My international experience leads me for many years closed to many cultures, each as rich as each other for their tangible aspects (language, food, clothes, music) and their intangible areas (social, relationships to time , decision making, teamwork, …). I wish within this article focus on very characteristic points of the Nordic countries, and mainly in my comfortable zone, the industry.
I have indeed been fortunate to share and work a lot in many of these countries (Nokia in Finland in the years 1995-2005, ST Ericsson in 2011-2013, currently with my Norwegian customer polight).
Considering first the business environment (what I know the best) … a major effort has been made for many years to provide employees with an enjoyable work environment: spacious offices and brightest . Here, even in large companies, the openspace is not the standard, thus in order to reduce the noise – companies prefer offices with large windows, a judicious blend wood / metal / glass to allow light to enter deeper in the working environment, especially in winter, when low light. In Sweden, the coffee machines and fruit baskets often abound to allow employees to enjoy the short and regular breaks, entitled the Swedish “FIKKA” – an essential place where most important decisions are taken within teams. It is also remarkable how employees have since a long time learned to use alternative modes of transport (cycling, skiing or other non-polluting means) in their journey to work.
The holding of office work is fairly casual, even when fairly high management meetings. Nordic hours are generally: Early start (8am or even earlier), short lunch break (30-45 ‘) and an afternoon ending even relatively early: 3pm in Norway, 4pm and very rarely beyond in 5pm.. It is important to go home early to take care of the family or go about the social activities. I remember a Finnish manager requiring that its employees no longer at their posts after 5pm … for an extended hours repeatedly, the manager would question his collaborator on his workload ; and with respect to other colleagues, this also implied that the social life of the person was poor and so it was not very well received. Thus, it is important to have and show a good balance between work and personal life. In Norway, it is common to see people leave work at 15h.. I personaly avoid to plan meetings late afternoon with them.
Time is a very valuable factor in both North and South countries… and the time of others seems even more considered there than elsewhere. Thus, punctuality is “embedded” in the Nordic countries. A meeting that starts on time and ends at the precise time so that all can better manage time, avoid acute meetingmania, very popular in many large companies.
Verbal and para-verbal communication is quite limited (contrasting with the Latin countries), and it is important to take into account these parameters. Silence is not awkward, but show a reflection about the speaker and as a mark of respect. It is thus very rare to interrupt. I sometimes see meetings with Latin (French, Italian) who, in front of some silences, want to fill in them and so continue to talk indefinitely before the Nordic partners …up to loose the sense of purpose. By cons, it should be noted that people can be quite direct and cutting them and pouted at him/her quickly means a disagreement with his interlocutor.
I personally appreciate the power and openness of these cultures to consider that career change is seen very positively, even to come again into the university to reform at any age .. Thus, the continuous and rapid decline of Nokia mobile in recent years I have seen many people retrain in a variety of technological fields (eg, weather, public service, lawyer, etc …). In my case, when in 2005 I changed jobs in my previous multinational company (quality assurance to the sourcing), I noticed that more than 80% of French colleagues asked me the question: “do you change because you have enough or dislike your environment? “, while the same percentage of Nordic partners congratulated me change seen as an opportunity to do something else ..
Trust,as in many cases, is a process that can take time. The first contact can be surprising, and it is necessary, such as for aircraft before taking off from Scandinavia winter, to go through a de-icing stage. We French, are in general gifted enough to make alliance if we can convince our partners to spend a dinner together. I highly recommend the French businessmen who must deal with a case in Finland to respond positively to an invitation post meeting in the sauna. Yes, we’ll get full naked (no diversity in Finland, each gender has its own sauna), but I was able to continue in a very constructive way many negotiations at 70 ° C and 90% relative humidity, fortunately with some bottles of beer to avoid dehydration.
The Nordic countries are known to be those where corruption is the lowest in the world. Holomorphic principle, it is also seen throughout the company. For example, when I did my first consultancy contract with my Norwegian client, a small size company, I also signed a comprehensive and explicit integrity charter on my expected/recommended behavior and attitude on ethics and social responsibility.
There was still a lot of very positive things to report on Nordic life … the respect for nature, the white pedagogy of teachers and professors with their students and their strong joint responsibility and therefore involvement in the academic success of each child (individual coaching is common), energy multiplied during the short summer period (the mid-summer festival around June 21 remains a rather exceptional event live), their reasoned and reasonable expenses in public finances (eg the use of Norwegian oil profits into sustainable development applications or simply bank reserves for future generations).
After reading this message, we could be led to think that all these customs and practices within the company are only the “bon gros sens” as they say in Canada. Yet, their application does not always seem trivial in many ecosystems.
As a conclusion, I encourage our managers to discover and if possible will greatly inspire some “good” practices in place for a long time (openness to change, respect for the word of others, mutual trust, punctuality, integrity, team decision making ) in these Nordic countries, which, unless proven otherwise, demonstrate an economic and social success remarkable other the past 20 years.
Richard, March4th 2016