Sievo Culture

On Growth, Culture and Assholes

Anna Tapiovaara

Vice President, People

Sievo turns 14 this year, with over 50 people joining our family of Sievonians. As we experience the biggest ramp-up in our history so far, managing this growth and figuring out how to be a larger company make us really feel that we have reached our adolescence both in terms of age and company size. This stage of growth seems like the perfect time to determine what we want to be like when we grow up. We define our cultural targets as follows:

“Grow without becoming corporate assholes.”

What do we mean by corporate assholism? The biggest sign of corporate assholism is losing trust in people. It’s believing that people cannot make decisions unless there are precise rules for every situation.

The funny thing about managers who believe in strict control is that they usually believe in their own ability to make informed decisions and to work in an autonomous way. But somehow, when it comes to their subordinates, they find it impossible to believe that they could possess the same traits. I have always wondered that if managers think their people cannot make smart decisions without being controlled, then why hire such miserable idiots in the first place.

That’s one of the key elements about not becoming corporate assholes: We do not want to lose our trust. We know that Sievonians are smart grownups who can handle both freedom and responsibility. And we hire only those who fit this definition.

To us, corporate assholism also means creating unnecessary bureaucracy and control mechanisms that get in the way of actual work. Defining stiff processes and insisting that everybody should follow them seem like an easy way to get things under control, but at the same time, flexibility is lost and people are deprived of creativity and the feeling of autonomy in their work.

For sure, guidelines and instructions are needed so that everyone doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel all the time. People also need to understand how their work and the decisions they make affect other parts of the company. But saying there is only one right way to do things is guaranteed to kill all innovations.

Other signs of corporate assholism: People only communicating to each other through their managers; management speaking and the rest just listening but not really engaging; people hiding information as a means of power; teams trying to optimize their performance without thinking of the big picture; people trying to get the maximum benefit for oneself out of the company at the cost of others; and the company trying to optimize short-term gains at the cost of its employees.

It’s frightening how anyone can easily turn into a corporate asshole. You just need to adopt some of the behaviours and beliefs of the previous business generations. Some people still think that the longer the work day is, the better the result. Or that people are best motivated if they are after monetary rewards. Or that you cannot do business if you have piercings or tattoos. None of these beliefs are backed up by modern research, but surprisingly, I have heard many people stating these as if they were God-given truths.

So that’s what we mean by corporate assholism. We are not corporate assholes, and we do not want our growth to push us into that direction.

Just last week, I heard a young Sievonian giving a very emotional speech to her colleagues, thanking them for their invaluable support with her master’s thesis and referring to them as her family and friends. For me, it is moment like this that defines what Sievo is all about. We are family. We are in this together. We can trust each other. Our goal is to keep it that way.

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