Electing an employee to F-Secure’s board of directors is an experiment in finding new ways to bridge understanding across boundaries.
I am a great believer in transparency in a company. So much so that one of my favorite sayings is ”Bad news is good news.” After all, bad news means you have the facts and can set about solving the issue. Transparency, even if it’s not always what you want to hear, encourages trust. And trust is essential for the healthy and sustained growth of a business.
It’s this conviction that prompted me more than two years ago to suggest an idea to our board at F-Secure, one that many boards would be loath to consider: bringing an F-Secure employee on the board as a fully-fledged member.
I had three objectives in proposing this model. First, to build cohesion and trust within F-Secure by adding more transparency and visibility to what happens in the boardroom. Second, to help the board make better decisions by adding a member with a unique point of view who has an inside view of our business. Third, to make a statement in society. I am frustrated and occasionally saddened by the lack of trust and understanding in the world. By thinking outside the box I believe we can find solutions to many of the issues facing us.
The board is a team, and a team needs to be cohesive to work well together. In order to ensure the new member would be the best fit for the board, I proposed taking the three candidates to win the most votes in an election among F-Secure fellows. (Inside F-Secure, everyone from the CEO on down refers to one another as “fellows.” We’re all in this together.) The board would interview all three candidates and select the one they believed to be most appropriate.
When I introduced the idea to the board, they were immediately receptive. With the support of the board and our shop steward, we have now held two successive elections for yearlong memberships to the board. I am pleased to say that both times, choosing among the group of candidates has been very difficult. All candidates have been highly qualified, extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the company and our mission. In the end the board has had the privilege of selecting two excellent members.
A year and a half after we first implemented the idea, I am optimistic that this model is a positive step towards achieving the first objective, that of transparency. Typically the board is a black box – people don’t understand how it works. Too often, when negative news hits, such as layoffs, employees assume the worst of the board’s motives. Over time, as we increase our pool of fellows who have served on the board, my hope is to reach greater levels of mutual understanding. Employees will be more likely to see board members for who they are: Logical, caring people who want to do what’s best for the company and the employees; while the board will be better able to understand the company from the employee perspective.
As for the second objective, we have absolutely succeeded. People have asked whether other board members view the employee in a condescending or otherwise negative light. Actually, just the opposite is true. Each year, all board members anonymously rate one another. Our first year’s representative, Janne Pirttilahti, was rated as one of the more valuable members of the board for his insight into the company. This year’s fellow, Ari Inki, is also making important contributions and I’m confident he is similarly regarded. These gentlemen just naturally know our products, technologies, platforms, and architectural issues, to take a few examples, far better than anyone else on the board.
Progress on the third objective is the most difficult to assess, but the need is as great as ever. There is far too much adversarial thinking in labor relationships in Finland and around the world, and for this there’s fault to be found on both sides. Finding new ways of bridging understanding across boundaries can only be beneficial to all involved. I hope we can be an example to other companies who might be considering such an initiative.
Overall, I believe we need to be more experimentation-oriented and less afraid of failure. If we come up with new ways to increase transparency and build trust, we shouldn’t be afraid to try them – or to kill the ones that don’t work. As for this experiment, so far it’s been a success, and one that I hope we will continue for a long time.
Risto Siilasmaa is the founder of F-Secure and served as the President and CEO of the company until 2006. Since then he has held the position of Chairman of the Board of Directors.
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