Siri Holstad Johannessen has a reputation as a passionate leader in team development and performance management. Her team has been systematically working on this for the past year and a half, producing impressive results. We had a coffee chat with her to ask for her best insights.
Hi Siri, how long have you been working at Schibsted?
I have worked here since June 2013. My first position was as a Subscription Manager in Aftenposten. I then worked as a Sales and Marketing Manager in Schibsted. Since then, we have reorganised several times, and there have been several different roles over the years. Now I work as Head of Sales and Marketing for Common Schibsted Products, and I also sit on the board of Schibsted Distribusjon Øst.
Tell us about your background.
Early on, I knew I wanted to do something unconventional and go my own way. I, therefore, took an education in Relations Management. We were the first class in Norway to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in that field. I wanted to go further in that direction and build on it with a master’s degree, but it didn’t exist over twenty years ago since this was a completely new field of study. My passion is building teams and creating magic between people to produce results together. At the same time, I am a competitive person, which made me want to combine Relations Management with commercial responsibility. Therefore, part of my education is in marketing, and I love the combination of working commercial and relational.
What does your job entail?
I lead the Sales and Marketing Department that works with all the different brands in News Media towards both the private and corporate markets. A characteristic of our department is that we work very innovatively. Our task is to commercialise new products and ensure that we reach the revenue and subscription base targets we have set ourselves. Among other things, we have built up News Media’s portfolio for the corporate market, with a revenue of around NOK 130 million a year. Many people have probably noticed that Common Schibsted Products recently launched the “All Access” bundle subscription in the B2C market. “All Access” started as a product in our portfolio for the B2B market almost three years ago. Today, this product has more than 22 000 business customers.
How do you create a winning team?
It is about creating a performance culture – a culture where everyone wants to perform. I believe it is impossible to achieve by presenting only a few ambitious goals for an entire division or company. In my experience that’s not why people go to work, unless they’re just looking to get paid. I want to create a culture where my team goes to work because they love the team they are part of and that they have a clear picture of what they have to do every day for us to reach the goals we have set ourselves. I am fortunate to have several people on my team who are passionate about working with team development, so I have certainly not done this alone.
What changes have you and your team made, specifically?
When we started working systematically with this two years ago, we set a very specific qualitative goal: We will create an environment for innovation and world-class performance through psychological safety, self-management and a strong feedback culture. When the goal was set, we made a concrete plan and a scheme for achieving it. The work has consisted of working overall with psychological safety through, among other things, personality tests, feedback training, self-reflection, insight into each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and concrete training on being outside the comfort zone.
What is the concept of psychological security?
It is about investing time and energy in becoming aware of yourself and those you work with. Then you usually start by carrying out personality tests that clearly indicate how we are wired as humans. We can understand how we influence each other and the team by gaining insight into our differences and peculiarities. Then it becomes easier to see how we can complement each other’s weaknesses and build on each other’s strengths.
What are the biggest pitfalls for a manager?
That many people consciously or unconsciously hire a group that is exactly like themselves. It’s great to hang out with people who think and feel the same as you, but it doesn’t provide good opportunities to bring out your maximum potential in terms of achieving success. I can use an analogy from football: Having a team that consists exclusively of quick and tactical strikers who will score goals is no use, you need midfielders and defenders too. Homogeneous groups do not have a good starting point for being innovative and succeeding together.
Some managers may think they don’t have time for team development. What would you say to them?
I would say that being able to build a good team will have a direct impact on both the performance and motivation of your employees and the success of the department. It is a simple prioritisation and investment. It’s more than just our employee surveys that have improved since we started working systematically on this. We have doubled our digital revenue at the same time. Working relationships are like all other relationships in life; you have to invest time in relationships for them to flourish. I usually say to my colleagues that they do the work, not me. I am much more dependent on their performance than they are on mine, and it’s their efforts every day that creates results for our department.