Under new management

Posted: June 10, 2011 in employment, humour
Tags: , ,

Having lived (I use the term live loosely as it holds certain inferences and is open to interpretation) in Norway and more specifically Hallingdal for the last 13 years I feel that I am qualified to make observations about something that puzzles, troubles, frustrates and bewilders me.

I am sure that some of you will disagree with what I say here, and if so, you lucky bastards!  Remember that I am in Hallingdal, where men are men, and sheep are scared…

My rant today is about the quality of management that I have encountered and been subjected to in my time here.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have worked under some appalling ‘managers’ in my time but I have also been blessed to have worked under some brilliant ones as well, which I think may be the root of the ‘problem’.  Having been lucky to work under the stewardship of truly great and inspirational managers has meant that I set the bar rather high and my expectations are not easily met.

To insert some balance, as an Australian, I am not suggesting that all is peachy keen back home either.  I have worked for some real scumbags and complete nincompoops in Oz as well.  The issue is an International challenge somewhat encouraged by today’s ‘profit at all costs’ attitude.

A recent article in the Australian media about bully bosses and the predicement they raise can be read at this link:


But as I live in Norway, it is what happens here that I am more concerned with and I believe that in a ‘free and democratic society’ we all have a responsibility to be engaged and to attempt to enable change fr the better, moving forward and ever improving our social environment.

When I refer to a manager as being brilliant, I am making reference to their ability to inspire and motivate, to enable growth and create an atmosphere where people engage and work as a team for the common good or to meet a stated objective of the business.

My working career started out as a paper-boy when I was an early teenager and I had a ‘boss’ that allowed me to take on as much work as I could handle.  This taught me to make evaluations of myself and my performance, to recognise if I needed help and to ask for it.  They created an atmosphere, an environment that was conducive to asking for guidance and support, and they taught me what I needed to know.  Like how to avoid Rottweilers and outrun a Doberman…

Other great managers have empowered me, making it desirable to take on responsibility and accepting accountability for my decisions and actions.  They have shared knowledge, given me credit when it is due and when I have made mistakes, included me in the solutions and enabled me to learn from them, thus being better equipped for the future.

Now, in my time in Norway, I have seen a rather different attitude and approach to management.

The first major difference is that they don’t tend to use the word manage ans that holds all sorts of connotations and implications such as a skill-set, qualifications, demeanour and ability to ‘manage’ people into a team  and develop motivated and engaged team members.

Here they often use the term’ leader’, which straight away infers a rather militaristic hierarchy and a very clear distinction between those who do the job and the leader.  So a separation of sorts if you will.

Many of these leaders seem to possess a near hyper ability to kiss the arses of those they report to and ‘follow the company line’ which is odd as communication of the company line seems to be often completely disparate with the projected corporate image.

An example is service related industries that project and market themselves as being customer focussed yet the actual focus is cost cutting often and nearly always in the realm of providing service (they cut staff to a minimum, overload them with tasks, provide little or no support and if it all manages to magically work out, take all the credit).

Communication is not a Norwegian strong suite.   They have yet to fully grasp the concept that to communicate, you need to ensure that the recipient of the information you re sharing fully understands it.  This is done to quality assure the message conveyed and to avoid miscommunication.  Meetings are a Norwegian favourite, with often the only result being agreement to have another meeting.  As a foreigner and aparticipant in meeting and courses it is with constant wonder that I see how the Norwegians seem to be only there for the food and cofee, very rarely engaging in the conversation or after a presentation having absolutely no questions.  This suggests to me that they either don’t care or are scared to raise any issues, objections, suggestions or misunderstanding they may have.  As a former manager of staff, this was taught to me to indicate a lack of understanding as most information conveyed can be somewhat complex in its impact on duties, direction and responsibilities.

Another leadership trait in Norway is the complete and utter ability to take any responsibility when things go tits up.  Blame is quickly avoided or directed downwards to those on the lowest rungs of the ladder.  Now seems to me that the behaviour and actions of employees under a ‘leader’ directly reflect the ‘leadership’ qualities of the ‘leader’ in question.

Over the last 15 years I have observed a very disturbing trait in managerial positions  that I cannot for the life of me understand.  Managers manage people:  They need to be the glue and the ‘wind beneath the wings’ of their charges and ideally are inspirational, dynamic and empathic.  They should be non discriminatory and involve their employees in decision making and in identifying solutions to challenges as a manager alone cannot always possess the skills and experience, the front-line knowledge that all of their employees should have.  Nowdays managers are economists, yes, those who practice in the dark art of bullshit and guesswork.  That special breed of ‘artists’ (economics is not a science) who base all their decisions on theories that inevitably start with ” if we assume…”.  As we have seen from the global finance crisis, this lot are not particularly good at assuming any responsibility for their actions and decisions, have very questionable morals and ethics and are so preoccupied with raising profits by cutting costs that they usually seem to completely forget what product the organisation is selling or which service it is providing.  Economics as I understand is a support function in management and the degree obtained does not focus very much on psychology and how to motivate people.

Another quandary is that is economists are so interested and determined to cut costs, why is it that they expect to be paid so much?  hippocratic personality traits perhaps or just good old fashioned greed?

My point, if I still remember what the hell it actually was, is that in Norway, we foreigners will need to make radical adjustments to what we can expect of those who will ‘lead’ us in the workplace.  This may or may not be different for the larger companies, my research suggests that International companies are better managed and this shows in staff retention numbers and economic results.  What we can realistically expect is a number of things; as foreigners we will be held to a different standards, leaders will expect more, higher levels of productivity and efficiency (they use the word effective here, my Norwegian managers never understood the difference between efficiency and effectivity), we will be held 100% responsible for any mistakes or screw-ups whilst the locals will be excused burning down the premises, and that if you seek information, communication, support and inspiration you are going to be disappointed.

The Norwegian employment environment is different to what we are used to, there is less competition, so they are lazier, money is more important than people, so they are greedier and operate on a ‘short-term’ philosophy,  they consider themselves superior so we are a target for backstabbing and any questions or suggestions we have will usually be discarded and invoke the response that we are being ‘negative’ and critical (again, their ignorance is displayed as critical thinking is rather important in the performance of duties and tasks to identify potential enhancements and to avoid costly mistakes).  I have been harassed by xenophobic fools and experienced utter humiliation at the hands of racist zealots.  Sort of like travelling back in time.  Which is a pretty good description of Norway, hillbillies with mobile phones…

Health and safety are pretty much a dusty folder on a shelf in a back room in the cellar under a pile of old marketing posters marked with a sign that says ‘beware of the moose’.   As there is no real punishment for breaches of health and safety laws and the control organ, the ‘arbeidstilsynet’ nearly always ring first to warn of an inspection (completely defying the bloody point of a control), you will need to look out for your own safety.  If you are injured, crippled or killed at work in Norway, and it is due to a lack of safety practices and routines, equipment or training that your employer is by law responsible for (and the manager directly responsible for ensuring that it is in place, followed and that all staff are correctly attired and trained), it is not the employer who will be financially responsible, but the state.  They just hire someone else…

I have, I feel it is important to say, had some good managers here, but those are the type that essentially point me in a direction, tell me what they want done, then get out of the way and let me get on with it.  They empower me with the responsibility and the ability to make decisions and communicate the information that I require to perform my duties.

So, my point?

We are in a strange land with radically different customs and rules.  Securing employment in Norway can be a real tribulation and a source of great frustration at times.  Just be aware that the battle is not over after getting a job.  Your expectations of your managers and for that matter, your co-workers will need to be adjusted and realigned to enable you not to go completely bonkers at work.

If you are able, I have tried but just cannot do it, do what the Norwegians do; don’t give a shit, turn up when it suits you, take the money and focus on your private life.  Work is just a means to an end for most people here.


That is today’s little rant…

  1. […] is a pretty good description of Norway , hillbillies with mobile … Originally posted here: Under new management « rocks in my shoe Share […]

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