Thomas Jensen, the CEO of Milestone Systems, believes in the importance of corporate culture—so much so that when he was planning his next career move, the first thing he looked at was potential employers' culture and values, especially openness and people-centricity. He joined Milestone in October this year, citing its strong focus on people. People Matters asked him for his thoughts on how organizational culture might have shifted towards these qualities over the course of 2020; here's what he shared.
What are the unique features indicating openness that you look for in a company's culture?
Corporate culture and values matter very much to me. When I was looking at Milestone Systems as a career move, one of the things that stood out for me was that the company had People First as a strategic initiative. From the early stages in my discussion with Milestone Systems, it was clear that they had a unique company culture with a strong focus on core values, such as openness and flexibility. After only a few months as CEO, I’ve seen this come to life. Milestone is its people, and empowerment and motivation are at the core of how our teams work.
A manager once told me, “Know, that to succeed as a leader, you need to put the needs of your team members above your own needs. Your success will be the sum of their success.”
I have tried to live by this through my career and I hope that Milestone Systems sees this in me as I lead the company.
Over the course of 2020, what do you think have been the biggest or most impactful changes in organizational culture?
Looking at our industry, I see companies putting more focus on empowering people to cope with the pandemic. Like us, they are finding new, more flexible ways of working to adapt to this new normal.
When it comes to innovation, the pandemic has forced all of us into new ways of thinking, sparring and innovating. For example, we had to quickly find new ways of training our partners online.
We’ve all had to learn how to “turn on a dime” to adapt quickly to new ways of working and operating a business. It amazes me to see how businesses all over the world have embraced the disruption. Many companies have realized the benefits of working remotely, they’ve minimized travel and adopted new digital work tools. Having said that, I think it’s important not to abandon meeting face-to-face, especially when it comes to preserving and nurturing your company culture.
Where do you think organizational culture is headed, as we move into 2021 with its prognosis of continued disruption and economic difficulty? What strategies should leaders pursue to keep their culture evolving in the right direction?
I think we will see a continued need to adapt to changes, and most likely many of the changes we’ve already seen will become the norm. So will the new ways we work and organize ourselves. However, it’s important not to let this change the core of the company culture.
Let me give you an example from our own practices. Each year, we conduct a global employee survey about how employees perceive the company as a place to work. We’ve seen things like Satisfaction & Motivation as well as Loyalty increase during 2020. To me, this shows that despite the uncertainty and unpredictability brought by COVID-19, the challenging circumstances have made us an even stronger company. And that’s only possible because of our strong company culture.
As leaders attempt to build and maintain a people-first culture, what are the main challenges they should look out for? Could you share some tips on how you have tackled such challenges in the past?
First, make sure that everyone in your organization understands and buys in on the company purpose. If you don’t have a clear direction, you’ll end up with a fragmented organization.
Second, walk the talk when it comes to what you promise your team members. One of the things we prioritize is our People First approach that encompasses our company culture and people development, among other things. Now, in good times it’s easy to claim People First as a priority, in tough times, like 2020, you need to show that you are walking the talk. To us, it means having the best people in the right place on our team and that we trust each other to do the best work possible. This is what enables our team to navigate the challenges now and ahead.