Turning mentorship on its head

Reverse Mentoring has become a successful way to connect senior leaders with the new generation workforce. It is an alternative to the traditional mentorship approach, providing the opportunity to gain valuable new perspectives.

Sandvik invites employees to participate in mentorship programs as part of its work with diversity and inclusion, and employees are embracing the programs with interest.

At business area segment Sandvik Machining Solutions, the program is global and across divisions, and all employees are welcome to apply. Applicants have the option to choose between a traditional mentorship program or a reverse mentorship program. In the latter, traditional roles are switched, and the junior employee becomes mentor to the more experienced and senior mentee.

Anna Hedebrant

“Regardless of who mentors whom, the learning goes two ways,” says Anna Hedebrant, Vice President Human Resources at Sandvik Machining Solutions, who herself opted for the reverse mentorship program. “I believe that for many of our senior managers, who are used to taking on the role of mentor, there is a lot to gain from having a mentor who looks at work life from a different angle.”

Hedebrant says that leaders also have a lot to learn from mentors who are very different from themselves, and at different phases of their career.

“That improves the understanding of how others in the organization perceive our culture, our messages and our strategy,” she says. “The mentee role hopefully gives a greater understanding of how to lead our company in a more inclusive way.”

Equally, the junior and often less-experienced employees who take on the mentor role benefit from the opportunity to be exposed to management, to be seen and to be listened to.

Huge interest in program

Björn AxelssonInterest in joining the mentorship program has been huge. The first round of the program, with 80 participants, has now ended and an equally large round is ongoing, with yet more applicants keen to join in the next matching of mentors and mentees. In the future, half of the group will also participate in reverse roles. Participants meet up at least ten times to discuss the topics on which they have mutually agreed at their initial meeting.

The Reverse Mentorship program at business area Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions is on a smaller scale, through initiatives at division and sales area level.

“We see reverse mentorship as a means to bridge the ongoing generational change and pave the way for tomorrow’s workplace,” says Björn Axelsson, Vice President HR & EHS at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions.

Bridging the gap

When millennials mentor boomers, the discussions widen perspectives and generate new ideas. And that’s just one benefit. For Alex Nieuwpoort, President for Sandvik division Wolfram, and Lovisa Svarvare, Global Environmental Specialist at Sandvik Coromant, the sessions have become a valued and permanent appointment in their calendars. It started with a great match.

I think we have both greatly benefited from the ‘no bullshit’ approach we agreed on from the start.

Alex NieuwpoortAt the time Alex was an energy and sustainability engineer at Sandvik Coromant in Gimo, Sweden. They wanted similar things. Lovisa wanted to learn how more experienced colleagues viewed sustainability. Alex wanted to gain insight into how someone who recently entered the workforce felt about sustainability.

“I have worked at Sandvik for 26 years and was curious about everything that comes with being new and from a different generation,” Alex says. “Lovisa turned out to be a great mentor. She challenged me in a number of areas. She even gave me homework.”

Alex says Lovisa sent him links to useful videos that he probably wouldn’t have discovered without her help.

Says Lovisa, “I don’t know if anyone else has given their mentee homework, but Alex was very open to the reverse mentorship, and I think we have both greatly benefited from the ‘no bullshit’ approach we agreed on from the start.”

A mutual mentorship contract

Lovisa SvarvareThe focus on sustainability was set at their very first meeting when, like all participants in the mentorship program, they had to agree on a mutual mentorship contract. Other topics chosen for their meeting agenda were leadership styles, relationships and workforce networks, and how we reach younger generations and build success.

Most people I meet in my daily work do belong to my generation, but today I am scheduling time to actively seek contact with younger colleagues.

“We had a great dialogue on all these topics and much more,” says Lovisa. “Our discussions also taught me a lot about myself, that I need to give myself time to reflect.” She has since made reflection time a permanent part of her weekly agenda, she says. The talks also made her realize that she could use her knowledge more effectively. She has now changed her role and works as an environmental specialist at Sandvik Coromant.

Alex has also adjusted his work schedule. His wish to understand the minds of the new generation in the workforce made him open to Lovisa’s encouragement to be more present and meet up with those colleagues he is so curious about.

“I am really trying to do that,” he says. “Most people I meet in my daily work do belong to my generation, but today I am scheduling time to actively seek contact with younger colleagues.”

Mats Eriksson

The official mentorship program has now ended for Alex and Lovisa, but its success has made them continue their mentoring relationship. Today, however, neither of them would describe it as “reverse,” but rather a relationship in which they both mentor each other.

Mats Eriksson, President Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions is one of the initiators of business area’s mentorship program.

“Born in the ’60s, a baby boomer, I wanted to be mentored by a millennial, to better understand how values and work motivation have changed from my generation,” says Mats. He teamed up with Ida Teeristö, Product Safety and Sustainability Specialist in the Load and Haul division, who was born in the 1990s.

Ida Tieestö“This is great opportunity to learn from each other about our organization, culture, and leadership values, and to give each other insight into things that the other person would otherwise not encounter,” Ida says.

Mats agrees and adds, “Ida can’t possibly represent an entire generation, but her very straight and open way of sharing her views has given me great insight into how today’s young people think and prioritize, and what we need to do to remain an attractive workplace.”