Investing in Leadership – Teleste Leader Program Unifies Teleste’s Management for the Entire Company

Finnish technology company Teleste and Aalto University Executive Education (Aalto EE) teamed up for Teleste Leader, a program that defined and applied leadership practices for Teleste.

Tuomas Vanne and Jukka Rinnevaara. Photo: Teleste

Annika Rautakoura, 28.06.2021

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Teleste is a Finnish technology company founded in 1954. The company provides different technological solutions for the needs of broadband network operators, public transportation, and public authorities. Today, the company has a presence in over 30 countries and operates globally.

With a large international setting, the company’s management wanted to lay the foundations for modern leadership and provide the management with lasting, practical tools.

Good leadership is what creates conditions for employee engagement, motivation and satisfaction, and this allows us to also serve our customers better."

“We want to develop continuously as a company,” says Jukka Rinnevaara, CEO of Teleste. “Good leadership is what creates conditions for employee engagement, motivation and satisfaction, and this allows us to also serve our customers better.”

Starting from the start

Tuomas Vanne, the Senior Vice President in charge of human resources at Teleste, says that having the leadership training customized for the company was important.

“We did not want an off-the-shelf training, but something that would work for us.”

The first steps of Teleste Leader took place in 2019, when the management team sat down to define leadership at Teleste: what it currently is and what it should be to ensure business growth and employee well-being. The company partnered with Aalto University Executive Education in the process.

According to Vanne, it was necessary to define leadership according to the company’s values. “We wanted the change to support our overall business success while providing our managers with a readiness to make a positive impact on the employee experience.”

The work was structured around the principles of psychological safety, a concept of high performing teams and feedback from employee leadership focus groups globally. “Working with Aalto EE provided us with a good combination of academic framework and practical experience,” Rinnevaara says.

Training for modern leadership in a virtual setting

Based on the newly designed leadership principles, Teleste and Aalto EE created the structure and content of a company-wide training to implement the principles.

The training began in the early autumn of 2020, continuing until March 2021. Covering 130 employees in managerial positions across Teleste’s operating countries in Europe and the United States, the training included lectures, sessions in small groups, assignments such as creating videos and a Leadership Forum, which featured a vote for the best video.

The hybrid, almost completely virtual experience exceeded my expectations and worked, in fact, very well."

Since the training took place during a pandemic, its execution was different than originally planned. Apart from some sessions with Finnish participants on-site, most of the training happened virtually.

“Naturally, it was a slight disappointment that we could not test the training around Europe. Yet the hybrid, almost completely virtual experience exceeded my expectations and worked, in fact, very well,” says Vanne. “A large thank you goes to the trainer Juha Äkräs for this.”

The CEO of Teleste also commended the selection of the trainer. “He was an HR professional with a background in engineering, which was crucial. We are a company of engineers and wanted to have leadership matters explained with a slight engineering accent,” Rinnevaara notes.

Interactive with close communication

One attendee of the training, who also participated in outlining the leadership principles, was Jukka Saari, who works as Head of RSM SW development and leads the software development of the company’s public transport information systems.

“The training was a positive experience and very interactive. Besides the more traditional style of training, it included work in small groups and assignments,” Saari says. “This engaged people instead of simply making them listen passively.”

Michal Grzelczak, Managing Director of Teleste Networks Sp. z o.o. Poland, was another participant of the training and its preparatory work. He found the training to be an excellent opportunity to connect with colleagues from different countries and find perspectives for his work as a country director and co-worker.

He also found the decision to divide the groups into small units and over a longer timespan to be successful, allowing for intense collaboration.

The impact in the weeks after the training was very strong."

“In a remote environment, you can invite as many attendees as you wish, but a large group would have sacrificed the agenda,” Grzelczak points out. “Working in smaller groups was ideal and allowed us to have honest discussions.”

Aftermath and results

For Grzelczak, the most important aspect of the training was being able to explore and compare his understanding of the lessons with his colleagues. He has had several discussions with others on the training since its completion.

“The impact in the weeks after the training was very strong,” says Grzelczak. “This was not a key to open all doors, but rather a tool for creating your own key,” Grzelczak remarks. “We are unique, with different personalities and views, and the training was an important reminder of this.”

While measuring leadership is no simple task, Teleste carries out regular surveys to monitor employee engagement. Results of the latest survey have already indicated that satisfaction towards management and leadership at Teleste has improved in all areas.

“We can see a clear improvement, compared to 2019, even despite the pandemic and quite a challenging business environment,” Vanne says.

As the company’s CEO points out, these areas rarely feature radical changes, but rather progress over time. “There may even be setbacks and conditions which are beyond our control, but survey results indicate that we have taken a clear step in the right direction,” says Rinnevaara.

Open communication and low hierarchy

In addition to quality leadership, Teleste wants to provide a company culture with as little hierarchy as possible.

Gaining insights from the different operating countries is important, Vanne as the person responsible for HR globally points out. The company is currently in the process of establishing an employee sounding board, where participants from all countries can collaborate on the employee experience across the company.

We won’t be returning to the way things were before the pandemic, but we now have tools for a new way of working."

Grzelczak hails the openness of the culture at Teleste. “There are necessary managerial structures in place, but I have found that the flow of information is very open and quite different than in many Polish companies. Teleste Leader is an example of this.”

Entering a new norm

Because the training fell on exceptional times, it provided an additional, yet valuable flavor, Teleste’s CEO notes. “Everyone had to take a digital leap simultaneously, and although we did not know it in the planning stage, the program gave us insights into leadership practices that work in a virtual environment,” he points out.

Head of RSM SW development Jukka Saari found the program to be a welcome change in the way of thinking. “It is important to focus on the people in charge of leadership at Teleste and not always approach things from the side of substance, schedules and projects.”

Most importantly, the company now has a platform for continuing the work on leadership in the future. “We won’t be returning to the way things were before the pandemic, but we now have tools for a new way of working,” the CEO concludes.

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