Cross Generations at the Workplace Series – Point of view 7 – Heike Weiss
My name is Heike Weiss. I work as Program Manager in the SAP S/4HANA Product Management and Co-Innovation team. I am coordinating all Co-Innovation activities our team is driving, which results in a highly interactive collaboration with various organizations across SAP as well as externally. In previous roles, I used to work intensively with customers on planning and managing SAP projects globally in different locations, later in the Small Business and in Release Strategy area where I got new perspectives on SAP. I do look back on 4 decades of life and have children myself that are almost Millennials themselves.
I also act as mentor for new hires and fellows (we are intensely leveraging SAP´s fellowship framework) in our team as I strongly believe that best business results can only be obtained with the mutual inspiration within “diverse-gen” teams.
Adding and combining different points of view in a series about cross generations at the workplace is the perfect way for me to address a few of these stereotypes from my perspective.
With my current team as well as in former roles, I made experiences with both, the “elder” generation and Millennials, that I want to speak about.
I really like to share a few thoughts as I felt myself between a rock and a hard place, since everybody kept talking about the new generation, but only few about the contribution of my generation.
One difference I experience today in contrast to the generation I belong to is that young people are much more used to highly heterogeneous and diverse social and cultural environments. Driven by globalization, mixture of cultures and increasing diversity in our society, my kids for example are used to interact with companions from many countries and cultures. When I was at school, we were only Germans and people were either catholic or protestants. Looking at my own children, their private and school life looks very different and much more diverse. This directly translates to the reality of enterprises today and shows diversity from every angle, not only from age or generations.
My take: Millennials are used to live with diversity. This has also an effect on my daily business life: Interaction in a highly diverse environment is the new normal, and I myself do appreciate this, though something you need to be open to and get used to while the next generation is natively born into it.
Communicating and working with unlimited information availability
In the information age, we are living in and are surrounded by an information overflow which also applies to my life. Just refer to the e-mail flood that needs to be managed every day. How to deal with it without spending too much time on your inbox? What applies to me, also does to receivers of my emails. You can’t assume per default your mail is read by everyone. You need to find appropriate strategies to reach attention of the target person for the topic you want to raise: What to do if your matter is not responded to – send a second mail? Call? Send an IM? Walk into the person´s office? Depends… probably on the urgency of the topic, the assumed availability and interest of the person in question. From my experience, better get the attention on the topic with a short and focused communication… once you have the interaction model defined, you can talk details.
Another observation that is common today, but can be considered a significant change compared to my generation is making use of publicly available information. The vast availability of information on the web makes it easy to put together essays, concepts or proposals quickly – it seems no one can resist this abundance, though I feel it puts myself into the obligation to investigate and deliver content on unknown topics faster than ever before.
In a world where information is available at your fingertips, new skills are required: For me today, it is important to look at data critically. Time ago it was already a great result to collect data and put it together, today the business outcome lies in the right interpretation and what insights can be derived from it. Skills are required for qualifying the source of information first before consuming the given information – this way to make sure to examine a matter holistically and objectively. Besides my professional life, acquiring these kind of skills is of high interest also in my role as mother. Kids are growing up in a media-governed world, and therefore need to find through the information jungle and learn how to stay critical.
No need to learn anymore due to unlimited access to information anywhere and anytime?
Nope. It wouldn’t be right to assume that the omnipresence of information relieves from active learning and gathering own experience in professional matters; or that digital natives are able to make better use of it. Bringing information in context is more important than ever to not waste time with wrong sources and wrong conclusions. Would you trust your doctor who keeps you waiting while he is browsing digital media to analyze your symptoms, even with the latest and best-in-class algorithms, until he comes back with a proposed therapy?
My take: We are living in a world that requires but also enables for constant change. You must draw your own conclusions and take your own educated decisions.
About loyalty and motivation
I have experienced my colleagues from Generation Y as very constructive, positive and committed. They are hungry for new challenges and I also experience them as keen to share back with others. I think they are loyal as long as the role is challenging; if new opportunities arrive, they might evaluate them – something that is valid for all generations.
Experienced knowledge workers of my generation are loyal too – but I think with a higher acceptance for stagnating work environment as long as they are not tumbled nor downgraded by a re-organization. This might also correlate with the duration of their life in business. There are always ups and downs along the lifecycle of a company and more experienced people have gone through different phases already, therefore I do believe the curiosity to take on totally different challenges, just for the sake of something new, decreases over time.
And what makes me get out of the bed every morning?
Actually, I am not a morning person at all, which requires an even bigger adulation to the things that make me get up every day J:
- Team spirit means a lot to me. A great team to work with, sharing challenges as well as fun moments. Everyone is so dedicated to our aspiration and overwhelmingly supportive in daily business, even with tight schedules, that I enjoy being part of it.
- This comes along with a great leadership, acting as a role model for leadership qualities: While managed by results, I am getting inspired and coached along my projects which enables me to develop my own skills along new challenges. Being certain of having trust and appropriate responsibility to execute my tasks is a significant motivation for me.
- In a global team, working hours are often outside the 9 to 5 approach. I do appreciate having the flexibility to work anywhere and anytime. I enjoy the private time I spend with my family and friends as well – this implies I am the one who decides when to make use of this flexibility and when I am not available.
- Not to forget the network built over the many years in my company.
Actually net net it sounds pretty similar to the stereotypes being related to Generation Y…
It is highly career-relevant and at the same time a huge personal motivation to keep in touch with some people you worked well with in past projects and past positions.
For staying in touch, I prefer making use of personal connections more than social media networks. Social media is helpful from a career perspective, but I don’t like being reduced to the number of connections I do have, or to the skill matrix I entered on the web. I personally think this doesn’t mirror me and does not allow conclusions. I understand that this is a good first indicator for headhunters and also for people searching for contacts with similar projects in order to engage, though regarding the career opportunities it would be much nicer to turn this into a pull mode and have a database of job or project opportunities on social networks that can be screened – you can decide much better for yourself because you know yourself best J
This might be a difference to Generation Y, which I believe they want to be found instead of searching actively, but I personally rely for career steps on personal networks that I have developed over many years, with both people inside the company as well as outside. Speaking frankly, many of my job changes in the past were initiated by a recommendation out of my network. This is something an early talent cannot rely on at the beginning of the career.
For young professionals with career aspirations, as social media presence can accelerate the professional network. I do recommend using the social networks for this but do not rely on that only… rather grow personal relationships and references.
Grow on the job
Rotation in professional life is a must-have from my point of view.
For employees, job variation brings opportunities to extend knowledge and to grow with new challenges. With undergoing change, early talents can find multiple orientation to work on their individual career path. Organizations who offer attracting ways to do that, will have lower churn rates for young talents.
But also for the employer, rotation programs are indispensable to obtain required speed and agility. The more exchange happens in the workforce, the more companies can benefit from synergies as a result of interaction between departments, people development, and job roles. This process especially keeps large organizations agile. For our department a great reason to support fellowships and further rotation programs as it keeps fresh ideas and different perspectives coming into our organization.
Katharina said in her previous blog: “Today employees need to adjust their profession along with the changing markets.” I think this is THE central statement which, by the way, is not only true for work, but also for everything we do in life. We all are adjusting goals and behaviors constantly based on changes in our environment.
It’s all about managing change… but technology does not replace face to face conversation
People from my generation tend to think they learned everything better and often feel in a comfort zone compared to the next generation. Actually we did not have smartphones, internet nor social media. Whatever I wanted to know, I had to read about it and if I wanted to have it with me, needed to memorize it. Once I moved into a new city and had to wait for the telephone connection to be installed, which went over weeks – can you imagine to walk half a kilometer to the next public phone box just to quickly speak to someone? Even if it rains or snows? And the other party can´t reach you at all.
Technology drives change in the way we communicate and the way we live. Everyone, not only the Millennials generation, is adopting the sunny side instantly because it makes life easier. And this is how it should be. Technology is my daily catalyst to make meetings more effective, reduce my effort, allow me to travel only when appropriate, etc.
But use technology wisely. Don´t forget that electronic communication can be source of misunderstanding and miscommunication. I still like the old-fashioned face to face conversations in as many occasions as possible – especially when it’s about sharing ideas and driving collaborative outcome with people. I prefer the electronic way for purely operational topics when it’s about maximizing efficiency with existing relationships.
I have experienced Millennials as motivated and committed colleagues who bring new ideas to the table, who are willing to drive topics proactively and present own initiatives, but also do emphasize the contribution of my generation for the sake of a joined better business outcome.
Co-Innovation means to ideate with customers to make our product better every day. To me this translates into a bidirectional exchange. Listening to the other party is key to success. Similarly, working cross-generation means for me to learn from each other every day.
We are looking forward to your comments.
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