Mehiläinen, a well-known private provider of health care and social services in Finland, has been in a strong growth mode in the past years. The company, which has more than 100 years of history behind it, began its national expansion in the early 2000s when it merged with the Turku-based Tohtoritalo. Since then, it has made several acquisitions across the country.
At the end of 2019, Mehiläinen had over 18,000 hired employees. In addition, it employed over 3,800 private practitioners.
Leadership has a major impact on innovation, organizational climate, and productivity, and so investing in an extensive training program was quite an easy decision to make"
Due to the strong growth, Mehiläinen’s company culture needed reinforcing. There was also a clear need to harmonize the ways of working across the organization and to develop the leadership culture and hands-on leadership skills. To this end, Mehiläinen teamed up with Aalto EE in a nationwide leadership training program in early 2019.
“Leading growth is not easy. Growth brings along new people and new situations you haven’t come across before, and you have to deal with it all while also taking care of your day-to-day work. All data from our organization and elsewhere indicates that leadership has a major impact on innovation, organizational climate, and productivity, and so investing in an extensive training program was quite an easy decision to make,” says Mehiläinen’s Chief Human Resources Officer Tatu Tulokas.
The goal of the training program was to ensure that leadership at Mehiläinen is consistent and competent and based on company values and strategy.
“In particular, we wanted to improve performance management, knowledge-based management, and change delivery. We also wanted to make sure that despite the numerous mergers and acquisitions, all employees and clients are offered a consistent, high-quality experience,” says HRD Specialist Elina Pirinen.
The program, tailored to Mehiläinen’s needs, was launched in 2019. By the end of 2020, some 600 managers and supervisors have participated in the program. The training will continue in 2021.
The program consists of five modules covering themes such as strategy, inspiring leadership, self-leadership, financial management, performance management, and leadership in a changing operating environment. In addition to in-person workshops, the program includes online modules, reading material, pre-assignments and coursework, and mutual sparring.
Tulokas applauds the program for its holistic approach: while the primary aim is to develop leadership, the program has also succeeded in improving organizational management.
“Leadership is not only about tips and tricks, it’s about working together and having an overarching vision for the company. If you overemphasize the financial side, leadership skills may suffer. If you ignore the need to develop the administrative function, the company’s growth may slow down due to insufficient skills to develop structures and processes. And if you see leadership as a toolbox and overlook the importance of self-leadership, you create unnecessary pressure on the management,” he says.
Towards a common objective
Jonna Puirava, who works as a development manager at Mehiläinen’s laboratory services, participated in the program’s pilot group. For her, the best takeaways from the program had to do with self-leadership and workplace wellbeing.
“As an employee, I have always had the tendency to take on a lot of tasks and put pressure on myself. It can be stressful.”
The program taught Puirava to better plan her work as well as identify things that require immediate attention and those that can be delegated.
“I think that I’m now able to cut myself more slack. Mehiläinen is a big company with lots of people who can help out. I don’t have to take care of everything myself.”
It was fantastic to get to know people with completely different jobs and nevertheless realize that we work towards the same goal and struggle with the same problems. "
Puirava also appreciated the possibility to network with colleagues and gain a better understanding of Mehiläinen’s other business functions and the company’s internal affairs in general.
“It was fantastic to get to know people with completely different jobs and nevertheless realize that we work towards the same goal and struggle with the same problems. As an example, we had a chance to create a brand new questionnaire template for recruitment interviews. It was great to get to have a say on things that you think are important, knowing that the improvements will be useful for many others, too.”
Employee satisfaction improved despite the pandemic
In addition to recruitment interviews, the program participants have also created other tools, manuals, and guidelines for managers and supervisors.
“During the program, we had the opportunity to discuss weaknesses and development needs in leadership and workplace orientation and identified things that the HR department and other support functions have since taken forward,” Puirava says.
The results of this work are reflected in employee satisfaction. The overall satisfaction rating of Mehiläinen’s employees increased in 2020.
“It’s worth noting, given that this year has been plagued by the pandemic. The result is undoubtedly due to improved leadership skills,” says Pirinen.
According to the survey, Mehiläinen’s employees see the management as an empowering factor in their work. On the other hand, the managers’ employee experience has also improved significantly.
“I think they see the decision to invest in the training program as a sign of being valued,” Tulokas says.
According to Pirinen and Tulokas, the impact of leadership on both job satisfaction and customer satisfaction is considerable.
“The participants have had hands-on training on managing performance, giving feedback, and coaching. When people know what’s expected of them, their job satisfaction improves. That, in turn, has an impact on customer satisfaction. Customers sense when employees are happy,” Pirinen says.
Common management agenda grew stronger
Good progress has also been made with goals related to company culture and common ways of working.
“The program has made our leadership and management significantly more consistent. It has strengthened our common agenda and created a sense of unity among the management as well as reinforced our leadership culture and ways of working,” says Tulokas.
Based on program feedback, the participants also now experience a stronger unity with the company’s mission, vision, and values. They feel they have grown as leaders, gained more motivation and courage, and improved their self-awareness. The participants have given particularly high marks for modules dealing with the company’s feedback culture and financial literacy as part of successful leadership.
“Feedback for the instructors has been good. In one module, our Chief Human Resources Officer goes over challenging situations and the participants have rated this as particularly important. They have also given praise to the modules dealing with self-awareness, empathy management, and the importance of being present in leadership,” says Pirinen.
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