International Leadership Interview – Lars Näslund, 3M

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International Leadership Interview – Lars Näslund, 3M


Category: AmCham News

“One important piece of information I would give to others, is trust the people you delegate work to. You can’t do everything yourself, so you have to trust the people you work with,“ Lars Näslund, Managing Director, Nordic Region, 3M. 

Lars Näslund is the Managing Director in the Nordic Region for 3M. The Swede has vast international leadership experience from all over the world. What are the differences of managing a team in Greece and Portugal, compared to Scandinavia? 

AmCham traveled out to 3M’s offices outside of Oslo to speak with Näslund in the office lobby. As in order to be more approachable, he does not want a private office when he visits Norway.









Where did you start? How did you get to the position you hold today?

My career path with 3M started in Sweden as Finance Manager and after 3 years I had the opportunity to move on to a role as Finance Manager for a region of 12 countries in Western Europe. Some of the countries I managed were Greece, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria, among others.

Subsequently, I was offered the chance to return to Sweden to be a country business leader, and in 2009, 3M restructured to combine Sweden and Finland. At the time, Norway and Denmark were separated into a different region, so I was given the responsibility to manage Sweden and Finland.

However, in 2010, after one year into my new role, I took on greater responsibility and managed the entire the Nordic region.

In my new position, I worked partly as country manager in Sweden, but mostly as Nordic finance manager. Soon enough, in 2014, I was promoted to regional managing director of the Nordic region, where I currently stand today.

What are some of the important decisions you make as a leader of your organization and how do they affect its global presence? Would you mind sharing any recent examples?

My responsibility as managing director is sales and marketing for the Nordic market, and production is [actually] not my responsibility. Therefore, I practically sell for and from every country in the world that is not influenced by US embargoes (which is approximately 200 countries).

There is also a large difference between 3M’s business lines—health and electronics are very different markets that need dealing with differently.

My goal is so make 3M’s global portfolio more present in the Nordic market. But nonetheless, our products are quite successful. About 80 percent of our health and personal safety products, for example, export to Nordic countries.

How do you build team morale and maintain the creativity of a diverse team within an international organization?

We want to use our creative resources the best way possible. We follow William L. McKnight’s principles (McKnight was chairman of the Board at 3M from 1949-1966), where employees are encouraged to take initiative and are allowed to make mistakes in the process. Building team morale and empowering others is another important aspect of leading at 3M.

In addition to spreading 3M’s culture and corporate principles, the sheer size of our company provides endless opportunities for career development and growth. One’s career path is limited when working at a company of say, 25 people.

On the other hand, working for a company (like 3M’s Nordic branch) that employs over 1100 people offers better career development and growth opportunities.

One challenge [with my job] is managing Nordic regions remotely. Many Nordic workers have managers outside of the Nordic countries. Our managers travel a lot, including myself, but we are able to build virtual teams, and gather during holiday festivities, such as Christmas dinners. This frequency of meetings allows us to connect bilaterally, across countries.

Would you use the same leadership style in a different organization? In a different country? How important is it to tailor your leadership style to your team and environment?

I often have to change my style and adapt new ways of leadership. Cross-cultural communication and international business structures are some factors that I always try to adjust to accordingly.

Companies in Greece, for example, have a very different structural hierarchy than many Nordic countries. Norway and Sweden has a more flat business structure, and doing business between the two nations is relatively straightforward.

Communication and structural differences between countries can be both good and bad—policy changes can be a bit slow to enact in Norway and Sweden, but this also grants us more time to hear our employee’s opinions on new company development and make appropriate changes.

Finland, on the other hand, is more hierarchical, while Denmark is somewhere in the middle. Often times I have to make important decisions for the company, but first have to consider these cross-cultural differences and structures between European countries.

To elaborate on this point, if you want to do business in Sweden, you have to give long explanations to justify your reasoning. In Denmark, you would have to throw out a suggestion and then explain it later.

In Greece, I learned a lot about leading others. Greece was easier than say Portugal and Spain. You have to be more patient, take a longer time to explain things, and be more encouraging. Support from my managers also taught me important leadership strategies and teach a strong corporate values to our coworkers.

In every 3M office around the world, there are recognizable factors, while cultures and leadership styles can be different at the same time. And even though I adapt new leadership methods between countries, I do not change my basic values and ethics.

Where do new ideas and exciting proposals come from in your organization? Has your international experience helped you ‘think outside the box’?

Being abroad has given me a lot of new insight, as there are more cultures from which we learn. When working in one country, it’s easy to think that we’re very skilled here, but going abroad makes one realize that they can learn from each other.

Moreover, even Nordic countries provide an excellent learning experience.

At 3M, we have many different ways of working, making improvements, transforming businesses, changing processes, organizing new structures, and developing new business platforms. There are always new ways of thinking, and new IT platforms.

All of these internal and external developments have significantly changed 3M and its Nordic development in the past 50 years.

How do you ensure that your team and your company’s services are aligned to your company’s core vision?

Five years ago, there were many visions for our team. However, our current vision is simply to learn and understand: “3M wishes to advance every company, advancing every home and improving every life.”

I always try to gauge how my current responsibilities are hooked to this vision—how will what I am doing today improve someone’s life, work place or home?

We have a vision, ethics, and a code of conduct, which is very important to create value at the very foundation of this company.

Our Code of conduct is pretty new for many Nordic countries. We’ve had it for 60 plus years, and it is practically in line with our vision statement.

What do you believe are some shared traits among leaders at 3M? Are there any common mistakes? What is unique about being a leader in Norway compared to leading an organization in another country?

The difference between countries is what is expected from the manager. In some countries, it is expected that the manager knows everything, and you go to ask the manager if there is something you need help with. In most Scandinavian countries, you don’t expect the manager to know, but rather, he refers you to someone who does know.

It’s a nice aspect of working in the Nordic region knowing that most managers try not to know everything, and it is ok that to have colleagues that are more knowledgeable in certain areas than you are.

A common mistake in leadership is to change too much, too fast. One can easily become frustrated if changes aren’t made instantaneously.

One thing I’ve learned in business is that trust is vital. When trust is built, you can achieve a lot more. It is hard to build trust when someone comes in, assumes a hierarchical structure and points and shouts at others. In some countries, this can work, but in Nordic countries, it does not.

How does technology affect your day-to-day career and help to develop your leadership style?

Without technology, I couldn’t do my job. Nordic leaders only meet four times a year, and the rest is done via video and email.

How do you continue growing and developing as a leader?

I try to be a conclusive leader and communicate well with others. I make mistakes and learn from them. I have received some coaching from my manager, and I talk to peers and friends in other large companies who offer some outside advice.

Peer to peer coaching is invaluable, along with making mistakes. 3M has invested in leadership conferences and teaching to embody this principle.

One important piece of information I would give to others is trust the people you delegate work to. You can’t do everything yourself, so you have to trust the people you work with.

How does your leadership style translate into your company’s services/core competencies enjoyed by your clients?

I hope that I am open and not measured by prestige and that I can be trusted and share clients’ values. I want my colleagues and clients to view me as a team player and not a manager. I love to be committed to our customers, but I hope that they see me as not scared of getting my hands dirty.

One example is that when I come to Norway, I don’t have an office, I just work anywhere. In the canteen, or meeting room. I say hi to everyone and try to be as approachable as possible.

What are some of your recent projects and developments that you are excited to share?

Our largest project is 3M’s current business transformation. We are implementing new processes, a new organizational structure, and a new internal system. It has been a tough journey to make these developments, but it is also very exciting. Many people have worked very hard. Best of all is seeing how people around me improve and get better.

Where do you see yourself and 3M in the next five years?

In five years, I might be in a different role, perhaps in a more domestic position. Maybe I’ll get back to general manager again? I don’t think I’ll be in this position for the next five years, although I’d be happy to. I think it’s healthy to change roles a bit. In the next few years, 3M will have a large scale of new products.

We’re adding lovely new facilities in Lillestrøm, Norway, which is a major boost for the company. This addition will make our Nordic region more innovative and collaborative.

What do you see in the next generation of leaders aspiring to run an international organization? And what is your advice to them?

If you’re in a large organization, there’s a structure, which can seem a bit tricky at first, but it’s necessary for large companies. Use that structure. People around you know a lot. For students, my advice is to study a language.

Language is vital for cross-cultural communication and understanding. I have utilized an incredible amount of my language skills. Learning a language helps one understand not only how to communicate across cultures, but also to better understand another country’s culture.

Ultimately, that is vital for developing long-term friendships between coworkers and clients alike.

What is the latest time you responded to an email last night?

Yesterday, it wasn’t too late. I’d like to think around 22:00. I try to adapt and time my emails. I can write one in the evening, but time it so that’ it’s sent at eight in the morning—this helps colleagues not feel obligated to respond to my emails late in the evening.

At 3M, we don’t encourage people to stay up and work all night. I have previously been very bad at this. Sometimes, I have been emailing until midnight and resumed emails at 5 in the morning. Luckily, I’ve stopped this habit. It’s not healthy.

Source: AmCham