Hallstein Moerk on People Strategy at Nokia

Hallstein Moerk on People Strategy at Nokia

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Hallstein Moerk on People Strategy at Nokia

An Interview with the Former Executive Vice President of HR at Nokia
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  • In This Video
    Hallstein Moerk

    At a Glance

    Born in Halden, Norway

    Year Born: 1953


    Economics degree, BI Norwegian School of Management

    Career Highlights

    1977–1999, various positions, Hewlett-Packard

    1999–2004, senior vice president of human resources, Nokia

    2004–2010, executive vice president of human resources and member of the group executive board, Nokia

    2010–present, executive advisor, Nokia

    Outside Activities

    Fellow, National Academy of Human Resources

    Member, Board of Advisors of the Center of Human Resource Strategy, Rutgers University


    Hallstein Moerk is an executive advisor and the former vice president of human resources (HR) for mobile-communications giant Nokia. He spent 11 years as the head of HR at Nokia before retiring in March 2010.  He previously worked at Hewlett-Packard for 22 years, holding several HR leadership positions during his tenure.

    In an interview with BCG’s Tuukka Seppä, Moerk discusses what he sees as the key challenges for HR in today’s business environment. He also describes how Nokia has created a culture that translates throughout a global organization with employees working in many different countries.

    Moerk notes how the downturn has affected HR practices at Nokia, particularly with regards to change management and how the HR function should adapt to today’s difficult business environment. One of the keys to success, he points out, is to engage people by building a vision with key goals that everyone can relate to—while avoiding mistakes that can be “engagement killers.”

    Today we have the pleasure of talking with Mr. Hallstein Moerk, longtime executive vice president of human resources and member of the group executive board for Nokia. Thanks so much, Hallstein, for joining this discussion.

    My pleasure.

    Let’s start with the long-term perspective on HR. What do you see as the key challenges in HR?

    If you’re looking at HR from a long-term perspective, originally it was to deal with things like personnel administration, to get the facts right, to do some hiring—what people today would call the basics of HR. These are still very important to do.

    And then we transitioned into things like talent management, coaching managers in engagement, employee satisfaction, and commitment and these kinds of things.

    Nowadays, at least some of us are getting heavily involved in things like organizational effectiveness. How is the organization operating? Do you have a lot of white space? Are processes working well throughout the company, not only HR processes but corporate-wide processes? Do we have the right organizational design, and so on?

    I think that the biggest challenge now is how you manage to be excellent in all three of these areas at the same time and keep costs down.

    Nokia is one of the most global companies in the world. You have people all around the world, including China, India, the United States, and Finland. How have you created a culture that unifies Nokia?

    That’s a good question. When you are establishing the values of a company, you need to identify the keywords that travel well. One of our values is to be “very human.” People in all parts of the world relate to “very human.” But the way they behave in different cultures—when they’re behaving in a very human way—is different. So if you choose values that travel well, you will have an easy job getting a global culture. We really do not find it difficult. It feels very natural for us.

    Last year was difficult. How did that change the HR practices within the company?

    We have had a lot of change in Nokia and in the world during the last few years. One of the biggest benefits—but also a pain point—was change management. Everyone in HR had to learn, in a good way, a lot about dealing with change management.

    Has your approach to HR changed in the past couple of years?

    Change is the name of the game for us. And I think change is the name of the game for HR as well. But I think I would go back to what we talked about earlier. You need to get the basics in place. A lot of the basic HR stuff is like air conditioning. If it works, nobody notices, but if it doesn’t work, everybody screams. So we need to make sure that the basics work very well. And then I think engagement is a very key element in HR these days, plus talent management and—as I mentioned—organizational effectiveness, and how we operate as a company.

    How do you engage people at Nokia?

    If you really want to boil it down to one or two or three things, and maybe even just one thing, I would say this: Build a vision with clear goals, which everybody can sign up for. And while we all focus on building engagement, what we typically forget is engagement killers. So you may invest a lot of time and effort in building engagement, but then you may do one or two stupid things that kill engagement. And you kill things much quicker than you build things.

    What do you think is the role of leaders, especially middle managers, in insuring high engagement?

    Leaders carry the whole load, basically. They are responsible for it overall. We in HR are there to help and coach and push and maybe kick from time to time, but they really have the responsibility for building engagement.

    How are HR and Nokia’s strategy linked?

    That’s pretty easy in many ways. You have a corporate strategy, and you start looking at that corporate strategy and say, “What are the people implications of these strategies?” And then you say, “Okay, fine. This one has this influence, but we lack the capability to do it. We have too few people in that area. We don’t have that competence. The people are really not engaged. We need a new incentive structure. Maybe we need equity plans. Or we need to get into a new country.” All of these things are the results of changes in strategy. We just build a people strategy based on that. We formally link the business strategy with the people strategy, and then HR is one of the key drivers of the people strategy.

    Do you view HR as a strategic partner in Nokia?

    No, I don’t see HR as a strategic partner, because I don’t like the word partner. I think that sounds like HR is outside of the business. In fact, we are in the middle of the business—like sales, marketing, logistics, and finance. We are all business. I don’t think any of us are partners, in fact. But HR is definitely an integral part of the business in Nokia.

    The economy is still fragile. Are there any things that HR should be doing differently now than in the normal course of business?

    Most companies now need to be very close to what’s happening in the marketplace and be agile, which means that you have to be very quick on the brake or on the gas pedal, depending on what’s happening. It means a lot of change management again.
    Change means uncertainty. And uncertainty is not easy for a lot of us. So dealing with ambiguity and helping people through these difficult times are very key things for HR to be working on.

    Hallstein, thank you very much for this insightful discussion.

    Thank you very much. My pleasure.

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