Same same but different: healthcare business in different cultures

May 29, 2015 | No Comments

At a VIP dinner hosted by Diaverum in London yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to meet with almost 20 leading nephrologists and renal business partners from 10 different countries. An exciting experience, since such dinners provide the opportunity to learn about the local challenges and to discuss areas of improvement in the care of our patients. Each country has a different healthcare environment with different reimbursement levels and local regulations but the ultimate goal is (or at least should be) to provide the best possible quality of care for patients.

Being Swedish certainly helps in many ways – Swedes have for many decades been used to working in different markets and cultures. Sweden is a small country and was forced already in the early 20th century to look outward rather than inward and many of our successful companies today were therefore established many decades ago. In my experience the best strategy for a multinational business is a ´global but local´ approach. In most cases it is neither possible nor reasonable to try to roll out a global approach in all countries. When it comes to medical policies and procedures Diaverum is very strict in implementing the highest global standards in any market that we operate in. But, when it comes to company culture, it is essential to adapt to local cultures. And this is what ultimately makes a company successful.

For Europeans, the Middle East is a rather unknown part of the world. Visiting Dubai for a couple of days´ holiday does not mean that one has learnt the culture of the region. Even if cultures in the countries forming the Middle East are very different to the cultures in Sweden or in other European countries there is one thing that truly unites us. We all strive for putting the patient in the centre.

I have had the opportunity to visit a few of Diaverum’s kidney centres in Saudi Arabia and the passion and patient-centred approach displayed by our staff is very encouraging. There is also a genuine politeness and respect towards our patients. I would go as far as to say that countries in many other parts of the world can learn from the patient-centred culture in Saudi Arabia.

The secret of success: Listen to your patients

Apr 17, 2015 | No Comments

As CEO, my task is to lead the company into the future. No matter how long one has been in business, one can never rest on ones laurels for too long. Securing the future is the main responsibility of any CEO. Quite often I think about what success really means and how it can be used to influence. There are many books about this topic but you can only really understand it when looking at reality. Here is a current case that serves as a good example to me.

A few weeks ago I joined the official inauguration of our four new renal centres in Birmingham, UK and it was one of the days that made me feel very proud. Our UK team had transferred 450 patients to four newly built dialysis centres in the course of only one day — a mammoth task that ended very successfully thanks to great support from colleagues from different parts of the world who travelled to Birmingham to be part of this team effort.

Talking to our patients and our staff in the new clinics it was clear that the secret behind this success story was the fact that we listened to the needs of our patients. The team only had a few months to prepare the move, but during that time they were in a constant dialogue with their future patients and also future members of staff. They asked the patients questions such as “What is important for you to feel secure in the clinic?”, “What makes it a revitalising experience?”, “ How do you want to work in the new environment?” The UK team then frequently showed what the patients asked for (“you said”) and how Diaverum turned these ideas around (“we did”). And this approach — you said, we did — paid off resulting in highly satisfied patients that put their trust in Diaverum from day one and motivated employees delivering the best service to the patients. We managed to create a win-win situation and a successful base in Birmingham from which we will continue to grow the business and secure strong financial performance as a consequence of working closely with patients and staff to deliver the very best patient care and work environment.

That is an example of what success means for me.

 

 

Future challenges require firm leadership

Dec 12, 2014 | No Comments

Predicting the future is almost impossible and it takes strong, firm leadership to turn challenges into opportunities.

When I did my MBA at INSEAD many years ago, one of my professors told me that the only way to predict the future is by looking at the past — there is no such thing as a crystal ball which tells the future.

This might sound a little simplistic and maybe even brutal but this is the way things are.

Take trying to predict currency movements, stock market development, economic cycles, for example: all predictions are simply assumptions and these assumptions are typically based on past experience.

The likelihood is that someone will guess correctly but this is down to luck and experience rather than an ability to look into the future.

Who could foresee the economic meltdown in the Eurozone starting in 2008? Who would predict that the euro as a currency would come under threat? Who could predict that oil prices would plunge the way they have done lately? Who could predict that the tension in Russia and Ukraine would bring us back to the ‘Cold War sentiment’ where Russia once more was cast as the enemy?

Since nobody can predict the future it is important to listen to the views of many different people.

When running a global healthcare services company with presence in 18 countries, the only thing  that is (almost) certain is that there will be macroeconomic challenges in one or a few of these countries at any given time. We have seen the Russian rouble, Argentinian peso and Turkish lira plunge during the year; we have seen signs of recovery in Spain and Portugal; and we have seen the impact the falling oil price has had on the economies of Saudi Arabia and Russia.

What will happen in 2015 which we are not able to predict today? Will there be a sustainable economic recovery in Europe in 2015? Probably not. Will oil prices increase again to 100-plus dollars per barrel? Probably not. Will the situation in Syria and Iraq improve or will IS continue to seize more territory? Probably yes.

Will something significant happen in the world in 2015 which we cannot predict today? Definitely yes.

What are the implications for business in all this uncertainty? One thing which I always have believed in and which is going to be important for the foreseeable future is to manage cash flow as well as one possible can. Cash is king (or queen). This is for any company the most important measure of financial success. A company with strong cash flow will always fare better than a company not focusing strongly on cash flow.

I believe that any company today also needs to have mitigation plans ready to be implemented in case country performance is much lower than planned. To sit back and accept that performance goes down without implementing strong measures is nothing that shareholders or private equity owners appreciate. What we know is that shocks to the system do happen much quicker today than before due to increased volatility and shorter cycles. Therefore any successful organisation must always be prepared to mitigate, face the problem and turn it into an opportunity.

Strong leadership from the top is a prerequisite for success. Management by objectives and delegation is something I have practiced in all leading positions I have had, but one must always keep a firm hand on the steering wheel and be prepared to act quickly whenever things do go wrong. And the only thing we can be certain about is that things will go wrong. The only question is where, when and what the magnitude will be. Being prepared will help you turn these challenges into an opportunity and come out as a winner! There will be many losers in tomorrow’s world and a few winners. Which category do you want to belong to?

Going evermore global

Aug 5, 2014 | No Comments

This summer has so far been absolutely wonderful in Sweden. I have never experienced so many sunny, warm days in my life (at least from what I remember). Day temperatures of 30 degrees or even more; night time temperatures of 20 degrees or more. Apparently a ‘tropical’ night is defined as a night when temperatures do not fall below 20 degrees, and there have been quite a few of these nights this year in Sweden.

As many of you know, I am now based in Sweden and spend a large part of my time commuting to the corporate office in Munich or beyond. My wife and daughter wanted to move back to Sweden again after five years in Munich. My daughter wanted to go to a ‘normal’ Swedish school in the area where we live just outside Gothenburg. My wife wanted to get closer to her parents who are getting older and wanted to see their only child on a more regular basis. Therefore we moved back last summer to Gothenburg. I do believe there was initial angst amongst the Diaverum people in the Munich corporate office that I would not spend much time in Munich anymore but I believe I have proven people wrong. But as the company continues to grow and enters new markets, there is more need for me to be travelling around the world. This means spending less time in Munich (and in Sweden).

We are growing very fast as a company. By the end of this year we will be 9000 employees and present in 20 or 21 countries. As far as I know, there is no other healthcare service provider in the world with a more global direct presence than Diaverum. I obviously do not include product manufacturers in this statement, only 100% service only providers. Renal care is a rather standardised segment within healthcare and therefore easier to globalise than, for example, acute care. A renal patient has the same overall needs whether he is a patient in Sweden, UK, Russia or Uruguay. Therefore there are clear economies of scale and scope when entering new markets.

One of the challenges when entering a new market is to find the right people to recruit (management and clinic staff). Typically we enter a new market by acquiring one clinic or a few clinics belonging to a private owner. Finding an excellent Country Manager or Finance Director for a small business is naturally a challenge. Excellent people do typically already have a job and they are seldom prepared to move to a smaller company or business. So what we need to offer is the international opportunities and growth opportunities in general which we can offer as a company. As we grow in a country we increasingly attract top talent. In a few instances we have acquired larger businesses and then it is of course much easier to attract top talent from early on.

Another solution to offset the challenge of attracting top talent in the beginning of a market entry is to use our own managers from another country or countries to spend a certain amount of time in the new country. This would secure that integration of new clinics, recruitment of staff, introduction of medical and financial procedures are successfully implemented.

Every year we enter one new market (at least) and I find it absolutely fascinating and a great learning experience to acquire businesses in countries where there is a great need to grow renal capacity and improve the quality of care of the patients. There are enormous differences between good and bad providers and the impact this has on the patients is also huge.

Renal patients are chronic patients. A renal patient is a renal patient for life. There is no cure, no way back. What one can do is to help the patient to choose the very best treatment therapy (in-centre dialysis or home dialysis) and possibly delay the entry in dialysis whenever we can work preventively with patients who have damaged kidneys but where the kidney is still functioning to a certain degree.

This is what we do at Diaverum — and will continue to do evermore globally.

Looking in the mirror

Feb 25, 2014 | No Comments

I was asked the other day what I enjoy most with doing what I do for a living.

This is an interesting question and not easy to answer. I have come to the conclusion that I do like to be a leader — I enjoy leading people. Leading people is an enormous responsibility but also a true honour. There are of course less enjoyable parts of leadership: for example, having difficult discussions with employees or even firing employees, but this is something that does come with leadership. There will always be people who are not right for the company and then they should not be with the company.

I read a book some years ago called From Good to Great. This book has fascinated me ever since. It was written by Jim Collins in the 1990s and is the best book on leadership I have ever read. The book is evidence-based which makes it even more compelling to read. The book describes ‘Level 5 Leadership’ and how level 5 leaders ‘look in the mirror’ when things go wrong. This is explored through a few key themes:

  1. People first, then strategy. Getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. To achieve this, the recruitment processes in a company typically need to be amended (for example, attitude is more important than technical competence). Equally important is to realise when a person should be removed from the team. Having the wrong people on the bus is very dangerous for any organisation. Once you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away. The right people do not need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great.  According to Collins, “if you have the wrong people, it does not matter whether you find the right direction; you still will not have a great company. Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”
  2. Important to always confront the brutal facts. Remember Kodak: it did not realise it was in the imaging business and not in the photography business. They went bankrupt as a consequence. This involves understanding what the members of the organisation actually think about the company, an internal satisfaction survey. Establish the facts and not blame anybody for one’s own mistakes as a leader of a team.
  3. According to Collins, a great company does one big thing consistently. Trying to do many things and not understanding what the real priority is will not make a great company. It is all about securing that key priorities are agreed and that they are communicated at every opportunity. A great company does what this company is best in the world at. It is important to define what ‘best in the world’ means. For Diaverum, this could be to be the most patient-centred renal care company in the world. Good-to-great companies do what they can do best (as opposed to what they want to do best), what they are deeply passionate about, and they focus on what drives their economic engine.
  4. A great company also focuses on the key economic drivers and works hard to keep things very simple. Key economic drivers in the case of Diaverum could be share of clinics with more than 100 patients or a patient satisfaction score on or above a certain level. I am a strong believer in the concept of securing highest possible medical outcomes, patient satisfaction scores and staff satisfaction scores. Any Diaverum centre with great performance in these three areas will also be a profitable centre.

The ‘Level 5 Leadership’ is a very central theme in the book. What does it mean for a leader to ‘look in the mirror’? According to the author this means:

  • taking responsibility;
  • not blaming others;
  • setting high standards;
  • leading by example.

I do fully agree with this. A good leader assumes full responsibility; he does not blame others for mistakes. Setting high standards and leading by example is also truly key. In addition to this I believe that a good leader is someone who says “we” and not “I”.

How many of us have worked for leaders who say “I” when it should be “we”? I have had such leaders in the past and been very frustrated by this.

Level 5 leaders are not charismatic, media types. Chances are you’ve never heard of them. They are humble, self-effacing and more concerned about the prosperity of the company than their individual success.

I can recommend you to read the book if you have not already done so.

Enjoy!

My favourite cities

Oct 24, 2013 | No Comments

I have the privilege of visiting many countries and cities mostly in connection with work. Many times I make the visits short to be efficient and to be able to get home and spend time with my family, but sometimes I do get a few hours to get to know the city or surrounding areas.

I sometimes get the question: ‘Which is your favourite city and/or favourite country?’

This is very hard to answer. I think that one, in order to truly enjoy being in a city or country, has to speak the language. When you visit a country where one does not speak the language, how enjoyable is it?

Yes, many people speak English and this is somehow becoming the global language which everybody wants to learn. The problem with English is that very few non-native speakers actually speak the language without sounding like a foreigner.

For example, if a non-native English speaker speaks English with, say, a German then both are disadvantaged because one can never express oneself freely.

I have been fortunate in the sense that I have been given the opportunity to learn a number of languages and speak quite a few rather well. This has definitely helped me, not only to get to where I am today, but also to enjoy the visits to different countries and cities more.

Coming back to the question about favourite countries or cities. I will mention a few cities I truly like and justify why I like the city.

1. Madrid — it is a great city. The capital of Spain and very Spanish. I like the old town, the Barrio Salamanca, Parque del Retiro and many other places. People are generally friendly and they know how to enjoy life. My favourite shoe shop in the world is also located in Madrid: LG Gloria Castellanos on Gran Via. I have bought shoes there since I was 20 years old. Definitely helps to Speak Spanish in Madrid even if many Spaniards today speak English. It is a genuine city and feels like a grand capital. Favourite restaurant in the city is Astrid y Gaston (Peruvian food at its best).

2. London — the most global city in the world. Everyone and everything accepted. London is just nice to be in. Great restaurants, museums, theatres, shopping. Something for everybody all year round. I spend a lot of time in London and I can never get enough! London simply has everything. Yes, it is crowded and infrastructure could be improved but all this is quickly forgotten when arriving in London (assuming that you do arrive and not get caught by congestion at Heathrow, bad weather, etc). My favourite restaurant in London is Hakkasan (in two locations, but choose Hanway Place).

3. Gothenburg — my home town. Always in the shadow of Stockholm but a nice and friendly city. Small (1 million with suburbs) but you have everything you need. Wonderful restaurants, great cafes, art galleries, theatres, opera, etc. I like the area surrounding Linnegatan very much and the old town called Haga and I like the sea and the smell of the sea. The sunset in Gothenburg is quite unbeatable. You can never get that in Stockholm which is a great city but located on the east coast. Gothenburg is home to many up and coming clothing brands (incl Nudie, Monki and Elvine just to mention a few). My favourite restaurant in the city is Thörnströms, a guide Michelin starred restaurant with great food.

4. Munich — this is where I have my office. The head office of Diaverum is in Lund but the management works out of Munich. We have our office in the downtown area of Munich. The third largest city in Germany and the most affluent. It feels much smaller than Berlin or Hamburg. In Munich it truly helps to speak German. If you do not speak German you will not enjoy Munich as much as when you do speak German. I like the fact that there are no high rise building allowed. The Frauenkirche (Cathedral) is the tallest building and will remain so. Munich has something for everybody: the Brandhurst Art Museum, the three Pinakoteken (also art) and the Englischer Garten (which is larger than New York’s Central Park) are musts when visiting the city. A favourite restaurant of mine in the city is Osteria Italiana, the most genuine Italian restaurant in the city.

5. Santiago de Chile — has become a world city in the last 15 years. Infrastructure is great compared with other Latin American cities. The airport is well connected and you have the mountains and ski resorts less than an hour away. The climate is great — never too hot or too cold. Santiago has increasingly become the first point of entry into Latin America for many foreign brands. H&M opened their first Lat Am store earlier this year in Santiago. Chile has had one of the fastest economic growth rates in the world during the last 25 years and this is clearly visible when visiting Santiago de Chile. A favourite restaurant of mine in the city is Astrid y Gaston (Peruvian food).

There are, of course, many other nice cities but this is my immediate list.

Dag

Listen up! Five leadership behaviours

Oct 2, 2013 | No Comments

During the summer I spent some time listening to a book by Patrick Lencioni called The Advantage. Yes, I did listen rather than read. The good thing with listening is that one can at the same time make notes of what one hears. This is a little bit harder to do when reading and both hands are busy with the book.

The first part of the book describes how a leader builds a cohesive leadership team, a team which creates an advantage over competitors. A cohesive leadership team is a team where members are open to each other; they debate passionately and focus on the collective good of the organisation.

What the ‘collective good’ means is that the individual is always inferior to the team. To be a successful member of a leadership team means focusing on what is right for the company at all times rather than focusing on what is right for the individual — easy to say but hard to put into practice. This naturally also goes back to the targets the individuals receive during their appraisal or in their incentive schemes. Leadership team members should not have individual targets, only group targets.

Patrick Lencioni also talks about five behaviours associated with cohesive leadership. The first behaviour is about building trust. This naturally takes time but for a team to function well there must be trust among the team members. If there is no trust, then the leadership team will not function.

Second behavour is about mastering conflict. To agree to disagree is something very powerful in a leadership team. In my own case with my leadership team members, I do not expect my team members to agree with what I say. Absolutely not. But disagreeing is something one does within the team. When decisions are reached, however, they must be accepted and embraced by all team members so that the rest of the organisation sees an aligned leadership team communicating clear messages which all members stand behind.

Third behaviour is about achieving commitment. Once again it is about daring to disagree. If people in a leadership team cannot disagree, commitment cannot be achieved. It is important to let different views be presented and then it is time for the leader to break ties.

Fourth behaviour is about embracing accountability. This can also only happen when there is true commitment. The leadership team must feel accountable for the company goals and objectives. True accountability will create passion for achievements and results. If someone does not feel accountable, how likely is it that the person will passionately work for the common good?

The fifth and final behaviour is about focusing on results. The leadership team must focus on results. The only true measure of a great leadership team is whether or not it accomplishes what it set out to accomplish. If the organisation rarely achieves its goals, the leadership team is not doing the job it should. Look at a sports team. What is it that counts for them? Only results of course. If a football team nearly won or nearly scored they have still lost. Once again, it is all about setting team goals first and individual goals second.

Dag

The key leadership skills

May 16, 2013 | No Comments

There is an interesting debate taking place as to whether or not poor leaders can become good leaders.

My view is rather simple: in the same way as there are naturally good and poor athletes, physicians, engineers and politicians, there are also good and poor leaders.

I do, however, believe that everybody can improve but the scale of improvement will depend on many factors including the individual’s persistence, commitment and true willingness to do so.

I believe many of us have said on a number of occasions that we want to improve ourselves in certain areas; sometimes, after a few glasses of bubbly on New Year’s Eve, we even, promise ourselves that “next year I will do this or that better”. I also believe that many of us, a few weeks into January, have forgotten all about the promises made.

Interestingly, on the topic of poor leaders vs. good leaders and on self-improvement, there was an article published in the Harvard Business Review earlier this year.

The authors used 360 degree feedback data over 12 to 19 months to track what exactly the leaders who had made the most significant progress actually were doing.

The results were very interesting: practically all the executives in the study managed to improve on nine particular leadership skills.

Skill number one was communication effectiveness. This was actually the most common skill that the leaders improved. Communication is critical to leadership. Communicating timely, frequently and professionally is key to success for any leader. Communication skills (including presentation skills) can be greatly improved through training and/or coaching.

The leaders in the study also made an effort to share their knowledge and expertise more widely. Typical for good leaders is to share their knowledge more frequently and teaching people what they know how to do.

Good leaders also encourage others to do more and to be better. Some leaders believe that if they minimise challenges to their team and expect less of their people, subordinates will see them as better leaders. This is wrong! Fewer challenges is the opposite of what a work group or organisation needs. When leaders challenge their direct reports to do more and be better than they thought they could be, the leaders are actually perceived to be better themselves.

The leaders in the study also developed a broader perspective. Getting leaders to stop and look at the bigger picture can help them see potential problems sooner and focus more on strategic and less on tactical issues. This leads to constructive change and innovation.

They also recognised that they were role models and needed to set a good example. It frequently happens that leaders unintentionally (or unknowingly) ask others to do things they don’t do themselves. This never works. Good leaders must walk the talk.

They began to champion their team’s new ideas. Leaders who shift from discouraging new proposals to encouraging and supporting innovative ideas and thinking will witness a lot of positive change around them.

Another important skill is to learn to recognise when change is needed. Leaders who become more proactive (i.e. by doing a better job of spotting new trends, opportunities, and potential problems early) are better leaders.

The leaders in the study also managed to improve their ability to inspire and motivate others. All the above skills presented do create a more inspirational environment. But there are also two other benefits coming from inspiring and motivating others: first, they do a better job keeping people focused on the highest priority goals and objectives; secondly, they make a special effort to stay in touch with the concerns and problems of their teams. When a leader is the last to know that an employee is having difficulties, others interpret that as a lack of concern. Providing support and assistance to an employee in difficult circumstances not only helps that employee, but also reassures others they can expect to receive the same treatment.

Good leaders also begin to encourage cooperation rather than competition. When leaders look for ways to encourage cooperation and generate common goals, they become more successful.

All the skills described above need to be developed for a leader to truly become a good leader.

Even if, as I said in the beginning, I believe that there are leaders who are naturally good leaders, there are also leaders who become good leaders by practising hard and focusing on their leadership skills.

Using social media to fill our patients’ information needs

Jan 18, 2013 | No Comments

I have not contributed with a blog for quite some time. At the start of a new year, it is common to make promises and commitments. I will now try to blog more frequently, in particular when there is a certain theme that does interest me and I want to share it with other colleagues and friends across the world.

Social media — that is just a passing fad, right? Hardly! We talk often about social media these days; Facebook has more than 1 billion member accounts, Twitter several hundred million.

The question that we in Diaverum need to answer is: what role does social media play in the area of healthcare and healthcare services in particular? Another question concerns patients and staff in a clinic or hospital: how common is it that they use social media to educate themselves, to share best practices, to connect with other patients or staff?

There are no easy or straightforward answers.

In Diaverum, there are patients today who ‘tweet’. There are employees in our kidney centres and countries using Facebook to reach out. I try to follow this as much as I can but for obvious reasons it is difficult to follow everything that is written about Diaverum; however it is wonderful to witness the stories being told.

When visiting clinics around the world (Diaverum is now present in 18 countries and serves almost 22,000 patients), I have met patients who connect with other patients via social media during their treatment sessions. Just to give you some insight into life in the clinic, our patients are typically spending 18 hours per week in a clinic. In most cases a treatment session lasts for 4 hours but there is work to be done before the session (e.g. lab tests, check-ups) and also after the session which means that the total number of hours spent in one of our centres amounts to approximately 18. This is how it works week in and week out, year in and year out, unless the patient receives a transplant or is on our home care programme.

Many times it is hard to kill the time that they spend. Yes, books can be read and TV can be watched, but an increasing number of patients want to use their time on dialysis to communicate, to reach out. An increasing number of patients and relatives also want to use social media to learn more about the disease and how to live a life as rich as possible with the disease. And we need to act as the enabler for this.

There are some statistics that I have read recently that allude to this theme. A report from PwC, published in the spring of 2012, shows that one-third of healthcare consumers (not only related to dialysis) use social media for seeking or sharing medical information; 41 per cent say tools like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and online forums influence their choice of a specific hospital, medical facility or doctor.

Even more interesting is the fact that 57 per cent of consumers said a hospital’s social media connections would strongly affect their decision to receive treatment at a certain facility.

Even if these numbers should be read with a degree of caution it is clear that a healthcare service provider needs to include social media as part of its business strategy and not only see it as a marketing tool. We need to be part of this discussion. I want to encourage patients and staff to share stories and best practice.

To answer the questions I set at the start, this is the role we have to play. In Diaverum, with our global reach, I am sure that patients and staff can inspire each other and support each other. What is done well in a certain area in one country can be picked up in another country.

And it will only become more important to get this right. If we look at the global picture, the number of people throughout the world with chronic kidney disease or with end stage renal disease is increasing year on year. By 2020 the number of patients dependent on dialysis to survive will have increased from just over 2 million in 2010 to almost 4 million. The need for these patients and for the staff caring for these patients to reach out and to communicate via social media is definitely going to increase.

And I’m personally looking forward to a year with increased focus on social media within Diaverum.

Dag

The sounds of our lives?

Feb 10, 2012 | One Comment

There is  no doubt that smartphones have revolutionised how we live our lives. This is the information age, after all, and the smartphone keeps us plugged in to the information flow wherever we are in the world — we no longer have to wait till we’re back at our desks to read that important email, it’s right there in our hands.

Of course, the flipside can be seen when you peer inside today’s meeting rooms. The number of gadgets has exploded over the last couple of years — no longer is it the case where only laptops are present, but also smartphones, iPads and other such devices — and that also means that the number of distractions and unpleasant electronic sounds and signals which irritate people around the table has also increased.

Looking closer to home, I have recently added a ‘no gadgets’ rule to the executive meetings that I lead.

All of which has led me to think about this question: at what point does our dependence on electronic devices go too far?

Psychologists have a growing concern with smartphone dependence. People are displaying behaviour that shows they would rather interact with their phone than with other human beings. This is naturally a worrying behaviour, but is it too far, and is it really any different to addictive video-gaming?

Perhaps, but it appears too that it is not just an issue for the younger generations. Teens and adults are showing addictive behaviour to their smartphones that in some cases is causing harmful consequences.

Some are minor, such as teens talking in three letter words such as LOL and BRB — although this is more offensive on the ears rather than being anything sinister. Other behaviours are more destructive, however, such as car accidents caused by people texting or looking up information on smartphones. Clearly too far.

There has also been a lot of research into the area of the usage of smartphones, particularly teens’ attachment to their smartphones. The researchers found that when teens were separated from their phones, they were under-stimulated. The indicators were a low heart rate and the inability to entertain themselves.

Another study shows that 47% of teenagers admitted to using their smartphone when in the toilet (only 22% of adults confessed to the same habit). Too far? Probably, and certainly enough to make you think twice before borrowing someone else’s phone to call or text.

But back to the issue of gadgets in executive meetings. A meeting where people are constantly checking messages, emails etc. on their smartphones is not a productive meeting. People need to be present and focus on the ‘here and now’ in the room. Therefore, my personal view — and one that we live by in the meetings that I lead — is that smartphones and other such devices are forbidden. And this works fine when there are enough breaks during the meeting day to allow for people to check messages and or emails.

  • In case you were wondering, these are the rules by which I lead my executive meetings:We start always on time
    No computers / iPads / technical equipment on the table
    No mobile phone on or under the table
    There will be breaks to enable calls and other urgent matters
    One person speaks at a time
    Be present
    Prepare each point well
Foto på Dag Andersson