Lesson Learned from Development Days: This Company is not “Normal”
I am flying back to Boston, USA from Joensuu, Finland, where the Valamis Headquarters is located. I have just attended my first Valamis Development Days, also known as “Dev Days”.
The Purpose of Dev Days
Valamis flies in employees from all of its global operations for a few days of intensive individual and team development. This is a chance for everyone to connect in real-time, meet with team members that potentially live and work over 4,000 miles away and 7 hours apart.
Slack, video-chat, social media and other communication tools enable you to set aside time to work on projects with people from around the world, but Dev Days provides an opportunity for organic communication -- conversation that doesn’t typically spark from scheduled work-related meetings. Dev Days are an opportunity to have face-to-face meetings with colleagues and teams, a chance for workshops to dissolve problems and improve upon solutions.
This Year’s Agenda
This year our CEO Jussi Hurskainen spoke about the history of the company, the context and foundation of which Valamis was built, as well as the vision for the future. Valamis CCO, Janne Hietala from our London office, discussed and inspired employees to think about the applications of data science in their work. Jarmo Valmari, our Head of Design, emphasized the importance of empathy and design-thinking, and our guest speaker, Chairman & Co-Founder at Lightneer Inc., Lauri Järvilehto spoke about the Future of Work and why we should practice life-wide learning, or as he put it, “Learning should permeate the entire texture of everyday human life.” We then had our team workshops, and the evening finished with a summer party.
“To look back to the very beginning, and hear from Jussi about all of the obstacles we've overcome as a company to get us to where we are today - to hear that story from one of the founding partners of Valamis was profound. More exciting, though, is the direction that we're headed today, and I couldn't be more excited to be on the team.”
- Christopher Cameron, Director of Strategic Accounts, Boston, Valamis
Lesson Learned: This Company is not “Normal”
Just as our CEO reflected back with the utmost transparency on the history of Valamis’ resilience with his “Lessons Learned’ from each year since starting the company, I thought it would be fitting to share one major “Lesson Learned” myself, derived from my first year at the company, including my first Dev Day. Although I have already been leaning towards this conclusion, Dev Days reaffirmed my belief that this company isn’t “normal.”
5 Reasons Why Valamis is not “Normal”
Reason #1: It is not normal for a company to trust and invest in its employees. How many companies have you heard of that send their employees to Finland from the United States for employee development?
Reason #2: It is not normal for business and authenticity to coexist. Maybe it’s because Valamis has roots in Finland, a culture where people tell you without hesitance, the truth -- no matter how difficult. It is not easy for companies to think long-term and prioritize people above profit, with the understanding that investing in people -- pays dividends in productivity, passion & commitment, customer and employee loyalty. Being that the review economy and experience economy have come to fruition, I think another facet of this on the rise is the authenticity economy. It is beneficial and a necessity to put employees and customers first and they will hold you accountable. Businesses must put people at the center of their business, and being genuine and transparent is pertinent to build the experience.
Reason #3: It is not normal for a company to be agile; to have a problem and fix it before it festers to the point where you must act. At Valamis, your voice matters. Valamis prides itself on removing all barriers to communicate with anyone in the organization, and to have your ideas, as crazy as they may be, valued. Valamis believes bureaucracy hinders agility, and I have never seen an organization act so quickly. In the span of a year, we have implemented new processes, software, features, ideas -- even a new name. Valamis hires people they believe in, and that trust drives innovation.
Reason #4: It is not normal to love your job. Valamis has built a culture where employees are intrinsically motivated by the pursuit of knowledge. It is not normal for you to suggest a podcast (Hidden Brain by NPR -- not an ad) and your co-worker right away listens to multiple episodes in their free-time, or to have a co-worker studying speed-reading for fun, or to have a company assign a mentor for you to learn data science, or to have a group of coworkers become experts in brewing beer. It is not normal for people to spend their free-time learning. Life-wide learning and lifelong learning are ingrained in the culture and the business model.
“That was my first ever Devday, and now I’m certain about what is the greatest value of Valamis — People! It’s a pleasure to share knowledge and work and hang out with all of you. Look forward to new gatherings. We are not Finns, Americans or Russians. We are all globals!”
- Alexey Efremov, Product Designer, Petrozavodsk, Valamis
Reason #5: It is not normal for a company to exhibit Sisu. Sisu is a Finnish word, one of the few I can manage to say, (pronounced – see’-soo). “Sisu can be roughly translated into English as the strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage. It is a word that cannot be fully translated. It defines the Finnish people and their character. It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done, regardless of cost. You might call it the backbone, spunk, stamina, guts, or drive and perseverance. It is a measure of integrity that surpasses the hardship and sees through to the end.” After hearing a speech by our CEO, it became very clear that the company survived the recession and exists today, because of sisu.
Being Normal is Overrated
It is these 5 main reasons, (and there are an infinite number of others) that my lesson learned from Dev Days is that this company is not normal, and it is that lack of normalcy that drives us forward.
“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
- Rob Siltanen
Pictures: Jyri Keronen