Finland: Life > Work

Allard van der Borch, our partner based in Finland, shares some insights on maintaining a healthy work / life balance

Some of you may remember that just before Christmas, we published our sourcing advent calendar, where we shared some of our lighthearted thoughts and perspectives on the world of sourcing. Now that we’ve just celebrated Midsummer – Finland’s main national holiday – I felt compelled to write a post on how working (and in my case, living) in Finland has shaped, and most importantly, improved how we work at This Partners.

Firstly, a good work/life balance is important in Finland. Except here in Finland it’s actually more like a life/work balance. It’s a subtle, but incredibly important difference which was particularly useful during the darker times of the pandemic. Most Finns found it easy to adapt to a hybrid working model, working from home or the summer cottage for longer and leveraging Finland’s fantastic broadband and mobile connectivity. Whilst clearly the work got done, the focus always remained on family, and the line between the two was seldom blurred. Perhaps that’s why Finland was this year again voted the world’s happiest country.

One of the most interesting things I noticed during lockdown was that whilst research shows that innovation is typically greater in groups and when face to face, the opportunity to focus more on a one-to-one basis resulted in minimal difference and helped create a greater sense of ownership in many of the client project team members.

Apart from appreciating efficient ways of working, most Finns like clear structure and good time management. Whilst one could argue it enables them to spend more time skiing or in the sauna, there is an innate desire for efficiency. The Finns pride themselves on being direct and this works well with our approach to sourcing. We get better results by focusing on outcomes and the long-term business benefits rather than technical solutions and low-level contractual detail.

So: to a joke. How can you tell the difference between a Finnish introvert and a Finnish extrovert? When he's talking to you a Finnish introvert looks at his feet. A Finnish extrovert looks at yours!

One thing to not joke about, especially up here in the Nordics, is the importance of planning a sourcing engagement in a manner that will deliver the best possible results from what are often scarce resources. Globally, senior IT and procurement leaders are always under pressure to obtain the best possible value from IT sourcing and this is very much the case in Finland. The IT sourcing landscape is becoming increasingly complex and often characterized by cost overruns, poor supplier relationships, significant complexity and unclear direction. With many organisations in the Nordics having an increasingly outsourced operating model, focusing on the long-term business outcomes has never been more important.

At This Partners we advocate well-planned, flexible and time boxed sourcing programmes to maximise the value of our client’s precious time. Similarly, it also ensures that potential suppliers can engage safe in the knowledge that the programme will be completed efficiently, hence minimizing cost and risk on their side. And arguably most importantly, by focusing on the specific outcomes desired by the client, competition is healthier and proposed solutions are a better fit, which in turn reduces risk, lowers cost and increases surety of outcome.

In addition, by having a tailored, focused sourcing approach (rather than an “off-the-shelf” RFP), we create deeper understanding of the proposed solution and most importantly here in Finland, it creates a platform to begin growing the relationship with a supplier and enables those critical, yet often, intangible aspects to be fully addressed.

Finns appreciate receiving clear, to the point messages, delivered with no more words than absolutely necessary. Our focus on the things that are important drives greater clarity and certainty in the decision-making process, which in turn helps the client teams get back to what is most important: having enough time to spend on activities outside of work.

Since our inception in 2010, we’ve always fostered a spirit of collaboration and mutual understanding to enhance relationships. Now that face to face meetings are possible again we are using the lessons from the past two years and infusing them into the way we work. We’re seeing greater efficiency and also more innovation, which in turn is driving better results for both our clients and the supplier community.

So, with all that said, what are the most valuable lessons we’ve learned from our friends in Finland? It’s hard to summarise, but in true Finnish style I’ve tried to keep it short and to the point:

  1. Be really, really clear about requirements: get them shared and bought into across the whole organisation to ensure everybody is onboard for the journey
  2. Don’t underestimate the value of anybody within the team: work hard to encourage everybody to participate and you’ll find huge amounts of value. The best ideas often come from the most unexpected of sources.
  3. Less is often more: keep a tight rein on complexity. Often the “wish-lists” get into the contract and create operational and managerial headaches, so consider every requirement and whether it’s a “must have” or simply a “want”. Simple is often best!
  4. Agree a realistic plan and stick to it: focus on the key areas and don’t let off-track topics derail the schedule.
  5. Recognise the life/work balance: focus on the points above and remember that many of the sourcing team will also have a “day job” in addition to the project. Keep a keen eye on Christmas and Midsummer deadlines to ensure everyone gets to their well-earned holidays and remember, Saturday and Sunday are typically not working days….

Hopefully these simple lessons will provide you with some value and help you on your next engagement, regardless of where you are based. In addition, why not do a little research on the “untranslatable Finnish mindset of Sisu”. You’ll be glad you did. I promise!