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“When work becomes play – the energy is endless!”

We interviewed Torbjörn Eriksson–CEO of Tenant & Partner, an advocate of workplace modernization and Advisory Board member at our WorkLife Arena event in Stockholm, in April.

Feb 06, 2020

S&F: Torbjörn, you have advised many companies over the years on how the workplace can support organizations to reach their purpose and goal. What are your thoughts on the current situation for organizations, as we start a new decade?

TE: I am not claiming to have all the answers, my insights are simply personal reflections from a 30-year career as an entrepreneur and health advocate, but I feel that organizations that want to be relevant need to find the answers to three big questions. Firstly, how can we do the things we are good at in a profitable way and at the same time contribute to a positive development in society? Secondly, how can we create an organization and a corporate culture that fundamentally is driven by the co-worker’s intrinsic motivation and drivers? And finally, how can we create the safe space that is needed for the co-workers to be true to their core values, to continue growing as human beings and professionally, and at the same time contribute to the organizational targets?

S&F: So, you believe that organizations must continue to focus more on intrinsic motivation to achieve that stable balance of profitability and personal satisfaction. What advice would you give to help leaders and organizations reach these goals?

TE: Be curious!

Ask yourselves this, within your organization: Why are we doing the things we are doing and why are we reacting the way we do? If we stay curious about ourselves, loads of stress, anxiety, and anger would dissolve.

If we stay curious about each other, we connect at a deeper level, and as a result, we work better together.

If we stay curious about our customers, we are far better positioned to create value and exceed expectations, which always is a good long-term strategy. And whilst we are at it, why not be a little curious how we can turn our workplaces to inspiring and meaningful arenas?

S&F: To hit profitability whilst also being fun and value-driven, organizations need the right mindsets in their teams. Do you think organizations have finally mastered the art of motivating and developing their employees?

TE: There is still a lot of work to do. Organizations often measure and reward individual performance and hope for strong collaborative results. The “carrot and stick strategy” is, however, not working when we want employees to collaborate and co-create.  Furthermore, internal competition may seem like a good idea and is promoted by many well-reputed management consultancy firms. However, internal competition can never go hand in hand with slogans such as ‘winning together’ or other corporate statements reflecting a longing for togetherness and collaboration.

S&F: When it comes to personal development for leadership teams, what area would you advise them to focus on improving in 2020?

TE: Self-awareness. It’s the foundation for all forms of leadership. Since the beginning of time, our brains constantly scan for threats. As a result,

we automatically feel insecure when we sense someone’s underlying intentions aren’t pure and genuine.

This inconsistency–or split–can be perceived as some sort of threat, materializing as the absence of trust and connection. In short, people with a low level of self-awareness normally have a wider “split”, which causes people around them to feel threatened and uncomfortable. If you are true to yourself, the split reduces, and the people around you are much more likely to feel trust in you and thus follow you as a leader.

S&F: What is your take on value-driven cultures?

TE: A value-driven culture is key, but many organizations have got this backwards.

For ages, we have been hammering words like quality, simplicity, operational excellence, customers first, etc. We put stone plates on the walls, text on coffee cups and the words articulated by smiling people on the company websites. An inspirational boss gives a speech about how the new culture will take the organization to new heights. The values are also incorporated in the yearly performance review. But is all this working? Not really. We all know this, but the big question is of course why not? Let me suggest a simple answer.

We cannot tell people what core values they should have. Period.

Values are deeply connected to our personality and originate from past generations, our genetics, our upbringing, and our life journey. These are not things we change with a PowerPoint. All employees should be supported and encouraged to search and find their core values and bring them to work. Bringing clarity to who we are and what we need give an amazing foundation to work effortlessly and to unlock our full potential.

S&F: Many organizations have lost their energy. What are your thoughts on that?

TE: We need to play more. We all know the scene of children playing in the garden. The energy is flowing, emotions come and go, and all energy is directed towards the football game, hide and seek or to catch the evil monster. Children take off their jackets when it is sub-zero degrees and they forget to eat and drink. They are completely present and live out every moment. Somehow the energy is flowing freely with no limitations, manifesting life probably as it should be. Natural. But where did we lose all this? When did the play become dead serious?

Have you ever tried to play with a child and keep up with their pace? Impossible. Just imagine if we could attract some of that energy into our workplaces, what would happen then?

When work becomes play, the energy is endless. We should make work more fun.

S&F: Is this the decade of true change and revolution in the workplace? If so–how can it be achieved?

TE: Companies face a huge need for transformation. When we aren’t progressing fast enough, we look for explanations or excuses. Problems usually appear as a lack of collaboration, slow pace of innovation and silo-way of working. Instinctively we blame inefficient structures and processes or the roles and responsibilities.

But there is one thing we could start with right here and now, without introducing another new committee, redesigning the organization or even touching the chain of command. We can listen to each other.

Picture this. You are in a meeting sharing your reflections. While still talking, your colleague across the table leans forward, stretches their spine, opens their mouth repeatedly, preparing to cut in as soon there is only a fraction of a second of silence. Here you go: meet the seagull. The seagulls often start with “Yes, but…” indirectly sending the message of not listening to what you are saying. With no interest from what was just said, another ‘seagull’ adds a new perspective on a similar topic. The energy slowly fades out. This needs to change.

S&F: Are there any organizations or countries that stand out as a positive example, that we can look at for inspiration on how to do things properly?

TE: Cultures, countries, organizations, teams, and individuals are all shaped by their unique value systems. These systems are manifested as structures, rituals and social behaviours on all levels.

When a country has developed to a high level of safety, the demand for democracy will rise. And with democracy follows the urge for autonomy.

In terms of values, Sweden is considered the most extreme country in the world. Check out the “World Values Survey” if you want to dig deeper into this. In this survey, Sweden ranked as the highest on both “self-expressing” and “secular-rational values”. The surveys started almost 40 years ago and prove the world, in a long-term perspective, are moving in the same direction.

Our evolving values will change everything; why we work, how we work, as well as the way we live our lives. Sweden already gets global attention as being forward-thinking. I think we need to appreciate this as a great opportunity to take the lead, to inspire and to benefit from a business perspective.

S&F: Thank you for your time, any final thoughts on WorkLife and beyond?

TE: We need to rethink the way we look upon our workplaces, and I strongly believe there are better ways to run our organizations. I think there is a way that will leave us with greater values created for all our main stakeholders, the customers, the employees, the partners, and the planet.

Thank you!