Trust employees to carry out their tasks in a way that suits them best. Allowing for flexible working hours has been important to create a happy workforce for us. Every single employee at Mentimeter has been hired because we believe in their ability and talent, but not all of them will have the same preference or needs when it comes to the circumstances of how they carry out their tasks. For some, work-life balance depends on being able to do two hours of exercise everyday, while for others, it means being able to leave early to pick up their kids or working from their home on a Friday to extend the weekend.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Johnny Warström. Johnny is the CEO and co-founder of a Sweden-based company called Mentimeter, which is an interactive presentation platform allowing real-time interaction between presenters and their audiences. Since the inception of the company five years ago, Johnny has been dedicated to his mission of making meetings around the world more enjoyable, engaging and productive.
Thank you for joining us Johnny. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Prior to founding Mentimeter I was working for a large corporation where I quickly became aware of a growing issue faced by most office environments — pointless meetings.
I was stunned by how inefficient some of my meetings were, and how there weren’t any tools available designed to make them more engaging. I wanted to rectify this problem and prompt some kind of change, so I created my own company and product to solve it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Back in 2016, my team and I spent five months working in Silicon Valley. While out there, we developed one of the most popular features of the Mentimeter platform (interactive ‘quizzes’) and it made me realize the value of spending time away from our hometown, Stockholm, as it did so much for our team creativity and spirit.
Since then, we’ve made it a company policy to relocate our entire office to a different country for one month each year, during which the whole team works in, and explores, a brand new city. Since this initiative started, it has helped improve our team spirit, foster a more productive workplace and create a successful and fast-growing company.
Getting our employees to work together, live together, and experience new and exciting places and cultures together, has done incredible things for our own company culture, and allowed us to develop a level of trust that I believe would not have been obtainable through traditional corporate exercises.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are constantly looking for innovative ways of making meetings and presentations more engaging, productive and fun. Currently, we are developing a new, enhanced version of the interactive quizzes we created back in 2016. This is a really exciting project to work on because we strongly believe it has the potential to revolutionize the business meeting landscape.
Adding an element of competition to presentations makes the learning process much more effective by energizing and engaging the audience. With Mentimeter we want to eradicate the notion of pointless meetings, and give everyone the opportunity to feel involved and engaged during presentations.
According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
I think many companies, not only in the US, but worldwide, are still very traditional when it comes to organizational culture, and have quite a rigid and hierarchical structure in that respect. Having too many structural layers slows down and reduces communication efficacy, and excludes people from the decision-making and thinking processes. This can make employees feel like they are not involved or included in the purpose of the organization anymore.
With the advent of social media bringing about a new digital era of open and two-way communication, people nowadays are more used to being heard and able to express their own opinion. This, in particular for younger workers, could be an explanation as to why employees may be less tolerant of such rigid organizational structures where dialogue is restricted.
It’s important that business leaders take this into account when building an organization. By creating a corporate culture that facilitates collaboration, leaders will be able to create a happier workforce.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
Based on my own experience of working actively towards creating a positive work culture, I have noticed a direct impact on the productivity and wellbeing of our workforce but also on the performance of our company. I think that the primary ingredient required to create a happy workforce is to build trust in the organization. I’m a strong believer of the idea that employees in high-trust environments collaborate and perform better, understand the common mission and values of the company better, and are subsequently much happier.
We have a feature on the Mentimeter platform called the “team efficiency” tool, which allows you to measure the efficiency and overall performance of your company through anonymous feedback from your employees. This is a tool that we regularly use within our own team and by being able to address inefficiencies early on, we can ensure that our processes are constantly evolving and improving the way that we work on a day-to-day basis.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
a) Encourage employees to give feedback
The process of giving feedback should work along a two-way stream. As a manager, you shouldn’t be the only one to give feedback, you should also encourage your employees to share their thoughts on what they feel about the priorities and direction of the business. By doing so, you will encourage openness and transparency.
b) Regular check-ins to measure company performance
It is key to perform regular check-ins on how the company is doing in terms of reaching its long-term goals and objectives, and how employees feel that the company is living up to its core values. This can be done through face-to-face meetings with employees, but also through digital tools, such as our own, which anonymously allows you to measure these kinds of questions. The key is to make everyone at the company, at whatever level, understand the overarching missions and values of the company.
c) Create an office environment that facilitates cross-team collaboration
One policy we have implemented in favour of creating a more collaborative work culture is to remove assigned desks in the Mentimeter office, meaning that employees are free to move around and sit where they want. This has created a culture of cross-team collaboration leading to more creativity and productivity.
d) Foster a diverse and inclusive workforce.
At Mentimeter, we place the utmost importance on the diversity and inclusivity of our workforce, which we believe has been pivotal to the productivity and success of our business. This is why we currently have a 50/50 board with a chairwoman, and the office is made up of 18 different nationalities.
Building a strong, transparent and diverse culture is a key factor to facilitating growth and attracting new talent. To attract a representative workforce, companies need to review what they are offering employees in terms of benefits as well as the type of work culture they have.
Companies also need to realize that a diverse workforce is a key driver of growth. Gender identity has nothing to do with competence. Removing demands to define gender from the recruitment process and normative gender structures at the workplace is the first step.
e) Trusting employees to carry out their tasks in a way that suits them best
Allowing for flexible working hours has been important to create a happy workforce for us. Every single employee at Mentimeter has been hired because we believe in their ability and talent, but not all of them will have the same preference or needs when it comes to the circumstances of how they carry out their tasks. For some, work-life balance depends on being able to do two hours of exercise everyday, while for others, it means being able to leave early to pick up their kids or working from their home on a Friday to extend the weekend.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
According to Gallup’s 2016 State of the American Workplace report, the reason why the US workforce is so unhappy is because of low levels of employee engagement. Specifically, almost seventy percent of US employees are not showing up to work fully committed and are not working to their full potential. Although this is partly due to inadequate management, it also appears to be a broader societal issue. I think that as a society, we can become better at motivating other people, being more collaborative and being less focused on ourselves.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I very much take a ‘laissez-faire’ approach to leadership and management. For example, whenever we work on a new project, I like to remind employees of the overarching purpose and goal of the company, and then leave it to them to come up with a plan and execute it.
For me, it’s really important to not be too controlling as a leader, because I’m a strong believer that with freedom comes ownership and from ownership comes results. By giving employees this freedom and empowerment, they become more self-reliant and self-motivated and therefore more productive.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
If there was one person that has helped me get to where I am now, that would be my mentor, Katarina Bonde. She has served on the boards of several tech companies and is also the CEO of venture capital firm, Kubi, and I learned a lot from her early on in my career. I’m hugely grateful for the invaluable coaching I received when I first started Mentimeter, and for her current work and support as Mentimeter’s Chairwoman of the Board.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Since our inception in 2014, we have experienced amazing growth, and to date over 30 million people from over 100 countries have benefited from the platform’s innovations. The Mentimeter platform is widely used in the corporate sector, by globally-renowned companies, and I’d like to think that thanks to Mentimeter, millions of professionals across the world can now have more fun and productive meetings.
Also, with the anonymity of the Mentimeter platform, I believe we have brought goodness to the world by providing the necessary tools to give more people a voice, and I hope that to some extent, we have facilitated a more open and collaborative society.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A quote that I very much relate to is “the best of times is now”. It’s a quote I like to think of and look back to whenever I feel I have made a mistake. For me, this quote reflects the idea that it is pointless to romanticize over your past, especially as a business leader. Being too preoccupied by things that happened in the past will hinder your attempts to foster a goal-driven workplace, and prevent you from engaging and motivating your team. Instead, focus your attention on what lies ahead, and you will be able to inspire through your ambition and thirst for success.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
One thing that really disheartens me is the extent of social inequality in the world, and how some parts of our planet are deprived of one of the most basic human right: education. There are many things that we take for granted, and free access to internet is one of them. I would love to inspire a movement that gave every person free, unfiltered access to internet, because I think the internet is a great learning tool and could help some of the poorest and remotest areas of the world educate themselves.
Another cause I feel strongly about is the fight against malaria. Impressive progress has been made over the past decade, largely due to preventative efforts such as more efficient diagnosis, but I would love to inspire a movement that would raise greater general awareness of the disease to support research efforts preventing and treating malaria.