How do you teach your boss to mentor

"Mentoring 4.0" project

Young people move naturally in the digitized world. Companies can take advantage of this by assigning the next generation a responsible role in the digital transformation of work processes at an early stage. The "Mentoring 4.0" project promotes the exchange between young and experienced through mixed-age teams - for example at Konrad Armaturentechnik GmbH.

If you are brand new to the company, you first get involved, don't want to attract negative attention, and only make yourself heard over time. This is a common narrative. As a newcomer to the company, who seriously wanted to set the direction and give the boss or department head wise advice? This seems conceivable at best for people who are working directly towards their termination, or in a role play with a reversed hierarchy. But the stereotypes of roles are breaking up, and the involvement of new employees in responsible processes can begin early, like the project “Mentoring 4.0 - with appreciation for added value” in the central Ruhr area (Bochum, Herne, Witten and Hattingen). Using the opportunities of digital change in daily work across generations ”shows. The project, funded by the Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Affairs (MAGS) of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia with funds from the European Social Fund (ESF), helps companies to create a cross-generational transfer of knowledge in the digital transformation in their work culture.

"Mentoring 4.0" sees young professionals who start in any company in a new light. You are no longer the only recipient of the company knowledge that needs to be acquired and preserved. Rather, they can and should take on an active role in order to promote digitization in the company in exchange with the experienced. Because with a new addition, so the basic conviction, new knowledge about programs (software) comes into the company, with which, for example, the invoicing can be done leaner and faster. The prerequisite is that the generations who come into the company have a natural way of dealing with the Internet, digital devices and software solutions that older colleagues may be unfamiliar with. Another condition is that the company also offers these digitally particularly skilled workers the opportunity to develop. The project approach thus reverses the distribution of roles in the classic mentoring process: In "reverse mentoring", the experienced employees and managers are no longer the mentors; conversely, they are the mentees who learn from the new forces. In this new constellation, you benefit from your young colleagues and use them to make familiar processes more digital and thus more efficient.

"No problem with the hierarchies"

"I have absolutely no problems switching between the hierarchical levels," says Lutz Löbardt. He is the managing partner of Konrad Armaturentechnik GmbH from Bochum, which is one of the ten companies participating in the project. The companies involved include a plant manufacturer as well as a pharmacy, a specialist plumbing company or a precision engineering and system technology company. Participation was a logical step for Konrad Armaturentechnik GmbH. After taking over the company in 2010, the couple Lutz and Gerlinde Löbardt installed a quality management system (QM) for which the managing director's wife was responsible. In addition, the company delved deeper into the topic of digital production processes. The technical support for the QM process, which was completed in 2015, had already been provided by the consulting company Management Institut Bochum (mib), which is also entrusted with the organization and implementation of the “Mentoring 4.0” project. Advice on the digital transformation of work processes, says mib authorized signatory and project manager Matthias Bartels, is now increasingly in demand. It is often a challenge to convey the necessity of changes in-house in addition to the processes themselves.

Thanks to the early connection to mib, Lutz Löbardt was informed about the development of the project, which started in 2018 with a duration of two years. The head of Konrad Armaturentechnik GmbH hopes that "Mentoring 4.0" will help with the overdue switch to modern software. His wishes range from more reliable and simpler calculations in the commercial area to more efficient use of CNC machines in the automated production process. Initially, Konrad Armaturentechnik is concentrating on establishing the merchandise management system and supporting customer contact through digital instruments. For this, Lutz Löbardt willingly goes to school and has an employee familiarize him with suitable computer programs.

For this special relationship, mentor and mentee neither find each other by themselves nor do they automatically form a functioning, cross-generational team. To ensure this, the “Mentoring 4.0” project has another special feature: The two-person team is assigned an external mediator who is called the pilot.

The lead consulting company mib provides the three pilots in the project. Christopher Pohle is the project manager there, himself one of the pilots, and in this role controls the mentoring process at Konrad Armaturentechnik. As a pilot, he must analyze in advance which digital projects are being sought and which digital knowledge younger employees in the company have. The latter is of particular importance, “because the digital competence of a mentor is not only expressed in the fact that he can use a smartphone and apps. Rather, it consists in being able to develop Excel spreadsheets over several pages, for example. "

After the matching, i.e. the bringing together of a mentor and a mentees, the content-related support of the mixed-age team by the pilot begins. He becomes active when the young colleague has identified areas in which digitization can help the company. Pohle: "The help consists in instructing the younger ones how to convey the digital possibilities to the older one." Of course, this also means working on the team's communication skills. For a functioning interaction, mentor and mentee must be clear about their self-image and their external impact, be empathic and maintain a goal-oriented exchange.

Tutoring in software applications for the boss

“The strength of the mentoring project lies in the close relationship between mentor and mentee, which is built up within the company and is in the foreground,” says Keven Forbrig. He is the head of the Central Ruhr Regional Agency, which supports companies with applications, services such as potential advice and education checks and at the interface to the Ministry of Labor, implements the state's labor market policy goals in the regions. For Keven Forbrig, the assigned pilot only provides assistance, whereas the content-related work, i.e. the digital change processes, mentor and mentee negotiate independently and internally.

At Konrad Armaturentechnik GmbH, Sven Gerschwitz filled the role of mentor for his boss and mentee Lutz Löbardt until the end of 2018. Until then, he was responsible for controlling in the company. This activity also results in a work area that is essential for the “Mentoring 4.0” project. In Controlling, Sven Gerschwitz created worksheets over two years with which, for example, the material consumption can be calculated and the processing times of an order can be read off. "Apart from me, nobody really knows how the tables are structured," says Sven Gerschwitz. In the project, he conveyed precisely this knowledge to his boss. This enables him to update the material list himself with the new purchase prices in the future, which is not yet done automatically. Even if something changes over the course of operations or the construction of fittings, this should be taken into account. So that what has been said doesn't fizzle out, Sven Gerschwitz also creates a written guide. The managing director or another employee who will assume responsibility in these areas in the future can use this as an aid. "Building and documenting this in this way is elementary in order to preserve knowledge for the company in the long term," says Christopher Pohle. In this context, Lutz Löbardt sees himself as a mentee willing to learn: "I bring in my knowledge gaps, so to speak, in software issues."

Pilot is "valuable as a neutral authority"

The pilot takes on another relevant task in the “Mentoring 4.0” project. He encourages the mentor to continuously maintain and document the exchange with his mentee despite the priority of day-to-day business. On the one hand, it is of course about the achieved and thus motivating successes in imparting digital skills. “But the challenges that arise in a team of two are also important,” says Christopher Pohle (mib). How the internal relationship develops is important for the pilot, "so that I can make adjustments in the mentoring process". For this reason, regular feedback from the mentor to the pilot is mandatory. In addition, Christopher Pohle established a regular exchange with mentee Lutz Löbardt in order to receive an assessment of the entrepreneur about the knowledge transfer and the progress of the digital transformation in the company. All these possibilities for intervention make the pilot “valuable as a neutral instance in a process that is only successful if it is continuously followed, remains objective and goal-oriented,” says Gerlinde Löbardt. With her experience in quality management, she pursues the “Mentoring 4.0” project from a higher-level perspective, so to speak, and intervenes in an advisory capacity if necessary.

The pilot should also intervene - in the context of the content of the “Mentoring 4.0” project in the company. This happened at Konrad Armaturentechnik GmbH when considering which digital means could better maintain customer contact. This basically affects the area of ​​enterprise resource planning (ERP), with which the available resources are used in the best possible way. Lutz Löbardt initially pursued the idea of ​​not only doing the financial and payroll accounting with an existing merchandise management system, but also purchasing materials and completely processing customer orders from the calculation to the receipt of money. "But we had to learn to reduce our demands," says Lutz Löbardt. The really big digital solution might be suitable for a company in which routines predominate. In an exchange with the “Mentoring 4.0” pilot Christopher Pohle, he came to the conclusion that such a complex system was overdimensioned for his company. “Digitization must not be an end in itself, but should simplify things. Where it makes processes more complicated for us, because we are more or less the bespoke tailor in valve construction, we leave it behind, ”says Lutz Löbardt. In the area of ​​customer contacts, Christopher Pohle advised the company owner to first exhaust the possibilities of Outlook and, if necessary, to adapt the software to their own needs.

A climate of mutual respect

Gerlinde and Lutz Löbardt already see positive impulses for the future viability of Konrad Armaturentechnik GmbH. If young employees were given the opportunity to accompany important developments in the company at an early stage, this would allow conclusions to be drawn about the atmosphere in the company. “Today's young skilled workers usually place less value on status symbols,” says Gerlinde Löbardt. “They would rather have a boss who interacts with them on an equal footing.” In times of a shortage of skilled workers, it is therefore important to make the openness of your company transparent and thus to advertise yourself. “This is where the attitude and culture of a company are expressed,” says pilot Christopher Pohle. The approach of cross-generational "reverse mentoring" could generally lead to fertilization processes within a company and promote the appreciative interaction of sometimes very different employees. “Even if the main focus of the project is on the transfer from young to old, this should not be understood as a one-way street,” says Christopher Pohle. In this way, not only the younger ones pass on their methodological knowledge to their older colleagues using digital tools. In the opposite direction, the transfer of specialist knowledge and experience from the older to the newcomer takes place almost automatically at the same time. "This means that the tools and methods of reverse mentoring in the project can also be applied to all other processes and areas of knowledge exchange," says Christopher Pohle. In order to provide additional support to the companies involved, the “Mentoring 4.0” project enables group workshops to be held in the individual companies and organizes other cross-company meetings to exchange experiences.

Text: Volker Stephan

Source: This text first appeared in the G.I.B. Info 2/2019.