Case Finnair: What’s Your Next Move in Growing as a Leader?

“Designed and arranged in partnership with Aalto EE, Leaders’ Next Move program provided managers at Finnair with lessons and tools for shifting from a reorganization mode to a path of growth”, states Eija Hakakari, Finnair’s former Senior Vice President for People and Culture.

Photo: Finnair

Reetta Räty, 18.05.2018

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Eija Hakakari, Finnair’s former Senior Vice President (People & Culture), has collaborated with Aalto EE’s Senior Advisor Ben Nothnagel also in the past. As Finnair began to shift from reorganization to a period of growth, Hakakari felt that Nothnagel would be the right person to envisage what type of training and thinking Finnair’s executives needed.

“A new situation demands new type of leadership.”

Hakakari and her team member Anu Henttonen designed and delivered the Next Move program together with Ben Nothnagel, Group Managing Director Dr. Pekka Mattila, and Senior Executive Raija Kuokkanen from Aalto EE. 

Change isn’t only connected to economy, but there’s been a cultural shift at play."

A total of 80 Finnair key managers took part in the program. The program ran for a duration of nine months, which has followed for instance with personal coaching and implementing lessons into practice in the organization. The burning question in the program’s design was the way Finnair was preparing for growth: What steps would make the organization growth-oriented?

“The program has impact due to Nothnagel’s method and thinking that focus on people and personal growth of leaders. This gives tools for putting one’s personality into use in leadership”, explains Eija Hakakari.

Finnair has gone through a total turn around over the past three or four years. Change isn’t only connected to economy, but there’s been a cultural shift at play. “We were at the brink of something new in more ways than one. Many members of personnel have had some degree of uncertainty, which made us think about what we needed to do. At the same time, there’s been a strong commitment to change.”

The shift offered a good opportunity for training and reflecting on personal leadership. Everyone felt they could do with new perspectives and lessons. “The joint program also provided the group with a common language to talk things through, and shared terminology had a huge impact on the cultural shift.”

Leadership needs to be developed in daily activities

According to Hakakari, Ben Nothnagel has the ability to spur managers to develop their own leadership in an everyday context. Leadership is about daily activities, conscious behavior, and readjusting routines. “He creates a theoretical framework for everyday phenomena: Why a manager feels a certain way, why someone doesn’t get round to things, how to get more done, how stress affects the brain, why the team is distressed… Ben brings a neurological and scientific basis for these issues ­– and gives practical tips that can be immediately put into use at the same time.”

The shift offered a good opportunity for training and reflecting on personal leadership."

Ben Nothnagel mentions that as the leadership context changes, leaders themselves don’t need to change, but they do need to think about what to focus on: What is the next move for creating a better foundation for growth?

As homework, Nothnagel gets managers to test and observe their conscious decision-making in practice. He links change to an easily recognizable daily context in a way that works and results in new behavior and conscious decisions.

Nothnagel emphasizes identifying unconscious behavior and steers towards conscious decision-making. “With Finnair managers, we reached concrete results by focusing on their daily decision-making situations.”

Managers must look in the mirror

Leaders need to also be able discuss their personal weak spots. “We’re not talking about something fluffy here, but it’s about growing as individuals and human beings”, says Hakakari. She praises Nothnagel’s way of raising sensitive issues in a safe atmosphere.

“Many want him to mentor their own leadership. Putting people to the fore is impressive, and Ben quickly brings observations to a concrete level: Yep, what is your next move?”

Ben Nothnagel talks about his methods and gives food for thought for leaders in Aalto Leaders' Insight podcast.

Customized programs: “A program instead of one-off training events”

Dr. Pekka Mattila states that building customized programs, such as the program with Finnair, is always about co-creation with the customer. “It requires mutual trust and respect to have a candid dialogue to find the opportunities and challenges to disentangle. Fortunately, our Senior Executive Ms. Raija Kuokkanen, Ben Nothnagel and I had an ongoing relationship with Finnair.”

In this case, Mattila and Nothnagel operated parallelly: Nothnagel focused on personal leadership, while Mattila highlighted the importance of organizational culture and a management framework.
“Nothing is more inspiring than being able to contribute to a great turnaround case where profound changes are needed both quantitatively and qualitatively”, says Mattila. Raija Kuokkanen from Aalto EE has years of experience in working with customized programs.

“A program has impact when it isn’t made up of one-off training events, but has a narrative with each block building on the other”, explains Kuokkanen. Building a successful whole requires knowledge of the leadership context. “It’s important to think about the type of leadership that is most beneficial for the operations and strategy implementation of the specific customer.”

Experts are always picked for the program according to the needs and situation of the customer. “No one could reach the same results alone”, says Kuokkanen.

In Finnair’s case, the program followed a script of Pekka Mattila first discussing the role of leadership culture in strategy implementation: How to create winning culture, and the required leadership mindset for building growth. Participants then explored what this demanded from each manager individually and their next move. 

With over 40 years’ experience, Aalto EE develops world-class solutions for its customers. Read more about Aalto EE's customized solutions.

Currently reading: Aalto Leaders' Insight: Case Finnair: What’s Your Next Move in Growing as a Leader?

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