After 15 years of hiring Technology / SaaS / Investment Executives in Sweden, this is what I have learned.
Some of the following relates closely to the other Nordic countries and whilst I have also worked on projects from Norway, Denmark & Finland (not yet Iceland but I’m keen and eager!) this post relates to and is dedicated most strongly to Sweden, the Scandinavian country I have worked in most throughout my career
That said, there are other quite specific nuances across the other Nordic countries and there are plenty of articles on www.linkedin.com that outline these nuances very well. Check out Colin Moon for instance!
- 100% transparency in all aspects of business and communication is expected and pretty much mandatory to build necessary trust. When you work in Sweden for the first time, you’ll note the openness in business communication and engagement. Hopefully you’ll appreciate it.
- Hierarchies are generally flat without layers of management. I can remember many conversations with candidates who wear multiple hats in their organisation. There is little or no arrogance in explaining key successes. Often, “unsung hero” is the impression I get when talking to people about their achievements
- When you walk into an office in Sweden, it is often hard to know who the boss is. This is because of the general lack of hierarchy. Also, the word Jantelagen. More on that later – In fact Jantelagen is important to understand so read on!
- Executives who run flat, efficient organisations, provide insight, influence, empowerment and in return receive loyalty, commitment, and performance in value delivery and way beyond a 40-hour work week. Some VC investors in successful Swedish companies point to this leadership style as a major factor of Swedish success stories over the past 20-30 years.
- This means that when you are interview people in Sweden, you should remember that you are in Sweden and not the USA or even the UK. People are humble and are not always comfortable at first meeting to drill you with their amazing success stories. It takes more time to build that trust at interview. It is not generally a comfortable conversation to discuss wealth. It is perhaps important not to discuss wealth until deeply acquainted. Wealth in my opinion generally whispers anyway, BUT especially in Sweden.
- Good tenure in a role and company is prevalent and desired by candidates and employers who tend to make considered decisions on career management
- Often candidates will be open with their employer when they feel their time is coming to an end in a company
- There are realistic expectations on project and role delivery targets. Don’t apply unrealistic expectations. This is not the USA or the UK where closure timelines can be much faster. That’s not to say that deals can’t close quickly as they can and do but business decision making can be slower in Sweden specifically
- Show that you are truly serious about your entry into the region and no half-hearted approaches or intentions. A suggestion from a candidate that the role needs further planning or a request for a discussion on a business plan does not mean that the candidate in question is “overly cautious” or “lacking int/entrepreneurial flair”
- Coffee is taken very seriously and so it should be! Google “Fika” for further explanation. This is important. Actually, this is very important!
- Counter offering is the norm in my opinion. Don’t worry as this is what happens. So, ensure that you run a clean and open search process that does not leave negativity with candidates. And don’t lowball the offer especially on matters relating to social benefits or base salaries
- June / July is the time for vacation and family time. I’m not suggesting that it’s impossible as we all have mobile phones but starting an Executive Search on July 1st is not advisable. Best start early in the year or start Aug 1st .
- Expect vacation time to take place in summer houses on Swedish Archipelago islands or close to lakes taking in water sports, walking, and generally enjoying Mother Nature with family and loved ones. Apparently, so Google suggests, Spain is also popular!
- Talking of family time, this is an important aspect of Swedish culture. Consider carefully how the role you are hiring for does not impact family life otherwise accommodate their family life which in return will yield high work outputs. Note paternity and childcare are deeply engrained in Swedish culture
- Dress code is generally very smart casual all the way to very formal. Our Swedish cousins dress with style for work be that casual through formal attire
- Our Swedish friends like to meet in person when possible. Zoom is helpful of course but take the time to meet if you can. Building relationships and putting the effort in is critical and will yield better outcomes in the longer term
- I can truly say with 100% certainty that politeness and punctuality are integral elements of Swedish business culture. Avoid confrontation
- Jantelagen – This is important and if you are not aware of this word and you do or want to do business in Sweden, (or the Nordic / Scandinavian region) you should get very familiar with the meaning and implications. In simplest terms, it is a set of norms stating that one should not try to be different or consider oneself more valuable than another. Further, placing society ahead of individual accomplishments and not being jealous of others. There is a lot more on this subject and attitudes on this subject can be varied so do your homework.
A lot of the world’s wonderful things come from Sweden and I’m not just talking ABBA (I have been a fan since childhood!), Volvos, Meatballs and Pickled Herring. Swedish design is beautiful, the Tech and Investment scene is vibrant, everything works, and the nature is breathtaking.
And just think of the numerous Tech companies that have made it big – Spotify, Ericsson, i-Zettle and Qlik are a few of the big ones, many smaller ones also, not to mention other sectors like H+M, Volvo, Electrolux, Assa Abloy…it goes on. Per capita, that is a lot of successful global companies.
For a country of 11 million people, it sure does pack a punch and I’m proud to have my brand associated in Sweden. Thank you to my entire Swedish network for accepting me.
Drop me a line if you need support in building your business in Sweden or the Nordic region.
PS – I finally tried IKEA meatballs for the first time a few weeks ago at IKEA in Southampton, UK. Very good they were too!
PPS – There is so much good content on most of the social channels about Swedish and Nordic business culture so do your homework and I hope you’ll enjoy working in the region as much as I do.