A group of EMBA students from the Chinese University of Hong Kong visited Sweden this summer to study its corporate culture.
Here are some of their findings:
The office of King, creator of the highly popular Candy Crush handset game, looks like a playground.
In the dining area, there’s a merry-go-round and a seesaw. The work area is fitted with gaming facilities, a table tennis room and bedrooms.
Rather than worrying about whether its staff are working hard enough, King cares more about attracting talent.
The company shows deep trust in its employees. There are no fixed working hours or time clocks around.
Management is confident that when an assignment is given, the staff will try their best to get it done.
In Hong Kong, this sort of free working environment is hard to imagine.
They also visited Astra Zeneca. The pharmaceutical firm is leasing out its extra office space to startup drug makers at very cheap rates to help incubate them.
These tenants have easy access to the company’s departments and facilities. They are allowed to use the company’s labs or seek accounting and legal opinions.
Here is how Astra Zeneca looks at it. The company spends hundreds of millions of dollars on research and development each year and still the results are far from guaranteed.
But by nurturing these young companies, the company is able to know their latest developments and gains the chance to acquire their new drugs.
Having startup people around, people who are full of passion and energy, provides a positive influence to the morale of Astra Zeneca’s own team.
The EMBA students also stopped by Scandinavian Airlines (SAS).
There they learned the importance of communication and transparency when a company encounters a tough business environment.
Like many of its peers, SAS faces competition from budget airlines, as well as wage pressures.
CEO Richard Gustafson openly shared with the students how these challenges are affecting the company’s operations, in the same way he has been talking about these “sensitive issues” with his staff.
Chinese firms normally don’t want to reveal their problems, but SAS’s advocacy of transparency and dialogue focuses employees’ attention on how to resolve major issues affecting the company.
SAS employees, for example, voluntarily agreed to cut their pay as part of efforts to ease the financial pressure.
The outcome is quite amazing, considering that mutual distrust and labor disputes are prevalent in the aviation industry.
The Swedish approach of setting people free and placing a lot of trust in people is seen by the EMBA students as a “minimalist” approach to management.
For Hong Kong companies obsessed with managing their staff through all sorts of rules and schemes, carrots and sticks, they might want to take a page from the Swedes.
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