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.

Make Team Management Easier With SharePoint Team Sites

Anu NevalainenI’m a member of the Board of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Animal Protection Association, which is the second largest member association of the National Animal Protection Association of Finland. There’s a huge amount of tasks and responsibilities, both big and small, a Board member has to deal with. In order to stay organized and remember all the tasks at hand, we need loads of files, practices, lists and a shared place for all the information. In a volunteer-based non-profit, it’s not possible to demand as strong and time-consuming commitment from the chairperson as would be the case in paid work. I already revealed in my earlier blog post that we’re now using SharePoint team sites to make our work easier and remove some of the management burden. Thanks to donation from Microsoft, we can even use SharePoint for free. In her blog post Anna told about her experiences in leading volunteers. I will now give a few concrete examples of how SharePoint team sites can benefit your association.

Our team site has a SharePoint library, where we keep all our Board agendas, meeting minutes and possible attachments. The files of a certain meeting are easy and fast to find, as every single file contains the meeting date and the participants as metadata.

We also have a calendar in our team site, and we use it to save all our events. Earlier, the events we participated in were only mentioned in the Board’s meeting minutes. Now all the events are listed in one place and the calendar fields tell us, who was in charge of the event and which volunteers were there to help out. Our webmaster can always pick up the most interesting events and publish them on our website. It’s now much easier to report your actions, and compared to our old way of work, the improvement is significant.

The task list helps me to remember my current tasks, as I log in to the team site, I can instantly check, what I should do and when the deadline is. We update the task list during Board meetings and whenever something urgent comes up. Earlier we might have just forgotten to finish certain smaller tasks, if the person responsible didn’t remember to do the task. The task list makes management and the work of the chairperson a lot easier, when you can share the responsibilities and you don’t have too many balls in the air at the same time. Work becomes more autonomous and the chairperson doesn’t have to remind of pending tasks all the time.

The Excel spreadsheet listing all our volunteer animal care shelters was transformed into a SharePoint list and the column headings became the metadata fields. We’re now able to use filters to find the currently active shelters; if the shelter is passive for a certain time period – the family is on holiday, for instance –, we can input this information to the list as well. This way we don’t have to bother the volunteers with additional inquiries, because the filtered views in SharePoint handle all automatically.

There’s also a list for all the homeless animals we take care of: what animal is it, who the contact person is, when the animal was handed over to us, which animal shelter the animal is now at, what veterinary treatments have been taken so far and where we found new home for the animal. When we are writing our annual report, it’s easy to count, how many animals we took care of and what species they were. We can easily examine all the other history data as well.

We use the lists to cross-link data. For example in Animals Handed Over to Us list, you’re only allowed to choose a shelter that is registered in the Shelters list. In the Meeting Minutes and Agendas library, you can only choose meeting dates that are already in the events calendar. This practice minimizes mistakes and the information will be consistent. The search features are more advanced in the SharePoint list than Excel, and we can collaborate smoothly, as everyone can edit the rows at their own pace. The different devices we’re using do not cause problems anymore, and the lack of Office software or the wrong software version won’t prevent collaboration. It’s also very easy to export the lists to Excel, if you want to draw graphs or print the listing.

The writer is in love with SharePoint, OneNote and all the other Office productivity tools. She’s also Cloudriven’s Head of Customer Service and Chief Trainer, who bakes the most delicious cakes.

This Is How You Should Manage Your Software and System Vendors

Tuomas KestiHaving a third party vendor or software system provider is often a good choice for small and midsize companies to implement certain system or a part of it. Companies of this size often lack the special skills or time to run projects solely by themselves, perhaps of internal nature.

However, selecting vendors and managing vendor relationships can be quite challenging. The big vendors might rely on their name and offer resources that don’t always reflect the expected level. On the other hand, the resources of smaller vendors could be highly skilled but also in high demand, and in the end they will not have enough time to allocate to your project.

Recently I visited a company that uses a customized Microsoft Dynamics CRM system. The customizations are mostly done by a third party, i.e. their CRM supplier. Certain functionalities of this CRM system had started to work slower and slower. This affected their CRM usage so severely that certain daily tasks were impossible to complete. When the end-users do not use the system and they don’t enter any data to the CRM, naturally the system becomes useless and meaningless for the management and for the organization as a whole.

As in many performance issues in CRM, the first place to start looking for the cause of the issue is the database. In this case, database indexing was not implemented after certain customizations were deployed. The client company had specifically asked their CRM supplier to check the “basic stuff”, including the indexing. Of course the answer was that such a basic thing had been checked. However, running certain checks against the database revealed the issue immediately.

No vendor does this on purpose but so often the lack of time means that certain things are not done at all or are done in a great hurry. The vendor is of course responsible for this kind of negligence. But how should the client manage vendors to avoid these issues?

  • When the vendor has been selected and it is time to negotiate the contract, good management and judgment is needed. Do not trust the promises given in sales meetings: make sure that what you expect from the vendor, is clearly documented in the contract.
  • Be sure that the vendor’s team assigned to the project includes professionals from different areas.
  • The team on the client’s side, who works with the vendor, should include people with technical as well as business backgrounds.
  • Preferably a few of the client team members should have some experience of the system. This puts some extra pressure on the vendor, as they now know that their suggestions are not taken for granted without validation.
  • It is also extremely important to manage the invoices and contracts you receive from the vendor. If this comes to your mind later, as an afterthought, you have probably paid extra already.

What are some of the warning signs a client should be aware of when selecting or managing the vendor?

  • If the vendor’s solution is not documented, it’s your first wake-up call. Documentation is always left undone if the solution is implemented in a hurry.
  • If the client’s staff can’t maintain the solution themselves, something is probably not right or the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) principle has not been followed in implementation.
  • If you are running a huge, global enterprise system, it is probably not a good idea to deploy a customization from a vendor, who doesn’t have experience of a system of that scale.
  • When a generic implementation is deployed to a system that has other customizations affecting each other, it should not be taken for granted that the implementation performs well in all scenarios. In some cases, even a small change in data structure could have unexpected effects. So make sure that the vendor has deployed the implementation to similar systems before trying it on yours.

If something goes wrong in spite of all, it is a good advice to consult a third party. Just to have one fresh pair of eyes to check the situation.

The writer is Cloudriven’s Chief Deployment Officer, CRM Architect and an ironman, who is practically invincible in any sport you can imagine.

Giving the Employees’ the Right to Telework 2015 – The Best Christmas Present?

Anthony GyursanszkyAt Microsoft Finland, we’ve been teleworking for a few years already using our so-called “being present” working model, which means that goals guide our work and it doesn’t matter where or when we work. Many people, actually more people than the capacity of the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, have visited our Meeting Point in Keilaranta, Espoo, to find out, how we use modern technology, new spaces, and management to achieve challenging goals, yet at the same time keep job satisfaction high. During this inspiring and compelling journey we’ve had to think over the very fundamentals of work.

Does working at a physical workspace bring more value to the employer than working at home? Location doesn’t really play a significant role in many tasks regarding information work. If the work tasks require concentration, employees can work in spaces, where they choose to be interrupted themselves. This is not the case in a traditional working space. Different tasks require different kind of interaction, as Sarah Caldicott, relative to Thomas Edison, argues in her book Midnight Lunch; the Meeting Point at Microsoft Finland is mentioned as one example in the book. Real-time face-to-face interaction is only needed in very rare occasions. Fitting people in the same space at the same time is not always the most efficient way to increase understanding, exchange information or make decisions. Our experiences have been very positive, when we’ve given our professionals the opportunity to decide themselves where and when they want to work.

Is the workload divided evenly during a year, a week or a day nowadays? Without exception there are always both slower and heated periods in all working roles. Deadlines will force us to walk the extra mile. These bursts are different depending on the function and role, as Mika Pantzar and Ilkka Halava very well point out in their book Rytmitalous (Rhythm Economy). Nevertheless, it is astonishing, how in most cases the working day still is framed the same way for everyone: working time is fixed and slower periods are overly and hectic periods under resourced. If the employee collects working hours and takes a day off once in a while, that is considered as laziness and inflexibility. If the employer has the right to oblige you to work longer hours at the workplace, shouldn’t the employee be able to go to the gym during the morning traffic jam without feeling guilty? Wouldn’t it be tempting for the employer to pay for employee’s 100 % inspired, efficient and motivated work?

Would it be possible to proceed to a compensation model that rewards adding value at all workplaces? How could this be measured? I’ve never heard an employer disagree with the claim that the meaning of work is to achieve the employer’s goals, not to collect working hours. That being said, why is it that in many companies the employee knows his hours better than his goals, performance, metrics or rewards? When the goals are managed right, working time and location will be flexible. Like Daniel Pink states in his book Drive, we’ve realized at Microsoft that by using goals to manage, managers can focus on the essential and at the same time employee engagement increases, when the employee has the responsibility to meet the goals.

Even this blog post came into being, when I was driving to work; it required a little bit of concentration and was finalized in twenty minutes in the library of our Meeting Point, an interruption-free zone. Now it’s time to head for a lunch meeting in our cafeteria to innovate our concept for the Internet of Things. After the meeting, the day continues with Lync meetings at my home office. And rest assured, I won’t feel guilty about not sitting at my workspace – we don’t even have personal workspaces anymore.

If it was up to me, I would give all Finnish employees the gift of teleworking for Christmas. It would definitely be one of the key drivers to get Finland back on the growth track.

Writer is the Marketing and Business Director of Microsoft Finland as well as an adventurer in the world of new work, devoted father of a tech-savvy family and a drummer for a good cause.

Bean Bags and Circus Tricks Won’t Change the Corporate Culture for Better

Panu LuukkaI was taking Peppi, my 7-year-old daughter to her grandparents, when she made an announcement from the back seat of our car: “Dad, I’ve started to like cheese”. This liking of cheese was a big thing for our family, as Peppi, still a growing child, wasn’t very fond of any dairy products besides ice cream. To secure the necessary amount of calcium for growth, we had had to be somewhat imaginative with the food choices; hence the introduction of cheese to the diet was excellent news for us. When I asked Peppi, how she had learned to like cheese, our back seat philosopher gave me an exhaustive answer: “Dad, that’s just how life sometimes is.

She couldn’t have been more right, and right at that moment all the big pieces fell into place. Last week I had heard Sir Ken Robinson say the exact same thing almost as elegantly: Life is never linear, it’s always organic. We can’t explain and manage everything with 100 % certainty. What we can do, is try to design the environment so that the probability for the desired things to happen will increase. In business, the best way to manage probability in organic entities made out of people, also known as organizations and companies, is to affect the corporate culture.

”Corporate culture is all that happens when nobody’s looking.” This is how William Wolfram, the founder of DealDash, defined corporate culture to me. I haven’t yet found a better definition for corporate culture anywhere and believe me, I’ve tried. William’s definition captures the meaningfulness of corporate culture very well; culture affects everything and on all levels of the organization. For your organization, corporate culture can either be a strength or your biggest obstacle to success.

When it comes to corporate culture, it’s crucial to remember that there are no universal rights or wrongs. The corporate cultures of Google, Futurice or SuperCell are universally no better than the cultures of VR Group or Alko. The “rightness” of the culture is always defined in relation to what the company has decided to be and what the company’s goals are.

Every company has its own culture, whether it’s being intentionally managed or not. Corporate culture should always be managed, as it is very unusual for something good or excellent to happen by accident. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but in this case exceptions are as rare as ham on the Jewish Christmas table. I’ve come across many early stage startups that have intuitively made all the right choices from the culture’s point of view. What has become a challenge for many organizations, is growth and maintaining the corporate culture in the growth phase. In order to sustain the right and desired culture during rapid growth, you need to stop and become aware of the presumptions and building blocks that have lead your corporate culture so far. These elements have to be intentionally attached to the culture of the growing company; in spite of the well-paid, ex-Nokian HR Manager, who would like to build this startup into a new Little Nokia.

On the other hand, if you don’t – or don’t want to – understand the basic laws of the human mind, there’s always the chance to manage and build corporate cultures actively wrong. Here’s a concrete and easy example: if there is a strong belief in the organization that collaboration brings better results than individual achievements, the reward and recognition system should be built to support collaboration, not individual performance.

People often ask me, what is the ”easiest” way to build sustainable corporate culture. You can’t change corporate culture with bean bags, ball pits or any other circus tricks for that matter. The best and the most sustainable way to build corporate culture is to start with the basics, and ask ourselves, what is our purpose of being and where do we want to go. However, the following questions are the most essential regarding corporate culture: what kind of team do we need and how should we work in order to reach our goals? The answers to these questions will define the company’s authentic and meaningful values, which should be made real in the daily working life.

Sounds easy, right? Well, it is easy, but it takes a heck of a lot of effort, and you have to be systematic and persistent. It’s much like what my friend Kimmo Kedonpää has said about golf: “Golf is all about luck. The more you practice, the better luck you will have.” There are no shortcuts to success, so get back to work!

The writer is the founder and CEO of Naqu Oy, Finland’s first and only consulting company specialized solely on designing corporate cultures. This consultant, coach and inspirer has worked more than ten years with HR, leadership and management.

P.s. If you don’t believe that values and value-based leadership will bring competitive advantage to your company, you shouldn’t waste your time and money for trivial matters. (in Finnish) will create stockmarket-credible values for your company in just 30 seconds.