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Nordic Business Forum 2013

Last week I had the privilege to attend Nordic Business Forum, the most significant annual business seminar in the Nordics. The speakers of the forum are truly exceptional people. This year the most notable speakers were:

Malcolm Gladwell – Canadian journalist and author whose special gift is to make new ideas in social sciences understandable, practical and valuable to both business and general audience. In 2005, Gladwell was named in Time Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People list, in 2009 and 2010 Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers list, and is ranked number 10 on the The Thinkers 50 2011. His books What the Dog SawOutliersBlink and The Tipping Point have sold millions of copies around the world. Gladwell spoke on the topic Why Do Underdogs Succeed So Much More Than We Expect? 

Vijay Govindarajan – Indian professor in International Business at Dartmouth College. One of the worlds leading experts on business stategy and innovation. On the list of the world’s top business thinkers, The Thinkers 50, Govindarajan is number 3. At the forum Govindarajan presented his concept of Reverse Innovation, a concept that Harward Business Review listed as one of the Ten Big Ideas of the decade.

Lynda Gratton – Professor of Management Practice at London Business School. In 2011, she was ranked by The Times as one of the top 15 Business Thinkers in the world. The Financial Times selected her as the business thinker most likely to make a real difference over the next decade, and, in 2011, she was ranked 12th in The Thinkers 50 ranking of the management thinkers in the world. Gratton spoke of Hot Spots and High Energy – Collaborative Teams.

Tom Peters – American business thinker and co-author of In Search of Excellence – the book that is often tagged as the best business book ever. Peters is listed on every Top Thinkers 50 list ever published. Peters spoke of Excellence: Continuing the Search.

Jack Welch – Legendary American business executive who was CEO and Chairman of General Electric (GE) between 1981 and 2001. During his leadership years, the market capitalization of GE raised from $13 billion to over $300 billion – at the time the most valuable company of the world. In 2000, he was named as the “Manager of the Century” by Fortune Magazine. Welch was interviewed by Henkka Hyyppönen, and the topic of the discussion was The most human way of leading people.

So what did these top thinkers of the world had to say? In this blog post I will try to summarize some thoughts and topics from the seminar that I found most interesting.

First of all, I was surprised how compatible and similar the message and key points of the presentations were. If I try to summarize the key message of the speakers that spoke of leadership – Gladwell, Gratton, Peters and Welch – the key message for managers and executives was “excellent employees make excellent business”. What did they mean by that?

I think Welch said it best: The job of a manager is to “flourish in the glory of the people you nurture.” This means the job of a manager is to find the best people to work for him/her, and protect them so that they have a chance to do their work, and trust them to do their work. And when they do their work well, the manager must remember to reward them and feel pride when the individuals grow and surpass him-/herself. Openness is very important: A manager has to always – always – make sure the team knows where they stand: what is expected of them and how they are performing, and to provide training for the people. If you have trained a person to do something, you cannot assess the performance since the person cannot know how he/she is expected to do something. A manager needs to be a “pastor and parent” to the team: pastor so that things remain confidential, and a parent to tell the truth about things.

The key to success of a company is the people working for the company. Leading by numbers does not work; money and financial figures are simply an outcome, and should therefore not be the (sole) driver of business decisions. Financial figures are always historical data. If you want to succeed, you need to look forward; you need develop and nurture your people, and trust them to make good decisions. In fact, Welch went as far to say that finance (CFO) does not belong in a company’s executive board. Instead, the person sitting next to the CEO should be the CHO – Head of Human Development!

Tom Peters has formulated the above as an “Oath of Office” for managers and service leaders:

Our goal is to serve our customers brilliantly and profitably over the long haul.
Serving our customers brilliantly and profitably over the long haul is a product of brilliantly serving, over the long haul, the people who serve the customer.
Hence, our job as leaders—the alpha and the omega and everything in between—is abetting the sustained growth and success and engagement and enthusiasm and commitment to Excellence of those, one at a time, who directly or indirectly serve the ultimate customer.
We—leaders of every stripe—are in the “Human Growth and Development and Success and Aspiration to Excellence business.”
“We” [leaders] only grow when “they” [each and every one of our colleagues] are growing.
“We” [leaders] only succeed when “they” [each and every one of our colleagues] are succeeding.
“We” [leaders] only energetically march toward Excellence when “they” [each and every one of our colleagues] are energetically marching toward Excellence.

Period.

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” – Jack Welch