scorecardI'm a Finnish CEO. Here's what it's like running a company in the happiest country on earth.
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I'm a Finnish CEO. Here's what it's like running a company in the happiest country on earth.

I'm a Finnish CEO. Here's what it's like running a company in the happiest country on earth.
Careers3 min read
  • Samu Hällfors is the CEO of Framery, an office soundproofing business in Helsinki.
  • Hällfors mirrors how he runs his company in line with Finnish values like shared responsibility.
This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Samu Hällfors, the CEO of Framery in Helsinki. It has been edited for length and clarity.

In 2010, I worked at Logia Software Oy in an open office space. My friend and I were tired of constantly listening to our boss speak on his phone. It was impossible to focus on our work. When we brought it up, our boss responded: "Well, buy me a phone booth."

The only problem was that there wasn't one on the market. We gave up working for the software company that day, and Framery was born.

Framery is a 14-year-old company headquartered in my homeland of Finland that offers soundproof solutions for
offices. Our showroom is in Helsinki, and our offices are in Tampere, Finland.

As the CEO of a company in the world's happiest country, I mirrored my company's values and policies with many of the Finnish cultural aspects I admire. Here are some ways I'm running Framery in line with those values.

Mutual responsibility makes people feel safe

There are multiple parallels between Finnish society and how we've built culture at Framery, starting with psychological safety. A few years ago, Readers' Digest published a report about a social experiment where 12 wallets were intentionally "dropped" in various cities around the world.

In Finland, 11 of those 12 wallets were returned to their owners. In Finnish society, people feel a general level of safety because the culture is focused on the collective responsibility to care for and be honest with each other, regardless of the relationship or how well we know someone. We are a close-knit community.

I try to encourage this attitude at work. I never allow my employees to feel that mistakes or failures are their fault.

Mistakes still happen. When they do, it's usually followed up with a discussion on how to remediate for the future. As long as the root cause of the mistake is not laziness or negligence, then the responsibility is shared, and there is no place for blame.

I want my employees to feel safe exploring new ideas, taking risks, and making mistakes.

Work-life balance is a priority

The Finnish workday is usually eight hours, with a half-hour lunch break, so people have time for hobbies and leisure activities after work. In Finland, we believe there is a time to rest and work; regardless of what we are doing, we put our complete attention and concentration into it.

I make it a point to visibly leave the office toward the end of the working day and to enforce strict rules around maximum working hours so that employees can enjoy work-life balance.

Sometimes projects may require extra hours, but employees are encouraged to balance their workweek by taking time off or long weekends.

Extreme candor for the benefit of the group

The Finns are very honest and direct people. Though this may come across as naive in other cultures, we value communicating candidly, independent thinking, and bearing responsibility accordingly.

Large corporations usually have layers of bureaucracy that determine who gets access to what information. That leads to a loss of shared purpose, the idea that people within the organization are all aligned to the same mission.

At Framery, everyone gets to participate in our strategy deep dives. We share highly classified information with every employee so they have equal footing and more oversight on their day-to-day tasks. I always host the sessions, and there can be no more than 12 participants at once, so there's an opportunity to ask questions and debate.

There's the obvious risk of leaked information, but I trust my employees. I think there's a bigger risk in not telling people important information that will be helpful in their daily tasks. Plus, disclosing private employer information is illegal, and Finns understand their responsibilities toward their employer.

Celebrate independent hard work

Companies have recently become more stringent with return-to-office policies and employee tracking tools. I view this as micromanagement, which destroys the individual's sense of autonomy and purpose.

Finnish culture is deeply rooted in forward-thinking and preparation, stemming from their historical need to brace for harsh, protracted winters.

This ingrained mindset fostered a strong work ethic among the Finns, born from the understanding that diligent effort paves the way for long-term career success and longevity.

I think our employees know better than their CEO on how to structure their personal workday. Teams can decide when they want to come into the office and how they plan to execute their work. They are mandated by themselves, not by management.

Correction: April 23, 2024 – An earlier version of this story misstated the location of Framery’s offices. They are headquartered in Tampere, Finland, not in Helsinki.