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As CEO of Pilke, Mari Puoskari has driven rapid growth and achieved profitability at Finland’s largest private early education company. Now also CEO of Dibber Sverige, Mari joins us to discuss the Nordic model of early childhood education, employee well-being, leadership, personal habits, the future of childcare, and more.

3 takeaways from the conversation with Mari Puoskari

1. Prioritizing employee well-being

Mari emphasizes the critical importance of employee well-being in the early education sector. With a severe shortage of certified teachers in Finland, Pilke has focused on improving work conditions, increasing salaries, and implementing various well-being initiatives such as providing commuter bikes. Mari believes that ensuring the well-being of employees not only improves job satisfaction but also directly impacts the quality of education provided to children.

2. Engaging the whole organization in strategy

Mari highlighted the power of involving all levels of employees in the strategic planning process. By engaging frontline staff in discussions about cost efficiency, skill development, and new business ideas, Pilke has been able to gather valuable insights and foster a sense of ownership among employees. This inclusive approach has been instrumental in driving the company’s growth and improving its operational efficiency.

3. Adapting the Nordic model globally

Mari discussed the unique aspects of the Nordic early childhood education model, which focuses on emotional intelligence, high-quality interaction, and child-led activities. She believes that this model, which contrasts with the academically driven approaches in other regions, has significant global potential. Pilke and Dibber are working to expand this approach to countries like India, where there is a growing interest in adopting Nordic educational principles.

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Watch episode: Leadership, growth and profitability in early childhood education

Podcast transcript

Introduction: [00:00:00] The growth pod is brought to you by Genero, a leading growth agency in the [00:00:15] Nordics. We interview marketing experts, business leaders, and entrepreneurs to uncover the stories and strategies behind profitable growth.

Josua: Welcome to the show, Marie.

Mari: Thank [00:00:30] you. Really happy to be invited.

Josua: I’m very excited to talk to you about well, a lot of things, but, but mostly your current role as CEO of Pilke. And also now, as of two months ago, I think you said CEO of [00:00:45] Dibber in Sweden.

Mari: Yes.

Josua: Congratulations first on that.

Mari: On the increased responsibility.

Josua: It’s

Mari: super exciting.

Josua: So could you tell maybe the listeners a little bit of background about Dibber how it all came to be? Because it’s, it’s a very, it’s like, at least on a [00:01:00] European level, a very, very big player. But I think maybe not a lot of people know about the company in the history.

Josua: So could you give a kind of brief background?

Mari: Absolutely. So Deeper is, was founded in Norway. We have we, we operate there with the brand Läringsverkstedet [00:01:15] still, and we were founded by two early education teachers Randi and Hans Jakob, who still own us fully and they’re, they have really strong mission of taking this world’s best early education, Nordic [00:01:30] early education, to take it to the world.

Mari: giving opportunity for the children in the world to have this great education that we enjoy here in the Nordic countries. And yeah they have grown the [00:01:45] company through acquisitions and they acquired Pilke three years ago. And Pilke, in Finland, we are the biggest private early education company.

Mari: And in, in Sweden, fourth fourth biggest at the [00:02:00] moment. And yeah I joined the journey two years ago and it has been super exciting and interesting to learn this world of early education.

Josua: And you joined, when you joined Pilke the company in Finland was doing a hundred million in revenue, like you said, the [00:02:15] biggest biggest player in the, in the early childhood education space and growing very rapidly.

Josua: I think when you came in, you were tasked with maybe continuing growing, but also focusing on profitability. So could you a little bit talk about what it was [00:02:30] like to step in to such a huge organization that was growing so fast and also then having to focus on. on improving profitability, which is not really easy, especially as you’re trying to grow at the same time.

Josua: So what was it like kind of stepping in as [00:02:45] CEO?

Mari: Yeah, it was it was very, very interesting and still is absolutely. It’s very easy to wake up in the morning and motivate myself to go to work. Early education has had a severe The whole market [00:03:00] whole industry has had severe problems in Finland with price increases or cost increases.

Mari: And since we operate with this voucher model, so the municipalities are giving the families a voucher to, to have a seat in [00:03:15] private early education or private kindergarten prices of the watches didn’t increase enough. So in practice, all the companies have been loss making for several years.

Mari: And that, that, that was the first thing we started to, [00:03:30] to start discussing with municipalities and also national players that this is not sustainable with this, in, in this way, we will not be able to continue anymore. And Unfortunately, a lot of small companies have gone [00:03:45] bankrupt or they had to, had to finish their operations but it’s going to better direction now.

Josua: Okay. So that’s, is that what part of revenue is the voucher? For you, is it like,

Mari: It’s, it’s definitely the maturity. So, so [00:04:00] municipalities pay maturity of the costs and families pay only a small price. So it’s in practice, the price for the families is same than in municipal municipal kindergartens.

Josua: So that was the first thing that you started to work on, started starting [00:04:15] discussions with government municipality, because to get

Mari: Yeah, to, to make it healthy to make it sustainable, really.

Josua: Do you think that’s going to be is that how the business model is going to look or how the industry is going to look in like Finland, Sweden going forward?

Josua: Or do you think we’re going to see like [00:04:30] completely private private kind of daycare kindergartens? And

Mari: I believe we will have this type of model in the Nordic countries, but of course it’s totally different in, in other other countries. Yeah, this is, this is the model that citizens in the Nordic countries are used to.[00:04:45]

Mari: And it’s, it’s operating quite well as long as the prices follow the inflation. Yeah. Right. Yeah. So when you,

Josua: yeah, when you took over, I mean, there’s probably tons of different, like frameworks or, or like 90 day plans, [00:05:00] or these are the first things you need to accomplish, or like, how did you think about How did you think about priorities for the first call it month, six months, 12 months as you were taking over just as a, as a CEO stepping into a new organization?

Josua: Like, how do you [00:05:15] structure your days?

Mari: That’s a super, super interesting question. Of course since, as I said many companies in the industry where I’m still are loss making, that was the first priority to, to look at what we can [00:05:30] do about it, that we, we will be able to cover our own costs in these operations.

Mari: But in general level, I think But the way I, I have worked in very different industries and I I always start with [00:05:45] discussing with people visiting units and also very important for me is to start a strategy process where the whole personnel is engaged. And usually it’s always the first time that especially [00:06:00] that specialist level or expert level people engage to strategy process.

Mari: So that is, I think that is very powerful tool to begin. You learn a lot yourself when you discuss, when you have these strategy workshops with, with for [00:06:15] example, in our case with kindergarten teachers unit managers, et cetera, not only the leadership team and I have similar experiences in other industries as well.

Josua: Yeah. I think it’s fascinating, like how. much you can learn when you talk to people who are doing [00:06:30] like on the front lines doing the work. And you can’t really. So as you were kind of starting that process, were there things that came up that were surprises for you that you hadn’t? Because obviously, I mean, you were knew something about Pilke when they offered you the job.

Mari: Yeah. But then

Josua: you don’t really know before you step in and start [00:06:45] actually.

Mari: Yeah.

Josua: So was there any kind of surprises, good or bad?

Mari: There are always surprises. Yeah, we, in addition to doing turnover, one of our key priorities have been to build our support functions to sustainable level [00:07:00] to really support our unit managers and our personnel and As we can read in the media especially in Finland we have severe lack of certified teachers and, and severe lack, lack of employees in [00:07:15] general.

Mari: So that has been One part of the work that we really, in addition to cutting costs and, of course, fighting for the top line, we have been really fighting for the best for the possible employees. So we [00:07:30] have increased the salaries. We have added We are, we are probably the first player in early education who have these commuter bikes in Finland.

Mari: A lot of well, different kind of well being actions we have implemented. [00:07:45] At the same time, then we have been forced to, to cut costs. So that, that was maybe the, the fact that it was such an important strategic focal point. This well being at work and, and em, em, em, employer brand. Okay. So it, it [00:08:00] was, it was, it really came through the strategy process where everybody was engaged.

Josua: Okay. Any specific metrics that you like to, when it comes to employee wellbeing, satisfaction, employer brand any, any kind of metrics [00:08:15] or results that you?

Mari: Yeah, we one of the highlights for these two years has definitely been that Usually when you make a turnaround in a company the personal satisfaction of course drops because you [00:08:30] have to be very cost conscious all the time.

Mari: But we were able to increase The, the response rate increased 50%, so, so really a lot of people answered and we, we got slightly better [00:08:45] result than previously. So that is something where we have succeeded and, of course, there’s still a lot to do. But that, that was really a happy moment for me when I heard the results.

Josua: For sure. Yeah. I mean, that’s like you said, that’s that’s probably, and [00:09:00] also not just in the short term, but for long term it’s super important because labor shortage is like, it’s probably like the biggest challenge facing your industry. Yeah. Yeah.

Mari: That is really the bottleneck of the business for both for municipalities and for us.

Josua: What do you think [00:09:15] about, like, let’s say in a 10 year perspective, Because obviously the need for these types of early childhood development centers or kindergartens is going to remain or increase. And, and it seems like labor supply is going to be, isn’t [00:09:30] growing at this nearly the same rate. So like on a 10 year scale, like, is this going to be a huge problem that’s going to continue?

Josua: Or do you think that there’s going to be some kind of solution?

Mari: I In the current governmental program, there is a slight [00:09:45] increase for, for the teacher students early education teacher students in the universities, but it is not nearly enough. So definitely something different.

Mari: We have to find, find some, some solutions. different solutions. Because of re [00:10:00] retirement the need will be like, I guess the calculation is like 16, 000 new teachers to early education teachers. until 2030, so which is actually quite near already. So but it’s, it’s very [00:10:15] similar problem than we face in healthcare and social services.

Mari: So I believe that we really have to find a way to, to get, get more people work in Finland from abroad and, and also somehow to tackle the [00:10:30] language issue. Yeah. So that is, that is it’s a must Yeah. To find find qualified certified teachers also from abroad Yeah. To Finland.

Josua: Do you think that the, the labor kind of shortage is, is it a [00:10:45] result of retention?

Josua: Because I know quite a few people who work in. Kindergartens or similar types of types of setups, not at Pilke, but in different other ones. And it’s like the work, they love the work and love the children, but it’s also can be really, really demanding and very [00:11:00] stressful.

Mari: So how

Josua: do you think about, is, is that like, just the, the workload or something need to change in order to make this attractive enough to have the 16, 000 new, like, what do you think about that piece?

Mari: I think the biggest problem is [00:11:15] that The super talented professionals we have in early education, they, they don’t feel that they are appreciated in the society. The salary for early education teacher is one of the lowest salaries in when you have university [00:11:30] degrees. degree and you compare different degrees and different professions.

Mari: So even I am an employer. I, I think the salary should be increased so that we can really fight for the best talents to get them to, to early education. Yeah. [00:11:45] So and, and of course, then the, then the voter prices have to increase accordingly. And actually that is, that is something that has happened now.

Mari: So we the, the latest union agreement is, it’s I think it’s almost 14 percentage [00:12:00] increase during during two years. Okay. So it’s, it’s going to the right direction. But, but really We have to see, see see, see the need for appreciation in the society for, for early education teachers because [00:12:15] that’s where our future is, that we were able to teach our children all the important skills for the future.

Mari: However, where, where it’s easy to compete is the meaningfulness of the work. So actually it, it has been [00:12:30] quite easy to recruit super talented people, for example, to, to our administration. So people see it is very meaningful business and a meaningful work to, to work with children and make it possible [00:12:45] for the kindergartens to, to Give best possible starts for the children.

Josua: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I can totally, totally see that. It’s kind of like a unfair competitive advantage to a lot of other industries.

Mari: Well, we have unfair negative issues as well. [00:13:00] So it’s actually quite fair to have this. It evens out. Yeah.

Josua: Okay. So. So when you took over 100 million in Finland revenue you said before that you’re on track target for this year is 150.

Mari: Yep.

Josua: So 50 percent growth in, was [00:13:15] it two years? That’s, that’s very, very impressive, especially at this scale. You mentioned like voucher price, price increase. That’s a big one. Employee satisfaction, obviously that’s a huge one as well. other kind of pieces that’s been very essential to, to the growth.

Josua: [00:13:30] delivering this kind of kind of growth?

Mari: When we focus on growth of course we have opened new units and clearly clearly many municipalities, they really appreciate the work that we, and also the competitors do, and they, they want [00:13:45] to Want to give the citizens more possibility to choose, for example, different kinds of concepts whether it’s Montessori or English or Swedish or arts or sports.

Mari: So that is also, also this is [00:14:00] behind the growth. Yeah, but also part of the growth has been not so sustainable. So our growth rate and the growth rate in general in the industry has, has been maybe too fast during past years. So we have also [00:14:15] closed a lot of units. We have cut costs in in many many things.

Mari: We have also closed some businesses where we grew previously, for example, related to social services. So we, we haven’t done a lot of work also to, [00:14:30] to improve the profitability and we were able to do a positive results for after several years of loss making we were able to do positive results last year.

Mari: Okay. So that is, that was definitely a positive achievement for the whole team. [00:14:45]

Josua: Yeah. That’s a huge achievement. Cause I I just remember looking at the numbers. I mean, that was a big, that was a big step. Yeah. That was a big switch. That was a big change.

Mari: Yeah. It was a big change. And it’s it is, it has been definitely the target to, to make this healthy.

Josua: Okay.

Mari: Healthy business [00:15:00] also in Finland.

Josua: Okay. So Sarah, I mean, safe to say, I think the first two years have been, or first year and a half, whatever it’s been for you, has been a very successful.

Mari: There are always, always always decent black swans as well. But yeah, but we have, I had a great team and [00:15:15] we have been able to deliver what was promised.

Mari: Yes.

Josua: Got it. And what do you kind of, what do you have kind of in the pipeline? Looking forward, you mentioned that the kind of the idea behind Dibba is take this Nordic model of early childhood [00:15:30] education and kind of bring it to the world. And you’re active in like nine countries. So you’re responsible for Finland, Sweden, and Dibra as a whole is, is present in nine countries.

Josua: But what’s kind of in the, in the pipeline right now is to just continue focusing on profitable [00:15:45] growth. Do you have kind of some exciting initiatives? Anything to do with AI?

Mari: Yeah, we’re definitely looking at AI. We’re not so far with that yet, but definitely there are interesting interesting opportunities there.

Mari: Yeah. And [00:16:00] now, now it’s about stabilizing the countries where we are, but definitely on the long run. We, we we, we will try to reach as many children as possible in the world. This Nordic Nordic early education system, or the Fundamentals or [00:16:15] targets are quite different, for example, compared to Asian system.

Mari: The, the most important thing in the Nordic system is to engage children to plan to activities and learning to. Develop emotional intelligence [00:16:30] and high quality interaction between children and between children and adults. And in, in Asian curriculums, the focus is really to get all the academic skills as good as possible.

Mari: So it’s quite different. And we, I think it’s [00:16:45] super motivating to, to think that children in the world will have opportunity to learn these basics right. And then it’s easy to build academic skills on that.

Josua: Yeah, I, I, I, I think I completely agree with [00:17:00] that. And is there demand for this Nordic way of, this Nordic approach around Europe, around the world?

Mari: Yeah, there is. For example, in India it, it has been Indians have, Indians have been super interested in this Nordic model and we are growing [00:17:15] there.

Josua: Okay.

Mari: And there’s huge potential, as we all know. Yeah,

Josua: I mean, billions, billion and a half or whatever, whatever it is. And Pilkka or Dibber probably then is the biggest of the Nordic Nordic players going, yeah.

Mari: Yeah, yeah, it is.

Josua: Okay. [00:17:30] Oh, that must be really exciting because I think the scale right now is something like 40, 000 children in, in your kind of schools or groups. So huge, huge scale. How do you, how do you measure, I’m guessing, I mean, you have a kind of [00:17:45] background as an engineer, so you’re very analytical, I suppose, and very kind of like to to understand the facts.

Josua: So how do If you take the thing that you said, the best early childhood education in the world,

Mari: how

Josua: do you break that down into [00:18:00] kind of quantifiable metrics of knowing? So how do we know what that looks like? And we, when we get there, like, are there any metrics that you can measure emotional intelligence or resilience or healthy child, you know, adult connection, things like that?

Mari: At [00:18:15] the moment it’s more I would say qualitative that we have defined our own curriculum and pedagogical model quite quite, quite, quite in detail. And we implement that model also for, also for example, to our kindergartens in [00:18:30] India. So, so that is, that is how we, that’s where we are at the moment, but it’s, it’s super interesting, of course in the future to be able to even measure that.

Josua: Yeah. Yeah. That would probably open up a lot of, a lot of really [00:18:45] interesting opportunities. But then on the other hand, I mean, probably every, everything shouldn’t be measured.

Mari: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s, that’s so true. And even as an engineer, I think that not everything doesn’t need to be measured.

Josua: Yeah.

Mari: Yeah.

Josua: Speaking of cross [00:19:00] cultural kind of differences, you now, you’re responsible for Finland and Sweden. You’re welcome. Anything that stands out in terms of both, both how the daycares, the kindergartens are run and also how the organization are run, like any big, major cultural differences that you’ve picked up on, anything [00:19:15] we can learn from the Swedes and vice versa.

Mari: This, this is The new position as the CEO for Depe is, is still quite new for me. Yeah, we have in Finland we have 180 kindergartens and [00:19:30] 50 afternoon clubs. And in, in Sweden we have 105 kindergartens and, and also schools. So in, in Finland, we don’t in practice in Finland nobody has, the older schools are run by municipalities or associations in practice, but in [00:19:45] Sweden there’s a different model in that I would say that the kindergartens are quite similar. There are, of course, some differences in the national curriculums. But I would say that the fundamentals are quite similar.

Mari: In, in Sweden, the [00:20:00] municipalities have even bigger role in early education than in Finland. So that is, that is why it’d be one point. Also in, of course, in the work life we discuss a lot in Finland at how, what, what, what, what is it like to [00:20:15] work with Swedes? And there are differences.

Mari: I would say that the I would say trying to find the consensus. I think we have a lot to learn in Finland about inclusion in Sweden. And I, I have been so happy to see that also [00:20:30] in different kinds of specialist positions. There are a lot of people who have immigrant background.

Mari: That is still unfortunately very very very rarely you see people with immigrant background in, in expert positions in Finland. So in, in Sweden it’s [00:20:45] much more common. Um, what else? I would say that in Sweden, at least in our company, we discuss much more about the work environment, that how to make sure that the work environment is good for [00:21:00] everybody, about the physical work environment, but also, of course, the atmosphere and and and for example, we discuss a lot about inclusion.

Josua: Do you think that you mentioned inclusion and, and, and people with immigrant backgrounds having being a larger share of those in [00:21:15] Sweden expert positions? Yeah. Is that a problem for us in Finland? Like a bottleneck that’s limiting us in Sweden? Definitely.

Mari: I, I, I definitely think so that we should be it should be easier to work in expert positions in [00:21:30] Finland, even though you don’t know Finnish language fluently or hundred percentage fluently.

Mari: And, and there are clearly still challenges to, to be recruited if you have a foreign name, for example. So we, we have this [00:21:45] kind of. Attitude in Finland, unfortunately, still.

Josua: Yeah. I mean, language is, is a huge, can be a huge barrier because it’s like one of the hardest languages to learn. Exactly. So

Mari: it’s impossible to, to learn it before you start working in a company.

Josua: For [00:22:00] sure. I wanted to ask one question about kind of the early childhood education and its kind of impact. So, cause obviously it feel like it’s a fairly new phenomenon where, whereas, you know, maybe children used to spend, especially the early days, early years. You spend more time at home and now [00:22:15] both parents are working.

Josua: So children, I mean, this, I mean, you’ve seen the growth in the industry. It’s like been enormous. So what do you think, is there any backside downside to that, to this, this phenomenon or what do you, how do you think about it?

Mari: This is of course also very [00:22:30] political question, but I personally think that it is beneficial for the development of children to, to have professionals also when they are small to, to have professional pedagogues working with them.

Mari: Of course, it’s it’s [00:22:45] about the hours how long you spend in the kindergarten. But I, I also think this from cross national Product perspective that it’s very important that both parents have opportunity to work. And it’s also equality [00:23:00] question that we have to have high quality early education so that both parents can can work and have opportunity to work.

Josua: Given that BLKDIB is such a huge, very important player in this space, like, are you doing [00:23:15] or facilitating any research that’s being done? I was just thinking, you said, with the hours, for instance, like, there’s so many things that you could research about how to create this, like, the best possible early childhood education.

Josua: So are you kind of doing any research yourself? Are you working with [00:23:30] universities?

Mari: We we develop, of course, we, we follow all the research, of course, and develop our own pedagogy according to that we, we, we have some thesis workers also in Pilke. What we try to do is to [00:23:45] also when we discussed about this lack of a certified personnel, we have our own programs with universities to, to re educate our our people.

Mari: personnel to become qualified teachers in the [00:24:00] in the future. That kind of work we do, but not so much our own research is in addition to those theses.

Josua: Okay. Yeah. It feels like there’s, there’s probably a lots of, lots of interesting opportunities. Yeah. Yeah, I

Mari: agree. [00:24:15] I agree. Yeah, definitely.

Josua: What are your thoughts on, I mean, This may not specifically relate to Pilgrim, but your personal point of view with screens.

Josua: I mean, that’s a big topic. Yeah, it’s a huge

Mari: topic.

Josua: And I don’t have children of my own, but I’ve seen maybe some, or like I’ve heard from parents who have young children [00:24:30] and, and I, the way that these children react to screens and how seemingly addicted they become to it is like very concerning. So like, how do you think about that?

Josua: And what, yeah, just how do you think about screens?

Mari: I think that [00:24:45] Children need power of both love and limits also related to screen. So I, I think that screen time is restricting the screen time is very important and maybe restricting the access to the digital tools is, is also [00:25:00] a good idea for the smaller children.

Mari: But of course there are possibilities also that For example, it’s very nice to use Some Beamer to create nice play environments for example bottom of sea to, [00:25:15] to one room, and you can use it also in a pedagogically high, high quality way. Yeah. But that is not the usual way of using

Josua: Yeah.

Mari: Digital tools.

Josua: Yeah. There’s probably a lot of opportunities for [00:25:30] using digital tools to kind of enhance. play and learning.

Mari: Yeah, exactly.

Josua: So it’s not

Mari: only negative, but we just have to be very conscious how to use them.

Josua: Another kind of related, I guess, phenomenon is a lack of [00:25:45] physical activity among children.

Josua: So, like, what are your thoughts there? Is that something that you’re also at Pielke thinking? I mean, these are younger children, so I guess they’re more active, but, but nevertheless, like setting them up to have an active, active kind of life. How do you think about that?

Mari: I think it’s [00:26:00] super important and a part of the everyday life.

Mari: In, in all kindergartens, we also have this concept kindergartens that are especially focusing on sports. Okay. So. Is

Josua: that from, sorry to interrupt. How, so how young are [00:26:15] these children then? Normal?

Mari: Take and be from one year to preschoolers, so from one year to six years, and then they just use sports as a pedagogical [00:26:30] tool to learn, for example, maths, or it is, it is, there is more sports in those kindergartens.

Mari: So I think that is very interesting way to increase. movement. [00:26:45]

Josua: And that’s interesting. Yeah. Is there maybe you already have this, but is there a kind of like a plan to do like different concepts kindergartens, like you mentioned sports could be one, but then you can also have one that’s more focused on arts, for instance, like, is that, are we going to [00:27:00] see that like kindergartens becoming more there’s like a wider range of, of focus areas as opposed to just having a one size fits

Mari: Yeah, that’s the way it is already now.

Mari: So For us, and also there are a lot of different kind of players in Finland there are [00:27:15] Steiner, Pedagogy, Kindergarten, Montessori, Pedagogy Languages Arts, Sports, Science. at least those I recognize. So it’s, it’s interesting. I, I think it’s very valuable [00:27:30] way for the families to combine early education and hobby.

Mari: For example, if your child is sports enthusiastic to choose sports kindergarten, high quality sports kindergarten, maybe then you don’t need to spend all your nights or [00:27:45] evenings in the In, in the hobbies, but maybe you can have more family time in the evenings.

Josua: Yeah.

Mari: So it, it is actually stress relief for the parents as well.

Josua: Okay. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Mari: Yeah.

Josua: I wanna talk about some, some kind of personal, personal stuff. One [00:28:00] thing that kind of stood out as I was, I was preparing for this was when it comes to your experience, your background is like very, very broad, you know, you’re an engineer by training but you also do it, done a lot of people based stuff.

Josua: You work public sector, private sector focused a lot earlier on, on [00:28:15] ecological development or sustainability and now social development. So I guess the question is like, how have you. been able to jump from these different, very different fields, functions, and, and seemingly been able to succeed in, in all the different ones.

Josua: Clearly you don’t [00:28:30] have like a mindset that I’m supposed to only do this one thing. How you’ve thought about it, approached it throughout your career.

Mari: Yeah, that’s interesting question. I have always been super curious. So, and I absolutely, [00:28:45] number one motivate motivational thing for me is to learning new things.

Mari: So it has been really inspiring to, to learn new industries. And Of course, as I have backgrounds in politics, in, in local politics in Helsinki that has been [00:29:00] very useful to understand how the municipalities actually work, how they operate so it has been, it has been really helpful. in different industries.

Mari: And I think it’s, it’s very valuable for both [00:29:15] directions because many people who work in private companies, they don’t understand how, how the public sector works. So it is, it is a very important competence. to understand how society works. So then it’s [00:29:30] easier to, in a way, it’s like a Christmas tree where you can you can use that knowledge to understand different industries and what’s the value add of the industry for the society.

Josua: Yeah. And a lot of, I mean, a lot of industries interface with [00:29:45] public sector and really, especially in the Nordics.

Mari: Absolutely. And they are very regulation is affecting the business model a lot. So it’s very important to understand how, how, how it works.

Josua: I guess that’s very uncommon though, to be able to [00:30:00] do like a stint in politics and then, or yeah, I would suppose it’s fairly uncommon.

Josua: Like people either seems to seemingly do either one or.

Mari: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s, it’s a bit pity because I think both world of politics it would be value adding to have more [00:30:15] people with business background in politics and also vice versa. So hopefully in the future there will be more. This kind of turnover or what would be the right word.

Mari: Yeah.

Josua: You, you mentioned curiosity and that’s been [00:30:30] like the driving factor. So obviously when, when you’re jumping into a lot of different situations, you have to learn completely new fields or whatever it is very quickly, like any processes or any strategies, tools that you use to learn.

Josua: something new very [00:30:45] quickly.

Mari: I read a lot. But I would say that what we discussed about the strategy process, engaging the whole personnel to that and having those discussions, that has been always. super useful also from a learning [00:31:00] perspective.

Josua: Okay.

Mari: And so maybe, maybe that is one single thing that I would mention.

Josua: Any specific way that you like to lead the strategy process? Because I mean, especially if you’re doing it with, like you said, engaging all the employees. Yeah. It’s a big [00:31:15] organization, lots of perspectives lots of people with, with certain, you know, they maybe understand a certain part of the business, but far from the whole.

Josua: So like, how do you, how do you typically lead that? strategy process to make sure that everyone is able to contribute like actually [00:31:30] contribute and not just inviting them in and sitting them down and Of course. Yes. So actually contribute.

Mari: That is theater. Yeah, exactly.

Josua: So actually being able to contribute, but then take all those perspectives and then combine it into something that’s like clear and succinct.

Josua: How do you typically [00:31:45] lead that strategic process?

Mari: I don’t know if I have any any magic to that. I think we, you just have to ask right level questions. So for example when you discuss with frontline, [00:32:00] employees. It has to be very near to the everyday work the things that we discuss.

Mari: For example, we discussed about how, how to be cost efficient in the kindergartens, how to, how to develop the atmosphere [00:32:15] in the units what kind of skills we need in the unit. In many companies we have got a lot of interesting new business ideas from the frontline employees. They really see what the, what the clients [00:32:30] need and things like that.

Mari: So it is about how to formulate the question to right level, to its level in the organization. But I think that internal communication is super important and that is [00:32:45] quite often something that has to be fixed during first hundred days or whatever. I don’t have any special plans like that, but that is something that always has to be fixed.

Mari: So for example, in Pilke we have CEO all hands [00:33:00] meeting for everybody once a month, and we have a separate managers info once a month. Um, we, we use Viva that is similar to Yammer so that it’s two directional communication for all the [00:33:15] employees and things like that. Thanks. Okay. So I think it’s, it’s modern way to do in internal communication.

Josua: So a lot of it is about kind of setting a cadence of like, you know, this is when you talk about to the whole company, to management, having a rhythm [00:33:30] and then making sure that

Mari: Yeah. And doing it as little hierarchical as possible so that everybody can have, have their say if they want to.

Mari: Yeah. And go communicate directly to everybody in the company. That is, I think [00:33:45] that is super important. You’ve

Josua: worked with a lot of different contexts and organizations and so on. And you said like typically Internal communication is one thing that needs to be fixed.

Mari: Yes.

Josua: Any other things that are like very common challenges, bottlenecks, [00:34:00] anything that’s very typical?

Mari: Well, just public relations is usually also another thing that has to be fixed.

Josua: Do you mean that there’s no one who does it or it’s like very poorly [00:34:15] done?

Mari: Either or, yeah, usually it is more, more, more focus is needed on how to, how to take care of the public relations. Fortunately, a lot of companies are developing their approach to [00:34:30] sustainability nowadays.

Mari: So that is, that has been I have, I have worked, I, I graduated 20 years ago. So in practice 20 years ago, nobody was talking about sustainability or I can imagine. Yeah. Ecological stuff. But nowadays [00:34:45] it’s more or less everybody talking about it. There’s still a lot to do that it’s actually.

Mari: efficient and saving the world, but it’s going to the right direction. Definitely.

Josua: Okay. Yeah. I think for probably for Finnish companies, that’s a big it’s a big [00:35:00] advantage or potential opportunity to be at the forefront of all things related to sustainability.

Mari: Absolutely. I think so.

Josua: We were talking or you mentioned off air before we started just about like some of the things that you’ve found [00:35:15] out for yourself when it comes to maintaining high level of productivity at work, like habits and stuff.

Josua: Anything that kind of stands out in terms of learnings from the experiments you’ve done.

Mari: That is, that is my hobby, and that is my, my passion, [00:35:30] really to try to find some tips and tricks to, to, uh, enjoy the work and family life more. I, and that is something that I discuss a lot with my direct report is and try to really encourage them to test different [00:35:45] things and pile up different things.

Mari: I think that my, my conclusions are quite normal. It’s important to sleep enough. I used to sleep very little in the beginning of my career. Now I try to get my seven or eight hours every [00:36:00] night For me, it’s super important to do even 15 or 20 minutes sports every day. And I, I highly recommend it to everybody.

Mari: It’s important to, to have your lunch to, to eat regularly. [00:36:15] And also where I always struggle is to, to do regular meditation, but I think that would be very beneficial. And according to all kinds of studies brain science studies, it is very beneficial for everybody. But that is something where I still [00:36:30] have to develop.

Josua: Okay. Well, there’s always, always room for development. Are you do you have, do you have like because you mentioned, you said you mentioned these things to your director, direct reports and try to encourage them to, to incorporate these sustainable or like healthy habits. Is that [00:36:45] also something that you kind of systemizing throughout the organization?

Josua: Because there’s, I mean, just imagine if you like your thousands of employees, if everyone were to implement, I mean, the, the productivity, the wellbeing. gain would be enormous. How [00:37:00] are you thinking about this piece and the role of company in helping their employees lead very productive and healthy lives?

Mari: I think companies definitely have big role there and there’s also definitely incentive because sick leaves are very expensive for the [00:37:15] companies. It is we are not there yet in Pilke at the moment. We we are providing different tools. You can use watchers to go do sports. We have some easy to access mental help available for our [00:37:30] employees and things like that.

Mari: We have very good healthcare. But we, we are not there yet that we would really be able to lead the fact that everybody would use them in a beneficial way, but that is definitely our, our next step [00:37:45] to try to find new ways there.

Josua: Yeah. Especially in a company like yours. I mean, The well being of the employees is directly related.

Josua: I mean, they’re, they’re the ones working with the children.

Mari: Exactly. So that would that would really be value adding for the children. [00:38:00] Definitely. So it’s, it’s once again, super motivational to fix that. in the future.

Josua: I can imagine. Final question for you Mari. You mentioned you like to read a lot and you’re very curious.

Josua: Anything that you’ve read, come across recently that’s that you thought was especially [00:38:15] interesting, inspiring, anything that stands out?

Mari: I usually I love to read all kind of sports magazines. Oh, really? Yeah. And Maybe what I’m most, the most [00:38:30] interesting articles are how to, how to be able to do some exercise when you are time starved.

Mari: So I would recommend everybody to try to integrate some some sports or some exercise to the work work [00:38:45] during the working day. So maybe have. 20 minutes gym workout during lunch break or have a Choking or walking meetings and things like that. So

Josua: I feel like the walking meeting should become like a norm I

Mari: so [00:39:00] agree only when you really really need slides, then you can have A sitting meeting, but otherwise it should be always walking meeting

Josua: It’s it’s it’s just on a side note, but I think it’s crazy in, in these companies, we’re focused on [00:39:15] productivity and wanting to be efficient.

Josua: We can have these two hour long meetings where everyone’s after lunch, everyone’s sitting down and, and expect people to be productive. It’s not going to happen. And

Mari: people almost fall asleep after lunch. And

Josua: everyone’s got their laptops. So if someone’s doing work and everyone’s, you know, someone’s [00:39:30] talking in the background, it’s just, anyway, so,

Mari: yeah,

Josua: I

Mari: think it’s at least I am much more creative when I walk.

Mari: Yeah. Then when I look at the team screen on my computer, so I, I highly recommend everybody to [00:39:45] try to interact, integrate some movement during the work day.

Josua: That’s very good. Very good takeaway. Mari, thank you so much for, for coming on. If people want to follow you, I think maybe LinkedIn is the place where you’re most active.

Mari: Absolutely.

Josua: Okay. I’ll put the [00:40:00] LinkedIn URL in the show notes. Yeah. Thank you so much and good luck, best of luck with everything that you and the team at Pilke are doing. Like I said, it’s very, very, very significant and important work. So yeah, best of luck and it’ll be interesting to follow, [00:40:15] follow along your journey.

Mari: Thank you. It was an honor being invited here. Thanks.

Introduction: Thank you for listening. You can find all episodes of The Growth Pod on Spotify, YouTube, and Apple [00:40:30] Podcasts.

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