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Leadership skills training for Puuilo store managers

Mirjami Sipponen-Damonte

“I listen more, I am more efficient and I know how to delegate. I don’t need to do everything by myself, without asking for help. After I started delegating, I have been able to take better control of my own time. Although I am an assertive person, I can now read people’s emotions in a completely different way.”  This is what Henna Koski, store manager at Puuilo Raahe, says about her development as a leader through the Xpedio training programme. Puuilo is a Finnish low-price department store chain, quoted in Helsinki stock in 2021. In this blog post, I will open up the activities that led to the development of Koski and about forty other Puuilo managers.

You have to start from where the people are

The work of the managers has a direct impact on the whole personnel, on well-being, on success at work, and on the atmosphere of the organization as a whole. Managers deserve support and tools for their important role so that they too are equipped to succeed and do well. Designing and implementing development paths that enable genuine change requires an understanding of the day-to-day life and challenges of the organization. You need to start from where people are and invite them into their non-comfort area in a safe environment, enabling step-by-step insights, learning new skills, and putting them into practice immediately.

I have had the honor of walking alongside Puuilo’s store and administration managers on their leadership development journey since last summer. It has been a learning path for me as well. I have learned about the pace and variety of everyday life in a department store, and the important role of the store manager in enabling good work.

Bringing learning close to the everyday life of the store managers

According to Sirkkaliisa Kulmala, Puuilo’s Human Resources Director, leadership skills are crucial to Puuilo’s operations and success as a company. “The ability to lead and organize work, and to encourage the team to achieve a common goal, are skills on which all our operations rely,” says Kulmala, adding, “The special requirements of leadership in a department store chain are the organization and delegation of work, as well as the ability to inspire the team.”

What makes a leadership development path successful?

  • Embedding training in everyday life: according to the 70-20-10 model, 70% of learning happens through challenging experiences and assignments on the job. 20% of learning happens through developmental relationships and 10% through coursework and training. In our approach, the everyday work challenges are built in the training days and learning takes place through interaction with others so that the practical application of the lessons learned immediately after each training day is natural – and encouraged through practical assignments.
  • Strong commitment to leadership development at all levels: At Puuilo, everyone, including the management team, has been strongly committed to supporting the development of leaders. Equally, the whole personnel has been kept informed of the development path of the managers and all employees have been able to contribute to supporting – and expecting – the development of leadership.
  • The best journey is made up of different phases – and several stops: developing as a leader is a journey that gives room for reflection, questions, insights, difficulties, and finding answers. Although the journey is partly shared, each person has their own individual path to follow. Learnings are absorbed in different paces and applying them to one’s own work is sometimes smooth, sometimes challenging. Each individual’s leadership development journey is unique. The most impressive journeys go through the mists and the rough patches, because learning new ways of thinking and behaving creates moments of confusion as well. Encouraging and supporting these shared and individual paths is an important part of the work of the trainer and facilitator.
  • Development starts from within: in leadership, development starts from the inner work of each individual – from leading self. Learning to recognize one’s own emotions, mindset, reactions, and motivators for action enable conscious change and consistent application of inclusive leadership tools.
  • Focus on practicing skills: active skills practice with help of case situations from real work situations and role-playing, guided reflection and detailed feedback enables the development of own behavior in rapid steps.

The importance of skills practice is also stressed by Kulmala: “The interactivity in the training days, the large amount of practice, and the feedback on the leaders’ own behavior through Peili Behavioural Profile had all great impact on the development of the leaders. The practical exercises supported the managers’ ability to talk also about more difficult issues and to immediately adopt the coaching leadership model.”

From ready-made solutions to thinking for oneself

Riihimäki store manager Andres Reimann admits that the role exercises were not his favorite from the outset. “They were as far out of my comfort zone as you can get!” Reimann says. But then he adds, “Yes, there were things that came out of it that you wouldn’t have even thought of yourself. I realized that there were other ways of dealing with problems and solving things. I have received quite a lot out of those exercises.” Reimann says he has started to think about interactions with his personnel in a different way and, although he says he is a very outspoken person, he has started to consciously use the coaching approach in everyday situations. “I no longer tell an employee how to solve an issue, but invite them to think about the options themselves. I also think more about how I bring feedback to the employees and how to take into account the diversity of the employees. Even though I have strong personal views on things, the training made me think about them from new perspectives.”

Henna Koski, store manager of Raahe, says she found the model for addressing low performance or worrying behavior with a coaching approach particularly relevant: “It gave me a lot of strength for the future, how to prepare and how to deal with things.”

Progress in every area

The development path has also brought visible results. Koski and Reimann both say that the results of the Peili Behavioural Profile, which was carried out at the end of the programme, showed clear improvements compared to those carried out at the beginning. Additionally, the latest employee satisfaction survey results from the stores of Koski and Reimaan showed positive development. This trend was confirmed also by Sirkkaliisa Kulmala: “We already saw a very positive change in the leadership index of the employee satisfaction survey in December, i.e. all management and leadership related areas improved! We achieved a more conversational, listening, and coaching style of leadership and the staff have also noticed changes in the way the managers work.” Kulmala adds that in the future, Puuilo will continue to develop managers through various follow-up trainings, and organize annually a similar training programme for new managers.

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