Rapidly growing M-Files has passed the 500 employees milestone. CEO Miika Mäkitalo and VP, Human Resources, Johanna Salmi believe that the same rules apply in teams no matter the size of the company. A team can work and succeed together, even on different continents, if the things that count are in good shape.
The thinking in M-Files is that the teams’ activities are decisive to the success of the company, regardless of its size. There are, of course, more teams in a growth company than in a startup, but a lean organisation and easy approachability need not disappear.
“What your workmates are like, how management functions, whether the company has a clear mission and inspiring vision – these are all essential to work motivation and efficiency. That applies regardless of company size. The biggest difference between a startup and an internationalising growth company is that the company’s DNA must be copied and shared to a wider area,” Mäkitalo says.
“The management team is crucially important in a growth company too, because management leads by example. We’re all at the same level and only the roles are different, which is why management is felt to be present. The cordial atmosphere spreads from the management team throughout the company,” Salmi adds.
Mäkitalo and Salmi make building teams in an international growth company sound almost simple. This is how it works:
1. Careful recruitment and induction
Assembling successful teams from personnel is easy if at the very beginning the right people, who fit the corporate culture, are recruited. M-Files wants people who combine suitability for the company with the necessary skills as well as enthusiasm for building the future. Personnel selection has such far-reaching consequences that choices are made carefully and unhurriedly. Peer evaluation is an important part of the process.
“In many cases their future colleagues interview applicants, who simultaneously get to assess whether it’s the right job for them and whether they can commit to the people working here. We look for a good match through open and equal discussion,” Salmi explains.
When the match is found and the employment contract signed, a newcomer is given a thorough induction course. This ensures scalability of the corporate culture. Salmi is proud that M-Files receives a lot of positive feedback from staff, particularly about its recruitment and induction methods.
2. Modern means of communicating and sharing information
International teams cannot get by with pigeon post and snail mail. Skype has become such a normal tool in M-Files that Skype conferences are held also between people working in the same office block – even when an empty meeting room is available.
“I might ask someone by Skype whether they have time to chat on the phone. A lot of work is also done via WhatsApp groups,” Mäkitalo says.
“And let’s not forget our own products, which enable information to be open, shared and managed in real-time, anywhere and at any time. Email, PowerPoint presentations, offers and other documents are all accessible on our information management platform. That seems obvious, but it would be difficult to get by without it,” points out Salmi.
3. Systematically building a sense of community
Corporate culture and a sense of community are also built with regular face-to-face meetings. For example, team planning days are held, depending on the group involved, 1-4 times a year. Everyday communication is mainly electronic.
“Times are changing. People used to gather round the coffee-maker for a chat and to socialise, but now we see in real-time on social media what’s happening in other offices. That’s really cool. My own favourite is Yammer, which connects everyone in M-Files and in which the jokes fly thick and fast,” grins Mäkitalo.
At M-Files, rewards – of which there are many at many different levels – also build a sense of community and support cultural activities.
“In addition to recognising good performance by teams or individuals, anyone at all can apply for a ‘thank you’ gift for a colleague from the prize cabinets located in our offices. The range of prizes includes different countries’ design items, tickets to cultural events, seasonal products, delicacies, small items for different hobbies and other articles suggested by personnel. A ‘thank you’ from colleagues for good work, support given and activities in line with the principles guiding business operations is a good example of how the whole community participates in strengthening the corporate culture”, says Salmi.
“We’ve come up with numerous ways, big and small, to show we appreciate people, how they develop and their contribution to our work. Here at M-Files, our focus is on people,” she emphasises.
“Products are important, but in the final analysis whether our customers are satisfied or not depends on people. It’s our people who will change how the world manages information,” Mäkitalo adds.
4. Managing individually with a service approach
In M-Files, managing is a service task. The role of supervisors was defined through mutual discussions a year ago when the number of supervisors in the company worldwide exceeded 50. Employees know now what they can expect from their boss, and supervisors know in which direction they should develop.
“A serving approach also means that people are managed individually. An experienced expert might feel it is micromanagement if his or her boss asks how it’s going once a week. Meanwhile, someone else might want to talk about their tasks every other day. A supervisor must know his own subordinates well enough for each to receive the supervisor service he or she needs,” Mäkitalo says.
M-Files’ teams are very autonomous in their work, so a supervisor’s task is to give them space and make sure they have what they need to do their job well. For employees, this working style requires self-management and the ability to accept responsibility for their activities. And, of course, a customer must never be let down.
5. Maintaining the diversity of teams
The aim in assembling a team is that its members have the skills and knowhow needed to achieve the targets. Another goal is to have diversified teams. Although the principles guiding activities are shared, personalities cover a broad spectrum and everyone’s input is valuable.
“We have introverts and extroverts, boisterous and quiet types, all kinds of nationalities and, of course, all sorts of talents and skill profiles. It’s good for the organisation to have a heterogeneous bunch of people figuring out how to do something. It generates more ideas to choose from,” says Mäkitalo.
Personnel development at M-Files means people finding their own strengths and building on them.
“We think it’s important that people get to do what inspires them. Then they’re in the right place and they’ll succeed. Our big strength as an employer is that we have a lot of varied jobs, which people can rotate between if they like,” Salmi explains.
Job rotation is encouraged because it increases an employee’s understanding of other people’s jobs and enhances cooperation.
Photo: Janne Viinanen
Who he is: Chief Executive Officer of M-Files since 2011
Education: PhD (Industrial Management and Engineering), Tampere University of Technology.
Earlier work experience: Worked for 10 years in the civil service, most recently as Transport Director in the Finnish Transport Agency and before that in the Finnish Rail Administration.
Why M-Files in particular: To get the job done well – no half measures.
Who she is: VP, Human Resources at M-Files Corporation since 2013.
Education: MA (Education) from University of Tampere, General Executive MBA from Tampere University of Technology.
Earlier work experience: Various positions in personnel and HR resource management over the last 20 years in, for instance, Sampo Group, Silmäasema Plc, the Bank of Finland and Solteq Plc.
Why M-Files in particular: We have a strong sense of togetherness, we’re bold, passionate and we’ll change the world. I’m inspired by and proud of our M-Files people.
What it does: Produces intelligent information management systems. Protection and management of information based on metadata classification of data entities. Partners in over 50 countries, over 300 distributors and around 7,000 customers. M-Files software products have hundreds of thousands of users every day.
Where it is: Some 560 employees, of which 290 in Tampere, 55 in Espoo, 130 in the USA and 40 in the UK. Offices also in Germany, France, Canada and Australia.
Net sales: Almost EUR 60 million in 2018. Average 40% growth a year for the last 10 years.
Ownership: Founders, Partech Ventures, Draper Esprit and Tesi. The European Investment Bank (EIB) granted M-Files a loan of EUR 27 million in 2018.
Other information: Leading industry analyst Gartner, Forrester, and Deloitte named M-Files one of the world’s most innovative and fastest-growing technology companies.
Web page: m-files.com