Editor’s Note: Grace Ueng is the founder of Savvy Growth, a noted leadership coaching and management consulting firm, and an expert on wellbeing and performance science. Grace writes a regular column on happiness & leadership for WRAL TechWire.

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend the International Women’s Forum “Thinking Differently” Conference held in Finland. There, I met Anna Mindelöf, the chief people officer of the Fiskars Group. Mindelöf presented a comprehensive corporate overview, followed by an enlightening behind-the-scenes tour of the company. Her passion for her work and gracious demeanor left a lasting impression, prompting me to think, “I’d like to learn more from her!”

Gleaning insights from a thought leader in people management

I am delighted that I’ve had that opportunity, and today I share highlights of our conversation: Fiskars heritage, Mindelöf ’s people philosophies, and what she learned about happiness, and why Finns are happy with what they have.

Heritage to uphold: being the extra in ordinary

iitala Alvar Aalto vase

iitala Alvar Aalto vase (Fiskars)

This year, the publicly traded Finnish Fiskars Group is celebrating its 375th anniversary, a significant milestone that underscores its deep commitment to heritage and innovation. With a portfolio that includes esteemed brands such as Wedgwood, Waterford, Georg Jensen, Royal Doulton, and, my personal favorite, iittala, Fiskars operates in 29 countries, maintains 500 retail stores, and employs 8,000 individuals globally.

During our tour, I was particularly captivated by the iittala Alvar Aalto vase — a piece I have since acquired. As a gift from our host, we also received iittala Ultima Thule Footed glassware, exemplifying Fiskars’ dedication to exceptional design, which I now enjoy everyday.

The Fiskars vision is to pioneer design that makes the everyday extraordinary. This creativity extends beyond product design into their processes and how they meet and groom their people

Mindelöf’s priorities: People development and talent management

When Mindelöf joined Fiskars Group, her priorities were talent management and organizational development: making sure the company had the right people in critical positions and figuring out how best to nurture them.

Upon joining, she immediately delved into exit interview data.  She found while the people leaving loved the brands, they didn’t feel like they had a career path and growth opportunities.

Anna Mindelöf

Anna Mindelöf, chief people officer of Fiskars Group

Her team went to work and recently launched a growth space, a place to receive assessments, 360 feedback, a mentor and to try out new gigs throughout the company, providing them new opportunities to learn.  This initiative has been well received.

Mindelöf mentions in her LinkedIn introduction:

Leading the people function @Fiskars Group. Focusing on creating an irresistible organization to work for. Currently building an internal talent marketplace to make sure our brilliant employees can grow every day.

Key people philosophies

Mindelöf is a natural leader with loyal followers; several of her prior colleagues have joined her at Fiskars. Over her decades as a people leader, Mindelöf has developed her key philosophies:

Listen more than you speak; Include everyone — Be sure to invite those who are more quiet to contribute in meetings, since those who are more talkative may tend to dominate (Back in the classroom at Harvard Business School).

How does she do it?  Start with yourself. Some speak too much and do not add that much to conversation.  She politely tells them, “thank you and now we need to give a voice to someone who has not yet spoken.” She thinks it is important to hear from everyone.  They then feel seen.

Trust before you know they can be trusted — assume people come with good intent, “like a 6-year-old coming into the kindergarten classroom.”  I agree, give people the  benefit of the doubt. If you trust people first, they will become trustworthy.

Culture is relative –  Mindelöf is a big fan of Culture Map by Erin Meyer, which I read on her recommendation.  Cultural differences are always in relation to another country. She explained that someone from India may think a person from France is very structured. But if you come from Germany, you would say the contrary. In the U.S. you don’t need to read in between the lines like you do in some quieter Asian cultures.

People in different regions of the U.S. are different — Southern versus New Englanders; Midwest versus West Coast people. In Sweden, where she lives, people are generally more extroverted relative to Finland where they are not that talkative. In Finland, the global headquarters for Fiskars, it is not that common to get explicit feedback. This is different from the Swedish, U.S. and German cultures where she had previously worked.  Since it is not a natural thing to do, she has giving direct feedback written into Fiskar’s people structure.

Be a culture add, not fit — you should contribute talent the way you are to add to the culture, not just be someone who fits. We can use your specific skills and talents because of where you come from. We want you to be yourself.  Bring a full version of yourself to work.

Work happens everywhere

She also is a big believer that “work happens everywhere,” not necessarily in the office. Work at Fiskars is locally arranged and she believes in flexibility that works with families. With plenty of engagement activities offered to employees, some people come in more often than the suggested two days a week in some regions.

True Happiness = work on being unhappy

Mindelöf and I connected on our mutual interest in studying happiness. Years ago, she started focusing on strengths instead of opportunity areas in order to be a high performer. Toward the end of her decade at Adidas Group, she changed her title to Chief Happiness Officer. That helped her figure out what to do next.  She started to research why some people always seem to be happy and some people are not.

She realized that happiness is an attitude, a state of mind and general approach to life. She chooses to have positive intent.  That doesn’t mean she cannot be sad.  In fact, working on being unhappy is very important.  I agreed that being happy is recognizing negative emotions, a key point I bring up in my HapppinessWorks™ programs.

Finland: Happy Campers

For the 7th year in a row, The World Happiness Report has ranked Finland as the most happy country in the world (see: Finland is the world’s happiest country – why it’s important to you). Mindelöf explains that Finns are very much like, “Things are ok and I have a good life.” She would not describe them as content, instead that life is ok for them.  They are happy campers.  And even if life is not ok, they have the attitude that they will get there.  It is a persistent culture, the attitude that life is good.

She prefers not to use the word content because she believes that means “we don’t have to do anything, we are complacent.” Content is a big word.

Instead, she describes that they are proud of being Finns, happy with what they have. They realize that as Finnish citizens, they have a lot of benefits. As proud citizens of Finland, they want to protect their Finnish heritage.

Watch our interview in full:

A Milestone: My 100th happiness & leadership@work column

As I approach my 100th Happiness & Leadership@Work column, I want to take a moment to express my heartfelt gratitude to all of you, my readers. Your engagement and feedback have shaped this journey, making each column a shared adventure. For the upcoming 100th anniversary edition, I am looking to do something special and would love to hear your ideas. Your input is invaluable to me—I’m all ears!

About Grace Ueng

Grace is CEO of Savvy Growth, a management and marketing consultancy that since 2003 has been helping leaders and the companies they run achieve their fullest potential through conducting strategic reviews, marketing audits, and coaching.

A marketing strategist, Grace held leadership roles in marketing, business development and product management at five high growth technology ventures that successfully exited through acquisition or IPO. A TED speaker, her work has been covered in The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Beast, and Inc.

Contact her firm for more information on Grace’s flagship workshop, HappinessWorks™.

Subscribe for free to her Happiness & Leadership@Work.  You will receive one research based lesson each week to learn to be a happier and more productive leader: click here