|David Brown is a language consultant and journalist, regularly covering stories in Africa, Asia & the Middle East. He has lived in Finland for 10 years.|
While companies may pay lip service to the concepts of open communication and transparency; the reality is often unrecognisable from the vision.
During the past year, half a dozen Finnish organisations have battled for headline space for all the wrong reasons. While allegations of actual fraud or embezzlement are rare in Finland, cases of dubious business ethics have become commonplace.
Whether it is CEO’s paying peppercorn rents for apartments furnished to their own lush designs, acquiring sports cars via the largesse of the organisations they head or simply voting themselves outrageous bonuses, Finnish management culture is now darkly stained with graft.
What startles me about these stories is that they take place against a background of squeaky-clean business ethics, apparently free of corruption, crime or greed. In a country where the police do not take bribes and politicians do not expect them to, what leads high-profile directors to stick their hands in the cookie jar?
While each company and industry is unique, I wonder whether Finnish management culture has been too strongly molded by experiences in the military. While most companies pay lip service to the concepts of open communication, internal promotion and transparency; the reality is often unrecognisable from the vision.
Leaders surround themselves with a mute chorus of yes men who are just smart enough to do what they are told. Decision making is top-down and unquestioned; complaints or suggestions from the lower reaches of the organisation can be filed under ‘I’ for Ignored. The management team operate in a vacuum that most employees are wise enough not to fill.
There is also a very strong culture of entitlement. Directors feel that after ten years of sitting in meetings they deserve to have their rent paid, their cars upgraded and bonuses quadrupled regardless of either the quality of their work or their starting salary.
The people who pay for this are the rank-and-file – the people who work 60 hours a week and are paid for 40, whose devotion to the company is unquestioning and unappreciated. These are the people who are increasingly laid off to pay for the gaffes of the people above them, despite years of loyal service.
Finns work hard. They work long hours, they don’t complain and they care about quality. They take responsibility for the tasks assigned to them and do their best to ensure the company achieves its goals. They are loyal and modest in their demands for salary increases. They are team players.
Unfortunately, many work in organisations where there is one culture for staff and another for senior management, and where those two cultures are increasingly in direct opposition. For Finland to be successful at both the business and societal levels, I very much hope it is the culture of everyday Finnish workers that wins the cultural war.