My two weeks as culture detective – Futurice through social psychology lenses

LSC, Lean Service Creation, intern

This text is written by Emilia Vesa, a master level social psychology student who did an internship at Futurice. The text is only published by Nelli Myllylä.

At Futurice, 70% of the employees are developers, 20 % designers and 10 % others. As a social psychology student, I stepped into the unknown territory of IT consultancy and put my critical social scientist glasses on thinking: is there a place for human sciences here?

It was my privilege to be mentored by Eeva Raita, the company’s own powerpuff woman and doctor of social psychology. My two weeks at Futurice included a lot of meetings & new people, a small culture shock and huge amount of learning.

When I first arrived at Futurice’s Helsinki office, I was met by an electronic reception that sent a message to the person I was looking for. The entrance lobby is actually a cafeteria where employees are baristas of their own lives. The lobby was filled with colorful furniture, sticky notes, sweaters and jeans. It was clear that this was not a traditional corporation with hierarchical structures.

Futurice’s working culture is almost famous, partly because it has been chosen twice in a row as the best European workplace. Trust, transparency and caring are the keywords every slideshow represents proudly. But how do these values manifest in everyday life? I learned that employees are given company credit cards and trusted to use them with good judgement. In the spirit of transparency, people can check out each others salaries and caring is expressed in many ways – for example there is a free breakfast served every Friday.

What can we learn from all this? Lean structure and freedom of doing seem to propel the company’s growth at a pace of almost 30 % per year. Trusting employees and counting on their self-organizing seem to enable working in innovative ways and release resources to think outside the box. Clients apparently appreciate Futurice’s user-centric and engaging way of working. Today Futurice even competes with more traditional consultancies like McKinsey.

For a social psychologist, examining how employees navigate in environment that demands self-organizing, networking and trustworthy was interesting. Most employees seem to enjoy this kind of work context, but it does make me wonder: what is the meaning of structures, and the security they bring to the employees?

In two weeks, I also became familiar with Lean Service Creation, Futurice’s service design toolkit and methodology. (Ps. it’s free and you can download it from www.leanservicecreation.com - surprising huh?) I was able to use this toolkit to coach students from Haaga-Helia’s designing services course and startup teams at the KIUAS Team-Up startup competition. In service design the focus is on people or in user-friendly ways of doing and we, as social psychologists, have the best expertise when it comes to behavior in some specific context. When creating new services together with customers, it is very important to understand the client’s values and to recognize the motives, possible barriers and needs of the client which are the basics of social psychology. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Eeva, as a social psychologist, is constantly pulled from the sleeve in the corridors and asked to spar people’s ideas and projects.

In the future, Futurice’s goal is to be a part of 50% of the European universities and universities of applied sciences with their service design methodology. Futurice wants the methodology to be utilized by students when creating new things and innovations. And why not? I think, that we at the University of Helsinki would benefit from this kind of teaching as well. In my opinion, you really need social scientists when developing services for people. So why not include service design in teaching and bring education a bit closer to working life?

All in all, my two weeks as a culture detective turned into ideation of new stuff, going out of my comfort zone, developing things and learning in a new way. Ideate, try out, fail and try again is not something that university studies encourage you to do. I owe thanks to Eeva and Futurice for making me think in a new way.

You might have noticed the italicized words in the text. They are all social psychology.