Tommi Luoto: ”The most important thing is to all us is to have fun.”

On a Thursday evening I am in a beautiful banquet room located at Yrjönkatu. I am wearing a dress and high heels according to the Dark suit dress code. On the invitation was written: Welcome to the 20th anniversary celebration. Customers and partners will celebrate together with the anniversary.

After the welcome drink the event starts with a brief look at the history. I am interested to hear the story of the company, but still back in my mind flashes a thought of a mandatory, perhaps even of a boring part of the evening.

But to my surprise I got emotional when the presentation went on. I even wanted to be identified with the company.

“Soon we saw in each people who feel good when they are being appreciated”

Instead of a project presentation or a history line the current director duo showed on the screen pictures of people. Not smartened-up photos, but natural ones, the kind of photos you took in a digital camera when Facebook landed to Finland in 2007. The people were introduced with their first names. In some cases, some background information was given. Often something fun. Especially was mentioned, if the ex-employees or partners had also found each other later in their private lives. Soon we saw in each people with stories and people who want to be appreciated by others, no more just people dressed to the occasion.

The lights are switched off. In around us lanterns are being carried across the room. People are flooding to the room in yellow, red and light-blue rain coats. Everybody is wearing a red beanie. In a video projected on the wall an all-weather shoe steps on a small islet. In hand is one of the lanterns. On the islet the very same line of raincoats with red beanies is walking. They lean to each other and help each other to walk smoothly on the islet. Throwing oneself and being together. After the video the new name of the company is shown: ISLET i.e. a small island. We handle all conditions. That explains the raincoats and the beanies. The surname of the director duo Luoto (islet) is no coincidence either.

The company has now a new brand and a new story. Most of all, they have a story, in which we all feel to be part of it and want to be part of it. Not because the story was good, but because we felt to be part of it and felt being appreciated, we knew and saw these people the company is made of. And because they are having fun. After a while a photo is taken each of us wearing a raincoat and a beanie. In a company party I have very seldom seen similar genuine, readiness to throw in and appreciation of togetherness that extends to customers and partners

“What about if building warmth is critical to a successful performance?”

I feel warmth. In this sense warmth means a play to me, genuineness and experience of being cared for and accepted with all my joy and pain. Difficult and often diminished in business. But could it be critically important and profitable? Based on studies this seems to be the case. Experience of warmth opens the gate to the trust. Only, when we feel the warmth and the trust, we see competence as positive. Competence is without doubt important, but without warmth we can feel it as manipulative or unappealing. On a lonely island of competence, we cannot cope, instead, just like ISLET we need a team and a spirit of doing together on our islet.

The work of the future and our physiology would also speak for the warmth. We have moved to a service and IT society where a task requires a special skill to meet a human, willingness to work in a team and an ability to use your creativity. This requires a skill to build and to maintain warmth. While algorithms do part of the brain work, the most human skills such as capability to cooperate, to create and to show empathy are more important than ever. Building up warmth helps, because it creates a feeling of psychological safety i.e. a state of body and mind where we are not afraid, instead we trust and feel togetherness. We are being heard. This is the only point, when our brains work optimal, they are capable of being creative, being empathetic and to reflect. For example, our memory works at best, we promote the health of our heart and we prevent stress.  Practising warmth in a business life is not only fun, it is also responsible and sensible in order to create conditions to a profitable and welfare supporting activity.

Or: The goal to have fun at work is not only a feeling, it is also sensible and intelligent.

Since the 90’s the studies of psychological safety have shown that this is what extinguishes the top teams. When Amy Edmondson studied top surgeons and their teams in her thesis at the Harvard University, the result was baffling. The best teams made the most errors. It cannot be like that. A closer look explained the matter: the best teams feel psychologically safe in their teams, which allows them to be vulnerable and tell of their mistakes. Only this way the teams are capable of learning from their mistakes, together. As a result, their team was more successful. The same result was confirmed at Google two years ago. For two years Google kept the sleeves wrapped up and studied its 180 teams from every possible angle. Finally, the recipe was ready with the help of the Researcher Rozovsky. The most critical factor that differentiates Google’s top team is the psychological safety they feel.

In practice the psychological safety means that we dare to ask a silly question or to tell what we feel without having a fear of becoming a laughing stock or being stamped. To build up the warmth and the psychological safety means in practice a genuine constructive interaction i.e. willingness to be emphatic and a skill to lead emotions successfully. It is not always easy and asks for effort, but as the studies showed also the feed-back I have got from different companies confirms this. At the end this is profitable, also it in the long run.

Also in ISLET’s case the warmth seems to walk hand in hand with the result. As a family company ISLET has an unexceptional long history at ICT-field and during the new leadership duo the revenue and the team has grown double in the past three years and at the same the office has been renewed, existing customers have been looked after well and a substantial part of the revenue has been invested in new technology projects.

After the event I read the article regarding ISLET’s brand renewal and I paid attention to CEO Janina Luoto’s description of ISLET: “We challenge the business practice in this field and as a family company we stand out from our competitors – also in a way how the personality can be seen in our projects.” (Throw yourself) And: “A fresh island and hardened by the experienced islanders – Isletters who form a community not only of current ISLET employees but also of customers and partners.” (togetherness)

An expert shares information at best, when she/he feels that she/he is being cared as a human being.

My experience of warmth is not only a coincidence, ISLET seems to have understood something that few companies have so far understood: an expert is dedicated to her/his work and is generously giving answers to problem solving based on her/his knowledge at best when she/he believes and feels that she/he is being cared for as a human being.

Now a week later, I can still remember how the lady next to me moved to tears as she was addressed with thanks after her long career in the company. After retirement she had returned to the company, this tells something of both sides. I also remember well how following the CEO’s example I dared and felt instant freedom to join the circle on the dance floor. Very seldom I have enjoyed myself so much in a business party and genuinely being my spontaneous myself. Warm and psychological safety! Fun and play!

A company can leave a mark like this. Whether having the experience of the field or not, I would consider applying at ISLET if I were looking for a new job.

Thank you ISLET for being an example and for sharing the warmth, I wish you all the success in your every step!

With warmest regards,
Isletter,
Miia Paakkanen

 

As a researcher and a trainer Miia Paakkanen looks for a ”compassionate mindset” i.e. attitude and way to be and lead through compassion. Miia has majored in business and she is interested in the connection between compassion, love and people in organizations, in leadership and in group dynamics. Miia’s expertise is based on sciences of the positive psychology and the study of the positive organization. According to Miia everyone should think about the question: “Can I see in people and in teams the possibility to blossom. More about Miia’s work:  miiapaakkanen.com | Helsingin yliopisto  | Keynote  | LinkedIn Twitter 

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