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Kristin Skogen Lund’s recipe for good leadership: 5 percent strategy, 15 percent position and 80 percent daily execution

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Kristin Skogen Lund: NHO's new Director General getting down to business

The wind in Kristin Skogen Lund’s sails has increased lately. As President of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO) and a Telenor Group Director she has topped the list of Norway’s most powerful women two years in a row. Each time another top job has become available she has been touted as a possible candidate. But now that has ended: from 1 November Kristin Skogen Lund is the NHO’s Director General.

Sep 17, 2012 | Text: Berit Kvam, Photo: Ilja Hendel, Scanpix

“I was tuning my car stereo the other day, and suddenly I heard an entire debate about me. Gosh, I thought, they’re talking about me. It was strange, very strange. The debate focused on my candidacy for the Director General job at the NHO.”

Nordic Labour Journal met Kristin Skogen Lund a few days before her appointment was made official. It was not easy to interpret her smile as I asked whether she would be the new NHO Director General, and she repeated:

“I have always said I cannot comment on that process. I have to keep to that.”

The NHO has 21,500 member companies employing some 525,000 people within the construction, industry, service and IT sectors, and it is a member of Business Europe.

Sudden handover

When she was elected as the NHO’s president in April 2010, she says, she was ‘thrown in’ as the former president suddenly stepped down.

“I hadn’t aspired to that position to begin with, but when my first term as president was over I stood for reelection because I knew I was capable of fulfilling that role.”

When Kristin Skogen Lund was presented as the NHO’s new Director General at a press conference on Monday 10 September 2012, she demonstrated that knowledge about the organisation being its president has given her.

“I know the strength this organisation possesses and I have also developed a desire to work with the role business in general and the NHO in particular can play in Norwegian society. I’m looking forward to working with this full time and to dedicate all my efforts to doing a good job defending the role of businesses.”

She lists education and skills among the most important issues she wants to focus on, both things “she and the NHO are really passionate about”. Doing a good job with our youth today will be crucial for Norway’s role in the future, she says. Other issues she highlights as being important include Norway as an energy provider and infrastructure. 

Long way to fall 

Back to that debate on the car stereo, about her role as Director General. Did she learn anything from it?
“Yes, and perhaps that’s the flip-side of the coin - when very high expectations are being built and as a result you have a long way to fall. This of course makes you vulnerable to making mistakes. I handle it no problem, but of course it isn’t easy to have a bad day.”

Skogen Lund is also the leader of Telenor Digital Services, and we met her at Telenor’s headquarters at Fornebu. The beautifully designed building lies in one of Oslo’s most beautiful natural surroundings, near the capital’s former main airport Fornebu with a view of the Oslo fjord where the sky is high and there is plenty of space. Inside, on the higher floors, the noise from the open atrium becomes more prevalent.     

“I’ve come straight from seeing the boss,” she said then with a disarming smile, looking for a quiet room where we could talk. As she had been a little bit late, I had been welcomed by the head of information who talked about Telenor digital Services and Telenor Broadcast. At one stage she did three jobs, he says, leading both Telenor Nordic, Telenor Digital Services & Broadcast while also being the NHO president. Analysts were wondering whether she was moving up, down or sideways within the corporation when she quit her position as leader of Telenor’s Nordic region. 

“I was very much part of setting up that division, and my background of course played a part in shaping my interest for that particular field,” she says herself. Her previous job had been CEO at Oslo’s Aftenposten newspaper.

Asked to leave Nordic job

“After working in the media for many years and watching digitisation changing the reality in that trade, I felt it was important to be part of a similar development within the telecoms industry generally and within Telenor specifically. The media business is often ahead. This development has come later to telecoms because it has taken time for smartphones to become ‘smart’ enough. 

“So this was a strategy I helped develop when I began working here as head of the Nordic region. For nine months I was responsible for both Telenor Nordic and Digital Services. That was clearly far too much on top of me being the NHO president. I was trying to split myself in two. I had originally asked Jon Fredrik Baksaas, Telenor’s CEO, to be allowed to end the Nordic job a good while before I finally did. So...,” she says and smiles again.

To presume she was moving sideways turned out to be a bad guess. Telenor Digital Services represents much of what the future holds and is a very exciting place to work, says Kristin Skogen Lund convincingly. She would not have left that job for anything but the NHO Director General job she told the press conference a few days later at NHO head quarters. 

Telecoms is no longer only traditional telephony or mobile. The sector is developing in a way which allows for digital services and communication, text, sound and video on different platforms to come together as one, and it is happening globally. To keep up with the future and offer the solutions which people want, you need to be part of the development. Telenor Digital Services, which Kristin Skogen Lund helped create, now employs 5-600 people, while Telenor Broadcast - also under her leadership, comprising Canal Digital - has some 1,000 employees spread across many parts of the world. She has also been responsible for “our media activities; the A-pressen ownership and things like that.”     

Juggling

“I’m juggling many things at the same time and enjoy many points of contact.”

One of these contacts is the head of Norway’s Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), Roar Flåthen. She has represented Telenor on the A-pressen board, where Flåthen is the chairman.

“I have a very good relationship with Roar Flåthen, I have had that for many years.”

This is presumably also an advantage when the two of them might meet in future negotiations as LO leader and NHO Director General. 

How do you juggle all these things? 

“I work hard all the time.”

What else is needed?

“You must be good at delegating. You mustn’t try to be in control of absolutely everything, because you simply can’t. You must trust the people around you and find a good way of communicating which means you’re involved in what you should be involved in, but not in all the other stuff. You need to become good at separating big from small, important from non-important. 

“I am also good at time management. I am constantly doing something: if I’m on a plane I have planned what I need to read; normally I have no time to read. I use the windows I get. If I’m in the car I call someone I should call. It becomes a lifestyle. But I also completely relax, when I’m on holiday for instance. I can be a bit chilled then.”

So how do you chill?

“It’s not exactly chilling, but I like working in the garden, trudge around and fix things. Clean. I like to do things which show immediate results. But I can also lie on a deckchair for four hours, reading three papers. I can do that too.”

Criteria for successful, good leadership

Use time wisely, delegate and build a 5-15-80 organisation - it’s become a bit of a leadership mantra for Skogen Lund. 5-15-80 was also the title of a comment she wrote for Aftenposten on 24 August, in which she gives the recipe for good leadership: 5 percent focus on strategy or planning, 15 percent focus on position and 80 percent focus on daily execution.

“It’s important to have good planning and a good position, but the key to success lies in execution” she writes in her article, which is a comment to the 22 July commission’s report on the terror attacks in Oslo and at Utøya. 

“The report highlighted how several links in the process lacked the ability to recognise that something is not working the way it should or that plans are not being executed, and there’s a lack in taking responsibility after the event and adjust the course and help correct the mistakes.”

Too many meetings

“Leaders have too little focus on creating the ability to finish something. They spend too long in meetings and making plans, and they spend too little time actually getting things done,” Kristin Skogen Lund tells Nordic Labour Journal. 

How do you create this ability to finish things?

“Again you need to focus on the right things. In many cases you might need to simplify as much as possible, not to make too much bureaucracy. You cannot always be absolutely sure about everything you do, because then you will be guaranteed to be late when you finally get around to doing it. As a leader, for instance of Digital Services where we must establish a lot of new things, I must stand tall and give my colleagues the confidence to say that yes, we believe in this, let’s roll, and then to protect them a bit from other stuff. Let them finish things by launching new services and products and get them out to the markets.

“But this is also a lot about nurturing a culture in as much as you need to give people quite far down in the organisation the chance to take responsibility and to feel that responsibility. If you are responsible for a sales department and constantly experience that there is something wrong with the product or the level of customer service, it is easy to think that I am head of sales, so this is not my area of responsibility. 

"That’s when I think that you cannot expect the person who heads all of these three areas to see and understand the problem. It is your responsibility to improve things even if you are stepping outside of your area of responsibility. Happy, but never satisfied as I usually say. Always try to maintain such dynamics. That’s what I mean when I talk about an 80 percent organisation: if everyone thinks and works under those dynamics you get a nice lateral process after a while.”           

Leaders don’t know it all

“Another important thing is not to believe you know it all just because you’re the leader. It is often the case that those who have the overview lack the insight, and that those who have the insight don’t have the overview. It’s important for a leader to be able to combine overview and insight. 

“Norwegian society is a bit kind and nice. This is a good thing, but we do put up with a lot of things. It is not OK not to finish what we have said we will do. It is not OK anywhere, be it in the public or private sector or in private life for that matter. We do perhaps accept a little bit too much,” she says, but hastens to add that she is not that good in this area herself. 

“I’m not necessarily any different, but I do have quite a few roles where it is my duty to make sure things are being done. If I, as a leader, have colleagues who don’t do what they’re supposed to be doing, I have to take action. And I do, because I must. The worst thing is when you get an erosion of responsibility. Then nobody feels responsible for the total process and for the execution.”    

As a leader, how do you avoid a situation like that?

“You must build a culture within which it is accepted that you have responsibility on all levels. Where avoidance is rooted out. There are places where such avoidance is allowed to flourish with nobody doing anything about it.” 

Attention

How do you deal with all this attention?

“Some things are very much out there. My public image and my own self-image are two completely different things. I punish myself, I am never satisfied and I think I spot my own mistakes before anybody else. Having said that, I appreciate being valued. But it’s not like I soak that up and make it part of my own self-image. That’s not how it works. It is like observing something from the outside, something which is not in here,” she says and points to her heart. 

She has been heavily engaged in education and skills development both as president at the NHO and as a Telenor executive. She cannot understand why the government does not put more into science and technology. 

“There is no doubt that we need more science and technology graduates,” she says firmly.      

NHO is so many things

“As president of the NHO it has been important to me to be the NHO’s voice, I have talked a lot about skills, I have been busy with infrastructure issues and during my time we have had several conferences looking at welfare challenges, public sector efficiency and labour market policies. I have also been interested in trying to understand the complex makeup of our members - everything from one-person companies to Statoil. That is why it has been important to make the NHO relevant to most members and never to forget that we are working for our members -  the companies out there which differ greatly in size, geography and types of trade. We must manage to be as relevant as possible to them.

Business Europe

Large parts of Europe are in recession. These are uncertain times. What are her thoughts around these challenges?

“Twice a year I meet my colleagues in Business Europe. Each time it is a real wake-up call because I really understand how far away we are from the reality in many European countries. I feel Norway has done well as a nation and that we should be happy about that, but we must never believe things will carry on automatically. 

“This goes for nations as well as for organisations, happy but never satisfied. This is what is so difficult, to get the message across that when things are good, that’s when you need to make a few adjustments to make sure things continue to go well. If you don’t make those adjustments you end up a little bit off course. In the end you end up being completely off course.”

She uses Norway’s pension reform as an example. 

“The pension reform is a positive example of a measure which is right to introduce, but which has not been introduced to the public sector, which is the sin of avoidance,” Kristin Skogen Lund told Nordic Labour Journal a few days before she was made the new Director General at the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise.