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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Finland

The guide below is for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of Finland.

It provides some useful information for managers who are relocating to the country for employment as well as those who may have Finnish employees in their global or multicultural teams.

Topics include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Leadership style
  • Time and scheduling 
  • Communication style and; 
  • Negotiation style 

Being a Manager in Finland

The business culture in Finland tends to be very egalitarian. As such, to ensure successful cross cultural management, it is important to remember to treat each and every person with equal respect and deference:

  • Cultural adaptability relies on this understanding that in Finland there is a sense that all people in the organization have an important role to play and are valued for their input.
  • Therefore, in this culture, managers will lose no respect in consulting employees to gather background information and even share in the decision-making process.
  • The basic business style is formal.
  • Finns do not engage in much small talk and prefer people to speak succinctly, not to discuss themselves or their interests, focusing primarily on business.
  • Finns generally do not make friends at work and do not need to get to know you as a person in order to conduct business.

The Role of a Manager

If working in Finland, remember that the most productive managers recognize and value the specialized knowledge that employees at all levels bring. Employees expect to be consulted on decisions that affect them and the greater good of the organization:

  • Managers tend to be task-oriented but do not generally micro-manage their staff.
  • Managers emphasize achieving a goal, productivity and profits and expect their employees to do their job in a professional manner.
  • Effective management will remember that the role of the leader is to harness the talent of the group assembled and develop any resulting synergies.
  • The leader will be deferred to as the final authority in any decisions that are made, but they do not dominate the discussion or generation of ideas.
  • Praise should be given to the entire group as well as to individuals.

Approach to Change

Finland’s cultural appetite for change is low, meaning that social change is difficult to bring about and the idea of it is not received with enthusiasm. The underlying belief is that change may threaten the social fabric:

  • Even though they are cautious in business, they are some of the most rapid high-tech innovators in the world.
  • In order for change to take hold, however, it needs to be perceived as good for the group and be accepted by the group.
  • Cultural sensitivity is needed as Finland’s attitude toward risk is dramatically impacted by the negative ramifications of failure on both the individual and the group.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Finland is a controlled-time culture, and adherence to schedules is important and expected. In Finland missing a deadline is a sign of poor management and inefficiency, and will shake people’s confidence:

  • Since Finns respect schedules and deadlines, it is not unusual for managers to expect people to work late and even give up weekends in order to meet target deadlines.
  • Successful management will depend on the individual’s ability to meet deadlines.
  • If there's ever a risk of missing a deadline, then inform all necessary stakeholders in advance and advise your counterparts when the delivery will be complete. 
  • Don't leave it until the last minute, as this will be considered unprofessional. 

Decision Making

Employees expect to be consulted on decisions that affect them and the greater good of the organization:

  • Not doing so may be significantly counterproductive because employees typically feel responsible for success beyond the execution of specific instructions.

Boss or Team Player?

The egalitarian belief of Finns supports a collaborative and participative management style:

  • Finns are often quite comfortable working in teams and do not expect to be singled out for their contribution.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Relationship building often takes place outside the office: in a restaurant or the sauna. Never turn down an invitation to use the sauna, as it is an entrenched part of the Finnish culture and an important part of relationship building.

  • There will be minimal, if any, small talk.
  • Finns prefer to get down to business quickly.
  • Finns are direct. They say what they think and expect you to do the same.
  • Maintain eye contact while speaking.
  • Decisions are typically made quickly and implemented as swiftly.
  • Finns are very concerned with quality.
  • If, therefore, you are travelling to Finland to negotiate a service or product, then ensure the quality of your service or product is clearly stated and outlined. 
  • Associated certifications and quality factors should be highlighted and emphasised. 
  • Ensure your pitch is well-researched, accurate and backed up with facts and relevant analysis. 
  • Finns are interested in long-term rather than short-term goals.
  • When making a bid, it is important that your first offer is realistic.
  • Finns do not expect to negotiate a great deal on price.
  • Quality takes precedence over price. 

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