How do we do business with Scandinavia?

Many people may not know this, or it may come across as surprising that culturally Scandinavia is an exotic, exciting and very different place from what we perceive. For instance, when most people refer to Scandinavia assuming it includes Iceland and Finland. However, in Nordic languages, the word Scandinavia refers only to Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. So, before moving any further, it is important to state that we shouldn’t confuse Nordic countries, i.e., Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, with specifically Scandinavia which only includes Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, the whole Scandinavian Peninsula.

The culture and equality

It is common to find senior leaders and interns hashing out ideas on the same table. It is just as familiar as IKEA’s founder Ingvar Kamprad, seen taking the bus and feasting on lingonberry jam and meatballs in his very own canteen.

Lots of freedom but with big responsibility

In Scandinavia, independent thinking and self-governance are taught since childhood. Everyone has to be independent and has the ability to think critically. Classrooms unlike in other parts of the world don’t comprise of a hierarchy; the same goes for families. Apparently, that does not mean there is chaos, but that does mean that everyone gets an equal chance to discuss ideas. Plus, whether it is the workplace or a university people are not used to getting micro-managed. So, employees don’t expect that employers will be on their back reminding them of every task.

However, all this freedom does come with great responsibility since everyone is required to do their part. Equality is a huge part of the business culture, and everyone has to get an equal chance.

Scandinavians offer the negative with the positive first

While Scandinavians are very open communicators but they are polite and careful. They will never outright say that they don’t like something and so it takes some time to get used to understanding their message. In most cases, they will find a couple of positive points and then weave them in with the negative ones. For instance: “The play has a very good start, the characters are strong, but you should work more on building a strong storyline.” So, it’s important to be aware of the nuances.

They under promise and overdeliver

In Scandinavian culture, bragging is something that’s not considered professional. There is a term “Janteloven.” It is based on the societal law of Jante, which is a law describing how all Scandinavians should behave by putting the needs of others before their own. Business partners need to rely on each other and honesty is precious. So, its fine to underpromise and overdeliver because that’s what they expect.

Scandinavian leaders are often cautious about importing what they see as self-aggrandizing recognition programs. Mismatches and misunderstandings can cause if anything the programs to backfire or utterly fail in the workplace. So, Scandinavian employers will rarely personally praise a specific employee, or deliver a reward to just one person especially when there is a team which should be credited. Some may see that as a lack of gratitude but in Scandinavia it is one of their hallmarks of equality.