Good morning innovative Finland
Finnish work life and especially leadership culture will change when the young Y-generation (born at the end the ’80s and beginning of the ’90s) replaces the large age cohorts. Top specialists are in demand, but they are not easy or cheap workforce. A future threat is a greater than ever division between specialists and workers doing routine jobs. On the other hand, as an opportunity one can visualize a more competitive and innovative Finland rising from the global turmoil.
Innovations, services, and new ways of doing things will replace the traditional Finnish industries. They will also determine the work life of the future.
Changing work life creates new challenges for management and leadership. When the much criticized Y-generation steps into the work shoes of the large age cohorts, the authoritarian managers who see things only from top to down, will have to learn a new leadership style. The Y-generation isn’t used to being bossed around, not to mention bowing down to any authority.
– A certain proportion of the Y-generation will change leadership practices. They expect the supervisor to be there for them, and they won’t take kindly to be ordered around, says Alf Rehn, professor of organizational development and management from Åbo Akademi university.
Rehn was ranked 13th in the Thinkers 50 – 2009 listing of the world’s top 50 business thinkers. The listing was drawn up by Forbes, The Times and McGraw Hill.
Employers must change their leadership culture, if they want to recruit the best people. Rehn nevertheless points out that the requirements of the new kind of leadership do not apply to the whole generation.
– The traditional Mr Basic Boss will get along in some sectors even for the next 50 years.
At the end of last year, Tuomo Alasoini, technology director at the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovations (TEKES), published the report “Work, better than its reputation”. In it he examined not only the state of work life, but also how it will change in the future. According to Alasoini, change is already around the corner, but technology and know-how are not yet utilized fully. In this respect, work life has not yet changed enough.
– The change will be visible by the year 2020 at the latest, when the Y-generation has invaded a third of the supervisory posts, Alasoini predicts.
However, those who want to compete for the top-quality workforce will have to adapt to the change already now.
Well managed chaos
In many new sectors of the economy, the leadership and business ideals of the Y-generation have already been implemented. 85 top game specialists sit in the Helsinki office of the US game enterprise Digital Chocolate. They come from 16 different countries.
The enterprise serves as a model of the new kind of leadership ideology. Creative human capital will in future be an increasingly important factor.
The people at Digital Chocolate have regular working hours, they play games in the game rooms, they innovate, discuss, react to client feedback. The employer treats them as specialists of their work, and the supervisors are there to provide support.
– When you give people space, they will fill it, says Mika Porspakka, artistic director of the Finnish unit.
The respect shown to expertise is illustrated by the fact that there are persons in the planning teams whose salary is higher than that of their supervisors. The supervisor’s task is to enable the work, to provide the prerequisites and tools so that the employee can be innovative.
– The supervisor cannot go to Andrea and say, for example, that her graphics is no good, because Andrea is an expert, says game designer Mari Mäntylä. But that doesn’t mean that feedback isn’t given.
– We are like one big family where criticism is given every single day. Everybody can speak out their mind, and even the supervisors are criticized, says game artist Andrea Fryer.
Mutual trust and respect make criticism possible regardless of a person’s formal status. According to personnel manager Arja Martikainen, also good order is important in an organization where creativity is central. In order for the creativity to flourish, the basis must be sound and supervisors must be ready to step into the process of finding solutions to problems.
– What is needed is 70% order and 30% creative chaos.
Values and work contents come first
The core of the Y-generation consists of people who were born at the end of the ’80s and beginning of the ’90s, in other words, those who spent their childhood in a world of computers, the Internet, and wireless devices.
When the previous, X-generation was criticized for being soft and having got everything too easily, the Y-generation can be described as seeking for personal interest and pleasure, and putting emphasis on leisure time. They are ‘PeterPans’ for whom life is a big adventure. For them, work life must be also entertaining.
– An alarmingly large proportion of the Y-generation do not even think about their work career. One can work, if it feels good, but it is not seen as a necessary part of life, says professor Alf Rehn.
– Of all European young people, Finnish youth are least interested in entrepreneurship. And looking worldwide, European young people are least interested in entrepreneurship, so this means that Finnish young people are at the very end of the list. That is a grim picture.
The top-level specialists are used to the world being open to them, and they are committed mainly to their own goals. That makes them also undependable employees, according to Rehn.
The other side of the coin is nevertheless strong motivation. The work contents, a good work community and the enterprise’s values are increasingly important to the Y-generation. For instance, the chemical industry is already experiencing difficulties in attracting young workforce because the sector is perceived as unecological.
The importance of the work contents and the company’s set of values, as well as the employees’ ambition can be seen at Digital Chocolate. According to Martikainen, the employees are at the same time very easy and very demanding. They ask critical questions, but are ready to think of solutions to the problems together. In addition to their salary, the employees are rewarded with various bonus systems. Everyone’s career advancement is also followed closely.
– Right from the beginning, I have been shown the different paths along which I can advance. That is really motivating, says Mari Mäntylä.
Development discussions between subordinate and supervisor take place twice a year – personal and work goals are looked at, as well as the means of achieving them. The supervisors point out development opportunities that you might not always think of yourself. Also the external image of the enterprise is important to the employees.
– I am quick to speak out if the situation doesn’t look good, says programmer Jaakko Koskela.
Forget rational thinking
But the Y-generation, or X-generation, don’t get everything so easily. Those of the Y-generation who are exceptionally talented multi-skilled top specialists are recruited from under your nose. The employers have to offer them what they want – if the enterprise is to stay competitive.
The sky is the limit for this hard core of the Y-generation in the future.
The ordinary worker, on the other hand, still has to master his work and keep working ever more efficiently. Even the basic education of a Master of Economics does not lead to bliss, because on the same markets there are 5 million Chinese with this education.
– The effects of globalization are already evident. Asia and Latin America are rising to compete in areas in which Europe and the United States were believed to excel, says Alf Rehn.
Those of the Y-generation who are now on the labour market may have difficulties in finding their place, because they are over-educated for jobs of which there are not enough.
– The basic education of Finnish people has been good, but it has not been founded on realism. The people’s level of education is too high, or they have been trained for the wrong occupations, says Tuomo Alasoini.
– Work life has not changed enough in relation to the potential capacity and now-how of the people. The system of education and work life are not compatible. I feel sorry for those young people who have a high education, but can’t find work, says Alasoini and refers to the misled generation.
Rehn sees the Finnish high level of education as a good basis, but it should be utilized better to create something new. We are plagued by the fetish of being rational.
– We love things that are rational. Common sense is the highest form of contemplation. The fetish of rationality attracts us subconsciously, says Rehn.
Innovation nevertheless requires that we see the possibility of abandoning things in which we are good. It is not simply a question of what new we can do, but also of what old we dare to let go.
We have potential, however. Many talented individuals are involved in design, art, marketing and ICT. In Rehn’s opionion, Finnish people are innovative, they have just forgotten it.
– The spark is there, somewhere. In relation to its size, Finland has real potential to become a significant player on the global arena. It is just of question of whether the new generation will take the lead.
He does not see radical changes in the different sectors, even though the basic industries move out of Finland. The creative sectors will play a more central role, but specialized industries will also thrive. It is a question of finding interesting new combinations, and removing the blinders.
– We ought to have, for instance, economists who are familiar with design.
The threat of polarization
Rehna and Alasoini agree on the greatest challenge to work life.
– The coming of the large age cohorts to the labour market had a great impact on work life. Their leaving will have a similar effect.
The lack of workforce is one of the biggest problems that must be solved.
– Latin America and China won’t disappear. Meanwhile, the Finnish population is aging very rapidly, and in 15 years we will have a serious shortage of workforce. These are real problems, says Rehn.
However, he is slightly optimistic regarding the problems that arise from aging.
– We still have a lot do, but if you compare Finland with France or Italy, we are in a good way. At least here we talk about problems.
According to Alasoini, in future there has to be more flexibility on the labour market, in regard to work tasks and working times. People should be encouraged to stay at work longer, but coercion or legal steps to lengthen work careers are not beneficial to enterprises or to the society. Work should be more flexible to comply with the needs of people.
Another question is how to get employers as well as employees to act so that the society will benefit. At the moment, there is a lot of talk about raising the retirement age, at the same time as enterprises actively offer pension deals to their old employees.
Rehn believes that an imminent danger is the strong polarization of work life. He predicts that the class society will get stronger. There is a risk that the middle class will be divided more strongly than ever into upper and lower middle class, and the size of the elite class will grow.
– Enterprises will be obliged to compete harder for skilled employees. For a small proportion of people this will mean very positive conditions. Simultaneously, a smaller proportion will have to do the work of more people than before.
Alasoini admits that there are some social phenomena that raise concern.
– Recent research, however, does not come to the conclusion that Finnish work life would have deteriorated.
– Part of the explanation is that people don’t necessarily find a job that corresponds to their training, and it is more difficult to get permanent work. Many have been disappointed.
A good team spirit is productive
Management Events (ME) is an enterprise that organizes conferences and different kinds of tailored events for companies. For several years ME has been on the list of ‘Best workplaces of the year’. In the course of ten years ME has expanded into an international enterprise whose turnover has grown from 4 million euros to 22 million euros.
One of the key elements in the success has been an unprejudiced and open attitude to the employees, and an innovative work environment due to a new kind of leadership culture.
Country manager, Mirka Saarinen, says that there has been an open and youthful leadership culture in the organization right from the beginning.
– The importance of a good team spirit has always been a part of our work culture.
Saarinen believes that team work is easier when the workmates care for each other. And caring, in turn, arises from a feeling of togetherness. Spending time together during leisure time energizes your own work. At the same time there is a chance to talk about matters that you don’t have time for otherwise.
There are three areas in the company strategy, one of which applies to the personnel. The personnel strategy is divided into three sub-areas: every-day leadership, personnel development, and team spirit.
The supervisors have yearly schedules which outline quarter-yearly specific tasks that relate to the personnel. The personnel are rewarded with various bonus systems as well as with spontaneous smaller rewards like movie tickets, restaurant evenings, and common festivities.
The employees as well as the supervisors work in an open-plan office – no one has their own room. The good team spirit goes beyond the workplace, and the employees speak of the company as their ME-family. Everyone has a clear picture of their own tasks, and the work is done in teams. The organization hierarchy is very low.
Happenings are supported
The good work climate is maintained by development projects. The employees are asked, for example, what has made them proud of their work, and what has made them happy at work.
A special committee arranges recreational activities, but people also spend a lot of time together spontaneously after working hours. For instance, on Friday evenings many stay to spend time together in the comfortable office lobby.
– Just out of the blue someone may organize, for instance, a dog-walking event on some Sunday. The enterprise culture encourages the employees to engage in happenings that the company often supports, explains project coordinator Janne Mäkeläinen.
– If someone thinks of a fun event at the workplace, the management is all for it.
Project coordinator Mikko Mömmö came to work for Managment Events one year ago.
– Immediately I felt accepted, and the welcome was quite different from anything anywhere else. Everybody came to greet me with open arms. I wondered, can this be real? Mömmö is still impressed.
New employees are always assigned their own ‘buddy’, a person who orients them to the company’s ways, and takes the new person to have lunch with the different teams and with different people.
In addition to the interesting job description, Mömmö’s choice of workplace was influenced by the many positive things he had heard about the firm.
– The job advertisement caught his eye immediately.
Text: Tiia Lappalainen