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"My expectations were high–and they were smoothly topped”

Laura Ansaharju
Vice President, People & Culture, Transformation, Finnair

M.Sc. in Technology Laura Ansaharju has worked in various HR management positions at Finnair since 2011. Ansaharju acknowledges that she has been lucky, being able to build a career in a field she finds enormously inspiring. In September 2016 Ansharju took on a new area of responsibility: her task is to enthuse and steer Finnair’s 5000 strong staff in digital transformation from the perspective of good personnel experience.

Ansaharju partook in Aalto EE’s Executive HR program during spring 2016. She says the program gave her a great deal of ideas, both for her job at the time as head of HR at Finnair’s commercial operations, and also for her new work with transformation involving Finnair’s entire personnel.

”For a company, cultivating the staff’s competence is always advantageous. The return on investment is manifold,” reminds Ansaharju. She herself decided to take part in the Executive HR program after having heard positive remarks about it from both her supervisor and a colleague who had studied in an earlier program. Ansaharju was especially interested in the program’s emphasis on strategic HR.

”At Finnair, HR is a fundamental part of business. I was intrigued to see if the program could offer us new tools that we could use to strengthen Finnair’s strategic HR-focus even more? In addition, I wanted to make sure my HR-competence was up-to-date,” she says.

Ansaharju describes the program as an intensive, stimulating, and epiphany-provoking experience:

”My expectations were high–and they were smoothly topped. We started the program with an intense bang: Kristiina Mäkelä covered strategy, talent, social architecture, and culture in her teaching. You can’t help but love Kristiina! She has enormous academic expertise combined with a gift to steer us all into immediately implementing our new knowledge in practice,” praises Ansaharju.

The program was challenging, and it brought immediate and tangible benefits: it was very easy for me to go and try out things in my own organization.”

”It was clearly a priority in the program to ensure that we all concretely grasped the topics’ relevance to our own workplaces. We were not given any off-the-peg answers; instead we were encouraged to think and understand things. We had lessons, case exercises, group work, a corporate visit–and we also had Echo Teams back at work to reflect our new insights with,” Ansaharju reminiscences.

”The program was challenging, and it brought immediate and tangible benefits: it was very easy for me to go and try out things in my own organization,” Ansaharju says. She also mentions that some months after the program, she noticed how certain ideas she brought back from it had turned out to be important change-catalysts.

”For instance Pekka Mattila advised us to move on from change management to change capability. That was a slogan that hit me! I have vigorously boosted this thought internally. We must proactively develop our agility and change capability: we should be enthusiastic about opportunities and dare to courageously try out new things. Now, with digitalization, every last company’s change capability will be tested.

Ansaharju says she is pleased to endorse the program, in particular to experienced HR professionals and business leaders.

”The experience was immensely good–and I got to share it with steel-hard professionals. Noticing how people from very different kinds of organizations were working with highly similar HR-challenges was a wake-up call for me. I realized what great potential us HR-professionals would have in networking, if we truly tapped into that opportunity,” she ponders.

At best, the program keeps delivering value a long time after the studies end.

”I think it’s fair, however, to warn anyone thinking about participating: you have to set aside time and energy for these studies. I admit occasionally being in quite a tight spot, when I wanted to get the most out of my studies alongside work,” continues Ansaharju. She underlines that participating is a worthwhile investment. At best, the program keeps delivering value a long time after the studies end.

”I just recently went through all the material with fresh eyes. It really did contain a massive amount of knowledge! You can surely find valuable ideas from the material even years after the program, especially if you advance in your career and get new challenges. Naturally new trends will evolve in HR, but for example the tools we were taught will always be useful. Some things never grow old”, Ansaharju emphasizes.