Young and Old: A Powerful Combination
Story originally authored by Andrea Diederichs.
Maintaining a highly skilled workforce is a challenge for the entire IT industry, including SAP. While the company is committed to attracting the younger generation, SAP in Germany has launched an initiative to promote mature talents. The aim is to maximise the potential of experienced employees, to support cooperation in mixed-age teams and to help managers understand the needs of different age groups. Martin Kuehn, 25 years at SAP, actively promotes the mature talents program. He shares his perspective as an experienced employee and talks about his driving passion – inter-generational dialogue.
Martin Kühn joined SAP in 1989. After holding management positions in product development between 1996 and 2011, he moved on to become a project lead in Solution and Knowledge Packaging (SAKP). Most recently, his projects have focused on HR topics, diversity and bridging the generation gap.
SAP News: Martin, what do your generation projects involve?
Martin: One of the initiatives we’re responsible for is known as tandem mentoring. It’s a special two-way mentoring relationship between very experienced employees and their younger co-workers, in which the emphasis is on both generations learning from each other. We ran a three-month pilot project involving 15 tandems this summer.
SAP News: What kind of feedback did you get from the participants?
Martin: The response from the younger employees was very positive; and the more mature colleagues were even more enthusiastic. They told us that they found it invigorating to work more closely with younger people, to gain new perspectives, and to pass on the fruits of their experience. For their part, the younger colleagues enjoyed the opportunity to learn from their elders, to discover the background to many situations, and to extend their networks.
SAP News: What prompted you to initiate this project?
Martin: First, we wanted to foster a sense of togetherness between the generations – because we’re convinced that mixed-generation teams are more innovative. Second, we wanted to ensure that senior employees are shown due appreciation for the experience they have gained over the years. I belong to that group of mature employees and I know how important recognition is as a motivating factor.
SAP News: Are you involved in any other generation-based programs?
Martin: Yes, there’s the “Knowledge Transfer and Retention” project, which aims to keep key knowledge within the company and make sure it is shared. There are currently two pilot projects running simultaneously: The first involves mentors taking younger employees through a structured knowledge transfer process. The second is about investigating how we can preserve and pass on the knowledge that older employees have built up over the years before they retire and leave the company.
SAP News: You’re now a project lead, but you were a manager for many years before that. How different are the two roles?
Martin: I enjoyed my time as a manager and I’m very happy with what I achieved. But it’s nice not to have to exert pressure any more. I love working in a team. And I enjoy helping others and collaborating with younger people.
SAP News: How do you see your standing as an experienced SAP employee? Is your maturity an advantage or not?
Martin: Right now, it feels fantastic. Of course it’s a pity that the years have gone by. But my current situation is very good.
SAP News: Can you tell us why?
Martin: I’m particularly enjoying working with the people at SAP. Diversity is a topic that’s close to my heart. And it’s incredibly enriching for me to see and experience the amazing way in which we achieve cross-generational and cross-cultural collaboration at SAP.
SAP News: Are there any downsides to being an experienced employee?
Martin: Well, as you can probably imagine, giving up a management position was not an easy step to take. But, as a mature employee, you do feel a bit like an elder statesman. And I really like being able to pass something of my knowledge and experience on to younger people and help them be successful.
SAP News: Is there anything you find more difficult now than you used to?
Martin: Yes. Definitely. Keeping lots of balls in the air at once.
SAP News: And what are you better at now than you were when you were younger?
Martin: I find it easier to stay relaxed and to accept that you won’t always achieve perfection or find a 100% solution.
SAP News: What inspires you on a day-to-day basis at SAP? What makes you happy?
Martin: The people here. They really are pretty unique. I also think it’s fantastic that SAP is such a successful company. We play in the Champions League of software and I feel incredibly lucky to be part of that.
Ten Tips: How to boost cross-generational collaboration
The younger generation is brimming with all the latest expertise and is full of fresh, creative ideas. Older employees have vision and composure. These characteristics are highly complementary and, when combined, form an ideal mix. Here are ten tips for bridging the generational gap.
As a manager:
Foster a culture of innovation: Assign new and complex tasks to cross-generational teams.
Initiate and promote mentoring relationships: Encourage the people in your team to learn from each other.
Enable colleagues to get to know each other: Consider rotating physical workplaces or use a modern work space concept.
Be aware of the different needs of young and mature colleagues.
Encourage open, appreciative communication in your team meetings.
As a team member:
Make a special effort to network with colleagues who are younger/older than you.
Try pair programming/pair work: Identify suitable tasks for cross-generational tandems.
Do regular warm-ups: Use the daily scrum for team-building exercises on a regular basis.
Reserve time for exchange: Let younger/older colleagues share their expertise in team meetings.
Be aware of the needs of colleagues who are in different life phases than your own.
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