Icebreaker 22, September 2016

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Welcome to the 22nd issue of Icebreaker, the STP newsletter.

In this edition we have a bumper news round-up featuring Brexit reaction, CSA rankings, STP’s new office and our double nomination for the 2016 ATC Awards. Senior PM Igor Solunac shares his productivity secrets. We weigh up the good and the bad of perfectionism. And we present five Finnish sports where it’s not the winning but the weirdness that counts.

Company News

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A round-up of STP news from the past quarter

Unless you’ve been living off-grid in northernmost Norway for the past couple of months, you’ll know that, on 23 June, the UK voted to leave the European Union.

The Brexit vote was met with disappointment and dismay by most of STP’s mainly Europhile workforce. And, for our management team* and others like it across the UK, it raised many trade-related questions and concerns which, two months on, the British government has done little to address.

For the time being, however, the EU referendum result is no more than that: a referendum result. The UK is still part of the EU and its single market, and it will stay that way for the foreseeable future. So it’s very much business as usual at STP – and, Brexit or no Brexit, you can continue to count on us for all your Nordic translation needs.

*You can read Anu Carnegie-Brown’s Brexit-themed interview with Slator here, and Jesper Sandberg’s GALA blog on the topic here.

In July, the independent market research firm Common Sense Advisory (CSA) named STP as the 73rd largest company in the $40.27bn global language services industry. In its report The Language Services Market: 2016, CSA also ranked us 19th in Northern Europe, based on turnover for the calendar year 2015. You can read our full news release here.

In August, STP officially opened its fourth office. After a successful four-month trial period that started in April, we now have a permanent base in Varna, Bulgaria, which will complement our existing locations in Whiteley, London and Stockholm. Our Varna office will provide extra capacity for our project management team and serve as a support hub for our business development and administrative functions.

And finally: we’re thrilled to announce that we’ve been nominated in two categories for the 2016 Language Industry Summit Awards. Our project management team is up for the PM Team of the Year prize, while Anu Carnegie-Brown, our esteemed managing director, is shortlisted for the Outstanding Contribution to the Language Industry award.

Over the course of her 20-year career, Anu has made an immense mark on the industry. She has helped three Nordic regional language vendors, including STP, grow from modest start-ups to streamlined organisations. Her extensive work with universities and industry associations, meanwhile, has helped to train and inspire countless people to build careers and pursue excellence in the profession.

As a team, our PMs serve more than 300 clients, including 39 of the 100 largest LSPs in the world. And as individuals they each deliver a whopping 1,880 projects per year, which, according to ATC research, is six times greater than the UK average. They do this while upholding STP’s reputation for quality and service, and while maintaining fantastic relationships with our clients and suppliers. We think that’s a remarkable feat, and we wish them (and Anu) the best of luck.

The winners will be announced at the gala awards dinner on the first evening of the annual ATC Conference. This year’s conference, which marks the ATC’s 40th anniversary, takes place in London on 22–23 September, and features a stellar programme of guest speakers, masterclasses, tool demos and networking opportunities.

We’re attending on both days, and we’d love to see you there too. Registration is still open, and there’s a £50 discount if you book before midnight (BST) on 31 August. You can find full details here.

Staff Spotlight

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20 questions with Igor Solunac, Senior Project Manager

With eight full years in the job, Igor Solunac is the longest-serving member of STP’s project management team.

As a senior PM, Igor has seen it all – and when it comes to productivity and great customer service, there’s little he doesn’t know. We asked him 20 quick-fire questions to find out some of his PMing secrets, and to see what makes him tick away from work.

Igor, which languages can you speak?

Serbian, Croatian, Russian, English, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. The dead ones don’t count, do they? If they do, I also studied Latin and Old Slavonic.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A pilot.

What first drew you to project management?

It was more of an arranged marriage than love at first sight. After almost ten years of freelancing as a translator/interpreter, where I was always conveying other people’s thoughts, and a few years of teaching, where I was helping others express themselves, I fancied a change. PMing was the logical choice, and that’s how I ended up at STP.

What do you enjoy most about PMing?

The fact that I can immerse myself in projects and be with my own thoughts. I think every translator-turned-PM enjoys that.

Which is your most productive day of the week?

Any day I have plans after work and absolutely must finish on time. That’s actually not a bad tip for junior PMs: if you want to be productive and keep a healthy work-life balance, make sure you have a busy social life. That said, the temptation to stay and work “just to finish this one little thing” is one I’ve yielded to many times.

What’s the most important quality for a good PM?

Communication skills. If you can’t handle people as well as you handle projects, you’re not a PM – you’re a robot.

What do you wish you’d known before you started PMing?

That it would make me even more of a control freak than I was to begin with.

If you could have a PM superpower, what would it be?

An ability to worry less about other people’s dramas. It’s something I could do with in my private life, too. I’m a people person, though, so I will always care more than I ought to.

What’s your idea of great customer service?

When the client is happy to come to you, knowing that they will get the best service. And when they leave delighted with the service you gave them. It’s not easy to reach that point, but it can be done – even with the toughest of them.

What’s your productivity secret?

Master the little things that most people can’t be bothered to learn properly. Touch typing, for instance, is a skill anyone can develop. But not many people make the effort, even though they use computers every day. The same goes for keyboard shortcuts.

There’s also a huge number of books on project management, productivity and efficiency that can really help. Applying what you learn isn’t always easy, and it takes persistence. After a while, though, it becomes second nature, and the gains quickly stack up.

If you could have another job for just one day, what would it be?

PM – as in prime minister.

How do you unwind after a busy day?

Read, listen to music, take long walks with my better half and socialise with friends.

Music while PMing – motivating or distracting?

Motivating, but you have to choose it carefully.

It’s fika time. Tea or coffee?

Coffee, always.

Do you have any hidden talents?

I used to be a chorister. Nowadays I mostly sing in the shower.

What’s your favourite word?

Ljubav. It means “love” in Serbian and I just love saying it.

Name one thing you couldn’t live without

Books. And I mean real ones. I do have a Kindle, but I just love the scent of paper.

Who do you most admire, and why?

A late family friend who taught me that we should only be ashamed of trying to be someone else, and not for being who we really are. Although she was disabled most of her life, she lived, loved, laughed and beamed with joy. I want to be that person, too.

Any words of wisdom for new PMs starting out in the job?

Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Listen carefully and learn from others. That way you’ll save yourself a lot of time, and you’ll bond with your colleagues much faster.

Describe STP in three words

Family. Friends. Fun.

Industry Issues

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Perfect vs done: why LSPs must find the balance

Call it a fact or a blanket statement. But, in our experience at least, translation companies tend to attract – and hire – more perfectionists than they do other personality types.

On the face of it, building a culture of perfectionism makes sense for LSPs. After all, if quality is your main selling point, it surely pays to surround yourself with translators, project managers and support staff who refuse to accept anything but the best.

However, while perfection is an admirable aim, the pursuit of it can be endless and draining. And, in a profession ruled by deadlines, time and energy are two resources that none of us can afford to burn.

There has to be a trade-off, then, between getting things perfect and getting them done. But how do you find that middle ground without letting standards slip?

Recognising the good

We should start by saying that we think perfectionism is a valuable trait, and that we actively seek it in employees and suppliers.

Indeed, we would rather have a company full of perfectionists than a workforce that sees OK as good enough – and STP’s recruitment policy has always reflected that.

Precision, clarity and compliance are so important in our line of business, and we find that perfectionists tend to have the above-average levels of diligence and attention to detail needed to succeed.

Perfectionists, we’ve also found, generally have a stronger work ethic, and a more innate commitment to doing the best possible job. And since they hold themselves to such high standards, each new project is a chance to do better.

This helps to create an atmosphere of constant improvement, which benefits everyone in the company. Not to mention our clients.

… and the not so good

That said, we also know that unchecked perfectionism can cause problems. You may well have witnessed or experienced some of them yourself.

In some, perfectionism creates an almost paralysing fear of failure. For translators, this can lead to excessive attention to detail and endless reworking – to the point where quality actually suffers, and deadlines become hard to meet.

The effect can be similar for project managers. When chasing perfection, it’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of projects and lose sight of the bigger picture. That is: delivering on time, on budget and to the client’s specification.

Channelled in the wrong directions, perfectionism can also stifle innovation and creativity. The most successful marketing campaigns, and the best technical solutions, nearly always grow from imperfect ideas. A perfectionist’s instinct, however, is often to shut down those ideas before they have a chance to flourish.

Treading the tightrope

So, how can you harness the positive power of perfectionism while limiting its negative side effects?

We think the answer is to encourage balance, and to try to focus your company’s perfectionist energies where they are most needed. In practice, this involves redefining perfection slightly to mean something closer to excellence.

Perfection is, in essence, unattainable – whereas excellence is difficult but achievable. When your goal is to deliver a perfect project, you have an impossible task from the start, with no objective measure of success. This creates stress, makes it difficult to know where to concentrate your efforts, and can lead to wasted time and patchy quality.

An excellent project, however, is an extremely good one. Extremely good implies having the required qualities plus something extra. And when you focus on the ‘required qualities,’ the client’s specification is always at the front of your mind. This gives you a clearer focus for your perfectionist streak, and is the surest route to a happy customer.

As for the something extra: well, another thing we’ve observed about perfectionists is that they rarely work in half measures. So when a perfectionist aims for excellence, you can usually count on the results being exceptional by most standards.

The outcome of striving for excellent, then, is effectively the same as when aiming for perfect. The difference is that shooting for concrete excellence produces less stress, self-doubt and inefficiency than working for abstract perfection.

In the end, it’s important to remember that we’re in a customer-service industry. And that, no matter how strong your personal inclinations, there’s only one definition of ‘perfect’ that really matters: your client’s.

Nordic Focus

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5 Finnish sports where weirdness beats winning

If you’re a sports fan, you’ll no doubt agree that it’s been a splendid summer. Yet with so many perfection-chasing golfers, cyclists, cricketers, footballers, tennis players and athletes on display these past few months, you may now be feeling decidedly substandard and qualified only to cheer from the sofa.

You needn’t write off your sporting career just yet, though. For Finland is full of international contests where it’s not the winning but the bizarreness that counts – and where almost anyone can become a world-beater.

Here are just some of the weird and wonderful world championships that took place in Finland this summer. See you on a podium next year?

Swamp soccer (world championships in Hyrynsalmi in June 2016) is, quite simply, football played in bogs. More physically demanding than the bog-standard (!) form of the beautiful game, this swamp-based version was originally used to train athletes and soldiers. The rules have been adapted somewhat to suit the squelchy terrain, with six players per team, no offside rule and matches played over two halves of 12 minutes.

In wife carrying (world championships in Sonkajärvi in July 2016), men race to the end of an obstacle course while carrying a female teammate. The 253.5m challenge was originally held on rocky terrain, with fences and brooks for competitors to negotiate. Now, however, the course is flatter and more modern, with two dry obstacles and one water jump.

The contest is rooted in Finnish folklore, and tales of robbers who would not only steal food from villagers, but also carry away their wives. This is why, contrary to what the sport’s name suggests, the carried woman does not actually have to be the carrier’s wife. She must, however, be at least 17 years old and weigh a minimum of 49kg, thus presumably making her of marriageable age and size. Style is free and varies from piggyback or fireman’s lift to the female hanging upside-down with her legs over the man’s shoulders.

Open Water Floorball (world championships in Saari National Park, Tammela in July 2016) is, essentially, hockey played in the shallow waters of a lake. Land-based Floorball is a Nordic version of hockey with five outfield players and a goalkeeper per team. It is usually played indoors with a perforated plastic ball. In this aquatic version, however, there are four outfield players and no goalie, and the hollow ball floats nicely on the surface of the water. Footwear is mandatory, and the rules also specifically state that intoxicated players or teams can be removed from the tournament.

Iron bar walking (world championships in Mustiala in August 2016) is perhaps the least well known of all these unusual sports. If you are familiar with Nordic walking, imagine something similar – except with two heavy iron digging bars, each weighing 6.5kg, instead of lightweight poles.

In this relay race, four team members – men or women – take turns to walk 125 metres with the bars, wearing the kind of protective footwear usually seen on lumberjacks and tree surgeons. One foot must always be touching the ground simultaneously with the bar in the opposite hand, and the bars must not be carried or dragged. At each changeover, the competitors pass on both the bars and the boots.

We round off our selection with mobile phone throwing – the brainchild of Finnish translation company Fennolingua. The competition started in Finland in 2000, and, with the next world championships to be held in Savonlinna in March 2017, it is now an established winter event.

The contest gives competitors the chance to ‘throw away’ their frustrations with technology and their disappointment with unanswered or unreturned calls. It also draws attention to the short life-cycle of mobile phones and promotes the importance of recycling in today’s trend-driven world.

Phones are provided by the competition’s sponsor, and the contestants compete in four categories: Original (for the longest throwing distance), Freestyle (for choreography and aesthetics), Team, and Junior. The world record, set in 2012, is a mobile-busting 102.68m.

New blog series – subscribe now!

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Ever wondered what it takes to run a global top-100 translation company?

In her new Director’s Cut blog series, Anu-Carnegie-Brown, our managing director, shares her personal insight and know-how gained from over 20 years at the sharp end of the translation industry.

With topics such as balancing personal and professional life, retaining and rewarding staff, organising large project management teams and managing remote workers, we’re sure you’ll find plenty of helpful ideas and strategies to apply to your own situation.

A preview post will be out on 8 September, and new posts will be published on the first Thursday of every month thereafter. To have them delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to our blog now.

Feedback

If you have any feedback about this issue of Icebreaker, or if you’d like to suggest a topic for a future edition, we’d love to hear from you. Please send us your thoughts and ideas by email.

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