What Will You Be When You Grow Up?
That was the question we asked third and fifth graders on May 20, when we visited an elementary school in Espoo, Finland. Some of the pupils already had clear plans, but not all. And that’s just fine. At their age, I was planning to become a doctor, but instead I became an Ericsson employee. And it has not been one profession, but several very different professions. And I presume there are still more to come.
I started at Ericsson on May 20 1991, 25 years ago. A lot has changed during the past 25 years. In the early years, we all had our own rooms, or at least cubicles, and we all worked mainly alone. Actually, 25 years ago there used to be a factory in the area visible in the picture. My first cubicle was in this area and from my window I was able to see the factory hall where the landline phones where manufactured. You rarely see any landline phones anymore! Ericsson doesn’t manufacture phones anymore either, and Ericsson hasn’t had a factory in Finland for years. All this reflects the continuous change we were discussing with the kids.
The change is visible also when you think how different my work tasks have been during the past 25 years. I started as developer, and have coded with four different coding languages since then. I have been a team leader. As a project manager, I ran small projects and bigger ones; in the biggest one we had over 300 people working. I have tested products, improved our ways of working, and enhanced our product quality. I have worked with more than ten different products. Nowadays, I actually do not work with a product, but with a service, which also reflects very well the change in the world today. Furthermore, I have worked in three different countries and travelled in many more. Through all of this, I have only worked at Ericsson.
Currently, I am a coach supporting people, teams, and the whole organization in this continuous change and trying to even accelerate the change.
What does it mean then? It means for example, that we, coaches, encourage people to work together. We encourage pair working, as two heads are better than one, and we support team work, as more hands make work light. Nowadays, people are working together more than alone. The kids told us that they work also a lot together. As we at the office, the kids sit in teams. The kids made a smart home exercise in these teams during our visit.
Another important thing that we coaches support is continuous learning. As we spoke with the kids, learning does not end when school ends, it will continue throughout your life! Therefore, it is extremely important that the kids learn how to learn. We had an open discussion with the students to discover all of the different ways they can learn new things. What suites one might not be the best way for the other. For someone, the best way is to sit down and read; some learn best by doing, and some by listening and discussing. We coaches try to support all these different ways of learning.
In addition to learning, it is important to share one’s knowledge and know-how to teach others. Kids are practicing this by making presentations, making books, and writing blog posts.
Continuous improvement is important. It is good to stop and reflect every now and then on what went well and what could be improved. This needs to be done also on various levels: everybody by themselves, within a team, and by the whole organization. For example, you can play a Finnish game called Mölkky, and at the same time consider how we should change our ways of working. They do improvement work also in school. The fifth graders told us that this spring they started having some of the subjects in a course format, meaning that they concentrate in one subject for couple of weeks in a row instead of having an hour per week for each of the subjects.
We talked with the kids about continuous change, continuous learning, and continuous improvement. But there are also other things that would be good to do continuously. For example, it is important to appreciate others and especially to show your appreciation. We coaches try to support our colleagues also in this. For example, we have handed out awards to each other. The end result was three big whiteboards full of awards explaining the great things the others have done. During our visit, we practiced another way how to show your appreciation with the kids. Everybody got a gold medal for something they think they had done really well during the school year. They also received gold medals that they could give to their teachers, classmates, sisters, brothers, parents, and to anybody who deserved one.
Appreciating others increases the feeling of togetherness, which is also important. The feeling of togetherness is developed by spending time together, and by doing something else together other than work. We spend time together in very similar ways as do the pupils. We have breaks together to go play table tennis or foosball. We also have parties, clubs and competitions as they have in schools.
In the end we spoke about how important it is to remember that it is not just about ourselves, but about sharing all the good that we have. It is important to share your knowledge, and also other things. And it should be done continuously as well. The school that we visited has a 10-year old godchild in Kenya. Ericsson in turn has Ericsson Response aimed at responding to human suffering caused by disasters. Any Ericsson employee can be part of the Ericsson Response program and become a volunteer. In the photo, Hlekiwe from Ericsson Finland is installing a temporary network in the Ebola area in Africa last year.
Before coming back to the office, we thanked the fifth graders who inspired us to make Mother Teresa blankets and helping out people in that way.
What will I become when I grow up? Today, I’d answer coach, but I have no idea what I’d answer tomorrow. The change is continuous!