Ep. 12 Hélène Barnekow headshot on Decoding Digital podcast

Decoding Values-Based Leadership: Hélène Barnekow on Empathy

Decoding Values-Based Leadership: Hélène Barnekow on Empathy

40 min

Ep. 12 Hélène Barnekow headshot on Decoding Digital podcast

40 min

Many companies talk about values, but what does it mean to actually create a values-based organization? For Hélène Barnekow, the answer is simple: Leaders must commit to living the values everyday at work. In this episode, hear Hélène talk about company culture, how to cultivate a growth mindset, and why we need a sense of urgency in how we adopt technology.

Read transcript

“There are too many companies who talk about that purpose. They talk about their sustainability goals and their diversity, and then they don't live it. The first thing is that you have to look at yourself and your leadership team and say, 'What do we stand for?’"

Quick takes on...

Why Building Brand Trust Is Important

"I think companies of the future need to be super magnets. They need to attract talent, to attract customers. They need to attract customer companies who want to be partners with them, and they need to attract stakeholders. I think this is why trust is so important in a company."

Technology Adoption

"I think we need to have a sense of urgency in how we adopt technology. And that's not for the sake of the tech companies, but all the opportunities that are all the new possibilities you have by adopting tech. Whether it is improving the way you work, or creating more flexibility for your employees, or how you improve your products, we cannot optimize any of that without making use of technology."

Diversity and Inclusion

"If employees are going to have an impact on this world, what do they need? And what are those things that make them feel good about themselves? Be part of it. And this is where you end up from my perspective focusing on diversity and inclusion. To me, it is such an important value to stand for these things."

Meet your guest, Hélène Barnekow


Hélène Barnekow spotlight on Decoding Digital podcast

Hélène joined Microsoft as CEO of Microsoft Sweden in 2018. Before Microsoft, Hélène was CEO of Telia Company, where she was helped to transform Telia Company into a next generation telecom company.

Before Telia Company, Hélène was the Head of Worldwide Field & Partner Marketing at EMC in Boston, where she honed her skills in commercial management and marketing, including branding, communications, product management, channel management, and go-to-market strategies in the communications and IT sectors.

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Ep. 13 René Obermann headshot on Decoding Digital

Decoding Digital Transformation: René Obermann on Driving Change


37 min

Change is rarely easy, especially at large, global enterprise companies. It’s a lesson that René Obermann—the former CEO of German telecom giant Deutsche Telekom—learned first hand. In this episode, hear how René was able to gain alignment across tens of thousands of employees and transform the organization to become a digital leader in the telecom sector.

Episode transcript

Helene Barnekow:  [0:06] I think for you…

Helene Barnekow:  [0:06] I think for you to really live that you have to have leaders who want to live it. You cannot say it. There are too many companies who talk about that purpose. They talk about their sustainability goals and their diversity, and then they don't live it.

[0:20] The first thing is that you have to look at yourself and your leadership team and say, "What do we stand for? Are we prepared to live accordingly?"

Dan Saks:  [0:29] That's Helene Barnekow, CEO of Microsoft Sweden and one of the most accomplished women working in technology today. Over more than two decades, Helene has led companies like EMC, Ericsson, and Telia Company into the cloud age.

[0:45] Along the way, she's discovered the importance of leading with transparency and empathy, inspiring her to write the book "Re:start Value-Based Leadership in a Changing World."

[0:57] In this episode, Helene explores resilience, how to stay curious, and why it's so important for leaders to follow through on what they say they're going to do. This is Daniel Saks, co-CEO of AppDirect, and it's time to decode values-based leadership.

[1:18] Welcome to "Decoding Digital," a podcast for innovators looking to thrive in the digital economy. I'm your host, Daniel Saks, and I'll sit down with other founders, CEOs, and changemakers to decode the trends that are transforming the way we work. Let's decode.

[1:35] [pause]

Dan:  [1:41] Helene, welcome to the show.

Helene:  [1:43] Hey, Daniel. Thank you. Great to be here.

Dan:  [1:45] It's a pleasure to speak with you. I believe the last time we connected, we were in Stureplan in Stockholm, enjoying the beautiful outdoors in your garden, which may be more restrictive today.

Helene:  [1:57] That's true. That feels like a long time ago, what we could do those things. Let's hope we can do that soon again.

Dan:  [2:03] Exactly. You sit in the intersection of telecom and technology. You've seen incredible waves of change happen over the last decade but more particularly this year. I'd love to get your perspective of how each industry is tackling the challenges of today.

Helene:  [2:22] It's a good perspective because it is quite different, I would say, within industries. I think it's also different from private and public sector, for example. We see a big difference. We have made an estimate that due to this COVID 19 situation we had about two years' worth of digitalization done in two months. That's how much it accelerated.

[2:43] Of course, there are some obvious ones like the stores closed all over Europe around the same time and then in other parts of the world. Of course, the e commerce digitalization is one, I would say. Very specific one. The other one which is maybe more fundamental is how we work.

[3:00] The fact that either office is closed or we were recommended to work from home. In my country, it didn't close, but we were still having strong recommendations to work from home. We reset and changed how we working, and that went across industries. Maybe it was big for the global companies.

[3:18] If you look at the global manufacturing companies, for example, even if they're in a market car companies, car manufacturing. They so dependent on exports, and they have people everywhere, so that way of working. If you look at the public sector which is quite different.

[3:33] If you look at schools closing. You have to quickly digitalize [laughs] and get the teachers and the students. Most of them had a week to get this done to get ready for a world where they live completely virtual. It was different from different sectors and different industries and different characteristics.

[3:52] I would say almost nobody was spared, [laughs] nobody could resist to do some part of digitalization, the last few months.

Dan:  [3:59] It is the CEO of Microsoft, Sweden. Tell me about what happened on the ground to get the country prepared and the private sector prepared for this change?

Helene:  [4:10] I would say, it was such an interesting period of time. Of course, some of the companies we worked with, especially I would say, in a private sector, they weren't quite prepared. I would also say that many had invested in platforms, but we're not used to using them. That's a world of difference.

[4:28] That's a really important learning going forward. How we as companies or organizations...We embrace technology earlier on, and we focus on changing our behaviors and our way of working and doing things or creating value before, and not wait for a [laughs] crisis to force it forward.

[4:46] March 16, was the big day in Sweden because that's when we got the recommendation to work from home and many things were closed. Even if they wouldn't close down, basically people weren't showing up and longer. There was one strain, which was exactly that.

[4:59] How do we get the multinational companies up and running on the team's platform properly? Not just being able to do a video call, but being able to do live meetings with a 1,000 people, being able to co create, being able to use them as real collaboration platform, sharing our experiences, because I would say we're quite used to working.

[5:19] I never see all my people or my team members in the office. People work from all over the place. Sharing our own stories about how do we lead, what kind of culture have we created to be able to work in that way.

[5:31] That had to be done over a week. If you take a company managing networks all over the world, you couldn't wait for a month or something. You have to get in there and work on us. We had really intense for doing that.

[5:43] If you take the schools, for example, we were working with all the high schools in Stockholm. They had two days basically to get ready. Now, luckily, they have both the team in Stockholm, but they had never worked in it. It was 30,000 students, 4,000 teachers, 30 schools. We just had intense sessions with them every single day.

[6:02] We just had all the teachers calling in, showing them how to use the camera, how to use the whiteboard, how could they post assignments, how could they interact with their students, how could they raise their hand, how could you use the chat.

[6:15] It was all men on deck feeling that whatever needed to be done, if it was a large corporation connecting their staff in 100 countries or if it was the high schools, that needed to be prepared.

[6:29] In that way, it was also a special moment because it was very purposeful. You knew you wouldn't be able to function. The hospitals wouldn't be able to function. We wouldn't be able to onboard all those doctors and nurses if we didn't go and help them to do that in a digital way. Otherwise, it would take day long.

[6:46] The schools wouldn't be able to continue to function, the companies wouldn't function. Crisis is not a good thing, but it was also giving a lot of meaningful and joint purpose on people coming together around it.

Dan:  [7:00] What's the lesson learned in accelerating tech adoption without a crisis?

Helene:  [7:05] [laughs] The lesson learned is you work in this space but the saying of never waste a crisis is a good one. We need to have a sense of urgency in how we adopt technology.

[7:19] That's not for the sake of the tech companies, of course, but if you think of all the new possibilities you have by adopting tech in whatever. It doesn't matter if your public sector, if you're large global company, or if your startup. Startups come on naturally because they usually build around technology, but it doesn't matter which industry you're in.

[7:41] The opportunities that come with technology, whether it is improving the way you work, whether it's creating more flexibility for your employees, whether it's creating new customer proposals, whether it comes how you improve your products, whether it's reducing travel, whether it's climate change, whatever it is, we cannot optimize any of that, without making use of technology.

[8:03] For me, the learning is even more...Maybe, we knew it in a way, but I think learning in this even more to...We have to embrace it. We have to have a sense of urgency because the opportunities that come with integrating technology into our operations wherever it is, we cannot do it without it, whether we're wasting the resources in the world or we wasting our time or something by not embracing it.

[8:26] I'm hoping we're going to use this learning, that's happening right now to not think about how do we go back, but to think about what have we learned during these difficult times and how do we create that way of working, living, doing business [laughs] running our lives in a new much more hybrid world than where we came from.

Dan:  [8:47] You mentioned the bottleneck is behavioral change. What's your perspective on driving the right level of behavioral change, and how do you do that effectively?

Helene:  [8:57] In having worked both with my own transformations and having worked with customers doing transformation    I think the proof point is now    the easier thing, and I don't mean it in a demeaning way because it can be very difficult for a large company.

[9:12] The easier thing is still to invest in technology and buy new systems or platform. The harder and more challenging thing and the thing that takes longer is to drive behavioral change and culture.

[9:26] You have to first land in that to realize that it's not about buying a team's platform because it can sit there, and you can do a few video calls, but that doesn't mean that you're getting the value out of it as one example.

[9:38] You drive it because it's a leadership question. You have to have it on the agenda. You have to work with change management. You have to get it into your culture. You have to work for your culture. You have to call out what do you believe is the culture you need to have that kind of progress, to have that kind of movement in your organization.

[9:57] At Microsoft, when Satya Nadella came in 2014, this is way before I was at Microsoft, of course, has started his journey with Microsoft as CEO, he founded that in growth mindsets, which is really interesting. I can warmly recommend you to Google a bit and read up on that research.

[10:15] The whole notion of if you foster a culture with growth mindsets, where you are curious, you look for new things, you look to understand, you're more focused on the questions that are being asked, so you can learn new things than having the answers to all the questions because you already learned them before.

[10:32] Fostering that type of culture, where you focusing on growth mindsets. Where you focus on what can you deliver to the customer, or on climate change, or on sustainability or something else and really drive that.

[10:46] Then you foster a culture where you are having a drive to understand how you also apply technology because to me these two come together. To me having a tech intense world that we do has to be matched with a value based leadership, but focus on the teams, on the people, on the capabilities that we need to develop in our teams to be able to pull this together.

Dan:  [11:11] That's a great transition to discuss your book. Re:start    Values based leadership in a changing world. I've always been a value centric leader and found that to be so important, and your book resonates in the fact that it ties values to culture and to making difficult changes.

[11:27] You want to expand a little bit more on how you define value based leadership?

Helene:  [11:32] I completely agree with you. It's something new and maybe it's obvious, but I still need to say [laughs] it, because it's not always the case. For you to live that, you have to have leaders who want to live it.

[11:41] You cannot say it. There are too many companies who talk about that purpose, and they talk about their sustainability goals and that diversity. Then they don't live it. You open the web page and it's all whites    middle aged men, and then they have some diversity value that they want to live by.

[11:58] The first thing is that you have to look at yourself and your leadership team and say, "What do we stand for? Are we prepared to live accordingly?" I think this is so fundamental, and I see many companies are not doing that. [laughs] It's really fundamental. You have to identify.

[12:16] For example, I said that at Microsoft, the foundation was growth mindset. If you pick some of these values, a growth mindset is one. We have customer obsession built into what culture we want to build.

[12:27] I use that in my previous job when you and I first met as my change platform, because if you have a customer obsessed view in how you want to do things, then you're always looking from the external perspective. What is it you're going to have impact on?

[12:40] What is it you're going to bring to somebody, instead of building your own organizations for the sake of having them, for example? Equally important to me is an employee obsession, being focused on your teams then. What does that look like if they're going to have growth mindset?

[12:54] If they're going to be the best to have impact on this world? What do they need? What are those things that make them feel good about themselves, be part of it? This is where you end up for my perspective, focusing on diversity and inclusion.

[13:07] To me, that is such an important value connection to be able to stand for these things. If you don't stand, if you cannot stand for them, don't ever say this [laughs] is my viewpoint, because it's better not to claim anything if you can stand by it.

[13:25] In the office, we had a full day on inclusion that my team put together. We worked on inclusion for full day with external speakers, internal speakers, but the important thing was, to be honest about it. My leadership team here today, and the same when you and I met when I redid my leadership team.

[13:41] We have 50 percent men and 50 percent women, which is unusual in the tech sector. I've worked with this for 25 years, so it's been part of my agenda. We don't have enough diversity, because Sweden is quite a multicultural country.

[13:55] Hasn't turned into that over the past 20 years. That hasn't transcended into what our leadership teams look like. Then I have to be honest and say, "We don't have enough." This is part of my agenda. This is what I'm working on.

[14:05] This is how identifying pipeline and asking my exact search team to look for talent because we need to go look for that. Then you have to be honest, and you have to then act upon it. That's maybe the most important thing on value based leadership.

Dan:  [14:20] She mentioned honest conversation. How do you facilitate that as leader?

Helene:  [14:25] Couple of things. Firstly, I've done sessions. In almost all my leadership team, where you have to talk about your own personal why. Why are you here? Why am I here? I don't know why I'm at Microsoft or Teleo or EMC or something.

[14:40] If it happened to be a good career opportunity and a decent paycheck, then it's very hard to get honest conversations or value based leadership. You need to feel that there is a why, and you have to feel that the leaders around you have the why. I think you need to start yourself.

[14:57] You need to take the difficult conversations. You need to take them upfront. When something is not going well, when you're not sufficiently happy with diversity, for example. Have that conversation up front. Have that conversation at an all hands meeting.

[15:11] Make your commitments to what you want to do to change any of that. As a leader, you're not perfect, and nobody's going to expect it to be perfect, but if you're honest, and you seem to be doing what you say that you're going to do is walk the talk and talk the walk.

[15:25] You need to do both things [laughs] and then I think you foster that openness and honesty. That's also why we had the inclusion day, today because it's clear that a culture that is inclusive, the teams that are inclusive are 50 percent more productive.

[15:38] If you don't have honest conversations, it's very hard to get to inclusion, because then you don't feel. If I can't show up the way I am and talk about the things that I think are important, then I don't feel included. Then you lose productivity, you lose innovation, basically.

Dan:  [15:55] What's the specific form or methodology for this honest conversation?

Helene:  [16:00] It's a good question, you're saying because you don't show up, you don't put 300 people in the room and have an honest conversation. You take it step by step. It also depends on the culture of that team. We've done a few things. We've done, of course, different smaller groups.

[16:15] We've done insight models, so we get to know each other, and then we work in smaller groups. Also, the conversations is not becoming about personality. That's a non constructive thing. [laughs]

[16:28] If the conversations become about your personality, and I don't like the way you talk to me or something, but if it becomes more a question of getting help, to get to know each other and understand each other and understand what that does the team. I have done that in all the teams.

[16:43] I have been part of buildings. It starts from the individual basis in the smaller team. When that team gets more secure together and without honest, they feel also empowered to have honest conversations, and they need to do it in their team. This is a world of difference.

[17:00] A team that has honest conversations, versus one that doesn't is really a game changer. Now, in terms of the format, I also think once you have built that trust to honest conversations...I think showcasing that...I did a crazy thing. I'll tell you how we did a session with my team on singing encoding, and I had no idea what was going to come out of it.

[17:21] We had a digital designer and an artist spending a day with us    singing, coding, and it's a long story, but it was about doing the unexpected. Trusting each other to do it, but also learning decoding because we have to lead and manage so many people who were born in the coding age, and we weren't, most of us because we were older, exact senior [inaudible] .

[17:41] The whole day ended up with us standing in the middle of the building in the staircases, beautiful staircase, and singing. It was like a completely simultaneous things. There were customers in the building, there with teams in the building. That'll never happen if the team hadn't trusted both ourselves and the others.

[17:59] What happened to that as well, as everybody has saw it    we have several thousand of people in that building    they look at it and said, "Well, they are so uncomfortable. They're completely outside their comfort zone. They do not know how to sing," [laughs] but they're doing this because they're comfortable, and they want us to step outside our comfort zone.

[18:18] The part of doing, the strongest of a heart in leadership is to do things because when you do things, you feel something, and when you feel something, you can change something.

Dan:  [18:29] That's the key theme we've seen come up which is bias toward action approaching things of lean startup methodology. For many of the discussions we've had on this podcast, that becomes the baseline for this growth mindset, is the ability to take action. That's very inspirational as well because anyone at any level can take steps to take action regardless of how big, how small.

[18:51] One thing I'm fascinated by in your approach is you spoke a lot about growth mindset and values based leadership. Now, let's say the leadership sets values. They believe they commit to them. When you have an organization of thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, sometimes there are bad actors and that can spoil the brand of the organization.

[19:12] Can you speak to how you put controls in place to ensure that, as many people as possible, are following those values, and if they're not followed, how you address that?

Helene:  [19:22] This is a really important area. It's an important area, and maybe, sometimes, a bit more tricky than we think. The thing that is not difficult is to take action if somebody is not living up to your standards of ethics or compliance or how we treat people. Respect is one of our fundamental basis values. If there's no respect, then it's maybe not so tricky.

[19:46] In several of my companies including now, you start to make very clear that you do an evaluation of what and how. You have your targets. You have your numbers. You have the quotas. You have all these things, but you also have another side, where you get both evaluated and rewarded based upon how you live the culture and how you drive us forward.

[20:12] This is really important. You cannot afford [laughs] to have people not being seen as living by or even role modeling. What you have agreed is the fundamental of that culture because nobody's going to believe you. This is hard. I always say this to my team as well.

[20:28] These conversations never gets easier. I've done them for many, many years. Especially if you have to take severe action and maybe you have to part even between the company and the individual, they never become easier.

[20:42] Of course, if it's something really hard facts, the conversation can be easier when it's soft facts. Feedback and how you manage these processes, you have to practice them.

[20:52] The thing that makes that question more interesting though is when people sometimes say to me, "Yeah, let's hire her. She totally fits into our culture." I always caution on that, because there's a caution in that in terms of, "Yes, if it's somebody who lives by the values, boost the culture, takes us forward and challenges us, this is the perfect hire."

[21:13] If she told me that she's into our culture could also be that I'm hiring somebody who's like myself, who I feel I recognized myself in and will not challenge different thinking because it fits in so well. Now, that's very risky to build teams, because then you come into something like, "If we hire people who think like myself, we will all live the same culture," and that's not the culture we want.

[21:37] This is why you have to spend time on these conversations and they have to be conversations, so we work in different workshops in terms of value workshops to bring in our own stories and talk about, "When I live this workshop to myself when I talk about..."

[21:51] What does that mean in terms of value for me? How do I connect with diversity, for example? What happens in an inclusive world? What does allyship mean if I end up in this situation because can I be an ally to somebody and have that difficult discussion, for example?

[22:05] These are quite complex. You have to not throw people out there on those things because it's also about people, so you have to practice. You have to work with this. You have to talk about it.

[22:18] You have to put training courses in place. You have to have your HR being really engaged in helping you. That's not difficult and it will always be there. As a leader, you will always, always have to have that as part of what's your responsibility is.

Dan:  [22:33] You just spoke to the methodology to attract, train, and retain talent. When it comes to attracting talent, how do you evaluate talent? Do you believe that a growth mindset is something that is born or can be taught?

Helene:  [22:47] Yes, that whole chapter on talent, it's maybe the most important topic we have, not the least in the industry wherein...It's a little bit of a overused word, but the word talent is true.

[23:00] I actually think to frame it, the companies of the future need to be super magnets. They need to attract talent. They need to attract customers. They need to attract companies who want to be partners with them. They need to attract stakeholders.

[23:15] This is why trust is so important in a company. The attraction of talent is quite broad and very fundamental. In terms of how you evaluate talent?

Dan:  [23:28] Mm hmm.

Helene:  [23:31] It's both in terms of can we deliver on...clearly, I have targets to deliver on, and that's fundamental of course that you can actually deliver.

[23:40] Companies need to have their teams delivering the target, but there is also the part of this person take us forward? Is this person driving that cultural change? Most of us are in some change moment. It's always hard for us to find words these days because they're so overused as well with transformations and digital transformation.

[23:59] Most of us have some form of journey. We have some cultural transformation, so there are always somehow a dual discussion to have with most employees. The platform of having a growth mindset and the belief is    this is also my belief in general beforehand [inaudible] growth mindset    is that every person can change.

[24:23] You're not destined to be exactly what you were yesterday or exactly what you are today. If I didn't have a good year last year and I didn't deliver on everything, it doesn't mean that I'm not going to be able to deliver this year. If I had a customer meeting that didn't go very well, it doesn't mean that my customer meeting next month, they're not going to go well.

[24:42] That's the whole idea that by having that learning mindset and the people are supporting us, believing that we can grow, that will be given that opportunity for ourselves as well to change. One important element for that, to me, is to stay curious.

[25:00] We started a little bit on that in terms of technology, but then to be able to benefit from that growth mindset, we need to remain curious. We need to ask questions. We need to learn. We also need to have that honesty that you talked about in terms of recognizing when something didn't go as well.

[25:17] We could have had a better impact, a bigger impact, because if we cannot be confident enough to understand what that is also very difficult to build to something else.

Dan:  [25:30] When you're training and evaluating the talents, you talked about the what and the how, but do you have other mechanisms to give people feedback. Is there form of 360s? Is the feedback anonymous? Is it always open?

Helene:  [25:41] You can use both. We have a lot of, not so much, anonymous feedback, and you can use both. We are using both direct feedback, but we're also having a system and a tool, so you can some feedback from people around the organization you interact with, so you can get more of a 360 view. We do 360 view feedback.

[26:04] Feedback is important. As the world is also more complex, it's an even more important tool. I haven't yet met any team organization or individual including myself, who don't need to work on feedback all the time.

[26:20] It's very easy to either don't give enough time to it or that the feedback hasn't become very specific. You only give feedback if it's, "Oh, that was great meeting. Thank you," and then you feel like you're giving feedback. [laughs] That's not very specific.

[26:34] Also, many of us avoid difficult feedback, which is, if it's really given with the right intention, it's the most valuable feedback you can get and the one that you can really do something about. If you connect that to growth mindset, this is maybe the most valuable thing you can have.

[26:52] I just feel like I constantly need to work on that. We all need to work on that. Yes, it's like a gift when you get constructive feedback or clear feedback and you're like, "Oh, wow."

[27:03] When I think about it, I'm like    actually, I don't know if I've had that so often, [laughs] but a few times, I can remember feeling    "All right, yes. Yeah, that's the one I didn't catch it. I didn't see it." That's the best thing that can happen, right?

Dan:  [27:16] How do you balance giving this difficult honest feedback with making sure you continue to encourage and retain and grow your talent?

Helene:  [27:24] This is the trick, finding that balance. We have three times a year of Microsoft. We have our connects when we also document it. It's also important not to think that they say of feedback moments. The sooner you get feedback, better it is.

[27:39] There's a personality may be how you like your feedback. I really don't like when people tell me three positive things than say one negative. I really don't like that. [laughs] I just think it's confusing, and I get mixed messages. I like clarity.

[27:55] I like clarity, so I much rather somebody say to me, we had this really meeting and you would have had a much bigger impact if you had increased your ambition. You've missed an opportunity to show your ambition, consider doing X, Y, Z, for example. You have to get to know your team members to balance clarity and not discouraged people, but I am one who like clarity.

[28:20] We work with a manager model that we called model, coach, care, which I really, really like, which is, we train all the managers in this including myself. I've done plenty of training on this. We spend a lot of time on coaching and training, and that's something I can truly recommend because we use coaching as well in a little bit of a sloppy word by bouncing it off.

[28:43] There's a good methodology for coaching, how you're helping coach teams to get into their own insights and find their own ways around it, and not being directive and too quick. By coaching, by modeling, and by caring for our team members and if you combine these three, you get a very strong model.

[29:03] In the coaching, you can also get a lot of that feedback while you find your insights yourself. This is the important thing. You need to get into those insights because those are the ones you can have.

Dan:  [29:13] What are some of your favorite books or resources that you'd recommend to people on the subject?

Helene:  [29:18] Before joining Microsoft, I read every single page in Satya Nadella's "Hit Refresh," which is his story about driving change at Microsoft. It's a fascinating book. I can very strongly recommend it. I don't read many of those books every single page. This one, I did. [laughs] It's fascinating.

[29:38] Companies that are upscale and manage to go through such significant change, they have find those things where you started. They have found both being able to being innovative, technology leaders and being in the forefront, but at the same time, working with a culture with a leadership and working with that value based way of driving change, and those companies are fascinating to look at.

Dan:  [30:06] I'm curious. You talk about staying curious, what do you do yourself to stay curious, and what are some of the areas of development you're focused on today?

Helene:  [30:14] One of my ways that I've had for a long time to stay curious is to take unexpected meetings. This is sometimes difficult in crazy calendars. I'm sure all my assistants have sometimes wanted to kill me when they said, "You really need to meet this person." I said, "Yeah, I really need to meet this person."

[30:31] Sometimes, it turns out to be meeting that it's half an hour cup of coffee, and we probably will never talk again. These unexpected meetings are helping me. It gets me questions, perspectives, unexpected things that I wouldn't have thought of.

[30:46] This is one of my important things to stay curious. Now, I'm in an environment where there is so much happening the whole time, so here, I'm fed. Not in every company are you fed right. My previous job, I was not fed every single minute with new technology, and new stuffs, and new updates, and new people, and new competencies, and new training.

[31:05] Now, I am. Now, I'm fed, but you still need to think about your own time allotment. One of the things I've done is I'm trying to keep good track of my time to have sufficient time externally because when you work in large companies, it becomes a lot of internal time. I've worked with this for the last 15 years.

[31:23] Now, I have analytical tools in my Microsoft 365, but before that, I was just color coding to keep track of my time. I also put learning blockers in the whole Microsoft Sweden team. Friday afternoons, we have learning blockers for two hours.

[31:37] People can use them to do online training, but they can go and work in a coding organization to teach young girls code, you can take on an expected meeting, you can go speak at a conference. You have to plan a scheduled time that reminds you of something new, of learning, of being open minded.

[31:56] The busier you get, the more important it is to look for that time, so you cannot forget it.

Dan:  [32:03] Great words of wisdom. Going back to younger people that you touched on that, it's so impressive to see where you are today, leading global organizations, feeling so inspirational and confident with yourself, being an author. Going back to when you were in school, what advice would you give yourself then?

Helene:  [32:20] [laughs] We had that conversation today in our inclusion day. I talked about stories when I was the only young woman around the table because they were all men in the tech sector except for me at the time. That was way back.

[32:35] One advice probably would have been I worked tremendously hard every hour, I didn't need to sleep. I basically worked also to prove myself, and I think probably would have been to take a step back from what we just talked about. Don't just focus on delivering, but focus on the things we just talked about.

[32:52] Take a step back, take some unexpected meetings, learn something new, be curious so it helps you to connect the dots. When you can connect the dots and also look forward, you can usually create more value. I was really, really focused on always delivering to perfection and to the best in everything I was doing. This would have been good advice for myself earlier on.

Dan:  [33:16] When you speak to connecting the dots if you look back on your career and your life for that matter, were there a few defining moments that set you on the path to where you are today?

Helene:  [33:25] Yes, definitely. There was a very defining moment because I studied international business and did my master's in that. The only reason I did that because I wanted to work abroad. I was fascinated. I had studied French and, of course, English, and I had been in the US and studied a bit high school. I was drawn to multicultural, multi country experience.

[33:50] When you studied business at the time, you ended up working for banks, or FMCG, etc., so I worked for Citibank, and Geneva, and etc. Then, I tried FMCG, and then by coincidence, I moved to Malta    I moved to several places at the time    and I got to work for, it was a company setting up with Microsoft and a local company.

[34:12] There was so much pirated software coming from Africa to Europe through Malta, so they set up a business in Malta and they hired me as marketing manager. I didn't know anything about software. This is goes back to '90...My gosh, '93, I think. That's the first time I was connected to Microsoft whatsoever.

[34:32] I do remember the defining moments when I put in Encarta. You will have no idea what this is, but it was a CD ROM that was called Encarta, where you could go and search information. Obviously, there were no Googles yet. You could search information about Picasso, anything. Anything I could fit on the CD ROM.

[34:52] I remember the defining moment when I thought, "Wow, this is going to change the world, in terms of how we communicate." I was used to working in a library. That was my only way of getting any information, and suddenly, it was on a CD ROM. That was my first defining moment.

[35:06] The second defining moment was when I joined Ericsson mobile phones and we started to design the smallest, smallest possible consumer phones you could. Nobody had a mobile phone at the time, so I got to get involved as product manager and all sorts of positions in defining the mobile phone market.

[35:24] Those two were defining moments and I think a pure coincidence that I ended up in this sector because I've been in IT, or mobile, or telco basically my whole life. Definitely, defining moments.

Dan:  [35:35] Fast forward 10 years, how will we be working?

Helene:  [35:39] In 10 years? Oh, wow. This is why I'm hoping, I'm hoping that new way of working will come faster, because of what we're just experiencing in COVID 19. Also, we generalize, because, of course, if you're in certain service, if you're a hairdresser, the actual thing you're doing, we'll still maybe do in the same way.

[36:03] If you generalize, I think we will have so much more flexibility in our working life. I definitely think we will. Also, with the help of AI, which is already helping us, but much more takeaway, a lot of the routine tasks that we still do    many of us, every single day    I certainly think that we will meet each other.

[36:24] We will not be all working from home always and not even know what people look like in real life, but we will be meeting each other for special purposes. We will certainly not sit in our own cars every morning at 8:00 AM when everybody else is going and pollute environment around our big cities.

[36:41] That will not be happening, and I hope it will never happen again [laughs] after COVID 19 when we discovered it. I think it will be very different. We will be much more, of course, using different input methods so we are less limited. Voice will be a much stronger factor of how we do things. Some real early adopters are already using it much more, but I do believe so.

[37:03] One of my learnings from this has been that you cannot...This is great. We can do this, Daniel, and we haven't met for several years and it feels completely normal and natural, and all of that, but I also hope that we will become better at combining what's good in our life.

[37:19] Working from home so much, as we've done these past few months, I've become good at doing my one on one calls while I'm walking. I walk several hours a day, doing my calls instead of sitting here. I'm hoping that we will learn to build together what's quality life altogether.

[37:36] Getting the quality life of physical exercise, while we combine it with work, while family can have a place in our working. It doesn't become so compartmentalized, as we are used to having it.

Dan:  [37:50] That's a very optimistic view of the future, which I'm grateful for. So inspired by you, and your growth mindset, and values based leadership. This has been such a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining.

Helene:  [38:02] It's been great, Daniel. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Dan:  [38:04] Take care.

Helene:  [38:05] Thank you. You too.

[38:06] [background music]

Dan:  [38:06] On the next episode of "Decoding Digital."

Renè Obermann:  [38:12] You always have to think where you come from. Never forget that you are a human being who happens to be in charge for a couple of years to do this.

[38:19] The people on the frontline, they make the money for the company. The salespeople in the field, the technicians, the great developers, and all of them. The service people who take 100 calls or 200 calls a day from customers and handle complaints, these are the people who matter. As long as you don't forget that, I think that's a requirement for being allowed to run a big company.

Dan:  [38:41] Former CEO of Deutsche Telekom, current managing director at Warburg Pincus, and chairman of the board of Airbus, Renè Obermann.

[38:53] Thanks for listening to Decoding Digital. Make sure you never miss an episode by subscribing to the show in your favorite podcast player. To learn more, visit decodingdigital.com. Until next time