Nordic Semiconductor has doubled in headcount since Katarina Finneng joined the wireless technology company in late 2019. Fast growth brings both challenges and opportunities.
While many leaders in her place would focus on systems, Finneng says it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Instead of simply shoring up procedures and processes, she’s working to add value and make a real difference by changing what lies below the surface.
The visible parts of the employee and workplace iceberg include vision, strategy, structures, procedures, and goals, which Finneng describes as “the way we say we get things done.” The large portion—the part that remains hidden, the organizational culture—holds the invisible items that really influence a company, like beliefs, biases, perceptions, assumptions, values, attitudes, and undefined rules.
Finneng is Nordic Semiconductor’s executive vice president of people and communication. She’s looking to enhance the intangibles of corporate culture to support the Norwegian-headquartered company as it scales. “Leaders who only develop systems and structures without focusing on behaviors won’t get very far,” she explains. “We have to understand what’s going on below the surface if we really want to be effective.”
How does one understand and influence what’s going on beneath the surface? Finneng does it by prioritizing relationships, leading with transparency and communication, and leveraging her eclectic professional experience.
The Swede once intended to become a police officer like her grandfather until a multiyear admission freeze forced her to change career ambitions. Finneng’s interest in people and behavior led her to study social psychology and anthropology in her country’s second-largest city, Gothenburg, before enrolling at the university’s school of public administration. She started her career at Volvo Group within human resources, met a Norwegian man and moved to Norway, and eventually took on roles within communication.
The experience underscored for Finneng the importance of learning new things and keeping an open mind. Although she already had an MS degree with specialization in policy analysis, public management, and organization studies, she enrolled at the BI Norwegian Business School to earn an executive master of management degree, focusing on communication and change management.
The strategic move helped her land a job at Norwegian Air Shuttle, where she combined her talents and training in HR and communication as deputy chief human resources officer.
The roles she had at Norwegian, Norway’s largest airline, inspired Finneng to do more. The company’s start-up mentality, its international profile, and the access to the board of directors presented new opportunities. “I became passionate about challenging existing truths and the status quo,” she says. “Future-oriented leaders are willing to rethink existing methods and behaviors.”
That’s what Finneng is doing at Nordic Semiconductor. The company provides wireless communication technology through Bluetooth Low Energy, cellular IoT, and Wi-Fi that powers the Internet of Things. Finneng is focused not only on attracting the relevant people to contribute to the company’s journey but also on maintaining and developing the relevant attitudes.
“I believe in asking questions, listening, and giving everyone the chance to contribute,” Finneng says, adding that she’s been working with her colleagues in the executive management team and with strategic partnerships to change how the organization traditionally views its people function and that function’s value add.
Part of the success has come as Finneng prioritizes relationships. Her ambition is not to be a manager of employees but rather a leader of people. “Management is about a title or position, while leadership is about earned trust,” she explains. “Once people see you as a dedicated leader, they will not only comply but go above and beyond.”
As a leader, Finneng knows and admits she’s not an expert in everything. Instead of having all the answers, she relies on the teams she’s helped build to work together as one.
The approach has been especially important as legacy employees and new hires come together. In this critical time a quote from a Dan Millman character named Socrates has served as Finneng’s inspiration: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old but on building the new.” Finneng keeps this idea in mind as she leads change and role models how HR is a business enabler and not merely a transactional function.
Today, Nordic Semiconductor is operating with about 1,450 employees worldwide. Finneng relies on a human capital management system and other tools to empower line managers and streamline support.
Leadership training and development programs make the company’s diverse workforce—known for its engagement, respect, performance, and accountability—even more resilient. Continuous learning demands practical training. The development foundation also includes strategic partnerships to create momentum.
One of these strategic partners is Dale Carnegie Training (DCT) Norway, who supports Nordic Semiconductor’s practical on-the-job training. “Katarina’s method leverages transformation through a growth mindset. She knows exactly which next steps will tackle existing challenges,” says Sebastian Grupe, trainer and consultant at DCT Norway. “Thinking, ‘What’s best for Nordic Semiconductor?’ she combines business strategy with leadership and people as an amplifier. Trusting us with her most vulnerable assets—her leaders—she aims to reduce risk and increase productivity while also challenging us as a training provider to deliver simpler, more impactful, and more client-centric [solutions].”
Although the supply side of the business has been challenging, the high demand for semiconductors has experts optimistic about 2023. Smart devices are increasingly popular, tech start-ups are flourishing, and more electronic devices are being connected to the internet. Finneng and the rest of the executive management team’s efforts to strengthen the foundation of Nordic Semiconductor’s culture iceberg has the company prepared for a new wave of opportunities.
Dale Carnegie Training Norway is a strategic partner of Nordic Semiconductor for practical on-the-job training. To support Katarina Finneng’s vision to be a business enabler within Nordic Semiconductor, DCT Norway trains individual talents and delivers tailored in-house trainings within topics of high impact communications, psychological safety, as well as leadership training for succession candidates.