And this scenario was the start of our reverse mentoring experiment, where we came together: Kevin Bauer, an ambitious young digital leader, mentoring Sébastien Bey, CIO of SIEMENS Smart Infrastructure.
Understanding the new generation(s)
Millennials or “Generation Y” were born between 1980 and 1995 and experienced globalization’s birth. As the first multi-screen users, also social media arrived naturally with them. You don’t need to look hard to find criticisms surrounding millennials. Their reputation speaks volumes: Selfish, spoiled, arrogant, resentful, and a lack of commitment.
In comparison to that, we have GenX, who were born between 1960 and 1980. Political and global conflicts have shaped their childhood and lives during the reconstruction of Europe after the war. Their philosophy of life? Working and producing – not leaving room for laziness and individualism. GenX are the first digital immigrants, and they also experienced the arrival of the internet.
At first glance, these two generations could not be more different from an outside perspective. But working together smoothly is and will be crucial: By 2025, millennials will make up to 75 percent of the global workforce. However, GenX are the ones in the leading position. How can GenX lead millennials, that are digital natives but pursue different goals and lifestyles? You need to understand the workforce of the future to be able to lead them.
How to get started with reverse mentoring?
At the start of this journey, we defined some ground rules like how often we meet or our conversations’ confidentiality. We actively challenged each other so that we can learn the most possible. Sébastien defined his expectations of this mentoring relationship and what he wants to learn from Kevin’s perspective – these were his three main questions:
- How to attract young talents?
- How to keep them motivated?
- What is essential for millennials, differently from GenX?
After our discussions and having in mind to avoid stereotypes, we came to the following conclusion:
- Overcoming bureaucracy to enable an agile workforce.
Our world is becoming faster, more connected, more flexible, and opportunities are just one click away. Millennials are used to this situation and expect their employer by choice to be adaptive as well. The manager’s role is to be open to this transformation and truly listen to millennials’ arguments. Phrases like “We have always done it that way” give millennials a chill.
- Start leading, stop managing.
Nothing is worse than someone who talks A but does B and is still stuck in an old-fashioned managerial role. Social Media and LinkedIn also brought transparency and great business role models into millennials’ heads. They are seeking what they see.
Lead millennials in the digital era by guiding them on the why and what, but not on the how to do it. Lead them by honest and ongoing feedback combined with a positive failure culture. Future leaders and employees enable each other to learn and connect the best from both worlds.
- Empowering people and stay authentic
Millennials grew up in a time when equality was an important issue. This has contributed to the fact that GenY has been used to being involved and making their own decisions since they were young. Therefore, millennials have high expectations of their leaders as they want to be challenged, empowered, and want to have a say. An open culture of feedback and trust and an aligning business purpose with personal values is the way to go.
More common than expected
Of course, you can’t sum up an entire generation, and workforces are more diverse than ever. For example, Kevin deleted Instagram and Facebook from his phone because that was too much distraction. However, people believe millennials are constantly on social media. A key success factor for GenX in leading Millennials is to adapt to them in some way. For example, GenX could communicate more informally via chats rather than formally via long e-mail. Millennials will think to themselves, “this is a cool guy.” And Millennials like and follow cool bosses. Even though we grew up in different times with varying backgrounds, we have something in common that is requested from future and current leaders: We are open to other perspectives, listen carefully, and want to shape the world for the better. Finding out that we both live up to the same values let us appreciate the different work approaches.
Do you also share the same values? Check out our current career opportunities here.