Standing out vs Fitting in

A cultural feature of Finland is that one should not stand out too much. And in a country where at the top level of organisations there is very little national diversity (http://findix.fi/uploads/1/2/4/4/124448646/findix_2020_en.pdf) standing out is looked at with even more frowns.

The opportunity for Finnish organisations is that in order to better fit into the top league of global organisations, they’ll have to learn to stand out more. Not wanting to stand out is considered not having any ambitions. And why would clients, customers and employees alike want to work with, and work for, an organisation which has no ambitions?

As with many things cultural, showcasing an ambitious culture starts at the top. When Finland decided to ensure a better gender diversity in boards, within approximately 10 years, the amount of female leaders went up so much, that globally speaking, Finnish organisations rank very high today. In other words, there is no limit to what Finnish organisations (or the country) can achieve when it sets its mind on something.

With 40% of Finnish GDP being dependent on export, having a better cross cultural representation in Finnish organisations should be a great motivator to recruit more foreign nationals to Finnish organisations (1), ensure they stay motivated (2) and grow them into leading positions (3).

So what can you do as HR leader to help convince your leadership team and your recruiters to stand out and ensure they accept people who stand out (meaning their cv’s are not the standard Aalto/Hanken/etc cv’s, but e.g. Lagos Business School – which is educating leaders in soon to be the world’s 5th largest country and Africa’s biggest economy (yet has only 7 big Finnish organisations registered there).

1. Install a clear sense of global purpose – why do you want to go outside of Finland?

2. What kind of cultural tendencies can be found in your main foreign markets and how do these tendencies connect to the preferences in your leadership team and recruiters?

3. When you have found new employees who stand out from the average “Jussi”, improve employees’ sense of belonging. From a cross cultural point of view this means thinking of a mandatory buddy system for newcomers, especially those from more collectivistic cultures, where work is more than just work, it also resembles a part of social life. Connecting newcomers to managers typically makes more impact, as people from collectivistic cultures tend to also look up to managers – for managers it offers new things to learn. So while working on this buddy system you hit multiple birds with the same stone

o You help newcomers build a professional network in Finland and provide a sense of guidance so they have the ability to fit in.
o You help managers retain an open mind towards learning new things, you help them to stand out.
o You can connect managerial promotion to having been a “buddy” which helps to foster an organisational culture of support and learning.

Senior leadership often forgets how important their role as a mirror is, especially towards recruiters. Senior leaders might be seen as competent, but if they are not approachable and therefore cannot share their wisdom, what truly is the worth of their competence? They have the competence, but not the capability to share that competence…. An that gives recruiters an image of choosing the safe option and hire yet another “Jussi”, where as the Alice, Pradeep, Mustafa, Noorah, etc might have much, much more life experience to offer and be better able to emotionally click with your biggest target markets.

Perhaps it is time to ensure that the top leadership puts 20% of its time aside to act as a mentor to select minority representatives and learn a thing or two themselves while at it. Finland has shown it can get amazing stuff done in a short while.

As we say in Dutch, “waar een wil is, is een weg”, in English “where there is a will, there is a way” and in Finnish "kyllä etsivä keinot löytää" – of course with more emphasis on the will to make something happen and not such much focus on the actual path 😊

Egbert Schram

Egbert Schram is a Dutchman, residing in Finland. He acts as the Group CEO of Hofstede Insights, a global cultural advisory, advising individuals, organisations and governments on the impact of culture on work life. Currently having operations in 60+ countries, and a global practice of about 150 people (of which 93% outside of Finland).