Stockholm: The “Americanization” of Scandinavia Part 2

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The next leg of our Scandinavian adventure placed us in beautiful and busy Stockholm, Sweden. In the interest of continuity, the theme of Gothenberg was apparent in a holistic sense throughout the city. Many American brands and products hung on market walls, and American music played in many restaurants and bars. “Americanization” does not simply refer to the adoption of popular American culture, but also the American means of interaction, doing business, and communication. Our many visits with local organizations offered many insights concerning the “Americanization” of Sweden.

SandvikOur first stop placed us in the pleasant company of Bettina Baumgartner with Sandvik. After a long and hectic train ride from Gothenberg, we were treated to an interesting presentation of Sandvik's history, values, mission, and operations details. Our presenter was an impressive Vice President of the organization, with roots back in the United States as a graduate of the University of California, Riverside. Her explanation of Safety Focus, Fair Play, and Healthy Competition (a focus on being an industry leader) left us with a few connections to similar areas of focus to American business. Of course most companies say they focus on safety, I am sure many feel they must, but with Sandvik, Safety is placed above all other objectives. A safe workplace is something we understand and experience ourselves back home, however, Sandvik has other values which do not seem “Americanized” in the traditional sense. Fair play is not a value I have seen posted on the conference room walls of any business I have had an association with in the U.S. Swedish culture seems to lend significant weight to the prospect of equality, fairness, opportunity, and a chance to succeed. Granted, America is known as “the land of opportunity”, however, I am not certain this is sincerely true in today's global business environment.

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Our next meeting was with the lively and quite funny John Ekman of Conversionista! The immediate impression of the organization left us with envy. The humorous, energetic, direct, lively, and lackadaisical ethos of the leadership (John) struck and resonated within us a sense of opposing focuses in comparison to U.S. business culture. The primary purpose of Conversionista! is to help improve the ineffective company websites (and other online forums) of various businesses. Our understanding of an “Americanized” person or business is targeted upon the rigorous tenacity that leadership back home seems to promote amongst the organizational culture. In that respect, Conversionista! is not “Americanized” to say the least. John discussed the importance of “why” we do business, and ensuring ease for the customer / visitor. A perfect illustration is to picture having guest over to one's home. Would we ask them to fill out a personal information questionnaire, and then validate their email prior to entering our home to which they were invited? This is an identical logic to that of Zooma, the marketing agency we visited in Gothenberg. The Swedish perception of customer focus, as has been made abundantly clear thus far on our journey, contrasts greatly with that of the U.S. Ensuring ease of access (like the ever-present WiFi connections of the cities we have visited), simplicity in design, a purpose-driven mission, as well as accommodation, are all fundamental values of Swedish business. In many ways, this has truly not been an American experience.

SqoreSQORE provided us a business strategy and focus which was quite foreign in many ways to traditional American competition in the workplace. SQORE utilizes competitive “tests” among potential employees for career opportunities to place the best fit for a company that uses SQORE as a service provider. Americans also compete for career opportunities, of course, but the focus is often less directed upon the qualifications necessary to fit the job well (“know how”), and more on how well one can communicate the qualifications they do possess. SQORE was interested in fair play, and a level playing field much in the same way Sandvik was interested in this concept as an organizational value. SQORE seemed to operate as a familial unit, and was interested on building a strong business while having fun doing it.

UntitledOur tour, presentation, and luncheon at Keolis offered an excellent description of efficient operations which still offered accommodation and modular practices for the employed staff. Outside of the traffic management operations, which require a rigid position allocation and timely activity monitoring and implementation, the rest of the business was somewhat opposite. The project management offices were more collaborative, quite loose in structure and execution. Keolis presented itself as lower stress and calmly operated at an individual level, with offered options to work collaboratively and/or in “quite zones” for specified activities. The business seemed to be very accommodating and friendly to the individual worker, which promotes a sense of belonging, creativity, flexibility, and purpose. These characteristics of the organization are very attractive to us; the rigid, inflexible, and unmotivated employees of very differently focused firms.

This lack of  observed “Americanized” values or operational activities of the many businesses visited on this trip to Sweden, make for a strong argument that only portions of daily living and popular culture are “Americanized”, while common business practices are in diametric opposition to American culture.

Let’s see how the remainder of this adventure supports or opposes this notion. Stay tuned for Part 3….