An Operating Model Designed With Purpose

Aligning purpose amongst employees and the company often comes down to a unique operating model. Robert Bueninck, Klarna’s General Manager in the DACH region, explains how the Swedish company’s progressive approach to encouraging more bottom-up initiatives instills a sense of purpose across Klarna. 

Tell us a bit about your role at Klarna?
I am Klarna’s General Manager in the DACH region, so Germany, Austria and Switzerland. At Klarna, we are organized in a slightly different way, as we have so-called “teams” and “domains” that tackle various problem spaces. I am domain lead of the DACH domain. The purpose of the DACH domain is to drive growth and innovation in the region and set up the right go-to market strategies for various new product offerings.

What is Klarna’s greater purpose?
At the end we have multiple purposes. Our main purpose has always been to become the world’s favorite way to buy by standing out from the crowd and providing a great service for our consumers. We want to make payments a fun, joyful and smoooth experience to make people’s lives easier.

What are Klarna’s biggest assets in becoming more purpose-driven?
At the end of the day we are, like any other company, in the people business. Our colleagues have a specific mindset and are naturally open to changes and new developments. At Klarna, we really actively try to embrace this kind of culture to facilitate speed and innovation.

What role does purpose play in peoples’ success at Klarna?
In general, if you look at a person’s motivation, it always comes down to having a feeling of purpose and of belonging to something bigger. It’s a constant challenge to establish this particular feeling and passion throughout an organization, of course, but it can be incredibly rewarding at the same time.

How does Klarna encourage employees to explore their purpose?
We encourage employees to think entrepreneurial and identify room for improvement. Klarna’s operating model has been deliberately designed to allow employees to do this, as we have turned the traditional management pyramid upside down. We have approximately 300 startups within our organization and these teams work with us on both a permanent and nonpermanent basis. 

Everyone at Klarna has the opportunity to found a new startup so-to-speak, which naturally makes it easier to find purpose. 

Once you spot something that you really want to explore or develop further, you can pitch it to the VP and CxO level. I function as a sort of Venture Capitalist to whom team members can come and pitch their ideas. This is most common in the product space, but applies to all areas as well. We have found that this helps to remove silo working styles, fosters cross-collaboration across departments and encourages a more bottom-up approach. This kind of system has been in our DNA from the very beginning and increases the shared responsibility for the outcome. While it may be confusing for employees at first, it can be extremely fruitful and rewarding in the long-run.

Has Klarna set any impact goals this year?
We have a goal to be CO2 neutral by the end of the year. How do we do this? For example, we have an annual event called Smoooth Week, where everyone in the organization comes together to exchange knowledge, learnings and experiences. This year, it takes place in Berlin and the majority of our colleagues who are based in Europe will arrive via train. Some brave ones, including our CTO, will even cycle from Stockholm to Berlin. Furthermore, we recently entered a Swedish environmental competition, which we actually won because of our radical measures to drive environmental changes: For instance, we are currently reducing our domestic flights, we introduced vegan weeks in the Stockholm office, and we decreased the amount of letters we send out each month. And there is more to come.

While becoming carbon-neutral is very topical right now, what do you envision to be future challenges in becoming more purposeful?
We are a very tech-heavy company and something we’ve been struggling with for a long time is how male-dominated the FinTech industry is. We want Klarna to be a lot more mixed in this respect. We have organized numerous women in tech events and female-only hackathons, but it still proves to be quite challenging to attract more women in FinTech. That is why we recently changed our employer branding efforts and we are excited to see how our workforce will change in the months to come.

What is your advice to other organizations trying to adapt a more purposeful way of working?
I think the definition of a career needs to be retaught. We need to transform our image of a successful career, the rewards that it entails, and the idea of career progression. We need to start rewarding people to move sideways, change path, and do something different. We believe the more freedom you give to people, the more responsibility people will take over and hence easier find their personal purpose in their professional lives.


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