Clément and Romain, the Meyer brothers, decided to embark, on January 2022, on an extraordinary human adventure: The Managerial Odyssey. After three weeks in Norway, the first stage of their Odyssey ended on Thursday, February 17. And what a first stage it was! Meeting 16 employees, 11 enterprises and many premises in Oslo and Bergen gave them the opportunity to learn more about Norwegian management and social culture.
Their understanding of Norwegian culture is, of course, not exhaustive, and the examples they give them do not reflect the behavior of all Norwegian enterprises. However, the points they highlight in this article came up in all of our conversations.
Even though Norwegian management culture springs from a completely different social culture than ours, they believe French enterprises could learn from it. At least we hope so.
The level of interpersonal trust within Norwegian enterprises and in society among citizens was very impressive.
A few examples surprised us very quickly (positively): bakeries were self-service and ice skate rentals were totally free and without any supervision. Norwegians trust each other, and trust others.
A sentiment shared by our interlocutors. During one of our company visits,
– Kate from Miles told us: “Norway has something very important compared to other countries: trust”
– Thomas, Amka’s CEO, says: “Our first impulse, our first thought is to trust, not to be suspicious”.
In France (and in other countries as well – we are not the only ones), people in enterprises have long been accustomed to distrust, to control results, and to be suspicious. In Norway, trust is assumed as soon as recruitment is completed.
In this respect, trust in Norwegian enterprises is present at all levels of the organization and has a strong influence on the management style:
– Trust & way of working: “I don’t care how, I just want to see the result,” says Thomas. We are very surprised by the extraordinary flexibility of working in Norway. A typical workday starts at 8am and ends at 4pm, but it can vary: It is possible to work remotely, leave early to go skiing (some ski resorts are 15 minutes from the center), or pick up the kids from school and return to work in the evening. The manager assumes that the employee will work without supervision. The way the results are achieved is not important and contrasts with the French presenteeism of some enterprises.
– Trust & decision making: Thomas from Amka explains that the Norwegian enterprise culture decentralizes important decisions. According to him: “the employees are the ones who are closest to the problem and therefore the ones who are best able to decide”. He is also surprised that in France, it is necessary to ask permission from a superior in the decision making process.
– Trust & Error: He goes on to say that in Norway it is better to take the initiative than to remain passive for fear of making a mistake: “your manager will be more angry at you for not having made the decision than for having failed”. Christian, one of Thomas’ employees, tells us that he himself decided to set his sights on a new wine domain, even though the economic impact of his decision was not negligible for the enterprise. However, there is a framework around trust in Norway. Namely, when the trust relationship with an employee is broken, the reaction is immediate. Managers tighten controls, but most importantly, social pressure is exerted by other employees who urge self-discipline.
Loving the people you work with and showing sincere benevolence is not given to everyone. But this criterion is fundamental, it is an absolute requirement. Like many other managers, I have come to realize that the success of an enterprise rarely depends on its social body. Of course, recruitment is an important process, but after a few years, when life has taken its course, and with a minimal organizational size, the social body of any enterprise has a relatively equivalent potential and, above all, no real limits, except in rare cases, such as very specific research activities. The difference lies in the ability of management to uncover and express some of that potential. The difference we are talking about here can prove to be immense.
Immense as that of an impassioned associate in the face of a disillusioned one. Immeasurable as that of one who has contributed to the construction of a project, in the presence of a disciplined executor. And with love, the manager will appreciate the differences, value the strengths and make his employees vibrate by sharpening their motivation. Low moments will certainly alternate with non-Malthusian congratulations: generosity calls for generosity.
Lastly, in order to love people, one must already consider them as equals and not as subordinates, adults conversing with other adults and not with children. Respect should not be negotiated in 2021, and any verbal or physical violence is totally unacceptable.
There is a very strong sense of social equality in Norwegian society. This is partly due to the existence of a fictional code of conduct in Norway: the Jante or Janteloven Law. This law was invented by the Danish-Norwegian writer Aksel Sandemose and consists of 10 rules, four of which are particularly prominent:
Du skal ikke tro, at du er kloger end os. – Do not think that you are smarter than we are.
Du skal ikke bilde dig ind, at du er bedre end os. – Do not imagine yourself better than we are.
Du skal ikke tro, at du ved mere end os. – Do not think that you know more than we do.
Du skal ikke tro du er mere end os. – Do not think that you are more important than we are.
A concrete translation of this idea of equality is the Dugnad: a Norwegian tradition of cooperative volunteerism. Members of a community (neighbors, a foot club, a school…) meet several times a year to participate together in the maintenance or improvement of a common good. It does not matter if you are a handyman, a business leader, a field hockey player, or a minister: everyone takes part.
This law of Jante inspires not only Norwegian society but also the enterprises we visited. This sense of equality is reflected in these enterprises in different ways:
– The perception of the hierarchy is not the same as in France: Firstly, the majority of enterprises have horizontal structures with few hierarchical levels. There are CEOs, N+1s and even N+2s (rarely more) in Norway, but in reality, this hierarchy is not truly apparent in interpersonal relationships. The most striking example is that of Thomas from Amka or the CEO of Innovation Norway who always leave their door open to show their employees that they are accessible (even though Innovation Norway has 700 employees). A hierarchical superior does not consider himself above his employees. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as being addressed in the formal sense of the word in Norway (except for the royal family).
– The manager is not the savior: Sergio from Statkfrat expressed his surprise at the vision of the “savior manager” that we have in France (a manager who necessarily has the answer to all our questions). In the enterprises we visited, the manager is a facilitator, he accompanies his employees towards the solution but does not have the answer to everything. There is no perception of an all-powerful manager or CEO without whom no decision could be made.
– Gender equality: We were amazed by the rules of parental leave in Norway. These rules give equal rights to both parents. In total, 46 weeks of leave are to be shared between both parents. To encourage fathers to take their paternity leave, the Norwegian government has introduced the “father’s quota”. This is 15 weeks reserved for him. If these weeks are not taken, they are considered lost for the couple. The result is quite impressive: 70% of men take their paternity leave. According to Marie from Oslo Business Region, this reduces gender discrimination at the interview stage, as both parents are likely to be absent for a certain period.
– Wage gaps are relatively small: According to Thomas, a CEO will rarely earn more than 3 times the salary of his employees. In fact, this ratio applies to all professions (minister, farmer, salesman or craftsman).
– The culture of consensus: Camille from Capgemini explains that it sometimes takes longer to make a decision in Norway than in France because the culture of consensus is strong. A manager or a CEO will rarely impose his decision. Employees are regularly solicited and involved in the decision-making process.
We particularly appreciate this vision of the “facilitating manager”. This vision of a manager at the service of the team reached its peak during our meeting with Kate from Miles who defines herself not as CEO but as Chief Servant Officer: at the service of her teams.
What are you doing in life?
How would you answer this question?
In France, we are used to presenting our work, our internship or our studies at first.
The Norwegians we have met introduce themselves in different ways: “I play in this handball team, I am passionate about painting, I have two older sisters, etc.”. They start by talking about their personal life and then, in a second or even a third time, talk about their professional or student life.
In our opinion, this difference in the way they present themselves to strangers can be explained by their work/life balance. During our encounters, we felt a deep respect for the personal life of each person. Work is important but does not take precedence over everything else.
This balance is found at different levels in the enterprises we visited:
– Work schedules: Sergio from Statkraft tells us: “our work organization is guided by the nursery’s schedule”. As mentioned earlier, the typical workday runs from 8 am to 4 pm. This is partly due to the importance that Norwegians give to their family life or to the practice of sports.
A striking example Thomas gives is that of a CEO who was expected to speak in front of 400 people but canceled at the last minute because his daughter was ill. The fact that he had to take care of his child was fully respected by the audience. Could that have happened in France?
– The possibility to be partly oneself in the enterprise: Christian from Amka explained to us that you can express your difficulties in an enterprise. A bad phase in your life? A divorce, a death that affects your concentration or your ability to work? In the companies we met, it is possible to talk about these issues. Some CEOs even advise their employees to take some time for themselves in a delicate moment (without having to take a vacation).
We have become aware in Norway of the mask we sometimes have to put on ourselves in French enterprises. In the course of our professional experiences, we never really dared to talk about our weaknesses or feelings. In Norwegian organizations, we have understood that it is not only possible, but even desirable, to be partly ourselves. This is by no means counterproductive, but helps everyone feel better about themselves and strengthens trust between employees.
Our first reaction when we observed the Norwegian work schedules was the following: how is it possible to stop working at 4pm and get results?
Behind these working hours, there is an important productivity, explained by several reasons:
– Autonomous decision making thanks to an established trust that ensures significant time savings.
– Break time: in the enterprises we visited, employees generally allow themselves 30 minutes maximum for lunch. Moreover, the restaurants next to the co-working spaces are almost empty at 12:00. Coffee breaks or discussions between colleagues are rarer than in France.
– Nonexistent presenteeism: According to Christian from Amka “Norwegians hate presenteeism, if you’ve done what you’re supposed to do, you just leave. There is no need to stay until your manager leaves.” Conversely, staying at work too long is a sign of inefficiency.
– Direct communication: In writing and speaking, the Norwegians are straight to the point. Proof is shown below with an email response to our request for a visit. Pragmatic and direct:
“Hi Clément & Romain.Sure ! How about 10-11 at our office Monday next week (7 february). Our address is XXX. Bs,”
At first glance, the Norwegian work organization sounds like you’d like to hop on the first plane to Oslo and stay there for the rest of your life. However, we have observed some limitations:
– If the law of Jante or Janteloven promotes equality and respect for everyone, it can also be a brake on the ambition of some people. Jante’s law goes hand in hand with humility, which may explain the lack of European awareness of Norwegian success stories. Norwegian enterprises do not always communicate about their successes. For a few years now, a Norwegian movement has been emerging to nuance this law of Jante and to promote entrepreneurial successes. Christian from the enterprise Amka also explains that Norwegian enterprises sometimes lack ambition and willingness to go the extra mile. When the work is done, the teams do not necessarily seek to go further or to develop a new and even more innovative project.
– Working time is precious for Norwegian workers in order to respect their work/life balance. Norwegians are in the enterprise to work, which inevitably impacts the socializing moments. Afterwork parties are rare, discussions are cordial and the possibility to make real friends at work is limited.
Despite these limitations, the virtuous circle of the Norwegian work organization will remain a striking discovery for both of us: sense of equality – trust – productivity – work/life balance.
We hope it will inspire you as much as it inspired us!
Clément & Romain Meyer from Managerial Odyssey 🌍
NextGen is partner of the 2022 Managerial Odyssey