In our recent interview with Sanna Lindner, Vice President Human Resources, Cloud and Infra at TietoEvry Plc., we take an expert look at talent development in a public IT software and service company with 24,000 employees in more than 20 countries. This interview is part of our Creactive Leadership Series, where we discuss with international executives the state of leadership under continuously transforming market conditions.
Sanna Lindner is passionate about organizational development, transformation, and new ways of working. In her executive role at TietoEvry, an IT specialist organization, she is at the forefront of seeing how technology transforms the way we work and how it can improve the quality of our professional and personal lives. Sanna believes in organizations that develop skills in self-leadership and lead others to survive and thrive despite continuous transformation.
Before joining TietoEvry as Vice President of Human Resources, Sanna worked for over fifteen years in executive HR roles for companies like Innofactor, Microsoft, UPM, Nokia, Oriola, and GE Healthcare. She started her career as a research assistant in cognitive brain research at the University of Helsinki and University College London. Sanna holds a master's of science in psychology from the University of Helsinki.
Henrik Totterman (Henrik): So when we think about CreActive Leadership, it's a terminology that I've been playing around with for several years. So thinking about creativity in a business context is exciting and insightful, but it doesn't lead anywhere in itself. That's why we also need action. My first question to you would be: How would you define your leadership style?
Sanna Lindner (Sanna): Well, I think my natural leadership style is facilitative leadership. I tend to collect people together and facilitate the process of problem-solving. I think that would be most natural for me as a person. But then, at the same time, I also use other leadership styles, depending on the situation. Sometimes there is a bit more like a crisis type of situation where I tend to perhaps switch to a more structured approach. Leadership style is also a very personal question, but you know, that's how I'm reflecting myself.
Henrik: Excellent. Thank you. My next question is, why do you see an increasing need for creative leadership?
Sanna: I think we live in a world with a lot of change and relatively high ambiguity in the environment. A lot of the changes happening around us are also complex in the way that they are unpredictable. If I look back on my career, perhaps 10, 15 years ago or so, we started to talk about change management. You could practically say that there have been so many changes overlapping each other since then that there is almost no point in talking about change management in itself. It's kind of business as usual, and I think this environment requires a lot of creativity. I believe it requires you to have the courage to jump in, enjoy the journey, and use your imagination to find your way or navigate your way through the change journey.
Henrik: Very impressive, makes sense. I have divided the interview into four distinct areas, and I'm going to walk you through those. The first one is about innovation and strategy. And my first question is: How do you maintain a positive outlook, direction and keep a winning concept current in a largely disrupted environment?
Sanna: In this kind of environment where you have a lot of changes, it requires quite a lot of resilience. So one aspect of how to maintain a positive outlook is that even in senior leadership teams, I work with relatively senior leaders. Even on that level, you need to partner with your colleagues. It helps to keep a positive outlook when you have strong trust and high psychological safety in your immediate environment. One indication is that you can safely spar ideas with your colleagues, talk regularly about this kind of weak signal, and change direction if needed.
Henrik: My next question: Any advice on data collection and analysis, especially for companies just waking up to the quest of generating intelligence?
Sanna: I think we at TietoEvry and the leadership team I'm working for use a lot of data for decision-making. What I have learned and what we also have discussed in the leadership group is that it's more critical to have the proper insight versus lots of data. Perhaps my advice: be careful about how much data you collect and pay attention to how much energy you use to find insights from the data?
Henrik: Yeah, great advice there. The next question relates to creactive leadership and overall performance. What Key Performance Indicators would you recommend? What are your favorite KPIs for measuring performance related to leadership, for example?
Sanna: Yeah, that's a tricky one. I guess what I find problematic with a lot of the KPIs is that they tend to reflect things that have already happened. So when you see any changes, I mean, most of the KPIs are such that it's almost too late, especially when it comes to people-related KPIs. From that perspective, I don't have any firm favorites because I generally favor a more forward-looking mindset versus too much backward-looking. One of the KPIs that I have noticed to reflect employee engagement and leadership quality is ENPS (Employee Net Promoter Score). So basically, very much simplifying the world to: "How many percent of your employees recommend you as an employer?" So if I have to pick one, I would probably prefer that one. At the same time, I think it's essential to keep your sensors open to weak signals because with KPIs, typically, we see the indicating results when it's already too late to act.
Henrik: Very interesting, the next section is about Compliance and Intrapreneurship, the first question is: Can you provide some examples of employee engagement in corporate innovation activities? How does this impact overall well-being and retention?
Sanna: The best examples that I have seen are self-leading teams with distributed leadership. I think these have a powerful impact on employee engagement and well-being in the organization. We have done some experimentation around that, and I've seen some good examples in the organization around self-leading teams. So basically, the group distributes the leadership and takes both accountability and more freedom for decision-making.
Henrik: Do you have some concrete example thereof a project or an innovation journey that you would like to exemplify, anything from your current past that you think could be a good example?
Sanna: In some parts of the organization, I have seen precisely the building of self-leading teams by changing the organizational model from a traditional one. Instead of the leader taking an influential role in decision making, you build independence where these smaller teams are together making decisions and taking some of the leadership tasks as a team versus the traditional way of having a leader in charge.
Henrik: Thanks for opening a little bit further. My next question: How are companies safe to keep their intellectual properties and current knowledge base in your industry? So what are the key drivers there?
Sanna: In the IT industry, keeping up with the knowledge is critical. We work in an industry where you have to learn new things because technology is changing very quickly. We are also investing in training, and I think it also comes down to the culture. In the end, it's also something that within the organization, I believe we can facilitate the process of learning and give tools for that. However, the employees need to have the passion themselves to learn more continuously. We have been doing different things to structure that, and in the IT industry, for instance, we have many formal certifications and structured courses. Now lately, we've also been working a lot on internal reskilling. So basically, for some of the competence areas that are becoming very hot, we are systematically training people internally in those competence areas. It comes down to the individual who needs to make an effort and have a passion for learning new things.
Henrik: True. I see that every day in class when I'm teaching graduates and executives. It takes the individual to learn, and it sounds like you have a great structure that enables learning. The following questions relate to Cooperation and Impact: How are you or your employer engaging with the surrounding society?
Sanna: That's a good question. We have a lot of ways for that. We work with partners, we are proactively seeking talent, and we also work with our employees. Especially in the IT industry, where we work mainly with experts, our employees are an excellent source of talent. You've probably heard the saying' talent pools talent. So if you find talented people from the market, they typically also pull in other skills. There are certain particular competence areas, for instance, cybersecurity, where people are very networked, and it's kind of a tight community within that competence area. So we also try to connect with those networks in different ways and pull talent. In the end, you as an employer have to be attractive, and experts are looking for exciting work. So it's also of utmost importance that you can give cool and exciting projects, and that's the way to attract talent.
Henrik: Do you also work with the universities, for example, as an early-stage opportunity to perhaps challenge current students a little bit in your area of expertise and perhaps also in that way find paths to new prospect employees?
Sanna: Yes. Yes, yes. Thanks for asking that because it slipped from my mind. Yes, we do. We do university collaboration. Then we also have a graduate program, so we systematically hire graduates across the organization, and they get special training and special assignments. So not only do we work with schools, but we also take young talents into our organization.
A good example is a young talent position reporting to our business unit leader and leadership team. That person has been working with us for a little over one year. The thinking is that we will find the next role for her and then another young talent for this role. So we have this type of program even within our leadership team.
Maybe one thing to add, and I think it links with the topic of creactive leadership, is that we have this younger person in our leadership team to challenge us because many of the leaders have pretty long careers. With 20 plus years of career behind, we become a bit blind to some of the changes in society. So we have taken this talent to challenge us to think from a different perspective, and I think that's a cool thing to do with the leadership team.
Henrik: I love it. That's a fantastic example. Thanks for sharing. Next, I would like to move to the final of the four sections about Delivery and Transformation. The first question I have for you is: How do you prepare and make decisions? Could you describe typical processes from strategy to implementation?
Sanna: We have a systematic strategy process in the organization. We do review that regularly, and we also follow an operational planning process. So we have that type of process in place. In addition to that, we might do some extra rounds as needed. The critical thing is that we tend to talk about the strategy, and I'm not talking about TietoEvery specifically. More broadly, I think about the companies where I have worked in the past, sometimes what happens is that we sort of put less weight on the importance of execution. I think the key is that it's about choices and priorities to execute what we have planned. So I guess that is as important as having a perfect strategy.
Henrik: My next question is: How is your organization engaging in explorative activities to verify assumptions?
Sanna: That's a bit outside of the scope of my role. I guess you could put it into HR perspective, though. I also think that it's very much related to creactive leadership from that perspective. As I said earlier, I believe we are living in a turbulent world, changing and ambiguous. There is a lot of uncertainty. So when you plan a strategy, you have certain assumptions, which might not apply, or they might have changed by the time you get to the execution. I often see it more as a journey that I can't draw here now. But I sometimes draw like Point A and Point B. As you first think, you go to Point A. But, when you start the journey, you realize that you should go to point B or maybe point C instead. In the end, you end up in point D.
So I sometimes joke about it that you need to have the courage to start the journey and trust the process in a way. At the same time, keep the balance that you don't lose the original track completely. We need to be flexible enough to adjust our expectations to the working environment. I think that is probably what typically happens when you have a strategy. It doesn't exactly go from A to B, but you do a lot of iterations, and you switch the direction a bit as you draw the journey.
That's what I had in mind when I was referring earlier to collegial support and maintaining focus. I think we have suffered a bit of that during the Corona times. Not that I'm personally directly affected as I'm working in an international team anyway. So in that sense, I don't meet my colleagues in person regularly. At the same time, we all have a little bit less social interaction.
I think the difference is that when you are in this kind of a Corona setup, you don't necessarily take that easily up or have conversations about small weak signals you have observed. I think this is important because what happens is that you have perhaps thought this is something we should revisit or check. If you meet relevant persons other than your immediate colleagues in person, you are bound to be more straightforward in taking up this kind of topic, and it may get addressed as a result.
Henrik: Absolutely, this is a very peculiar particular time we live in right now. On that note, my last question in this section is: How are you assessing implementation and driving improvement? I want to specify this question to the HR function in particular. Think about the assessment and continuous improvement.
Sanna: If I think about the HR side, we have had many changes going on. So in that sense, we have certain things that we are systematically working on more from a stable improvement perspective. For instance, employee engagement that we are following very systematically. We are looking at specific metrics. We do deeper dives now and then. We set targets, and we follow up. We set up concrete actions, and we follow up on those actions as well. At the same time, we also do have quite a lot of change-related projects. When you say the term 'systematical improvement,' it has a bit of a connotation of a more stable environment, if I may say so, versus when you have a lot of changes ongoing. Then you perhaps focus more on the high quality of implementation of those changes. That comes very much down to change management being business as usual and coming very naturally to you.
Henrik: That's a great point and sits well with my thinking as well. My last set of questions is a bonus question. I would like you, without thinking too long, to give a response to four different words. The first word I have for you is Influence. What comes to your mind from influence?
Sanna: Influence, first that comes to mind is society, and I'm thinking about our line of business. We are doing a lot of projects that influence culture. So I guess that is the first association.
Henrik: Fantastic. The next one is Agility.
Sanna: Agility links with resilience, and I think it kind of goes together with Agility. It would help if you were fast, but at the same time, you also need some level of resilience to be continuously fast.
Henrik: Excellent. So that's going to be the next word, so what comes to mind from Resilience?
Sanna: Resilience, what comes to my mind is more like trust and confidence. What I'm thinking is in a very turbulent environment, resilience is super, super important. I can see that sometimes, we have people handling the changes better than others. Experience is essential, but I simplify a bit by saying resilience is trusting the process. For me, resilience means that you know when starting the journey, many things are open, and there is a lot of uncertainty. But you trust the process, go with it, and have the confidence and trust that you will end well at the end.
Henrik: And then the final one is Efficiency.
Sanna: It's an old-school word that comes to my mind. Old paradigm. I mean, I don't think we can ignore efficiency, don't get me wrong. But maybe it's it has a bit of a connotation of this kind of a more simple world, as well. Straight forward, direct interactions from A to B, you get B type of thing when you do A.
Henrik: Fantastic, Sanna. It's been an absolute pleasure to interview you. Thanks for your time. Thanks for the great work you do at TietoEvry. I look very much forward to the continuance of your career. You're a great Creactive Leader.
Sanna: Thank you.
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