Elcoline’s fast rate of growth required an updating of the company’s management culture – manage uncertainty instead of certainty


The recent challenges, such as the component shortage and energy crisis, have not markedly slowed down Elcoline’s operations. Quite to the contrary, the Nordic company providing industrial maintenance and project business services boldly increased its size by purchasing the operations of a Swedish industrial business of about 140 people that has been in the field for a long time. Elcoline Group’s average rate of growth has been fast at over 40 per cent a year.

The rapid growth in the recent years has forced the company to examine its management culture. In the fall of 2021, a decision was made to harmonize Elcoline’s management practices and operations management systems. According to CEO Leif Backman, the fast growth of the business operations and employee numbers would not have been possible otherwise.

“We had a clear goal: a unified Elcoline with a shared management model and practices, resulting in a common corporate culture. For a long time, Elcoline’s various units had their own specific operating methods. We needed to consider how to streamline the management practices and develop joint operating methods to enable future leaps in growth,” Backman says.

Manage uncertainty instead of certainty

“We began building a harmonized growth culture based on the OKR model, which seeks to represent practically everything in the form of goals and numbers. For the past 18 months, the management model has been implemented across all of the organization’s units, and it covers operations related to quality, HR and safety,” Backman says

Elcoline’s management had previous learned about the goal-oriented OKR methodology (Objectives & Key Results), which was a good match for the company’s views around growth strategy.

Elcoline Group CEO Leif Backman. Photo: Elcoline

The model focuses on harmonized management methods and a thoroughly open corporate culture that makes goals at all levels visible to everyone. In addition to this, the connection to the company’s strategic goals is made crystal clear. In order to successfully carry out a change of this magnitude, Elcoline wanted a competent partner. The right fit for the role was the Finnish company Tangible Growth, which has built an operating platform for rapidly-growing businesses using the OKR methodology, among other tools.

“The goal-oriented management models, such as OKRs, stem from the aim of understanding and managing the full spectrum of changes and integrating expansive strategic objectives in the concrete day-to-day activities of each team and unit. The best performance is achieved when everyone understands the importance of their activities in the achievement of the organization’s strategic goals. This helps to build the meaningfulness of work and teaches how to manage uncertainty instead of certainty,” explains Tangible Growth CEO Juuso Hämäläinen.

Maintaining a fast rate of growth, adopting OKR ideologies and operating methods, and implementing new operating methods at the same time is no easy feat. The biggest challenge was to carry out simultaneous large changes in a way that would not hamper the ambitiously rapid growth. The decision to consciously slow down the change cycle turned out to be an important decision for Elcoline. This provided the teams with more time to adapt, learn the new practices and implement the OKR methodologies.

Other important requirements for successful changes are the organization’s internal willingness and enthusiasm. In order to bolster them, Tangible Growth trained the Elcoline team into an internal ambassador of change able to support and promote changes within the company. At the same time, the company ensured that it retained the expertise in house.

Every goal can be represented in numbers

The change project was driven forward through quarterly sprints that broke the goals down to concrete subgoals.

“I believe that we were able to represent pretty much everything in the form of numerical objectives, even though it seemed impossible at times. For example, if the goal was to achieve x per cent of growth in southwestern Finland, we considered how many new customers would be needed to reach this goal, how many new customer contacts it would take, and so forth. Understanding this has been an extremely significant change for us in terms of operations as well as thinking. In all of our activities we now consider what is changing, how it is changing and what we are measuring. At the end, we determine how everything was achieved and implemented,” Backman describes.

Reducing unnecessary work and accelerating goal achievement

Thanks to the openness and clarity, Elcoline has been able to avoid unnecessary work and achieve its goals faster than before. One of the enablers of 20 per cent in organic growth and more than 50 per cent of total growth last year was the Tangible Growth application’s increased transparency with regard to the goals of various teams and the real-time view into progress or support needs throughout the organization at any given time.

“Tangible Growth helped us not only in the form of the tool but also as an proficient coach. Together we were able to change even impossible goals into numerical, concrete and achievably-sized chunks,” Backman says, pleased with the results.

Elcoline’s growth has only accelerated in recent years driven by customer needs

Elcoline’s aim is to employ more experts and increase its net sales to 200 million during the next strategic period.

In 2022, Elcoline Group’s organic growth stood at about 20 per cent – the total growth was over 50 per cent after the corporate acquisition. Even in the preceding decade, the average rate of growth has been fast at over 40 per cent a year starting from 2013.

According to Backman, the new growth numbers were reached particularly thanks to the transparent goals of the team-specific objectives and the real-time view into the progress throughout the organization.

That being said, Backman indicates that growth is not a value in itself. It stemmed from a clear need in customer needs: more and more Nordic companies would like to purchase all of their technical installation services from a single strategic partner that is also capable of cooperation across borders.

“We want to contribute to ensuring that industrial production remains in the Nordic countries”

“Through our determined growth strategy, we want to contribute to ensuring that industrial production remains in the Nordic countries and is organized as responsibly as possible. As such, we must be able to provide resources and efficiency for maintenance and project activities to make sure that the operations are profitable. We want to be a genuine Nordic operator, offer interesting work tasks to our staff internationally and provide our customers with high-quality services in the long term,” Backman says.

The next objective is to expand Elcoline’s harmonization of cultures and management practices to the international scale. The company intends to shift its focus from pure growth more toward profitable growth and making it a constant.

Päivi Tervonen

Photo: Elcoline