Swedish Leadership On Export – daring to be value driven!

Sharing our take 

Back in 2015 when we launched our Lead On Leave initiative, the Global Parental Leave Program, we knew we were on to something. Since then, the interest in the Spotify People perspective has increased to such a degree that we have had to split the world between three of us to be able to share our take everywhere. 

My third of the world includes the US, and a while ago I spoke at a CHRO event here, about what we have become to label as ‘Swedish Leadership On Export’. Once again, it became quite clear that what we at Spotify label as typical bread-and-butter HR and hygiene factors, is still being seen as progressive culture and people strategy in most parts of the world and from our HR peers. Showcasing how a non-hierarchical, transparent, and value-driven leadership model can drive growth, both for the business and for the members of our band, we get somewhat overwhelming positive feedback on focusing on the human in human resources and on reinventing people policies and processes, grounded in our overarching purpose. 

After the session, a couple of attendees came up to me and said that while they were inspired by the presentation their main question was how Spotify truly holds people accountable and how we drive autonomy with this leadership model? Almost exactly the same questions that my colleague Michael Kim who covers another third of the world (India, Japan, SEA, Aus/NZ) gets. So, we thought we should take the opportunity to share a bit more about our thinking in this blog post. 

As we have said before; Spotify’s journey is not a sprint, it’s a Marathon, and we want our people to be with us for the long run. In order to achieve that, we need to take good care of our talent and here’s how we do that.

Benefits with Swedish roots

Through Spotify’s hypergrowth, we have stayed true to our Swedish roots as a company by introducing a set of benefits that focus on family life balance. We offer all parents, regardless of what country they work in, 6 months fully paid parental leave plus 1 “ease-back-in month”. The only requirement to be eligible is that your child is born (or adopted) while you are employed at Spotify. 

When we speak externally about this benefit the question or comment we many times get is ‘How can you as a company afford this?’ or ‘Maybe it’s easy for a tech company to have this benefit, but it’s different for us.’ Well, we agree to disagree. It really isn’t expensive. And even if it were, the ROI beats the cost seven days a week! The headcount is already budgeted for and instead of always hiring a temporary backfill we many times offer an existing employee the opportunity to cover for a colleague that goes on leave which in turn provides a great development opportunity for that person. It’s a win-win situation! Also, showcasing that we really mean it when we say that we ‘take care of our people’ by having benefits like this is the most efficient retention tool there is.

Two years after the parental leave program, we introduced our Flexible Public Holidays, a benefit born out of our dedication to being the most inclusive we can be in order to allow for diversity and all the greatness that comes with it. With 100+ nationalities represented and our people spread all over the world, not everyone’s heritage and beliefs match the public holiday schedule of the country they currently work in. By offering our Flexible Holiday Program everyone can celebrate what’s close to their hearts on equal terms. Read more about that in an earlier blog post, here.

Walking our talk!

You have heard this many times before; employees don’t leave companies because of compensation or lack of career opportunities, they leave because of poor managers and leaders. Your values don’t mean a thing unless you actually live by them, and it starts at the top. 

Swedish leadership is transparent, open and inclusive. At Spotify, we don’t care for hierarchies and you don’t have to be at the top of some pyramid to get access to all information. We don’t make a difference based on who you are or what role you have – all information/dashboards/townhalls/unpluggeds is open for all our people. We believe that the largest motivation factor for our employees is to know where we are headed as a company, so we can all dare to be purpose- and value-driven. 

Autonomy + Accountability = Result!  

At Spotify we are completely transparent with our employees about our short and long term business strategy and how we are tracking against it. We are open and honest about failures and how we learn from them. We regularly share information and updates in Town halls & All Hands meetings, by producing podcasts featuring our leaders and employees and via an inclusive intranet where everyone can easily access information and join the groups they are interested in following. This is also our way of driving accountability for our people; we’re transparent with our employees about our vision and ask for their help to figure out how to get us there. We don’t micromanage and we don’t tell our employees how to do what they do best! 

Performance Development the Spotify Way 

We apply a growth mindset in everything that we do. And we believe that we have highly motivated people so who are we to tell them how to grow? 

And to answer the question of how we hold our employees accountable; we work with 1:1s and an ongoing dialogue about performance, rather than over-engineered and heavy systems that are time-consuming and frustrating. We apply self-leadership and our 360 feedback tool, Leapsome, is owned by our employees and not the manager. 

Would this work for your organization? Most likely. But this is not a case of one size fits all so you have to find out what works for your organization, your talent, in your culture, and what’s jiving with your values. 

Channeling Your Inner Swede?

This might be all good and well but nothing for you since you’re not a Swedish company…? Well, if you think along the lines of what all research is confirming; that autonomy, competence development, belonging and benevolence are the main drivers regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity and/or sexual orientations you don’t even have to channel your inner Swede. It just happens to be what Swedish leadership has been focusing on the last 100 years – before kaizen, blue box, tqm, toc, lean, agile, etc 

We actually don’t see ourselves as a Swedish company, we see ourselves as a global company. Our culture is more of a Spotify Culture where every new band member is a culture add on rather than a culture fit. We just stopped (to the extent we ever did) anxiously listening to what others are doing within this space and started doing what made the most sense to us and our people. Back to the core, back to our routes, back to the future.