Did 800 Project Managers Turn a Country’s Culture Around?

In 2009, I was asked to come to Finland to deliver a keynote address on Leadership and the Power of
Acknowledgment to hundreds of project managers at an IPMA Conference. Here is an excerpt from what I posted about that experience on the PMI® blog, Voices on Project Management, shortly thereafter:

Before my presentation, I kept hearing project managers say things like: ‘In Finland you know you are being acknowledged when your boss says, ‘That wasn’t too bad a job that you did.’ They told me repeatedly that acknowledgment was just not done in Finland.” And yet when I got up there to speak, I told them that acknowledgment was a basic human need, whether valued in a culture or not, and after the amazing response I got during the presentation I asked myself this question: “Could 800 project managers turn an entire country’s culture around?

I am just back from delivering three presentations on Grateful Leadership Using the Power of Acknowledgment in Finland, four years later, and I have to say that the answer is a wholehearted “YES!” Though still somewhat jetlagged, I will tell you clearly that the reception I received this time was enthusiastic, desirous of the change people knew this information could bring, and purely welcoming. I didn’t come across a single doubter or naysayer among the 100+ people I trained.
I was stunned by the cultural as well as the personal shift that seemed to have occurred in those few years. I am not taking credit for this shift, but I do believe that those who had been exposed to this work in 2009 remained committed to bringing it into their country and corporate culture. Kim Strömbäck of Wärtsilä, who introduced me at both sessions I led in that company, told everyone of the cool reception I had received the first time, and the great response it had generated. And he insisted numerous times that I make sure to distinguish once again between recognition and acknowledgment, which had had a huge impact on him as well as on many others, and which I was planning to do.

I learned that Pia Jünger Project Manager, Operational Development, initially had the idea of bringing me in as a presenter for Wärtsilä’s Leadership Days after participating in IIL’s International Project Management Day 2012 where she viewed my presentation on Grateful Leadership. She just knew it would be a fit and it was. Ulla Lämsä, Learning & Development, Team Leader, who actually brought me to the company, welcomed me warmly and stayed for one of the sessions to see the “magic” happen. And it did…once again.

Dean Pattrick of Nokia came to the public session I led last week, after having attended a webinar I conducted from Finland in 2009. His excellent response to the webinar was featured in my book in a story about people’s “jaw-dropping response” to emails Dean had sent to his team through Nokia’s Peer Recognition Program. This time he insisted that I meet with Nokia’s Director of Human Resources while in Finland, which I had the pleasure of doing and felt I had discovered a “kindred spirit” in Jason Staines.
The evidence had come in that acknowledgment that is heartfelt, enthusiastic and of course well-deserved, works and works wonders. Two people in my seminar had “director of wellbeing” in their titles, and Wärtsilä has it on its website:
“Well-being at workplace is important to us. Wärtsilä takes care of its employees throughout the whole employment. Our goal is to create a good workplace in which all employees have the chance to show their best and develop further their competencies.”

My wonderful IIL Finland colleagues Inna Halminen, Seppo Halminen, Lorena Silvosa and Ilona Kajava received an incredibly positive response from project managers and HR directors to the invitation to come to my public presentation!

The point is that the focus of the Finnish culture seems to have begun to go through and is still undergoing an incredible shift, and I am honored to be able to note and promote it. Thank you, Finland, for welcoming the message of Grateful Leadership and the Power of Acknowledgment, as well as me, this time. I can hardly wait for my next visit!

To read the original post in 2009 on PMI’s Voices on Project Management blog, go to: http://blogs.pmi.org/blog/voices_on_project_management/2009/06/creating-an-acknowledgement-cu.html