now Reading: Don’t hand the keys over, collaborate with Gen Y

On the one hand, this post is way overdue. On the other hand, it’s right on time.

Overdue because I was supposed to write a half-way summary of my co-mentorship relationship with Katie Rovere (@katierovere) , who’s on the board of GenKP, the Generation Y Employee Resource Group of Kaiser Permanente.

Right on Time because we’re almost at the conclusion of our one year co-mentorship relationship. It’s concluding in the most awesome way, with Katie front of room, leading a workshop at our annual innovation retreat.

First, on the subject of the post – handing over the keys:

I see and hear so much commentary, including this article, around the concept of “get out of the way of Generation Y,” and I think it’s misguided. The articles seem to focus excessively on GenY’s ability to leverage technology:

What’s more, Gen Y workers raised on social media have special skills in pulling together solutions, and they know how to mobilize their networks. In today’s world, this ability to quickly collect and make sense of information and respond in real time often trumps experience.

To that I say, don’t be dazzled by something just because you don’t understand it. If you understand technology, you understand its limitations.

In many articles, I see Generation Y referred to as something of an invading force coming to take over with their different values. Are the values that different?

If you read an article about Generation X written 10 years ago, a lot of the themes are the same – self sufficiency, leveraging new communication, etc.

The suggestions people make about managing Generation Y to my eyes are about being more human and respectful in the workplace.

GenX wanted that too when we were starting our careers. Same goes for transparency.  I witnessed the most amazing devastation at the hands of a medical profession obsessed with paternalism and secrecy (as laid out in my TEDx talk with Regina Holliday) which makes me as interested in transparency as any GenY person might be. A lot of the desires of this generation are felt by other generations, too.

My year-long mentorship relationship – collaboration is the key, not handing keys over

When I encourage people to mentor, they sometimes say to me (I’m paraphrasing), “I should mentor a Generation Y staff member because they know a lot more than I do.”

To that I say, (1) yes you should and (2) that’s a fallacy.

My assessment above comes after a wonderful year co-mentoring Katie. We’ve been in the same space physically just twice in the last 12 months, and have been having regular semi-structured interactions by phone otherwise. Kaiser Permanente has a really nice matchmaking site for mentoring; that’s how we found each other. The joke between us is that we are always on the hunt for a mobile phone / land line combination that allows us to hear each other clearly :). That’s a good sign for both of us, we are intensely interested in what the other person is saying.

In our time together, Katie has brought real, tangible insights about what it’s like to be starting a career in a large organization. None of them have struck me as the rant of the spoiled or the entitled. They highlight important limitations that I don’t see in my every day life. I don’t see them because I am farther along, I am a physician ( It doesn’t matter that I tell people to call me by my first name, there is a difference ) , and part of me has stopped noticing the every day hurdles. 

We need to validate, empower, reflect, and support Katie and her colleagues to connect their desires to the mission and values of the organization. We learn a lot during this process, of course!

It’s a great thing to provide the support that I was offered when I was in her shoes. It seems only natural that I want her to benefit from whatever I got, x 10.

A good mentor in my opinion does not intervene or choose the path for a mentee. As Lao Tsu said:

“The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!

From spreadsheets to cathedrals: Left to Right: David Nwangwu, Jessica Johnson, Bernard Tyson, Incoming Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Kaiser Permanente,Katie Rovere, (GenKP Board)

A good mentor does do things like mention to Katie that her name was on a spreadsheet connected to planning an event (like the national Diversity Conference), and it was her decision to decide to follow-up on that. When life throws your name on a cell in a spreadsheet…

In the case of the National Diversity Conference, Katie did follow up, and literally showed attendees the difference between laying bricks and building cathedrals, on site. She herself and her colleagues achieved it.

So now Katie has ended up on another spreadsheet, and she and I will both spend some time on stage at our innovation retreat. I’ll be doing what I love, bringing the member voice forward (in a multigenerational panel – Gen B, X, Y, and Z!) She’ll be doing what she loves, bringing the voice of her generation forward.

We’re collaborating, because we love what we do and we want each other to succeed.

Utilize rather than surrender

The founders of my specialty, family medicine, said this about the relationship that family doctors should have with specialists:

Her/His aim is to broaden her/his concern, to widen her/his skill; s/he seeks to accept responsibility; not merely to pass it along. S/He utilizes specialists, rather than surrendering to them

I think this is a good analogy. Our patients don’t want anyone to surrender to anyone, they want us to leverage each other’s talents to create a much more beautiful cathedral (i.e. the achievement of their life goals through optimal health) for them. No one is laying bricks around here.

Here’s a video of the imaginarium that the GenKP group were a part of last year. Tomorrow I’ll post about Katie’s commentary on a few articles I asked her to read.


Ted Eytan, MD