Maarit Leppäaho, Vice President, Corporate Marketing and Communications at Cimcorp Group, shares with Sarah the guiding forces and lessons learned from the company’s recent initiative to reshape strategy and create better strategic alignment.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Nicastro. Strategic alignment has become a very important focus as companies are innovating at faster paces than ever, transforming their businesses in different ways. Looking for ways to introduce new customer value propositions, dealing with issues related to changes in the workforce and the idea of working toward a common goal and a common mission as an entire organization has become super, super important.

I’m excited to be joined today by Maarit Leppäaho, who is the vice president of corporate marketing and communications at Cimcorp, to talk with us a bit about their defining characteristics of strategic alignment. Maarit, welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast.

Maarit Leppäaho: Thank you so much. And thank you for inviting me here.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely, thanks for being here. Okay, so before we dig into the conversation related to strategy and strategic alignment, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your role at Cimcorp.

Maarit Leppäaho: Well, like you already told I’m VP corporate marketing communications and I lead this function globally. I’m also a member of our executive management team and I’ve been leading this strategy process at Cimcorp group.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, good. How long have you been at Cimcorp?

Maarit Leppäaho: For two years.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. What’s your background, prior to this role?

Maarit Leppäaho: Well, my background is in marketing and communications, different kinds of multinational and domestic companies in Finland.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay.

Maarit Leppäaho: In electricity field, mainly. Before, yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, okay. So, a little bit of a different perspective from that background.

Maarit Leppäaho: A little bit, yeah. Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Okay, good. All right. Cimcorp has recently undergone a process of revisiting, revamping, reshaping strategy, to create this better alignment. That we, as I just mentioned, know is super important. We’re going to talk today about some of the guiding forces, of how you have reshaped your strategy and created better alignment. But, let’s talk a little bit, first, about the purpose for this initiative.

What are some of the reasons, within the market, within the company, within just trends in your industry and in the world, that it was important for Cimcorp to undergo this project of sort of taking stock in strategy and looking at how to create better alignment?

Maarit Leppäaho: Well, our business in logistics automation solutions grows fast and develops with giant leaps. We, of course, want to help our customers to succeed in their future business. So, we need to be prepared. We need to be innovative and a couple of steps ahead. We have been growing and now is the time to take that growth even more seriously and plan according to that. That’s why we, at the beginning of our strategy work, studied trends carefully.

Sarah Nicastro: The trends that you studied; can you talk a little bit about how you did that? What were some of the sources of insights that you collected? What were some of the things that you examined to think through where you wanted to take the direction?

Maarit Leppäaho: Well, the logistics business trends are the most important, of course, because it’s our business. We studied and then, we found the three main trends. They are complexity, shorter lead times and increasing share of online.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay.

Maarit Leppäaho: Then, we of course studied, because the world is also changing. We studied the mega trends and wanted to align our work and plans together with the global mega trends. They are sustainability and automation.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Yes. It’s interesting. One of the things that comes up in almost every conversation I have these days, is the pace of change. To your point, this idea of needing to stay a few steps ahead of your customers and be anticipating, not just their current needs, but what are they going to need from Cimcorp in a year or three year or five years? Be making sure that you’re taking steps to be able to meet those needs. I think the idea of complexity is a big one, right?

Maarit Leppäaho: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: I mean, there’s complexity from many layers, right? I mean, there’s complexity in the world right now, there’s complexity in various industries. There’s complexity in the workforce, there’s complexity in technology, right? At the end of the day, what customers want, is an outcome.

They want what they need, and they want peace of mind and they want predictability. So, to do that, it just requires a lot of effort to master that complexity, so that, it’s, in many ways, invisible to the customers, right?

Definitely a lot going on that makes it very important for organizations to create this strategic alignment. I think, if you look historically at how businesses have operated, the pace of change wasn’t as fast and it was okay, in many instances, to have some different silos that were working toward initiatives. Because things weren’t changing as quickly as they do today.

So, it’s really adjusting our thinking and adjusting our working processes, to make sure that we’re reshaping the way the business plans and creates goals and measures progress, to be aligned with where the market is today. Okay. So, as we talked about the process that you and this import team have undergone, we really talked about four major themes that guided the development of the new strategy.

I want to talk a little bit about each of those and why the theme was so important. What it looked like as you went through this process, et cetera. The first is prioritization. Talk a little bit about the role of prioritization in creating strategic alignment.

Maarit Leppäaho: Well, we have professionals working in various areas of work, from assembly to finance and everything between. Each of them have a variety of projects and priorities, everyday duties and routines. Then, add in to the mix, that we work in three big segments. Tire industry, warehouse and distribution industry and then service. Each of them are demanding. So, prioritization is the key when aligning everyone’s workload, so that the resources match from each function.

We needed common priorities, because in a corporate company, everyone has to work towards mutual goals and in the same rhythm. When we think about that, in today’s hectic world, prioritization gives peace and clarity. We have a new purpose statement, and it is, “We guarantee profitability and peace of mind.” When we made this, we thought about that, when we give to our customers profitability and peace of mind, we also get it at Cimcorp.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that’s a very good point. There’s a lot of research that’s been done. If you look at employee engagement and employee satisfaction, on understanding expectations, right? Again, this conversation around prioritization is a big one, because I’ve talked with a lot of folks that work in organizations, where it’s just every week, the priority changes, you know? It’s almost simply putting out fires, right? It’s, “Oh, well, last week we were going to focus on this, but now this week, this is happening and we need to do this.”

When you operate that way, it’s hard to make actual progress, right? So, there’s also this idea of what gets measured makes traction or gets action. I think that that’s true, when it comes to looking at, “Okay, what are our strategic objectives?” We can’t prioritize 40 of them, right? No one can effectively consume, and on a daily basis, measure progress or work toward too many competing priorities. Or, not even competing, but just parallel, right?

There has to be some focus. I think the other big thing here, related to prioritization, and I’ve talked about this quite a bit on the podcast and in different articles, is this idea of the pace of innovation, right? There’s mastering the day-to-day business and making sure that you’re operating effectively. That you’re meeting customer needs, that things are going smoothly, that you’re handling all of that complexity. But then, there’s the idea of all of the forward thinking, planning and strategy to innovate the business. To not only meet those needs today, but be two steps ahead, like you said, right?

So, it’s doubly complex, because you’re talking about prioritizing what needs to be done in the present day, to make sure that you are optimized. Then, there’s prioritizing the strategic priorities for innovation and transformation, to meet the needs of those customers in 2, 3, 5 years. I think the concept is super important. Now, how did you all kind of narrow it down? If I remember correctly, you landed on six key areas of focus. Out of, I’m assuming, quite a few, right?

Maarit Leppäaho: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: So, how did you decide what was most important for the key focus? Then, how frequently will you be revisiting that, to see if you need to sort of change those priority areas?

Maarit Leppäaho: Well, we have chosen the key focus areas, the battles that we are going to win. This strategy is for 2024. Of course, during the strategy period, every year, we will be revisiting that. How we are doing? Should we change the direction or correct some things, clarify some things? I think that strategy work is constant work. It’s not that we have done our strategy and that’s it, really, for the coming three years. But, it’s constant work, all the time.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, it is. That’s a really good point. If you’re looking at creating this strategic alignment, you need to be examining, how frequently are the key stakeholders of the business communicating? Because what you don’t want to do is say, “Okay, we did this initial sort of evaluation and setting strategy process. Now, everyone, go do your parts and we’ll come back in a year and see how it’s going.”

I mean, because people are going to learn things as they go. There’s going to be struggles and there’s going to be wins. If you’re not sharing those among those key stakeholders, you risk fueling or feeding those silos, right? I mean, you have to have that visibility across the business. To be able to ensure that you are making progress and that you’re also all staying on the same page.

Maarit Leppäaho: Yeah. Of course, that people believe in that, and really buy that, in a way that they are involved.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes, yes. We’re going to come to that. Now, number two, the second key area is globalization. At Cimcorp, we’re looking at the growth and realizing that there needed to be better globalization of strategy. So, talk a little bit about that.

Maarit Leppäaho: Well, we have had entities and customers around the world for many years, for tens of years. But, being global doesn’t only mean that we are present there in some countries. It means understanding and including different cultures, languages and personalities. With this new strategy alignment, we wanted to clarify internally, what it really means to be a global company.

We took the time to really understand and analyze what global means for our processes. For our customers and for ourselves. We came to the conclusion that truly global means that the customer experience is equal, no matter where in the world. Customer experience is a direct result of good employee experience for us.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Now, the third key area is harmonization. Explain to me the difference between globalization and harmonization.

Maarit Leppäaho: Well, in harmonization, to reach the consistent high quality around the world, it requires harmonization. It’s about the processes, in a way that, before being able to do that completely, we needed to understand how our processes were functioning and find the best practices for that. I think that’s the difference. They are very much connected to each other and we talk about globalization and we have our harmonization processes in the globalization process.

Sarah Nicastro: Just to make sure I’m understanding, would it be fair to say that the globalization was more in the thinking around, “How do we take our truly global footprint and standardize it in a way that is true to everyone? Then, the harmonization is really the action of the processes below that, to bring that vision to reality.” Does that-

Maarit Leppäaho: Yes-

Sarah Nicastro: Okay.

Maarit Leppäaho: You are right. Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, okay. That makes sense. I think, again, that idea of the first part of it, the thinking part, the understanding that every country, every region, every area of the business. I think, when companies standardize things globally, it’s always tricky, because every region feels that their own entity and they do it the best way.

There’s a lot of emotion tied to that, so it can be difficult to honor the hard work they’ve done to create whatever processes and strategy they have. But, also help them understand the value in, as an organization taking a more consistent approach. It’s easy to run through that on a list of things, but I know that it’s far harder than it sounds.

Maarit Leppäaho: You’re so right. You’re so right.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, but it’s important. That’s where you get back to the people part, which is, if you don’t consider everyone’s viewpoints and thoughts and ideas and hard work when you’re making some strategic changes, then people get disconnected. Disenfranchised in what that mission is, because they don’t feel that their work to that point has been valued.

How do you make everyone understand, “Hey, you’ve done a great job and any change we make isn’t related to you not having been effective. But, here’s why it’s important to all of us.” So, I guess that kind of brings us to the fourth point, which is connection. This is sort of the people part. I think when we spoke about this, it’s not just about change management, because unfortunately, I’ve spoke on this podcast a few times about my frustration with change management. Because, when I talk with companies about any sort of change and I ask them, “What were the biggest missteps or lessons learned?” It’s always related to change management.

“Well, we could have done a better job with change management.” “The hardest part was the people.” Yet, it is continually de-emphasized, under-prioritized, under-invested in. Because, I think, for a variety of reasons. But, I think that people also see it as, like you said, this one-time process. “Okay, we’ll set our strategy and then we’re done. We’ll manage the change and then we’re done.”

It’s not that way. I mean, so I like that we framed this as connection, because it’s ongoing. It has to be an ongoing focus of, “Are our employees invested in our company mission? Are they invested in our strategy? And, if not, how do we help them more? How do we help them feel more connected?” Talk a little bit about how you’ve connected the strategy and the mission to the employees within the company.

Maarit Leppäaho: Okay. Well, strategy is only strategy when everyone understands it, remembers it, and follows it in the same ways. In this process, we wanted to bring the strategy close to our everyday work. Strategy can easily be something distant, difficult to understand and to follow. There’s some there on the top level and the management is doing something and no one else understands and is not really interested in that.

We didn’t want to create that kind of strategy. Our goal was to be able to really prioritize our work and to support the collaboration between functions and to grow in a conscious manner. We have so many big things going on at the same time, because we have been growing for a long time already. But now, we want to do it so that we involved every single person, in some ways, in this process.

We started in January and we interviewed the key persons extensively. We have had a lot of workshops. Then, we have sent a couple of queries, asking about important things. People could be involved and give comments and ideas for the strategy work. This process was well thought and planned, because we wanted to hear everyone’s opinion, but also, to do it in a controlled manner. So that not everyone can be involved with everything, but anyway, everyone could have had just their say to the process.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. It’s interesting, how this idea of connection is tied, really, to the other elements. Like you said, strategy is only effective when it’s understood and can be executed. I think that goes back to when it can be understood, to me, ties back to prioritization. No one is going to understand a list of 30 strategic priorities, right?

Maarit Leppäaho: Right.

Sarah Nicastro: I mean, so you have to simplify that down, to some degree, for it to be consumable, repeatable. To be something that people can keep top of mind. Then, something that can be executed and that, again, you can have clarity around. “Here’s our six key areas of strategy.” But, if you get there and then you say, “Okay, go do this however you will, regions, countries, locations.”

Then, it’s sort of that communication game, right? Things get lost in translation. Some things are interpreted one way and some things are interpreted another way. You have to have that globalization and harmonization, to make sure that, not only are you creating a consumable list of priorities, but you are ensuring that people are clear on how they’re expected to make progress toward those priorities.

Maarit Leppäaho: It’s very, very important to have a proper communication implementation plan in a way that we are going to have workshops, so that everyone understands that, “What is my role in this strategy?” So, it will last a long time. It is not ready, yet. It was launched, but it’s not ready. It’s going to continue, like I said, all the time.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, yeah. Right. Okay. There has to have been some challenges along the way. What were some of the challenges that you’ve encountered and how did you navigate those?

Maarit Leppäaho: Well, because we are a global company and we have offices in six countries, of course, we had the time zone a little bit difficult, because we had to be innovative in a way, how to include everyone efficiently, without overbearing their workload. Of course, it was easy to gather the necessary information from all functions with those queries and everything. But, then going through all the data and find the diamonds, was hard work and required many conversations and reflections with the organization.

Then, there’s one thing that, I wouldn’t call this a challenge, but something to have in mind, was also the fact that our Cimcorpers work in many different tasks in many, many different responsibility areas. We have professors working in workshop insights, mechanics, warehouse, everywhere. We have people in office, software to engineering, they have different places. They don’t have always the connection and they can’t conversate in the same ways.

We wanted to involve everyone, but everyone’s job includes different aspects. We wanted to create a strategy that truly is connected to our everyday work. Just a strategy, but it really has to be connected and it can’t be something new, but it has to be connected to our values and also to our customer experience.

Sarah Nicastro: I want to go back to a point you made, which is the data. You have these workshops and these meetings and you’re involving as many people as you can, in the appropriate ways, so that everyone feels they have a say in this. You were researching trends and all of those things. When do you decide, “Okay, we could examine data and have workshops forever. But”-

Maarit Leppäaho: Yeah, that’s right.

Sarah Nicastro: “We need to make some decisions and set the strategy and then get going.” Of course, it’s an ongoing effort. It’s a continual work in progress, but I mean, you have to start somewhere. You have to kind of make a judgment call at some point, of, “Okay, enough discussing, enough investigating. Here’s what we land on, here’s how we move forward.” How did you make that decision, or get to that point?

Maarit Leppäaho: Well, we made the final decisions some weeks ago. There’s person in our organization who is in charge of this implementation process. There are certain development streams, development processes that will be worked on. We have chosen the specific one and of course, there will be strategies for functions and regions and everything. But, the development work has started already.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, yeah. I think it’s a tricky thing, because the idea of getting input is important. The idea of doing due diligence is important. But, sometimes, I think companies let that paralyze them from action. You can kind of get lost in an endless cycle of planning and talking and researching, before you actually make some hard decisions.

The reality is, again, when we look at the pace of change today, that’s not a good idea. I mean, you’re better off making some decisions and needing to course correct, than you are staying in sort of an endless cycle of analysis. Okay, Maarit, what would you say is the biggest lesson that you as an individual learned throughout this process?

Maarit Leppäaho: Well, this has been very, very exciting and interesting journey. I have to say that, to listen and to plan well. Because balancing the everyday work with something as extensive as strategy work can be difficult. Also, to me, because I have my responsibilities and then I have been leading this process. But, I think that, with the strong project management, planning, agendas, meeting those deadlines. Very strict, in a way, discipline that can be done. Because everyone has to do this and everyone says, “Should I participate in this? Or should I do my daily routines?”

Sarah Nicastro: Right, right. It’s a very important point and I think it’s one for businesses to consider too. In the sense of, to the degree you want any layers of your workforce to be involved in strategy and innovation, you really need to think about how that fits with their day-to-day demands. Is there steps that we can take to create space for them to do that work? Because I agree, that the input is invaluable. But, I’ve talked a bit, here in this forum about the weight it puts on leadership, to be responsible for both day-to-day operations and innovation. How do we make sure that we’re having realistic expectations and not creating too much burnout, I guess, is the key, right?

Maarit Leppäaho: Yeah, right.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Last question, Maarit, is what impact do you think this process, this effort will have on Cimcorp as a business and on your customers?

Maarit Leppäaho: Well, our employer experience will be globally harmonized, and higher quality. That ensures a stronger customer experience, that’s how it started. With this strategy alignment, we wanted to ensure that we have the proper tools and resources to grow in a cogent manner. Without the possible growing pains that may happen if a company grows too fast and without any plans.

Our end goal is to have globally harmonized customer experience, no matter where in the world. Also, a globally harmonized employer experience. Our good team spirit, which we call Cimcorp Spirit, inside the company. It needs to be seen and felt throughout the group.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I really admire the attention that you all are putting on the employee experience and understanding how that will relate to customer experience. I think that companies have become very focused on customer experience, which of course is a good thing. As it should be. But, sometimes, the correlation between employee experience and customer experience is overlooked. So, there’s this effort to improve the customer experience, at the expense, sometimes, of the employee, instead of along with their experience.

I think that the way you’re looking at it, Cimcorp’s looking at, it is absolutely the right way. It’s the only sustainable way. I mean, you need to be able to continue to attract and hire and retain good talent. Giving them a positive experience as a valued employee is the only way to do that. I like that you’ve prioritized that in the big picture and understand the role of that for the company. All right. Well, Maarit, thank you so much for joining me and sharing today. I really appreciate you being here.

Maarit Leppäaho: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Sarah Nicastro: You can find more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn, as well as Twitter @thefutureofFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.