June 24, A Nokia Conversation

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Last night we went to dinner to catch up with friends of our son Nick. They are both working with Nokia in Berlin.

During the evening Kevin and I got into conversation about our respective work. He is in middle management overseeing a number of Nokia project teams. As he went on describing what he does, I was struck by how similar his work is with mine. He likened his position to being horizontal and facilitating a number of vertical projects – or rather, facilitating the people involved in these projects – being ‘across’ it. He says it takes a lot of listening. When he perceives any blockage he takes that person out for lunch or a coffee and listens to them. He offers any help if that is asked for. He doesn’t want to construct any ‘glass ceiling’ but really wants everyone to be turned on to doing their best. He described his role as very complex and nuanced. How he may speak in one context may be different to another, depending on what needs to be done or said to serve the best interests of the other –  a service model. More often than not, it is a listening and discerning process. He immediately made the connection that in my role as coordinating chaplain, he supposed that I work across the diversity of faiths, encouraging each to be the best they can be by listening to the leadership of each to facilitate their development. I’ve never before had anyone actually ‘get’ (comprehend the subtleties of) my job in five minutes!

I asked him how this part of the company fits into the overall Nokia management structure. Again, I was struck with similarities. The top level of Nokia have decided on an overall purpose and culture. This is transmitted to each of the Nokia development areas – phones, I.T. etc. So the various parts of the company all know the direction they are going; interconnections can also be made within this common purpose and culture. I take this to be like our University’s Strategic Plan that tells us what kind of university we want to be and how we intend to get there. The key to the Nokia culture is communication so that accountability to business goals is part of the process. Although there are goals, it is wonderfully open-ended and vision-driven; failure can be as important to growth as success.

I went away remembering conversations with Onno, the App developer, in whose flat I stayed in Delft, and with my sons’ Nick and Andrew in the way they approach their work. In all cases, having a university degree had little to do with what they have learnt, to be where they are in their fields. In Kevin’s case, he resisted all my attempts to have him name management books so I could get some short cuts. All he had learnt, he had learnt on the job, mentored by a good manager – learning by doing – praxis.

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