Meaningful Work Environment Is Built Through Discussions and Dialogue

Paula ViikariEarly morning trains are my cup of tea, as silence is the unwritten rule there. No talking and no invading other people’s personal space – everyone can just sulk and take their time to wake up. Furthermore, I’m not the type, who can easily mingle and banter with just about anyone. But when I do, it always requires some extra effort, conscious presence and focusing on the essentials. On this basis, some of the challenges I face at work might be of a different sort one could imagine. For engaging in conversations and genuine listening are things I do at work every day.

Meaningful work environment is built through shared agenda, which consists of shared discussions. Questions like, how do I perceive the world, how do you perceive the world, and what is the direction were heading together, are being unraveled in the discussions. The sulky attitude of the morning train is not the way I want to act at work, but admittedly I have to try my best at times to be present during the normal working days. In my opinion, leader’s central role in building the work environment is to make dialogue and the creation of the shared agenda possible. In order to open the discussion, you have to be aware of and acknowledge the limits of your own understanding and accept that for all of us, even for the managers and leaders, there are questions we do not know the answers to.

In my work, I’ve familiarized myself with the book First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham. One of its biggest offering for me has been the following checklist of 12 questions of things that should apply to all of our work.

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
2. Do I have the material and equipment I need to do my work right?
3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
10. Do I have a best friend at work?
11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

I believe the biggest challenge for most people – not just for us sullen commuters on the morning train – is to be able to start the discussion. What should we talk about in order for it to make sense? What should I know about your perception of the world? The 12-step checklist is a simple yet revealing tool for all of us. It’s way too common to get the first negative answer already during the first three steps or at the fourth step at the latest. Can work then be meaningful and efficient? What about the remaining eight steps?

It’s easy to have fun at work, when business is running smoothly. It’s much more challenging to take care of oneself and others, when things don’t turn out as planned. These days few things do. I firmly believe that especially during the hard times, every leader and manager should stare at the above-mentioned list closely. The market situation, unpredictable crises or other major events should not have an effect on the working environment we build and maintain. We can’t afford to use only half of our performance or focus our energy on job dissatisfaction and other irrelevant details.

Now is the time to engage in conversation. Now is just the right time to take care that the basic building blocks of work are done right. Tomorrow shines bright on us.

Writer is the Plant Director of a juice factory at Valio Ltd.

My Thoughts on Potluck Leadership

Sirpa PietikäinenThere are no bad employees. There are only bad leaders and, as a consequence, employees, who are not in the right job. It’s the leader’s responsibility to see, if someone is in the wrong place, and draw the necessary conclusions.

Most of all good leadership is about the ability and will to recognize the different skills and potential of people.

In the early days, leadership – as well as sports coaching – focused on just the opposite: recognizing the mistakes people made. Plenty of time was used to find out, which areas should be developed further. The intent was good but results were usually devastating.

You still can’t use the long division, Cooper test didn’t go that well and you yet again forgot your biology text book home – that’s why you’ll get extra homework, you’ll run the test again and get grounded for forgetting the text book. If a teacher always reminds a person of her weaknesses, in the worst case scenario the person will eventually lose her courage to try.

Good leader, teacher or coach recognizes person’s strengths and gives her opportunities to develop fast in the areas she’s good at. Of course you will have to develop also the skills you’re not naturally talented in, but the level of ambition can be lower.

Allowing mistakes is essential for good leadership. It takes a lot of courage to train also your weaker sides and step away from the famous comfort zone. It takes also courage from the leader to accept the fact that mistakes will be made during the journey. Work culture allowing mistakes also encourages people to be open about failures. If people at your workplace start to cover up their mistakes, the destructive side effects easily recur. Besides, you learn by making mistakes. You will never learn a new skill if you don’t first try it.

I dare to make a rough generalization: women are usually more capable of building these kinds of organizations. It’s not innate, yet it’s the consequence of how women in our society are brought up to fit a certain role, and an essential part of that role is listening to people. As our society tends to raise women as good listeners, they are often apt to apply a leadership tactic I like to call Potluck Leadership.

Potluck Leadership is about building self-guided units. When one of these units decides to, for instance, throw a party, there is no need for one tough manager, who’s in charge of organizing the event with checklists and strict instructions; the party gets done without the manager. Instead, people talk to and listen to each other.

Someone says she’ll bring the cake, other one will take care of the salad and the third one informs everyone about her excellent skills in making fruit punch. People organize themselves, which means that everyone’s strengths are honored. Even though the leader would think that instead of a shrimp salad, we’d definitely have to make a chicken salad, she has to be patient and accept that her own opinion is not the holy truth. The leader takes care of the big picture: the main thing is that the party will be organized and there will be something to eat and drink. When it comes to the details, those should be left for the employees to take care of and the leader should trust that there will be a party – maybe it’s not exactly the same as it would’ve been if you had organized everything yourself, but it will still be as good as ever.

It’s not easy. Leadership, at best, is organizing success; you provide people with opportunities to do things their own way and help them to find and develop their own strengths.

This will result in more agile organizations – and better parties.

The writer is a Member of the European Parliament.

Being a Leader Is, In Fact, Fun and Easy

Photo: KP Juurikkala

Photo: KP Juurikkala

Being a leader is really not that hard. Of course you will encounter difficult situations, but ultimately leadership is just ordinary interaction between two people. It’s all about people skills.

The essence of leadership is genuine interest in other people and their work at the workplace. Unfortunately many bosses have no idea, what employees really do, let alone how they are doing. Interest in other person’s work shows respect and of course we all hope to be respected. That is to say we all want our work to matter.

Showing interest is not the same as micromanaging. Employees are the best experts in their own work. At least my employees have usually done their work remarkably better than I would’ve ever done. This is especially true, when you are leading an expert organization. It’s not an overstatement to say that a good leader always hires people, who are smarter than herself. Talented employees make the boss shine.

Responsibility is an important motivator. When people trust me, I want to be worthy of that trust. At least that motivates me to strive hard and exceed expectations. Positive expectations produce positive results.

No one succeeds every single time, neither the employees, nor the boss. Even this situations can be resolved by relying on good manners. You have to admit mistakes and fix them. And preferably also apologize and forgive. You shouldn’t get stuck on failures, but you should learn from the mistakes.

We carried out a significant organizational and cultural restructuring in my workplace, and one of the most important things was that managers took responsibility and really made changes. The initiatives came from the employees. Top management’s message to the managers was that you’re allowed to make mistakes and nothing should be left undone because of the fear of failure. If you make a mistake, don’t worry about it, fix it. But most importantly, changes have to happen. No one likes to be in stagnant water for too long.

Giving feedback is an essential part of interaction at work, both critical and especially positive feedback. A thank-you will encourage you to push forward. As for corrective feedback, it’s every employees’ right. Nothing is worse than doing wrong and having no one to tell you that. The employee has to have the right and the chance to adjust her actions. In the worst case scenario, mistakes are caused by misunderstanding, which can lead to large-scale problems.

Performance appraisals with my employees have always been the highlights of my work year. It’s great to be able to listen to people talk about their work, accomplishments and expectations. What’s even greater is when you can give feedback, perhaps trust an employee with even more responsibilities, and begin to execute development plans together. I’m extremely impressed about how different things motivate people and how different jobs people like. I’m glad we’re not all the same and we don’t want the same things. This is why every job will eventually find its doer.

When the relationships at work work, work can also be fun. My own principle has been that you should be allowed to laugh as much as you’re paid at the workplace. Honestly, it’s really fun to work with me, when things are going well and everyone is doing their part. Of course other kinds of situations can occur as well, but those can be resolved professionally.

I’ve done my leadership career in the public sector, where the ways to reward are quite limited. When you can’t use money as a motivator, the other sides of work are emphasized. Job satisfaction, responsibility and challenges are even more sustainable incentives than cash. There isn’t that much money in the world that would keep me in a bad workplace. I bet the same applies to you.

The writer is the Director of Urban Planning at Järvenpää city until the end of the year and the Director-General of the Regional State Administrative Agency of Southern Finland starting from 1.1.2015.

Real Turning Point and Revolution comes with Understanding

Petri HakanenWhen guys from Cloudriven contacted me to write a blog post, I welcomed the challenge. After all, writing about your own thoughts is always a great opportunity to exchange knowledge as well as to invest in personal growth. Writing blogs is just a great learning method.

Some thoughts about the theme were given to me in advance – the blog post should be related to management and leadership, how knowledge management and business intelligence have changed over the years. Huge increase in the amount of information is reality. And huge increase in the technical processing power is real. At the same time, the development of cloud services with lower prices are changing the business models of service providers, and the entire playground. Big Data and IoT Industrial Internet and Internet of Everything are now here integrating everything and everybody to each other. Data quality and data governance and other governance models, architectures, management models, and Master Data are being developed enthusiastically in order to create processable order in the world of data and information management.

In this story, however, I choose to focus on leadership and management. Technological progress brings no doubt the majority of earnings for the majority of people, but a major change, perhaps we can call it revolutionary, is happening related to leadership. Also, this revolution touches the general public, but has so far been a somewhat troublesome theme.

Quite a general problem is that the outcomes of projects are difficult to understand and take into use. Related problem is often that there are some misunderstandings and barriers between the IM function and business including top management. It can be difficult to get the management to commit to operations, which are considered very important within the organization that is developing knowledge management solutions. Very often there are also problems in defining the information business and management needs, when development processes are initiated.

How am I supposed to deal with the problem? First, I want to remove the idea off my head that I know the best and that I would just need to get other people to understand. We are so easily educators and teachers to each other and at the same time we’re trapped in our own private silos, our own thoughts and our own assumptions. Instead, the real turning point, cultural change, means understanding other parties and finding the methods to increase the understanding and motivation. The word method means here real operations and actions. The target is to change the way of doing.

What could it mean in real life to understand and test our own presumptions? Personally, I can understand the information management, knowledge management and business intelligence best from the development side, i.e. from the supplier’s side. I want to strengthen my understanding of business and management needs, so first of all, a couple of years ago I started to study business economy. I recommend this for everyone.

But where can I get the approach of “the other party” including the business management and leadership? Remember, we have some problems to fully understand. I am currently studying this using a series of surveys to find out the top management’s points of views related to information management and business intelligence in Finland.  This year I have done two studies and received responses from about 700 directors. This valuable material increases understanding of the development of working methods and it can also be used to plan the following research areas and research methods. By expanding everyone’s own understanding, we can gradually build a common understanding.

It is sweet to find and compare other related aspects, such as the following perspectives on leadership and organizational culture change, which I have found during this writing process.

Dr. Harri Laihonen from Tampere University of Technology writes in his recent blog post about people on two floors, as in two layers, in relation to knowledge management and business intelligence. In recent debate, Laihonen has detected that the people debating are divided into two lairs. Business management typically discusses about strategy implementations, development of management models and developing and improving the performance. Another perspective seeks to address the operational issues of data management, for example, tools for data processing, collecting the data and processing it further, and management models closely in relation to information management. These things are typically treated with the information management function or IM department. Depending on which perspective you choose, different problems, different questions and different solutions are being deal with, because of different cultures and traditions. And also the practices require different skills.

Cloudriven conducted recently an extensive survey to find out the pain points of Finnish management practices related to, for example, feedback culture, incidental evaluation of strategy and actions, insufficient repetition and communication of important issues, insufficient communication of the objectives and the ultimate purpose of the organization. Solutions are created through leadership and the development of management models. These observations are clearly linked to the perspectives introduced by Laihonen and they also support the aspects, which I study and develop – methods and solutions to increase understanding; bridges across cultural silos.

On Independence Day, December 6th in Finland, I began to read a book called Leadership Playbook (Johtamisen pelikirja) by Tero J. Kauppinen (2013). Kauppinen is a recognized Finnish leadership guru, author, management consultant and an executive himself. The Playbook gives a good outline of the management playfield from strategic intent to committed and consistent actions – from human behavior to business related things. The book is based on an extremely extensive leadership research and joint work of more than 150 leaders. I personally like structuring leadership in this manner, because it becomes possible to compare various aspects with each other, and to find connection between actions and impact. Based on extensive research and experience, Kauppinen presents the approach that in addition to the so-called strategic and operational hand, a third hand, the “middleman”, is needed to lead strategy into actions and build a bridge over the implementation gap. The strategy does not change itself into actions, because the new future challenges the existing systems and procedures, and also the existing metrics. The gap is real, and practices between strategic and operative management are still under development. It is also about change management. Often this also demands a new approach to knowledge management. I see here clear connections to the aspects mentioned above, which support for the development of methods and solutions – integrating the management of development, business and change management.

I am sure that the problem can be solved. As all the big things do, this one requires passion from the solution seekers. And this thing is big. This is a cultural collision. The greatest part is that the final solution will be found in every organization and in every individual human being. This problem has to be solved together. Models and examples help the blood to circulate. The first step is to recognize and to confess that “I and we have a problem”.

The writer is an entrepreneur and a consultant at Petri Hakanen Oy (Ltd) and at BBI Group Oy. Petri is also acting chairman for TDWI Finland, leading business intelligence community in Finland, – information management professional, manager and leader, advocate for information-based management. Consultant and Interim manager at Your service.

Performance Management Survey Reveals the Pain Points of Finnish Management Practices

Cloudriven conducted a survey, which concentrated on topics that are important in combining the ability to meet operational efficiency with creativity requirements.

Survey was composed from the point of view of organization’s performance management process. The invitation to the survey was sent out to 1330 HR professionals in Finland and 113 responses were collected representing 8.7 % of all invited.

Huge part of work done in high employee cost countries, like most of Europe and North America, has turned into knowledge work. In practice this means that work has become more complicated than ever, and the roles of leaders and managers have changed.

Yet in most organizations, management still acts according to the old role of ensuring the best operational excellence measured by the input-output efficiency of a given process. However, in knowledge economy leader’s primary role should be to design the rules of work, build high-performing teams and create working conditions that will get the best out of people.

The survey revealed the pain points in the Finnish management practices, and we identified five development topics that need more attention.

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Performance Management in Finland 2014