7 reasons for the excess of HR professionals looking for jobs

Due to recent client gigs I have been interacting with headhunters somewhat tightly. I try to keep an eye on my field, and tend to ask them what is going on with HR jobs in Scandinavia. One senior recruitment consultant said it. “There are loads of available HR managers, hundreds of applicants to open positions, including really good ones”. Many of the HR people in my own network are on the move, and very many HR people informing they are “looking for new opportunities” in Linked In, too. What is going on?

  1. Organizations are cost cutting and saving (at least in Finland), which means that internal development is often halted, BHR positions are discontinued, HRD budgets are cut
  2. HR pros with +10 years of experience are tired of the traditional way of doing HR, and are looking for something more meaningful. The number of HR pros willing to move their profession towards the agile, modern, open are growing, but the positions are few. We are witnessing the established “people management truths” and best practices dissolve. Our profession is finally changing! Many of the X-generation HR experts have been waiting for this for such a long time. So, skilled HR’s are competing for the higher profile modern jobs, because the same old HR is not appealing anymore
  3. The same HR-names are circling on the headhunters’ lists. We have a children’s song in Finland saying “piiri pieni pyörii”, which suits Finnish headhunting well. Basically means great candidates are found within a small circle of very good people with great records and recommendations. Scandinavia is very small. Everyone knows everyone
  4. The Y-gen and millenials are on the move, too, wanting to work for modern people operations or rather, choose to work in other functions than HR altogether. Having combos of highly relevant skills to work in the connected, data-driven world they just reinvent things, make mobile apps to handle “stuff”, and design an interactive ridiculously cool, personalized webpage integrated with social feeds and snapchat to cater for a communicative need instead of sending out a pdf newsletter on the intranet. Do you really think these people want the traditional HR managers to set up people practices for them? (Pdf’s? Grandma.). So hearsay tells that the younger HR stars with cross-pollinated digital skills don’t want to work for traditional HR functions, but choose something else, because they can. (They don’t want traditional HR’s to work for them, either, by the way…
  5. The traditional executives in larger organizations are not eagerly hiring HR Managers, either. Management is not really appreciating the value of traditional HR-practices (I don’t blame them) and frankly, most execs have no clue about the upcoming landscape of modern, contemporary, digital HR or self-organizing teams and organizations. So they don’t want to pay for the old stuff and don’t know (yet) to ask for the new stuff. Who is making the calls in larger Scandinavian organizations? An old school CEO (P>0.95, male in his 50’s, hardwired by industrial management thinking & behavior), with his old school, risk-averse VP HR (P>0.75, maybe), who does not have a LinkedIn profile and thinks Periscope has something to do with submarines. Analytics? Crunching people data together with financial data? Continuous deployment? Lean start-up? Teal? Will not ring a bell. In years. YEARS, people
  6. The SME executives seem to believe more in a “DIY-HR” than having professionals run their people operations. They have heard “Raising headcount with an HR Manager is useless and you can outsource or automate most of HR, and have employees/managers do the rest”. [Sidenote: I’ve seen and heard more super crappy DIY-HR-work performed (no matter if it is an attempt on modern HR or traditional HR) than heard about success stories of “DIY”-HR. You need to know the drill and love the game to be able to nail it, and most execs and managers do not love the internal HR game that much]
  7. Established small companies are hiring juniors to grow into a bigger HR-role as the company grows (such as digital recruiters). So they are not hiring experienced HR’s eithe
  8. (The public sector’s (HR) positions and people are not moving. And they never have. Period. So this is not a reason.)

I believe we are in the turning point of my wonderful profession. (Finally!)

Disclaimer: This is all my intuition, not based on any data nor scientific research, so go ahead, tear it to pieces and use common criticism. It’s just me and my biased point of view. Maybe the HR profession will continue as it is, when the economy hits off. (And maybe I will win the lottery).

What is like a big red exclamation mark from my perspective, but seems invisible for so many, is that the exact same development is going on in the employee-employer interface of knowledge work as is in the customer and end-user interface. Digitalization, data, analytics, lean startup service development, personification, individualization, tailoring, instant messaging, continuous information flow, transparency, recommendations and reviewing, … need I continue?

Because of sense of importance for top row, and impact on revenue streams (direct vs. indirect), the development in the customer interface is heading with a few years. Inevitably, want it or not, your knowledge worker talent pipeline is becoming digital, highly competed for and fully transparent. You need to know the digital groove to lead it! And you need to know what skills you need to buy/source/recruit to compensate for what you don’t know. But are we HR’s able to keep up with the learning pace and foremost; do we know what the relevant stuff to learn is? How quickly will executives start sporting with having hard-core modern thinking people professionals by their side as an asset? (I.e. when will they start recommending that to one another, since many executives are groupthinkers, listening mostly to the recommendations from their counterparts…)

For the ones who are saying a company can take in someone without HR expertise to lead the modern HR…Yes, with a killer HR-team this could be a great solution. Without it you’d mainly have a top digital leader/-performer trying to teach fish to climb a tree, hitting her head on the robust employee relations-, legal- and privacy frames in Scandinavia (due to lack of HR-game eye/experience), loosing her will to breathe in less than half a year.

So: as a semi-ruthless synthesis of this fully intuitive mumble is that the HR pro’s with +10 years of experience, who really are rocking the digital future are currently very, very few. The number of organizations or executives that understand or prioritize the need to modernize their HR or people operations are currently even less.

The rest? They are just playing the “traditional HR-manager’s musical chairs” together, heading for redundancy sooner or later.

The good news is that we might see a ketchup effect. All it requires is a big one who succeeds in modernizing HR with i.e. great impact on profitability, or a multinational crunching their data connecting employee engagement with customer NPS or revenue streams. This will start catching interest with execs and boards. Or maybe a chairman who insists on having a couple of millenials on the board, asking a bit too uncomfortable questions about outdated employee practices. I’m sure, when I speak with the same recruitment consultant in 2-3 years, she will say “There is a lot of traditional HR Managers on the market but not enough senior HR pros that can co-lead the digital change”.

To all of my traditional and modern HR-professional friends out there, let’s keep on surfing the change-waves in 2016. Happy New Year!

Thanks for reading,


Hilarious result of the experiment of letting my potential client set my price tag.

The client’s development manager calls me up. We talk for a while to get a grip of the business situation, and the needs to develop collaboration between two units. I tell the development director how I work. I co-create with my clients. We are designing the development paths step by step, carrying the responsibility of success together. I don’t come as an outsider consultant, make power points and impose some external thinking on people. I don’t want to spend time writing my solutions for free for a potential customer, having the blessed situation where I can spend that time to create value for existing customers. I am happy to be using my creativity to help you take the next step if we have an ongoing collaboration. You can use any ideas out of that paid collaboration and take the next step with whomever you want. (http://www.extemporea.com/portfolio/pricing/). This seemed like such a stretch to the client. Contracts and running them through lawyers were mentioned. Well, let’s see what I can do for you, let’s just take one step at the time, ok?

It seems like I was able to interpret their situation correctly, and I am asked to meet up with the two executives of the units. Before I do, though, I want to make sure I am among the best people who can help them. I specifically tell them that if the development path includes digital business development I would like to engage professionals from my network who are highly skilled in that. I can bring that talent with me to the meeting, and we can see who should be the ones helping them.

“No, it’s just a development day now at first”. Ok, I can handle a development day between two large units myself, no digital gurus needed.

So, we meet up. Traditional meeting. Executives telling what they’d like to see. Me coaching them to a suitable objective for a one day, developing collaboration and communication between 70 people in two units. Seems like I am hearing the pain points, offering insights for possible ways forward. The next steps forward? Of course: executives going into “we are the buyer you are the seller” mode, asking for…guess what?…a suggestion on the content and delivery of the day with my pricing.

Here is where I decide not to play this game. I create an inspiring solution for them (btw, still working without a cent being paid for the work, total hours about 5 h right here). I decide to do an experiment. I ask them to set the price. I tell them I love what I work with, and really don’t care what the sum is for work I love. That they know the cost of consultants and trainers and they can define what it is worth to succeed in a 70 people workshop for their business. Pay me what you think it is worth. If we do not succeed, pay me nothing.

So, what do they have by now?

  • They want to develop collaboration between two BU’s
  • They have a great, suggested solution with a facilitator who tells them she would love to do this work with them, and tells them she knows this kind of a day will succeed pretty well.
  • They have had three discussions with me, all leading to a next step, where trust and understanding have been clearly visible. So they seem to trust my competence.
  • I have reached out a hand for building a strong sense of trust and collaboration for designing development of collaboration between two business units.
  • They have said they’d like to work with me.
  • They have a to do list from me, because we were tight on time. So I prepped the organization to succeed in this with me.

And what do they do?

They return to me with telling that “they would like to continue with me,” and with an offer way below the ballpark.

And what do I do?

I tell them, that even though I don’t mind what I earn from these facilitations, which I enjoy a lot, it is way below the ballpark and feels unfair. I suggested another rate, which is about 25% lower than the work I have done during the last year. I am transparent about the rates I have been invoicing and tell them the suggested price for a 70 ppl workshop is a reasonable price.

Their reply was just brilliant!
Literally this: “If you use that kind of disrupting tactics in pricing, you’ll get what you are asking for” and basically adding “our way of doing this is that we will try you out with a cheaper price and then negotiate prices mutually if we continue working with you”.

First, I felt like dealing with an adolescent (irritation). Then I felt unfairness, disrespect. Then my ego tried to convince me to just do the gig, and give all of the profit to charity. (Thinking: if this company had asked me to facilitate for charity purposes, I had said yes, and it would be a great story). This worked for a day, until I realized it is not a great story after all. Then the “how unfair and what a non-collaborative answer” snuck up on me again. I decided I just don’t play this game (when I don’t have to, really).

So I did what I could to help them: I told them I have been working too long in collaborative and respectful systems for “you get what you asked for” or “let’s pay a junior consultancy fee for you” would work for me at all. I really urged them to go ahead with the workshop idea, and added some 6 different great facilitator/trainer’s names as recommendations. I wrote a draft on an invitation letter to the day, because they were tight on time. I also added a link to their company’s webpage, which tells that this client company is having a record high year with profits.

The emotional clarity and “high” was something I did not expect. Such a rush of coherence. Like after the best yoga. Like in a flow state when playing handball. Everything was just clear and felt right.

If I don’t have to, I choose not to play that game.

PS. I’m wondering how collaboration development will work out in those units? Hilarious!


Why relatedness matters for speakers

I’ve been standing in front of people speaking most of my career. Should not be a problem. And while I still am asked to do that, I must be doing something useful for audiences. I have only recently taken up public speaking as in conferences, though. Speaking is very different from facilitating and training. Very. The difference in emotional intensity is like going straight for a round of penalty shots instead of playing a long game in sports.

What I could not put my finger on, until today, was that why on earth was I so ridiculously nervous before some occasions and at full ease at others? Why did I feel like speaking with my friends when talking at the conference Spark the change, Toronto, on Thursday? Stupid me. Of course! I’m reading up on social psychology and social and cognitive neuroscience and the answer is right in front of me.

Spark organizers took very good care of me as a speaker, not only logistically, but socially. They looked after me before, during and after the conference. They made me feel very welcome, they shared relevant information frequently about logistics, venue, participants etc. We joked around by e-mail which made the group feel as my “in-group”. They made sure I got to know some organizers at the speaker’s dinner before the conference, which meant that I knew some friendly faces in the audience. Lots of relatedness going on in the room before I went on stage. I was speaking with the people, not at them. (OK, as a pro coach and facilitator, I rarely speak at the people anyway…)

In-groups and Out-groups

The difference of feeling that the organizers and the audience is my “in-group” rather than an “out-group” is remarkable from a neuroscience perspective. Here are some findings that I find are relevant.

  • Our reward regions in the brain are active when people similar to us win something. Your gain is my gain. (Mobbs et al, 2009)
  • Similar areas in our brain (vmPFC) are active when assessing how similar others think (my in-group) as when I am thinking about myself. (Mitchell et al, 2006). This, of course leads to a bias if you think about working creatively. But when you think about feeling at ease with a crowd, I would guess it is quite helpful having the illusion that you know the audience well.
  • We have less empathy with dissimilar others (Singer et al, 2004). Some empathy and feeling an emotional connection with your crowd might be useful for speaking, too, right?
  • People telling you “you are included” affects our brains reward system and seems to be as rewarding as extrinsic rewards (i.e. winning money) for our brain. (Izuma et al, 2008)
  • vmPFC activity in the brain predicts prosociality, and is suggested to induce a will to help others more. (Waytz, Zaki & Mitchell, 2012)

So Spark people; by taking care of me as a speaker you made me feel rewarded, at ease with my audience, willing to give and receive more, feeling that we all win if someone wins, and increased my sociality a bit. If what is suggested by mirror neurons is true, my good vibes were felt by the audience. They in turn retuned positive vibes to me, creating a positive, healthy social loop in the room during the talk.

I have during my life experienced extreme levels of social threat (bullying, high pressure team sports situations for 20 years, working in HR for 12 years [ha,ha]) and am lucky to have learned and developed healthy coping mechanisms for lots of situations. Feeling your body go all in for threat-mode while on stage is an amazing, powerful emotion. At its worst, it is like playoffs when the team starts playing as individuals (instead of as a team) and people start panicking. At best it is enjoying the adrenaline ride as in a rollercoaster. “Woooo! here we go, start speaking and ignore your voice is shaky, your heart is beating as if you’d be on the treadmill and you feel like you want to be hugged by a kind person for four minutes to calm you down”.  The only thing rescuing me from that situation, I know, is that I have trained, exercised and rehearsed enough so I can keep that threat under control by trusting I know what I am doing. “Just do what we have trained for a thousand times” is something a coach might say to a team stuck in threat mode. That usually opens up the emotional block and gets the game flowing again.

But oh, how easy and relaxing public speaking can be. As at Spark. This insight gave me more tools to cope with possible nervousness. If the organizers are not helping me get relaxed, I will be doing some mental up front “in-grouping” and lots of connecting with the audience before speaking.

Thank you Spark for the warm caring, thank you to my audience for returning good vibes. How cool is life?! People and people science rock!

Thanks for reading.




Izuma et al, 2008, Neuron

Mitchell et al 2006, Neuron

Mobbs et al, 2009, Science

Singer et al, 2004, Science

Picture credits: erban / Source / CC BY-NC-ND


An executive getting high on certainty? Agile is your rehab.

Ambiguity and uncertainty is an increasing factor when businesses are moving into a complex domain (where cause and effect relationships are only visible “post-event”) from a more complicated domain (where cause and effect relationships are, if complicated, still predictable).

This is tricky, because we humans have a brain that through it’s fundamental building blocks says; Uncertainty is bad, certainty is great. Certainty increases activation in our reward circuitry, and basically helps us as a species know what to expect, what to approach and what to avoid. (Bromberg-Martin and Hirosaka, 2009, Lingawi and Balleine, 2012) The more we are missing information in a decision making situation, the less our reward circuitry is active. Instead this lack of information correlates with the activation of our amygdala, the emotional (threat) center of the brain and increases anxiety (Herry et al, 2007).

Since the 1910’s and Taylor’s Scientific management, we have built up organizations to control and predict the future. Executives spend millions and millions on creating strategies to create an illusion of knowing how it all will play out. Financial officers compile budgets and long term plans, arguing if the margin will be 4,5% or 4,7% in 2022. As if they’d know. They are just satisfying their and their peer’s biological need of certainty. Participating in a worldwide legal scam of creating false sense of certainty according to the annual clock. (Bogsnes, 2008, Laloux,2013)

When businesses are moving towards self-directed, non-hierarchical, agile or lean startup principles all the content certainty disappears.

Uncertainty is the basic assumption of the agile organization. We don’t expect to know, because the world is too complex.

We need to probe and act, planning our journey stepwise, using the best available information gained by the people who actually are working with the issues, to make as good decisions as we can, while we constantly move in a somewhat feasible direction. The tools, processes and methods available for this type of business operations are embracing the uncertainty and external change. It is not the content that creates the certainty anymore. The processes and practices are. Instead of creating the illusion of an ability to foresee 3-5 years into the future, we are able to in the best case create an organization, which can handle uncertainty organically, and work with it.

In the worst case, we create an organization still run by the socialistic long term planning fans in the boards and executive lounges, who need their reward kicks out of the false sense of certainty. These execs who have heard from their pals that “hey there are these new fast methodologies that these agile companies are using”, and they start driving implementation by the agile methodologies, but forgetting about turning the practices, structures and umm… honestly, their own brain, agile. That is like teaching the employees to become top swimmers but competing counter current. Not very energy efficient and frankly, pretty stupid.

What we need are board members and executives, who get this. Otherwise we’re just swimming counter current until we decide to ditch that team and start swimming by ourselves… or with the others who are swimming with the current.

Thanks for reading!



Bogsnes, B. (2009). Implementing beyond budgeting. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons.

Bromberg-Martin, E. and Hikosaka, O. (2009). Midbrain Dopamine Neurons Signal Preference for Advance Information about Upcoming Rewards. Neuron, 63(1), pp.119-126.

Herry, C., Bach, D., Esposito, F., Di Salle, F., Perrig, W., Scheffler, K., Luthi, A. and Seifritz, E. (2007). Processing of Temporal Unpredictability in Human and Animal Amygdala. Journal of Neuroscience, 27(22), pp.5958-5966.

Laloux, F. (2014). Reinventing organizations. Belgium. Nelson-Parker.

Lingawi, N. and Balleine, B. (2012). Amygdala Central Nucleus Interacts with Dorsolateral Striatum to Regulate the Acquisition of Habits. Journal of Neuroscience, 32(3), pp.1073-1081.


Picture:  georgeparrilla / Foter / CC BY


HR & recruitment at Amazon, you ridicule yourself.

Amazon, who knows everything about their customers, EVERYTHING, and has a pretty OK user interface for their web shops, please, please, I plea to you Amazon HR – learn from your own services.

I came across “Senior HR positions at Amazon Europe” in Linked In. I was speaking with a Senior Amazon Executive during the fall and thought it would be great to get to know their HR in Europe, chat with them if they’d be interested in running an “HR-lab”, where new, modern HR could be piloted to support an agile, self-directive, modern organizations and culture. To get a feeling of how HR at Amazon works, I thought I’d apply through their service to these positions.

Step1: sign in with FB, LI or Google+, or creating a profile yourself. I created a profile. Name, address and the usual. Fine.

Step 2: upload your CV and cover letter. Fine.

Step 3: Answer ridiculous long questionnaire about if I have the right to work in 7 different locations in Europe, and if there are any restrictions to working there or not. Really? Seems like Amazon HR is taking the easy way – if you don’t have a work permit, don’t bother? Amazon HR…wake up, please. Have you heard about UX? Lean? Ring any bells at all? Do you really need this information upfront from hundreds of people applying? Are you not interested in just finding the best ones and then fixing their working permits to the country. You are HR, with this competence, right?

What really made me roll over and die a brutal HR-death, quietly screaming inwards in professional pain, is the following legal text:

Information provided in support of this application, including but not limited to my resume or curriculum vitae and the above information, is true and correct.  I understand that false statements or material omissions of any kind during the hiring process may result in denial of employment or discharge.

I hereby authorise Amazon to verify and investigate, directly or through third party service providers, my employment, education, criminal record, credit history and other information concerning my character and ability; and to inquire of my current and former employers and references information concerning such matters, as Amazon deems appropriate. I hereby release Amazon, such third party service providers and their representatives in seeking such information and all other persons, companies or organizations for furnishing such information.  In this regard, I agree to sign as a condition of my employment any and all releases not specified here, but which may be required under law, to implement this background check. I further agree to hold harmless and indemnify Amazon and their employees and agents from and against any and all liability arising out of such background investigations.

I understand that nothing contained in this employment application or interview process is intended to create an employment contract between Amazon and me and that no representation or promise regarding the duration or the termination of employment with Amazon is authorised or binding unless contained in a written document signed by an officer of Amazon.

Data Retention Agreement: By submitting your CV you authorise Amazon to store your information in the Amazon.com group of companies’ world-wide recruitment database currently located in the USA for the purpose of assessing your suitability for this and future vacancies.

You have to be JOKING!!

As if I would give you, or any third party you’d happen to pick out, the right to snoop around in my private life in any way you see appropriate, in this early stage of applying. What does “other information concerning my character and ability” really mean? That means nothing and anything. Lawyers. You should not let them design UX for you.

Data retention agreement: Where is the opting out option? Or maybe rather opting IN? Where is the right to be forgotten? I am an EU citizen, remember? EU is doing something for the data protection and privacy for their citizens, which probably is a bit strange to you. Your data retention agreement might even be illegal here, I bet some cool US lawyers could get you in trouble for making it mandatory for people to tick that box when applying for a job in Europe, giving you basically the right to forever keep the records of this applicant (and/or their FB/LI profile). Maybe some cool lawyers will read this and start thinking. Maybe EU legislators will read this and start thinking.

Amazon. You can stick this application process where appropriate, without indemnifying yourself, or any third party agents of your choosing, against any liability arising from the painful truth that your HR processes and the employer image you give through them really suck. Don’t hold yourself harmless, though. This is very harmful to finding highly skilled professionals.

Oh dear.

Fellow agilists, leanists, digitalists, modern HR thinkers.

We have a long way to go.

And Amazon:

Since, unfortunately and against all common practices, I am unable to delete my profile with you, I need to ask you to do that.
That data belongs to me, and as long as I did not tick your “I give all my rights away” radio buttons, you infringe my rights for my data.
So would you please delete it for me and get back to me when you have. Thanks!

Thanks for reading and please share so we can help a multinational get their HR a bit friendlier.



PS. Apparently I can read about Amazon’s twelve (LOL!) Leadership Principles on their career pages, but not delete my applicant profile. Amazon’s leadership principles are: (hold on, you need to write them down to have them handy, because you definitely won’t remember these by heart)…Customer Obsession, Ownership, Invent and Simplify, Are right a lot (what’s this?! LOL, again!), Hire and Develop the best, Insist on highest standards (no comments), Think big, Bias for action, Frugality, Vocally Self Critical, Earn trust of others (by legal texts giving all rights to you?), Dive deep, Have backbone disagree and commit, Deliver Results. This gives me so much juicy bits to chew on, but I’ll leave out commenting on this publicly.

“Do as you preach” – my Lean Start-up experiment

Organic. It is a very important word for me. I am an organic chemist by profession. A “scientist”, gone people professional, by chance and by passion.

Organic gives a word for a system that constantly is adapting and learning, changing according to it’s surrounding. The feedback loops in an organic system are short, sometimes immediate. The organic system will find equilibrium, and aim for homeostasis, until the state is impacted by yet another external change.

I was introduced to Eric Ries’s concept of product/service development, Lean Startup, some years ago. It is about accepting the idea of now knowing the correct answer, finding out what works by constant iteration according to experiments, short feedback loops and failing fast. Sounded very familiar. As did agile methodologies. This is copying the organic learning mechanisms in a ridiculously smart way to product development!

My internal chatter

“I want to work like this. Through Lean Startup. I believe in an organic way of learning and adapting.”

“But I am a consultant. How can I sell guessing? I should know.”

“Should I? …But I really don’t!”

“What if I’d just say this is my “60% good guess” and “I am confident enough that I could learn the rest?”

“They will think I am mad.”

“So what? I want to work with the ones who get this. And for the ones who think I am mad – join the club, the queue is over there.”

“Oh this is sooooo cool! I’ll just try it and see what happens. Who cares if I fail?”

And so I did.

My Lean Startup experiment

I sent a “good guess” of a training/workshop to about 8 very prominent, highly skilled and sharp people in my HR network. Some people I knew from before quite well, some not that well.

I said I don’t have any colleagues, and I am asking them, as my potential customers, to be my product development “minds”. I told them that I am sending out something which is about 60% good and I’d like them to take their best shots at making this better, best shots at killing what is irrelevant, and commenting on how this could be of value for them or other HR’s.  I apologized for using their time, and thanked them a lot in beforehand. I was not expecting people to spend time on it. “If you can just spare a couple of minutes”…

I could not in my wildest dreams believe the specificity and valuable feedback I got from these professionals!! I was pretty emotional that people who are busy, very busy, had taken the time to help me. To help me succeed. Thank you, if you are reading this. It means very much to me. I changed some central parts of the “product”.

The result of the experiment

I am happy to show the result of this experiment. The workshop “Rethink HR” (SlideShare) – created and modeled with the help of my potential customers. Two of who have contacted me to continue discussions around how to start taking steps towards modern HR. (This is only in ugly ppt. format, but you’ll get the point… (my design department is on vacation).

Thanks to Ola Sundell for introducing me to Lean Startup many years back! Thanks to the lovely agile coaches, lean pros and Finland’s best agile practitioners (you know who you are!) for always answering my stupid questions when I want to learn more about these things.

I hope I will be able to deliver many of these programs, and we will together with my clients get to Rethink HR version 2.0, 3.0 etc… After running it ftf for some time my experiment might be trying digitalizing the content into Eliademy or Coursera.

You can call me Pivot-Riina.

Emotional regulation – Jedi-skills for the knowledge worker

Some people are natural at it. They keep their calm in most situations, handle mistakes or failures in a mindful and positive way or are able to take a mental step back in the midst of a tricky situation. If you haven’t respected these skills yet, you should. These people are like mind-jedis, with several emotional regulation strategies available, enabling great performance also under pressure.

The biggest misunderstanding among leaders seems to be that emotional suppression equals emotional regulation. Suppression is a form of regulation, but unproductive and even physically harmful. Suppressing seems to impact memory negatively (Turk et al. (2005) and Richards and Gross, 2006), and contraintuitively does not dampen the emotional experience at all (Gross, 2002). “Don’t think about pink elephants. Don’t think about pink elephants”. “Pink Elephants” is what your mind does over and over again…

Some Jedi-tricks of the mind which are relevant for your wellbeing:

  1. Attention distraction (deployment). Works like a charm, but is not always that productive and seems not to be key to emotional regulation (Bebko et al., 2014). “I’m just going to Facebook a bit before starting with that horrifying important report…”
  2. Labeling. Recognize your emotion and name it. You will use your brain’s executive function, which dampens the emotion with incidental or intentional top-down control (Burklund et al., 2014). “Wow. The strength in my anger is incredible right now!”.
  3. Reappraisal. Train yourself to see alternative perspectives and interpretations. “Maybe she is forced by the board to make such a harsh decision”. Reappraising is one of the most productive Jedi-skills available for leaders or knowledge workers. (Burklund et al., 2014) It is a skill. You can train it. You should train it.
  4. Distancing. Viewing situations and yourself from another than the subjective perspective (fly on the wall, yourself 20 years from now). Just try it. A great technique for keeping up a healthy body and mind. (Kross and Ayduk, 2011)
  5. Mindfulness and meditation. Oh yes. If you are a sceptic, that is where you are at right now, and that’s fine. If you want to reappraise and see alternatives, read this (Tang et al., 2007). Or this (Esch, 2014). Or this (Johnson et al., 2014). Or this (Eberth and Sedlmeier, 2012). If numbers 1-4 are equipment, mindfulness is a gym where you train to use them (Garland et al., 2013).

Soft? Well, these skills seem be the top tools to care for your cognitive performance. They are the toughest skills to keep your executive capacity available.

The toughest skills available today

This is common sense, of course. Keeping your cool, not letting negative emotional reactions (“low road”) get in the way of good performance and judgement (“high road”), is better long-term than being hot headed.

Emotional regulation connects directly with your Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) under stress. The PFC is the executive in every conscious thing you do, every conscious thought. It is like your mental sketchpad, the reflective you, absolutely necessary for learning and success in the knowledge age. The PFC is like goldilocks; it has to have everything just right. When a negative event turns on our fight or flight reflex, we are often pushed over the optimal level of stress (scientifically: the optimal level of catechol amines in our PFC), which means our PFC function is markedly impaired by the (stressful) emotional reaction. You are not using your full cognitive capacity when under high levels of stress (emotional reaction). You are reflexive, going on autopilot, and can’t logically weigh alternatives. Making decisions in this state is like having an adolescent you running your life. (Adolescents’ PFCs are not fully developed, by the way). Your autopilot is running the show, not the mindful you. (Arnsten 2009 and 2011, Arnsten, Mazure and Sinha, 2012)

The jedi-tricks are ways to dampen the emotional reaction, gain emotional resilience, and thus helps you keep cool under pressure or bounce back from reactive to reflective mode quicker. Which, in turn, keeps your most important part of the brain in the game.

Adolescents on Autopilot making your decisions?

How many of us have over-stressed management members making decisions, right this moment? Wouldn’t you be calmer knowing they make the decisions with their best capacity (PFC) rather than as an “adolescent on autopilot”?

Me too.

This is why Google’s has a Head of Personal Growth, and why they are running programs such as “Search Inside Yourself”. They got this in 2007. (Baer, 2014)

When will this hit mainstream business? When will you start believing? When will you start doing? And foremost, how will he businesses that have been doing this for ten years gain in momentum compared to the ones who still are asleep? I love the disruption of people practices and people science. Just love it.

Thanks for reading and happy Independence Day for Finland!



Arnsten, A. (2009). Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(6), pp.410-422.

Arnsten, A. (2011). Catecholamine Influences on Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortical Networks. Biological Psychiatry, 69(12), pp.e89-e99.

Arnsten, A., Mazure, C. and Sinha, R. (2012). This is Your Brain in Meltdown. Sci Am, 306(4), pp.48-53.

Ayduk, Ö. and Kross, E. (2010). From a distance: Implications of spontaneous self-distancing for adaptive self-reflection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(5), pp.809-829.

Baer, D. (2014). Here’s What Google Teaches Employees In Its ‘Search Inside Yourself’ Course. [online] Business Insider. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/search-inside-yourself-googles-life-changing-mindfulness-course-2014-8 [Accessed 6 Dec. 2014].

Bebko, G., Franconeri, S., Ochsner, K. and Chiao, J. (2014). Attentional deployment is not necessary for successful emotion regulation via cognitive reappraisal or expressive suppression. Emotion, 14(3), pp.504-512.

Burklund, L., Creswell, J., Irwin, M. and Lieberman, M. (2014). The common and distinct neural bases of affect labeling and reappraisal in healthy adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 5.

Eberth, J. and Sedlmeier, P. (2012). The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation: A Meta-Analysis. Mindfulness, 3(3), pp.174-189.

Esch, T. (2014). The Neurobiology of Meditation and Mindfulness. In: S. Schmidt and H. Walach, ed., Meditation – Neuroscientific Approaches and Philosophical Implications, 2nd ed. Springer International Publishing, pp.pp 153-173.

Garland, E., Hanley, A., Farb, N. and Froeliger, B. (2013). State Mindfulness During Meditation Predicts Enhanced Cognitive Reappraisal. Mindfulness.

Gross, J. (2002). Emotion regulation: Affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39(3), pp.281-291.

Johnson, D., Thom, N., Stanley, E., Haase, L., Simmons, A., Shih, P., Thompson, W., Potterat, E., Minor, T. and Paulus, M. (2014). Modifying Resilience Mechanisms in At-Risk Individuals: A Controlled Study of Mindfulness Training in Marines Preparing for Deployment. American Journal of Psychiatry, 171(8), p.844.

Kross, E. and Ayduk, O. (2011). Making Meaning out of Negative Experiences by Self-Distancing. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(3), pp.187-191.

Richards, J. and Gross, J. (2006). Personality and emotional memory: How regulating emotion impairs memory for emotional events. Journal of Research in Personality, 40(5), pp.631-651.

Tang, Y., Ma, Y., Wang, J., Fan, Y., Feng, S., Lu, Q., Yu, Q., Sui, D., Rothbart, M., Fan, M. and Posner, M. (2007). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(43), pp.17152-17156.

Turk, C., Heimberg, R., Luterek, J., Mennin, D. and Fresco, D. (2005). Emotion Dysregulation in Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Comparison with Social Anxiety Disorder. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 29(1), pp.89-106.


Photo credit: Faisal AlKhudairy / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Personal Kanban and some goodies about your brain

Kanban board

Sharing some thoughts around my weekly homework from my neuroscience studies

Knowledge work is all about attention. Unfortunately that is a scarce resource, easily high jacked by any distraction. Multitasking, i.e. using focused attention on two different targets basically does not exist. What you are able to do is to do a lot of things on autopilot (i.e. walking, breathing, looking) while your executive network (incl. working memory) is doing something else (i.e. discussing). When you think you are multitasking you are actually attention switching, with a high cost in performance. For this you will allocate attention toward or away from interference, maintain relevant memory in mind, and reactivate representations if the maintenance of what you are doing is disrupted (Clapp et al, 2010). So when you are working with a need for cognitive logical thinking, minimizing any distractions is a great preventive method.

Kanban is a method for managing knowledge work with an emphasis on just-in-time delivery while not overloading the team members. The core mechanisms in Kanban is to start where you are at, work in an evolutionary and incremental way to develop the system, limit the work in progress, and finish one thing before starting another. (Wikipedia, Kanban, 29.10.2014).

While Kanban is used on a team/organizational level and longer time spans, the same logic applies on personal level and short time spans, too. From a neuroscience perspective, Kanban is too interesting to fit in a 300 words homework.

A couple of Kanban-insights from the neuroscience perspective

  • Limiting the number of similar things you work on will lessen the cost of attention switching and thus positively impact performance on the task at hand. (a no brainer) (Clapp et al, 2010).
  • Focused attention means you are using your long-term learning mechanisms (Medial temporal areas) to encode the experience. This makes the knowledge accessible by conscious thought later on (vs. using striatal habit learning, creating more unconscious and automatic learning). (Forde et al, 2006)
  • A “healthy” backlog is genius from a neuroscience perspective. Attending to an issue (backlog item) then leaving it with the knowledge of that you will return to it, seems to activate your unconscious processing. So while you are consciously focused on your work in progress (WIP), your unconscious works on items, which you know you will attend to later. (Backlog) (Ritter & Dijksterhuis, 2014)

Kanban definitely requires more in-depth analyzing from the neuroscience perspective. My hunch is that Kanban fits many of our biological & neuronal requirements, so I will definitely be dissecting Kanban some more in my studies.

Where’s the scalpel?



  1. Clapp, W.C, Rubens, M.T., Gazzaley A. ,(2010),  Mechanisms of Working Memory Disruption by External Interference, Cerebral Cortex, April, 20:859-872
  2. Foerde, K. , Knowlton, B. J., Poldrack, R.A.(2006), Modulation of competing memory systems by distraction. PNAS, August 1, 2006, vol. 103, 31, p 11778-11783.
  3. Ritter, S.M., DIjksterhuis, A., (2014), Creativity – the unconscious foundations of the incubation period, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, April, Vol 8:215, p.1-10.


Picture: Photo credit: o.tacke / Foter / CC BY

Let’s implement agile, tick in the box, done!


…This is to all of you corporate agile coaches out there. Hang in there…!

Some days ago I chatted with one of the smartest persons I know, let’s call the person Leslie. A brilliant engineer with several years of experience in coding and developing software for the medical instrument industry. This is serious, life-saving code, and she is enthusiastic about the bigger meaning of her work. She enjoys the respect of her fellow colleagues, because she really knows her science and her code.

Leslie has always been great with people, and quite recently she started working as a Lead Scrum Master, helping other Scrum Masters do their jobs, teams to collaborate and communicate across boundaries, countries, time zones and professions. She told me stories about how she helps teams communicate and find solutions together. These narratives explain the value of having a coach, the value of caring for and facilitating the people-side of agile.  But the thing is: she can’t put a measure on what she does.

How do you incentivize the fact that because she asked three very important questions a month ago, the teams across two continents were successful in compiling the last pieces of code for the groundbreaking technology they are about to release? How do you objectivize or measure her job when her daily activity may include speaking with 5 people, helping 4 people understand each other, sitting in on 3 meetings as an observer, and preparing how to facilitate a team to think creatively on novel ideas around their delivery.

What did she accomplish during that day? NOTHING, on paper.

But maybe the twenty daily small interventions on the people side could save a year of development time. She does not know. And she never will. She is lucky she has a boss who gets this. Who experiences the impact of her work.

“Let’s make your work more tangible and measurable”

Unfortunately, others higher up in the hierarchy do not. They are asking her what she is working on “exactly”. They want to add some project roles to her, to make the role includes enough work, and make it “more tangible and measurable”. As if trying to help tens of highly qualified, highly skilled and experienced individuals (across different time zones) create something novel and ground breaking was not complex and difficult enough.

This is only underlining further what I’m hearing all along from the agile field. The lower you go in hierarchy, and the longer the person has experienced working hands-on in an agile team, the better the person gets what agile is (or could be) for that company. (…ok, yes. That was a no-brainer…)

For most people up the ladder “agile” is just another tick in the box. “A new method”, which everyone uses. Let’s implement this. Ok, done. Now, let’s sell, estimate, manage, measure, evaluate and report as we’ve always done. Why change something that works, right?

These people have currently absolutely no idea why competitors who get agile/lean are able to pick and choose the most profitable customer cases from the market. (Maybe the competitors have “implemented” agile better?)

These people will have no idea what hit them, when sometime in the future a CEO will come in who really gets agile/lean. A British CEO of a successful agile organization told me, “if I would take on a role in an “old-school” corporation, the first thing I’d need to do is to get rid of the middle manager layer/s almost altogether, because it mostly useless in an agile system”.

These people have no idea, that the agile paradigm turns most corporate assumptions upside-down, and even if they did, would they have the balls/ovaries and support to start changing the whole system? They are heading heads on towards the biggest surprise of their careers. Uselessness. In ten years, maybe less?

Meanwhile, Leslie is working her cognitive capacity off, trying to help adult, socially restricted “I already know it all-IQ-superstars” (**) develop into talented communicators, listeners and collaborators. She will develop hard core experience in influencing people, she will have gone through the ups and downs of agile, hit her head multiple times against corporate impediments and thus will know how to build systemic changes to support agile and lean kind of work.

Who would you recruit up the ladder in ten years?  A Leslie or the tick-in-the-box manager?


Agile coaches. Prepare yourself for intensive attraction attempts to leadership positions within ten years.

Thanks for reading.


(** Please, you smart, fantastic coder/developer/engineering professionals out there, please don’t feel offended. I like you, and like to work with you. But to be kindly honest, you are a certain breed of genius, and not always the most socially talented or -considerate communicator, especially when communicating outside your in-group.)


Picture: Photo credit: h.koppdelaney / Foter / CC BY-ND

A skeptic little bitch, Tony Fernandes and Nordic Business Forum 2014

I have on Friday 10. October 2014 experienced the “professional-me” falling in love. I did not know that existed. Watching Tony Fernandes, the CEO of AirAsia on stage was just pure professional love. I saw the corporate ivory tower crumble to pieces and die. I saw a CEO that I’d want to follow. This is a strong statement from little me, I am very critical of “my gurus”, let alone people I’d follow.

It was not what he said. It was what he is.

Dealing with a very strong internal emotional journey after his speech, and needing to recalibrate some stuff internally was a bit tough, though.

I started to believe moving towards modern organizations will happen sooner than I believed before. This 50-year-old man with a t-shirt and a baseball cap is like he is, does what he does, and tells about how he thinks, without a hint of status awareness, and without showing any explicit or hidden signs of power (body language). The curious professional in me, who has been thinking about organic and healthy ways of leadership and organization since she entered work life was somehow released from a baggage.

The baggage I carried was the skeptic little bitch (SLB) sitting on my shoulder, assisting me in not getting disappointed at work life. Some examples where this SLB has helped me:

  • Status-related situations (SLB decides: Right, it says VP on your card but I haven’t met anyone as ignorant as you. Carry on arsehole, I won’t help you succeed with anything).
  • Control-related situations (SLB thinks: Are you kidding me, you are telling me how to do coaching after I just got certified with great grades? And you want me to go against ethical rules of coaching, which you of course are not aware of, since you are not a certified coach, for heaven’s sake! Well, I’ll pretend I’ll listen and then just do as I know is ethically correct anyways. You act like an incompetent sucker, and I disrespect you for this).
  • Sexist people (SLB laughs: So, you (a male VP) thought it is appropriate to look surprised after I return from maternity leave and the first thing you say to me is “Look at you, I’m surprised you have gotten yourself back in great shape” (and then look at my behind). This is a great story I will tell everyone, you pathetic old man. And forget about me helping you professionally. )
  • Narcissistic people (SLB is amused: Oh wow, I know you are lying about this, and you don’t know I have gotten information directly from the CEO already. Let’s see how you play this one out, I’ll try to spot any bodily signs of lying while you are at it, just for my own amusement…I’ll just play along, you sorry piece of a disturbed person, and let you think I bought that lie, and that lie, and that lie…)

This skeptic little bitch -part in me has helped me a lot in some traditional settings. She is a witty friend, a humorous storyteller, and a skillful shield. When Tony Fernandes was speaking, I realized, I won’t be needing the skeptic little bitch that much anymore. She has been with me since I was ten, because that is when I needed her the first time.

I am self-employed right now, which is great. I already work with people, customers, projects and companies where I don’t need the help of the SLB very much. What I realized from Mr. Fernandes speech was that when I go back into the corporate world, I can choose. I can choose a company, where the skeptic little bitch is not needed. Those companies exist, grow, and are created by like minded people right now. The way we work, lead and do people-related things in organizations will change and disrupt faster than any of us think. More of us can soon start working without these protective shields (like my skeptic little bitch), and just give our best to leaders we want to follow. So, maybe there is a way back for me, into building healthy, modern organizations also within a company…who knows?

Relief. A tear or two. Oh.. right…I’m at a business forum… “Get yourself together, wuzz” says the SLB and I continue networking. On the other hand, maybe it is good having the SLB on stand-by call, but not on duty.

Thank you Tony Fernandes and NBF 2014. Mr. Fernandes, I’ll work for you anytime.