Two of my early articles for Forbes were on QlikTech CEO Galvanizes Team, Delivers 50% Growth, and on Five Steps To Turn Wasteful Meetings Into Drivers Of Success. The main point was on the value of large in-person meetings in terms of building and strengthening culture.
QlikTech’s CEO, Lars Bjork knew that sustaining extraordinary growth required rejuvenating the team on a regular basis. That’s why each year every single one of his employees, from senior executives to the cleaning staff, participated in a five-day session that celebrated employees and connected the company’s global workforce while building their leadership skills. He was absolutely convinced that this was one critical element to their having been able to sustain a 50% Compound Annual Growth Rate for five years.
QlikTech’s annual “revaccination” was an opportunity for Lars to reiterate the corporate message and for employees to engage face-to-face with their colleagues from around the world. In homage to QlikTech’s Swedish roots, the same rock band is flown in from Sweden every year. But more importantly, They spend a full day on “value activities,” honoring people that had lived the company’s core values: Challenge, Move fast, Be open and straightforward, Teamwork for results, and Take responsibility.
Teamwork for results
Lars was a big believer that “Your only job as a leader and a manager is to make sure your team is successful.” He suggested that “If you want to grow at a high pace, hire the best and get out of the way because you are the bottleneck. If everything is going to go through you, every single small decision, nothing is going to happen because you only have 24 hours.”
Lars had “A consensus-driven leadership style. It’s all about motivating people, empowering them, and involving them in decision-making. And out of that, you will get more engaged, more loyal, and clearly more motivated people because they feel they contribute to something.”
Lars’ passion for getting the right people in the right roles in sync with the organization’s culture oozed out of his every pore. He was crystal clear on his strategic choices and plans. He evolved, reinforced, and celebrated good practices at every step. And he pulled everyone together once a year, along with smaller groups on an ongoing basis to reinforce their purpose of simplifying decision-making for business users across organizations.
QlikTech’s head of brand management, Pelle Rosell, told me the events themselves were not important. What mattered was the “brand experience.” Each gathering was the “starting point of every year’s journey.” For Pelle, enduring branding required an intersection of organizational values and brand values. He said branding is about belonging. Customers and employees don’t so much buy a brand or work for a company as they join it.
Culture as a Journey
For QlikTech, the summit was one critical element in that journey, but just one element. I asked QlikTech’s Chief People Officer Paul Farmer about the other elements:
First and foremost, you have to believe what you’re saying.” This company believes from top to bottom that, “being values-based will deliver performance of people and business.”
When a company starts, its culture is its founder. As it grows, people watch the founder or CEO and follow his or her behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values, and environment. At some point, growth means more people, functions, geographies, and complexity across all sorts of dimensions. Along the way, the transmission of culture becomes less personal and more systemic. As Bjork put it, “I used to be able to greet everyone by their first name in the morning. I can’t do that anymore.”
Implications for today
At one level, the basic five steps to effective meetings still apply: 1) Get the context right. 2) Set clear objectives. 3) Complete appropriate pre-work. 4) Deliver. 5) Follow through.
The more important point is that there is no doubt that remote work has made some people more efficient. While it has made some individuals more effective, it is likely a barrier to the interpersonal relationships required to make interdependent teams successful. And there is no way you can build the same strong culture remotely that you can build in person.
The advantages QlikTech reaped from enabling its full organization to engage face-to-face with their colleagues from around the world before the pandemic are even more essential now.