ForTheDoers Blog

Open leadership enables a faster ability to respond

Heidi Backman-Husenius 13 July 2020, 13:34 EEST

An encouraging, trust-based and wellbeing-focused open leadership model helped Fortum to adapt well to changes caused by the coronavirus crisis.


A couple of years ago Fortum rolled out a company-wide cultural change that is based on openness and trust between management and personnel. At the heart of our culture is the modern brain research-based notion that when people feel others believe in and trust them, they also believe in themselves and perform better. In fact, management at Fortum is based on the Open Leadership model and its three principles: we believe in each other, we want the best for each other, and we expect the best from each other.

When the coronavirus crisis hit, leadership was put to the test. The role of supervisors and management was especially important in this situation, just as it always is in an exceptional situation. Our open leadership principles enabled us to adapt to rapid changes and the “new normal” over the past spring.

We have invested significantly in a working environment and corporate culture that would help employees succeed. In exceptional circumstances, we have paid special attention to active communications internally, the use of tools for remote working, and diverse support for employee wellbeing.

Support for work wellbeing

At the start of the coronavirus crisis, the transition to working remotely was very smooth because we already had an underlying culture of trust in place, and there had been recent discussions between supervisors and employees about remote working practices. We had previously made the transition to a truly paperless office, and we had been using electronic tools like Microsoft Teams extensively and for a long time, so they were familiar.

Many mechanisms to support work wellbeing were even surprisingly easily integrated with the virtual world. During the spring, we offered our employees things like remote training, shared breaks, and guidelines for ergonomic working at home.

One of the tools that proved to be popular was Break Pro, an app that reminds users of the need to take breaks and offers various exercise videos. To support staying engaged and a sense of community, we also tailored different coronavirus-appropriate challenges in the HeiaHeia service. And the Hintsa Performance wellbeing coaching was made into virtual programmes.

Open dialogue and feedback

During spring, we achieved a number of internal communication successes: for example, at its best, more than 2,000 people simultaneously took part in internal Town Hall events arranged via Teams, and the opportunity to present questions anonymously or in your own name produced a lot of questions. Based on the personnel survey conducted in late spring, our employees were especially satisfied with the internal communications during the exceptional situation.

We regularly track the realisation of open leadership through pulse surveys, which provide a quick and flexible way to promote dialogue and collect feedback. After moving to remote working, many supervisors started regularly asking their teams about issues like coping and adequacy of information flow in this new situation.

The coronavirus crisis also highlighted the fact that open remote management is very demanding on supervisors, and it isn’t necessarily a good fit for everyone. Challenges emerged, for example, in situations where we tried to find ways to offer support to individuals in various life situations.

Overall, I believe that one of the consequences of the pandemic is that working remotely will increase within Fortum. This situation has led many who were previously sceptical of working remotely to conclude that remote working has been even more successful than anticipated. I am especially glad about this because remote working impacts wellbeing by making it easier to gain better work-life balance.

Heidi Backman-Husenius

Vice President, People and Well-being
Tel: +358 50 452 8340
heidi [dot] backman [at] fortum [dot] com

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