Big conglomerates tend to be companies filled with rules, regulations and office politics. But flat organizations strive to empower and coach their employees.
For years, I have worked at a Fortune 100 company. One that did billions of dollars in sales each year. It was surprising to see how they could survive for so long, especially with how broken their internal communication systems were. Marketing had no idea what PR was doing. PR had no idea what products were being worked on by engineering. Product planning made up projections instead of looking at sales numbers. Customer service was completely oblivious to everything.
In a typical organization, the room for growth is slim. Innovators are usually shut down while ‘yes men’ are promoted. Then the hierarchy tilts to where there is no true leadership at the top. In this type of environment, the chances of moving to the top are nearly impossible, unless you’re appointed by the board of directors.
In flat organizations, things don’t work that way. In fact, innovation and creativity are the driving forces behind these companies.
I had a chance to talk to Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko, President of the leading Finnishfashion and design house Marimekko. She started her career with Marimekko in International PR. In the course of ten years, she became one of only three women and one of the youngest Presidents leading a listed company in Finland.
I asked her how she was able to move up the ladder so quickly.
Tiina shared these 3 key things to look for with me:
1. Find a company that fits into your passion.
Tiina’s motto for success is to always be yourself.
Since a very early age, Tiina became interested in international business and branding. She also had known that she wanted to work with design, so when it came time to think about embarking on her career, it was very clear to her that her dreamjob would be at Marimekko.
Marimekko’s values and philosophy resonated with her own and she had always been inspired about the bold and unique design language of the brand encouraging people to express themselves freely.
2. Company history matters
On top of that, Tiina saw that:
- 91% of their employees worldwide are women
- 95% of senior leadership at Marimekko are women
This showed her that she had opportunity to grow at the company.
3. Find a company culture that suits you.
Tiina has an impressive educational background with Masters degrees in multiple areas. She has always been eager to grasp the challenges and opportunities she is given. Her first job at Marimekko was a summer job. While she was there, she was able to notice that:
- Marimekko is a flat, non-hierarchical organization
- They strive to empower and coach their employees
By taking notice of these components, Tiina understood that this company could give her room for personal development, organizational learning and creative thinking.
Since Tiina was able to find a company culture that suited her appetite to constantly grow and apply her creative skills, she was able to work in many departments throughout the company. She has taken on many different roles and experiences that have lead her towards where she is now.
Tiina says that has not been a consciously thought out path-She has just always enjoyed the work and roles that she has had along the way.
But what is it really like to work in a flat organization?
Every day in the life of Tiina’s job is different, which is why she loves it so much. However, she always has an hour each day without any plans or meetings just to walk around and catch up with people in the organization to coach, listen, learn and laugh together. It is important to enjoy and have fun at work together, while working hard. Getting things done together is one of the key values at Marimekko.
Tiina feels that you should always stay true to your values by letting others know that you respect and appreciate them.
Tiina says that she feels she has been lucky throughout her career. Me on the other hand, I feel her success has not resulted from competitiveness or bringing down others but instead, she respects and appreciates everyone in her company regardless of their difference since the beginning of her career. People truly like her and look up to her. When you combine that with her passion for the business, her willingness to learn increased as well. For her, that opens up new development opportunities.
It isn’t all easy being in a flat organization though.
Back in 2014, Tiina was acting as interim creative director for a few months while in search of a replacement.. This was one of the most challenging experiences of her career, but the one that also taught her the most: to learn a whole new area of business very quickly and handle matters that were not previously so familiar to her. This experience offered her a chance to understand her company’s creative design and product development functions and processes from a new perspective and on a much deeper level than before.
Tiina realized over the years that intentionally working with people from various fields, backgrounds,and in multiple facets of business was an extremely useful way to develop a holistic perspective.
Being curious, open-minded and treating people with respect creates a good starting point for personal development.
As President, Tiina is proud that the work of her teams has led Marimekko to growinternationally. Her focus now is to create even more interesting products and collections to her global clientele as well as strengthen the customer experience in brick and click to inspire her customers even more about beautiful everyday life.
Have you risen at a flat, non-hierarchical organization? I’d love to learn more. Comment below!