The Mayor of Espoo, Jukka Mäkelä, is sitting in the premises of Aalto EE on Mechelininkatu, Helsinki. Mäkelä has become familiar with the place, since he has been going through the two-year EMBA training program tailored for the leaders of the City of Espoo together with 24 other executives of Espoo.
The City has invested significantly in education: after the first year of classes, 50 other leaders of Espoo have started the training.
"The growing City of Espoo is facing greater challenges than ever before. Over the past 60 years, the population has increased tenfold, so the organization of services and the construction of infrastructure in a sustainable manner are big challenges," Mäkelä sums up.
Both leadership and competence must be in good shape so that challenges can be addressed properly; especially concerning an organization with 14,000 employees. This is the case with Espoo, which is carrying out the City’s new strategy: The Espoo Story.
The training program counts as one part of the City's leadership development.
According to Mäkelä, it is essential that the tools and practices for management and strategy are the same throughout the City’s organization.
"The world is changing, and management also needs to update its leadership skills and knowledge. We consider education a long-term investment. All our executives go through the program and share their knowledge with the managerial level that consist of approximately 1,000 persons," Mäkelä says.
Strategy development and learning in one package
Fitting the demanding Aalto EMBA training program into the calendar of a big city leader is not a simple task. But when the program was planned, Mäkelä stated that he must commit to taking part in the same program that he requires others to attend. In other words, he had to participate in the training right from the start.
Mäkelä admits that flexibility was required, particularly from his family, since he has been studying on weekends as well.
However, the investment has paid off. Studying has not fatigued him—rather, it has given him energy. Mäkelä says that he has been recovering better after work by studying than by watching TV. At the same time, the Mayor has had the opportunity to plan and work on the new strategy of the City – The Espoo Story – and to implement it in cooperation with the branch managers and profit center leaders.
The program trainers have given answers to several puzzling questions and infused the managers with confidence to carry on with the strategy.
"It is very important that we work together on the strategy. This training has been an excellent strategy practice. Each project has been designed from the perspective of Espoo. It has made operating easier. The managers have put their work hours and spare time into this, so it is important that all the training projects are applied to real situations," Mäkelä says.
So far it has resulted in approximately 500 pages of strategy work. The advantage of the tailored program, in addition to the skills acquired in the program, is that the employees in the same organization learn from one another.
"My work is quite fragmented, so it has been great that through the training I have gotten the opportunity to think about the strategy package systematically and together with the unit directors.
Better services for the citizens
The residents of Espoo are at the heart of the City’s strategy. The strategy is based on the idea of a city as a service, so the core of the strategy is the residents. Mäkelä believes that the residents will benefit most from the managers’ training, both from the perspective of service development and sustainability.
"The added value of such investment must benefit the residents. The education we have received from this training program enables us to serve the residents better," Mäkelä says.
At the same time, the training has created an organization involving the whole City. In the public organizations, the silo effect and hierarchical structures are common and, according to Mäkelä, in many ways they are justified as long as people can see outside of their silos.
"In this program, the managers of various sectors get to work together. For example, we need to think about how to build school sustainably in the future. This must be done together with different sectors," Mäkelä says.
It is also essential to promote the strategy within a large organization.
This is not a self-evident fact, especially in the municipal sector. According to a study conducted by the University of Vaasa three years ago, 98 percent of municipal employees and 96 percent of managers do not know the objectives of their municipality’s strategy.
If the objectives are not known at the managerial level, it is very difficult to put the strategy into practice and implement it.
Mäkelä believes that with the Aalto EMBA program, the City of Espoo will be much better informed about the strategy than suggested by the study’s findings.
"The expectations for the training program were high, as this is a huge investment by the City. Training has exceeded expectations and, as a bonus, it has proven to be a good strategy practice. Overall, this has been one of the best learning experiences in my whole life," Mäkelä states.
The Aalto EMBA program boosts the key knowledge and skills relevant for individuals with significant professional work experience to succeed further in senior leadership roles. Read more