What does a business executive think about the importance of company values in business management in these economically challenging times?

The circular economy expert who moved from Tana’s board to its operational management last spring has promised to share his views on Tana’s values:

Openness among us and our stakeholders
Desire for continuous improvement
Courage to think differently
Commitment to getting things done

A company’s values are not a simple or one-dimensional issue,
responds Tana CEO Kalle Saarimaa.

Less talk more action

On the Tana website, our values and way of working are introduced under the slogan “Less talk and more action”. This describes the thinking behind Tana Oy’s business operations.

“In some corporations, there are a lot of internal politics and departments whose operations are not very business oriented. We don’t do pointless things here,” assures Saarimaa.

Tana itself did not start from the circular economy but was simply a machine manufacturer among others. Today, the company’s growth is supported by the circular economy trend, but the traditional focus is not disappearing from its operations.

“The trend only brings us good things, also in terms of recruitment. The circular economy gives more drive. In addition, our actions improve the state of the earth.”

Openness among us and our shareholders

According to the CEO, openness is essential both internally and among stakeholders.

“It can be seen in how people dare to speak up and down. The management team does not assume that everything that is not specifically defined as public is confidential. Often, not communicating is a bigger risk than communicating.”

As CEO, Saarimaa relies on competent professionals who know how to interpret the information they receive and also how to manage uncertainty. Accordingly, he plans to introduce monthly metrics describing business development that would be available to all employees. 

Desire for continuous improvement

Saarimaa believes that the desire for continuous improvement is at a healthy level, although there is still work to do in embedding it in all the company’s operations. With a limited number of employees, the majority of the time is spent on daily tasks, with little left over for developing processes and operating models.

Courage to think differently

According to Saarimaa, the courage to think differently can be seen in the company’s long history. Tana’s products and way of working stand out from those of other companies in the industry.

“For us, customer focus does not mean that the customer tells us what kind of machine he wants and we make simply make it. Instead, we strive to identify the solution that the customer really needs, and we genuinely make our own machines to solve that need. That is what makes us such a successful company,” he says.

Commitment to getting things done

Saarimaa believes that Tana’s fourth value, the commitment to getting things done, is the reason that the company has been able to get through even the toughest times. A good example is the scarcity of components in recent years, regardless of which Tana has been able to deliver a record number of machines to customers.

“We at Tana have a great attitude, and we are committed to our work. Supervisors do not have to look over everyone’s shoulders all the time to make sure things get done,” Saarimaa emphasises.

Company culture reflects real values

In Kalle Saarimaa’s opinion, values can be a great asset if handled correctly and help a company achieve a lot. However, it does not always go so well.

“Far too often, values are a mandatory process controlled from above, which results in four words posted on the wall that no one remembers afterwards. In these cases, their importance is minor if not non-existent,” he states.

He does not believe that management can define common values for the organisation from above and out of the blue. Saarimaa prefers to talk about company culture and the practical values of the work community.

“What would the company’s values look like if someone from the outside looked at them? You could ask that from customers, employees and suppliers in the value chain,” he challenges.

“Would we be satisfied with what they see, or should we develop our company culture in a certain direction? Developing a company culture and values is a long process.”

ESG and values go hand in hand

In Saarimaa’s thinking, corporate responsibility in terms of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors goes hand in hand with values. For him, Tana’s values can be seen, for example, in the fact that when the Covid pandemic began to impact the order books, the decision was taken that no one would be laid off or fired. The long-term benefit won out over the short-term benefit.

“If the wellbeing of employees is an important value, and the value is not respected, people notice it and it affects operations negatively. Values are measured in painful decisions,” the CEO points out.

Social responsibility extends beyond the company

Saarimaa identifies a certain Tana spirit in the company’s pleasant facilities in Jyväskylä that create a sense of community, where colleagues are helped and work is done together. Tana’s social responsibility also extends beyond the company.

“Unfortunately, the City of Jyväskylä had to reduce the amount of support for sports and recreation. We cooperated with a local organisation so that we could channel financial support for children’s and young people’s recreational activities. Adding in the challenge aspect, encouraging othercompanies to support this initiative, we could do our part in growing the impact even greater,” says Saarimaa.

Tana’s business is inherently sustainable

Saarimaa believes the company is in any case a part of society, from which it receives but also gives a lot. The most important thing in terms of the company’s success is that it is able to produce the kind of value that the customer is willing to pay for.

“A successful company provides jobs and pays taxes. On the other hand, society provides the infrastructure from which the company benefits. The company takes care of its social responsibility, and a responsible infrastructure supports companies.”

Saarimaa points out that Tana’s business itself is inherently sustainable. Tana’s products improve the state of the environment and promote sustainable development. In addition, the company bears administrative and social responsibility. The CEO emphasises that even though Tana’s fundamentals are strong, it too must have goals, metrics and measures in place.

Values and culture are essential for company growth

The CEO, who can still look at Tana with fresh eyes, sees the development of the company culture as a continuous task, because stagnation is dangerous. When developing the company culture, however, it is also important to understand the starting points of the culture and respect the company’s history. He sees no need to change the company’s values.

“Values do not limit our growth and culture. On the contrary, they are essential for further accelerating business growth, also inorganically,” says Saarimaa.

When the company with its Finnish employees sets out to expand from Jyväskylä, the goal is an even more international culture.

“The circular economy and recycling are changing rapidly, so we need to increase our understanding of our customers’ business and recycling processes. That competence must be strengthened through growth,” he continues.

Having outsourced its manufacturing, Tana has grown quickly from a core team of 20 to an organisation of 50 experts. Saarimaa believes that the company’s growth increases the need to develop the operating culture.

“In order to avoid inefficiency and frustration, processes must be defined more precisely than before, but without any unnecessary bureaucracy,” he adds.