In a conference room at Haga Slott outside of Enköping, Sweden, George Miltenyi stands in the middle of the room as he gets ready to summarize this morning’s lectures on change management. Seated in front of him are forty-odd Epiroc employees from countries like Australia, Brazil, the Congo, the USA and Finland.
When George Miltenyi speaks, he focuses with great enthusiasm on cheese.
“OK, so, where’s the cheese? Oh, it’s over there!” he says, pointing towards a corner of the room. “Then you have to get there. You have to follow the cheese!”
George Miltenyi comes from the company EMD Workforce Development. In this beautiful setting, about an hour’s drive northwest of Stockholm, he and a number of other lecturers held a week-long leadership program for specially selected participants from Epiroc in early May. The focus was innovation.
The participants, eager leadership program applicants, were divided into six project teams, where they worked on an assignment that reflects challenges Epiroc is currently facing. The project teams then continued working on their assignment in the months that followed this innovation week. In September, the teams spent another week together presenting their results.
The walls of the conference room are full of paintings and posters that give hints about the topics of the lectures. “Love your enemy” is found on one. “Give up your dream scenario” on another. Scattered among the posters, you can also find quotes related to cheese. “The cheese analogy comes from a 1998 business motivation book by Dr Spencer Johnson called Who Moved My Cheese?,” explains George Miltenyi when we sit down together
during the lunch break. The book compares us to mice, saying that we acclimate to change and find ways to find the cheese even when it is not in the same place from one day to the next.
“Change happens everywhere, so it is important to anticipate change, monitor change and be able to adapt to change quickly so that you can start to enjoy it when change happens. If you do this, you will have a competitive advantage,” says George Miltenyi.
Epiroc held this Aspire program twice before, and Nadim Penser, Vice President Human Resources, underscores just how important leadership training is for the company.
“Epiroc is a high-tech company where innovation plays a key role. I would say the Aspire program reflects the company’s view of innovation. It’s like Epiroc in miniature form.”
“Innovation is based on collaboration, i.e. teamwork. It is very rare for someone to sit alone in a room and invent something fantastic. So, how do we get this innovative spirit to permeate our entire organization? Well, it starts as early as the recruitment process, where we conduct behavior interviews. We look at how people collaborated with others previously. We look for independent individuals who have made an impression at their previous jobs. At Epiroc, we offer freedom with responsibility and want our employees to show courage, challenge current ways of thinking, and suggest improvements. At the same time, we need a collaborative spirit. We form teams that are a mixture of people with different backgrounds, personalities, nationalities – and ensure we have a good gender distribution – and challenge them to come up with creative suggestions in projects with clearly defined goals. It is a way of strengthening our culture, which is based on innovation coupled with diversity and collaboration.”
Nadim Penser pauses, and then connects the dots until they reach Aspire.
“In other words, it is the same thing as we do here via Aspire. We want our leadership program applicants to come from different parts of the world and from as many different parts of our organization as possible. It is then that you, just like in daily life here at Epiroc, not only manage but also challenge and come up with new business-friendly approaches and solutions.”
Epiroc sees itself as a 145+ year-old startup, in other words a modern company with a rich history in Atlas Copco. Despite its size, it must be possible for decisions to be made quickly.
“We must never rest on our laurels,” says Helena Hedblom, Senior Executive Vice President Mining and Infrastructure, when we meet at the Epiroc headquarters in Sickla on the outskirts of Stockholm.
“Innovation is one of our core values and is part of our DNA. It is our innovative capacity and the role that innovation has always played in our culture that makes us who we are today. We are creative and entrepreneurial and always want to get even better in everything we do. Our entire business centers around understanding customer needs and developing products and solutions that respond to them. To achieve this goal, we must be innovative,” says Helena Hedblom.
As a complement to Epiroc’s inherent innovative capacity, Hedblom points to the company’s acquisitions, i.e. how they buy parts of smaller companies.
“I believe that a combination of partnership, co-ownership and self-development is the fastest and most effective way to create innovation. The advantage of owning a part of smaller companies is that speed is maintained while we gain access to the technical solution that these companies have developed.”
Out at Haga slott, afternoon is giving way to evening. This means that it is once again time for participants to sit outside of the lecture room and reflect on the day.
Heinrich Duvenage, General Manager South Africa, feels like he has gotten to know himself better.
“To be innovative, you need innovative people. But, to be effectively innovative, you also
need people who can analyze and people who can execute the ideas in a good way,” he says. “I found out that I have a lot of things I need to work on. Like the way I communicate with people. I am very results-driven and I want the job to be done, but sometimes I think that people might not fully understand what I ask them to do.”
Mouritz Harvard, Business Line Manager Market Sales Indonesia, has similar thoughts on the subject. “I can be a little bit pushy and sometimes say that I want something done in one week. The employees getting this order sometimes ask ‘Why one week? I need two weeks.’ After being here, I’ve learned that instead of being pushy I can ask, ‘If we give you more resources, could you get it done in one week?’. ”
Christel Füllenbach, Business Line Manager Service Germany, says it’s “great to meet and get to know leaders from other cultures and parts of the world, and to learn from each other and reflect on why you do something in a certain way because everything can always be improved.”
“Innovation is part of our normal workday, but if you think about what it means and how we can really be innovative, then it’s quite complex,” she says. “For me, the Aspire training is an innovation in itself. It gives people the freedom to think about topics that are not necessarily related todaily work, and also to build a relationship with other passionate people in an open atmosphere. Another great thing is that I can spread this feeling and culture to my local organization. It’s quite remarkable how innovative people can be in the right environment.”
Epiroc operated under the trademark “Atlas Copco” prior to January 1, 2018.