Three everyday issues

that concern Elisa’s Head of Digital Operations, Antti Seppälä  

Good leadership is central to Elisa’s corporate culture. Managing specialists in a modern software company is about making it possible for them to succeed. Managers steer the specialists along the right path, and they ensure that there are multi-skilled teams and specialists that can carve out new paths through the changing situations that the future will bring.

Which three things are causing Antti Seppälä, Head of Digital Operations at Elisa, the most concern?

1. The decision-making power of technical specialists

Antti joined Elisa in September 2010. Back then, Elisa was already developing innovative services utilising the latest technology, with the vision of being a modern software company developing consumer services. Antti was working as a software developer at the time, and when the services his team were developing became an example of pioneering use of the public cloud, Antti realised that he knew quite a lot about the topic. He changed track to become a DevOps specialist and architect.

Five years after that, he went from leading this issue to leading people as well. Now Antti leads the unit that develops tools that enable Elisa’s internal teams to improve the way they work. The people in Antti’s unit are as engaged in complex automation projects and network optimisation as they are in software development.

“These days, my role is to keep the wheels turning, to take care of budgeting and resources, to recruit people with the skills we need, and to sell our expertise in-house to people that would benefit from automation. So, I’m also involved in everyday development work, and I want to keep my finger on the pulse of our workload”, Antti says.

According to Antti, in technical organisations like Elisa, trust comes from having leaders who can keep things moving and also understand the technical side of things, so they can properly discuss how to handle practical issues. The word “leader” sounds a bit strange to Antti, as experts often make decisions for themselves and Antti is more in a position of removing obstacles to success.

“I’m happy to keep dealing with the everyday worries and meeting my colleagues every day. I want to hear about the technical problems as well as everybody’s thoughts and needs. I’m also a curious person, and I want to stay informed about where the world is heading in terms of technical development and what new opportunities that might bring for us”, Antti says.

It is important that we can guarantee that experts have the freedom and decision-making power to resolve problems in the way they think is best.

2. Everyone pulling in the same direction

The work of technical specialists has more purpose when there is a clearly thought-out, unified direction to it all. If everybody is following their own path, that makes everybody in the unit lose a bit of focus and meaning.

“The role of a leader is to make sure that the whole company can find a unified way to do things and that everybody’s voice is heard. Clear limits and guidelines are also valuable. We need to give people room to make decisions, but we’ve thought about our shared direction and we guide everybody towards it”, explains Antti.

Antti believes that managers need to know the individuals in their team so that everybody gets the support that they need.

“When I’m in the office, I make sure I go round and talk to everybody. I also believe that if people are having fun outside work, they understand each other better”, Antti says.

For Antti, the biggest feelings of success in his leadership work have come when he has noticed that work teams are succeeding and everyone is pulling in the right direction. When people are happy and everything is working well, then things really start to happen.

3. Recruitment that fosters diversity

Antti believes that a key leadership task is to make sure that different people’s different strengths are taken into account in development. At Elisa, the idea is to build more cross-functional teams that include people from different backgrounds who have different strengths.

“Our work is more and more about other things alongside just coding. In many tasks, we’re dealing more with things like elements of the customer experience or communication skills”, explains Antti.

Antti says that when he was recently recruiting a specialist with a new skillset, the decision was made to go in a new direction. When somebody joins the team who has a skillset that the others do not have, the whole team gains a new perspective. But this needs to be an explicit choice.

“We need to make recruitment decisions consciously. Otherwise, it’s easy to end up preferring a candidate who is similar to you, without really realising it. It’s part of being human, but we need to avoid it”, says Antti.

According to Antti, Elisa is heading more and more in the direction where individual teams have complete ownership of the end-to-end customer experience. This means that developers are also involved in solving business problems. In this example, the same development team that works to, for example, find a solution to a login problem for Elisa Viihde could also set the service levels and targets.

“These more technically creative and broader ways of thinking and problem-solving are, at the end of the day, about diversity and making sure that our teams have people who think about things in different ways”, says Antti in summary.