Intergenerational collaboration – there is a positive flavor to this term. However: differing values, perspectives on life, and work styles as well as implicit or explicit stereotypes regarding seniors and young people, and persistent biases, often lead to a lack of understanding and to conflicts. There is only one remedy to this: to talk with, and learn from, each other. “Reverse mentoring” is a wonderful approach to an intergenerational dialog: when the senior leader is mentored by a younger, or more junior, employee, unique experiences and perspectives emerge.
Niklas, born in 1997, Junior Consultant M&A, and me – Gerda-Marie Adenau, born in 1962, Global EHS Communication Manager. The setting: one introduction meeting to get to know each other, moderated by Reverse Mentoring expert Sandra Jauslin, CEO of “nehmenswerk”. Three meetings follow suit. The focus is on the views and opinions of the younger person. Here are my three personal highlights.
“This really struck me – Gerda-Marie joined Siemens in 1998 … I was a year old then!”Niklas Meier, Junior M&A Consultant
When work styles collide – “let’s just send this off, and be done with it”
What is Niklas’ perception of the work styles of his colleagues, and how do they compare to his own?
“What has been striking me as a characteristic which intensifies with age: older colleagues may spend hours on a sentence or a power point slide. And everything needs to find consent from others. Recently, I received an invite for a meeting where five people ended up discussing one power point slide for half an hour. With me saying to myself, let’s send this off – if it doesn’t work out, we’ll learn from that.”
This statement makes me grin. I know this phenomenon just so well! I try to explain. Indeed, I grew up in a culture where perfectionism was considered not a weakness but a strength. And where consent from everybody enabled one’s survival in the company. “Let’s just do it!” would simply have been a no-go twenty years ago.
Career perspectives and life-long learning
Niklas tells me about how he is frequently misused as an IT hotline. He doesn’t mind, basically because he is eager to help. But frequently he is asked for help when a simple quick Google search would do the trick, or a bit of experimenting. And he tells me about colleagues who, confronted with a new tool, will reluctantly ask, “Do I really have to learn this now at my age?”.
Niklas describes the wide gap which he observes. On the one hand, there are colleagues who, in the last segment of their careers, keep learning new things and engage in job-related discussions. Others, on the other hand, will hide behind their PCs, with their eyes directed solely towards fulfilling their tasks.
I try to create understanding. I tell him about my legacy: I typed my first letters with carbon copies (“cc” in emails today!) on mechanical typewriters. I talk to him about how fast, and radical, technological developments and their reverberations in our company may cause a feeling of threat and anxiety. Know-how is subject to becoming dated; people may fear to be losing touch.
And now, let’s talk about the learning opportunities our company provides.
Niklas says: “I appreciate the manifold options Siemens offers to me. So many jobs, so many opportunities for development … this is fantastic. This bandwidth of areas of activity may make you think you’re in a totally different company.”
I am glad about this perception from Niklas. And cautiously, I draw his attention to the fact that also people aged #50plus may wish to continue their development. After all, there’s still 15 years in front of them. I tell him about colleagues who feel side-tracked, or who live in fear of being handed a termination note … and I feel that he can relate.
That afternoon, we both leave our meeting in a highly contemplative mood.
Loyalty with our company: “We at Siemens”
Niklas narrates about how happy he had been to be able to join the company. And about the moment when he first uttered the phrase “We at Siemens”. He is full of enthusiasm … I am listening, and I am intrigued. I ask him about what he knows about the company pre his starting the job; it is not much. von Pierer, Kleinfeld, Löscher – to him, they are historic figures.
When it comes to my turn for talking, I have to reflect. How to condense 25 years of living with a multinational company into three sentences, or five minutes? I tell him about my situation when joining the company; I was more motivated by economic necessity than enthusiastic about working in a global corporation. I talk about the corruption case and how it became the pivotal point for me deciding in favor of loyalty for this company – loyalty which I am still keeping alive today.
This is the dialog which ensues in this discussion about our company:
Niklas: “In a career context – yes, Siemens, this is my first great love.”
Gerda-Marie: “Love, this word is too strong as far as I’m concerned. At the beginning, the relationship between Siemens and me was more of a rational relationship. Love emerged only over time – I think that, today, we have a very mature relationship. And I am not really sure if Siemens is going to remain my last love.”
Niklas: “… and you can’t! Your first love always remains your first love, and you are aware of that. But whether your last love will remain your last love – you’ll only be able to tell looking back.”
What a statement! And Niklas is super happy to see me flabbergasted for a minute.
Here’s the summary from Niklas on our experiment: “I’ll full-heartedly recommend reverse monitoring to anyone. On the one hand, it offers young people the opportunity to pick up opinions, tips, and background information from experienced senior colleagues. On the other hand, it enables you to further develop your interaction skills and get to know other people’s perspectives.”
The same holds true for me, dear Niklas!
And this is the take from reverse mentoring expert Sandra Jauslin:
Intergenerational dialog should be initiated with young colleagues as early as possible, to enable a transformation of the corporate culture for the long term. The narrative exchange between mentor and mentee should be as open as possible. The attitude of both participants plays an important role. Value is created when there is an atmosphere of mutual respect and empathic curiosity. Sandra jauslin, CEO nehmenswerk GmbH