Interview with Anders Wiklund, CEO @ OX2

Tell us a little bit about OX2

OX2 is one of Europe’s leading companies on green energy. We started in 2004 building wind power farms. Between 2014 and today, our wind farms are the biggest contributors to green energy in the EU (measured in MW).

Our mission and purpose is to “lead the transition from fossil fuel to carbon neutral solutions”.

What appeals to you with OX2?

The climate crisis is one of humanity’s biggest challenges. At the same time soaring energy prices, driven by the tragic events in Ukraine have created almost the perfect storm. We get to make a difference and address these challenges, using green energy. That appeals to me.

Tell us a little about Anders Wiklund. Who is he?

A positive guy driven to make a difference, both by what we do an how we do it. If I had a mantra, it would be “unleash the power of people, so they can solve a challenge with a good purpose”.

You are not new to Agile. You have used it with good results in three different companies, stretching from software to manufacturing. How has Agile impacted your Leadership?

A lot! I strongly believe that as a leader, you create the conditions for people to grow, where experimentation is to be expected and it’s ok to make mistakes. Agile essentially happened to put words to it. It gives names to the principles that release the creative power of people. And you have more fun in the process as well!

What do you see as the main advantages of Agile?

It’s not overly complicated, the principles behind Agile are really both simple and rational. By being both simple and intuitive, Agile is easy to make understandable. It gives us intuitive, easy-to-grasp principles which make it more effective to use and we have more fun doing it!

I should mention though that we rarely start by introducing it as “Agile”. We start by having a conversation around “wouldn’t it be great if.. (we could stop and reflect on what we do every once in a while, we could learn how to prioritize…”) After we have agreed that these are indeed aspirational habits, we put them in place and when people experience the effect, we then let them people know that these are all standard elements of Agile.

In what way does Agile challenge existing approaches to leadership from your experience?

One of these challenges is the traditional notion of a leadership team who’s on top of everything and always knows the right course of action. This needs to go out of the window, you will simply be too slow. Agile works well when a leadership team truly wants to leverage people’s potentials.

The challenging parts with Agile are the cultural leaps. Learning to embrace trust and transparency; being comfortable with experimenting and learning from failure.

A leadership team that values control and power over results won’t see Agile fly. You level up as a leadership team when you realize that your real job is to build a trust culture that enables people to make decisions, own and problem solve the challenges relevant for their work, with the confidence that they will always have your back.

Is there a way to make a shift like this a smoother, less daunting task?

There is. When you recruit for key roles, look for what the character of the person fits with, and accelerates your cultural shift. The other key is a change management one: avoid starting a journey by rolling out “the new next gen new management philosophy” (people will have seen this movie before). Instead, run small experiments and when people experience the effect, that’s when you can put a label on it. Test first, then decide if it works and how you feel about it.

On being a CEO for a new company

What’s important to think about, when you take over as a new CEO?

Listen more than you talk. Meet people where they are. Use your people to form problem statements. Then build from there.

Avoid the classic mistake of “let’s change the brand, the organization…” during your early days at work.

Instead, use your people to make the problem statement. Once this is described and aligned, finding the solutions is easy!

A CEO’s job can be easy, if you know how to do it!

A small story: In my previous company, we had a challenge with operational alignment across business areas. Instead of us telling them how to solve it, we gathered a team of key people and asked them to take ownership or problem-solve the situation. Not only did they do it, they came up with better ideas none of us could have foreseen!

How do you get over a situation when people respond and would like to take part, but they don’t have the time?

This is where leadership really matters. A few techniques you can use include:

1) Ask the participants to invest 10 minutes writing down what they normally do during a normal working day. Then ask them to label each of these activities as “value” or “waste”. Then ask them, “how much of a normal working day is waste? If this turns up to be say 40%, then ask, “wouldn’t it be worth investing 1 hour in removing it?”

2) Create time for them. Take something off their plate and help them get through the problem formulation as effectively as possible. When they know their problem, people get engaged and generally self-organize themselves to address it. You just need to initiate the move and create time for them to get started.

At your previous company, you started something called “mågottfabriken” (“the feel good factory”). Tell us a little more about this

When I joined my previous company Optinova, we wanted to find simple ways to speed things up and move away from the micromanaging reflexes that we had. We basically needed to shift the company culture to “speed, love and please fail also”. The problem is, how do you describe this culture? We realized we needed a language for it, someone suggested that we ask people whenever in doubt (if something was the right thing to do), to test the decision towards “the feel good factory”. It intuitively felt well, and it stuck.

I should point out that we were careful to describe the shift as “a journey”. We knew it would take time. We measured engagement as one way to check if we were making progress. After one to two years, we started to see evidence of change. Communication improved. Our “great place to work” study jumped in the following years from 53% to 81%, putting us in the top 10% of manufacturing companies in the EU.

A few years on, customers who visited us started to reply “we really like your attitude here, you should be proud of it, it´s differentiating you from your competitors”. At this point, we realized that what has become second nature to us was being appreciated also by our customers! So we decided to make this an official tagline :).

How is a CEO impacting the company? Has your perspective on this shifted with the CEO glasses on?

You have a bigger impact than you think. With the word “CEO” people attach ingrained expectations and experiences, for good and for bad. At my previous company, I tried to replace it with “Chief Engagement Officer” because I thought that was more telling.

For me, leadership is a lot about building an environment and relations to ensure that the people you work with don’t need to speculate and second guess. “Is this intent good?” if so they should feel safety in taking this decision. Your staff should be able to navigate through periods of uncertainty without turning negative. That’s a sign of good leadership. Your people have faith in the company, in the direction, and they know that they are trusted to make decisions and take initiatives at all times, as long as the intent is good.

When you put together a leadership team, what do you need to pay attention to?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of recruiting people who are just like you, instead of complementing you. You should look for people with variations in their experience and way of thinking. What does matter is that you as a team keep a shared picture of what is important, a higher purpose (which is your job to facilitate as a leader). As long as you have this, you should not fear variation in personalities and experience among your team.

So when should you act, as a leader, if someone is out of line?

You need courage as leader, to act and make decisions when someone behaves badly. Everyone watches a situation such as this, so whatever happens with these situations often has a long term impact. I usually think before I find out, that most other people will have known for some time. So if you see clear situations of misbehavior, avoid the temptation to kick the can down the road, act swiftly.

There are three good habits I come to value:

  1. Creativity to solve problems. In a nutshell, it’s all about problem solving. It’s how you take on those problems that defines you.
  2. Being brave, make tough decision, especially also around company culture and behaviors.
  3. Grit, the ability to get things done. Nothing works perfectly the first time, so you need to stick with the problem, until the solution is good enough (avoid the trap of seeking perfection, because then you’ll never be done :).

Let’s shift focus to change management. How do you work to create momentum and a sense of progression?

There are two main things:

● A high level of trust and open atmosphere. An atmosphere where people can speak out and have the courage to run with the initiative. If I were to make an analogy with a soccer team, the team that performs well is the one where players never hesitate to make that breakthrough pass.

● Clarity in direction. Which direction are we heading to? This is not the same as goal setting. While goals are finite, your direction is not. Your direction needs to make sense so it inspires confidence on the future. Goals can be set without a direction that inspires confidence.

Final question: What is your top 3 advice for young people, future leaders with the desire to change the world?

First, choose work not because of the money, but because it motivates you. Money will come as a consequence.

Second, when you are going on an interview for a new position, be curious yourself. What is this company like? Is this a place to grow in? As much as that the company is learning about you, make sure you learn about them! See this as your responsibility.

Third, be curious and have the desire to learn new things. Dare to jump! Challenge yourself to learn new things.

We thank Anders for sharing his insights as an Agile CEO and wish him best of luck with his new endeavors at OX2.