Henley Business School brought together top speakers from the UK, US and Finland with Finnish business leaders in a dynamic, learning inspired forum to rethink future leadership success. In the face of uncertainty and turbulence, what more can Finnish business leaders do to deliver value and sustain competitive advantage?
Mr. Jyri Häkämies, CEO of the Confederation of Finnish Industries, set the stage with a long laundry list of Finland’s current challenges: public sector jobs are growing while private sector jobs are shrinking; the growing markets like China and South Asia are far from Finland; the country’s service industry is stalled due to tax increases and Finland is not attracting foreign direct investment, and the list goes on.
Häkämies still called for a positive attitude citing threats like climate change, competition around intellectual property rights and free trade resulting from globalisation as potential opportunities for Finland. He left us with the question: How should Finland get ready for these future challenges?
Breaking from the establishment
Mr. Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Arts, began his remarks with a question of his own: “Why did you invite me? Finland as a nation performs in a way we in Britain can only dream of?”
Taylor was talking about Finland’s renowned education system, advanced social services and reputation for transparency and governance, amongst others. But of course, he goes on to say, we are all vulnerable to change. Recent examples include surprises like Brexit and the rise of a populist leader in the US. Both these in their own way can be seen as a rejection by society of the establishment leaders. Brexit for example, says Taylor, was not a vote against Europe but against the British government.
So, if people are rejecting traditional hierarchical systems, what do they want instead? “We know from Brexit that communities in the UK are changing, but we’re not sure what they’re changing into.”
Taylor asked the audience to not only think about the roles they have in their organisations but also their wider responsibility to civil society. It’s not enough just to do your job and leave society to the do-gooders and the government. The best-run businesses are what Taylor calls fully engaged business models, where groups have high motivation for success through shared values and a transformative world view. Taylor believes people need hierarchical frameworks, not anarchy, and within them, space must be maximized for individuals to be autonomous and entrepreneurial.
Societies in general need new forms of leadership, leaders who are visionary but practical; who lead and still listen; and who are humble but have a bold direction. Taylor offered Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as an example of someone who had a vision but who told the people I can’t do it without you.
Matthew Taylor, Royal Society of Arts
Breaking down silos
Dr. Gillian Tett, US Chief Editor for the Financial Times, talked about the danger that comes from the illusion that we all live in a connected world, when actually if we step back and look at ourselves fragmentation, tribalism and tunnel vision are what characterises most of what we do in society and business. “We’re living in silos,” says Tett, “but we often don’t discover it until it’s too late to fix. Brexit was a good example of this.”
“When organisational structures organise their departments into silos, they can quickly become rigid and outdated. Then, even bright people can become blind to risk. They can also become blind to opportunity.”
Tett talks about Sony as a case in point. At the end of the nineties, if any company was well-positioned to steal a march on the digital music market, it was Sony. The company had dominated the mobile music market with its Walkman but then fell victim to silos. The three divisions Sony Music, Sony Computing, and Sony Consumer Electronics didn’t like each other and were known for not talking to each other. As a result, the three silos developed similar but competing products, which confused the markets. Before Sony could get traction on any one of their products, Steve Jobs launched the i-Pod and the rest was history.
Organisations like Facebook are taking an innovative approach to silo busting. Mark Zuckerberg, who first trained as a psychologist, understood quickly that the company needed specialist groups but they shouldn’t be allowed to harden tribes. Zuckerberg came up with a two-month boot camp for all new employees, which ensures a web of social links that will endure even after individuals have been assigned to different roles in the company. The Facebook Campus infrastructure has also been designed for silo busting, with walkways built for what Tett calls sliding and colliding. Open air meetings take place right along these pathways so that people on the move can pass through and blend.
Tett, who began her career as an anthropologist, explained that human beings are hard wired to classify the world around them. In order to avoid falling prey silos, business leaders need to step back and ask themselves, how do I unconsciously classify and how can do it differently. “The question is not, will we have silos? It’s inevitable, we’ll have silos. But how will we master them or let them master us?”
Dr. Gillian Tett, Financial Times
Breaking the silence
Professor Andrew Kakabadse, Henley Business School, delivered a call for action at top management levels. Based on new findings from an intense multi-year global research project that covered 21 nations and many thousands of private and public sector organisations, Kakabadse raised big questions about current corporate leadership practices. For example, overwhelmingly, his data highlights effective top management engagement on critical issues as the most important factor for organisational success.
“The ability for executive and non-executive leaders to effectively engage on sensitive issues is core to their company’s long-term success. It’s more important than strategy or alignment of viewpoints within the organisation,” says Kakabadse.
Be informed about all the problems and all the issues, Kakabadse told the audience. If a CEO is telling his people don’t come to me with problems only come with solutions, then it’s time to sell the shares. Leaders need to know what the issues and problems are. They need to be able to bring all the evidence forward and then come up with solutions unique for their organisations. Senior executives, senior managers and board members, what Kakabadse calls the top team, need to be much more proactive about speaking out on tough issues.
Prof. Andrew Kakabadse, Henley Business School
Giving yourselves a break
From breaking with the establishment, to breaking down silos and breaking silences, Mr. Juha Äkräs, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board of Hintsa Performance took the stage to teach leaders how they could also give themselves a break.
Words like happiness and joy began to appear in the same context as work and good business. Äkräs urged the audience of the forum to ask themselves: Who am I? What do I want? And am I in control of my life?
“You are inspired when you’re aligned with your identity and your core,” Äkräs said, “and the good news is that an inspired person can be twice or even three times more productive.”
Juha Äkräs, Hintsa Performance