Valio’s aim was to strengthen the strategic skills of its category and business managers. The four-day skills development programme also gave the participants a great opportunity to learn from colleagues.

Trends in the food industry are changing at an ever faster pace, as consumer preferences change and competitors’ innovations change the playing field. Naturally, strong brands are always powerful, but they also need to have their finger on the pulse.

That is why Valio wanted to strengthen its strategic business expertise by offering its experienced professionals a coaching package, led by instructors who would also share insights from other companies in other industries. To provide this opportunity, the company partnered with Verona Consulting.

“The food sector is fast-moving and competition for new innovations is fierce. There is each year a significant turnover of new products being introduced and old ones being discontinued, necessitating a constant need for innovation. Product category managers and business managers are key people with a great potential to influence decisions”

says Hanna Kangas, who is responsible for developing the competence of Valio’s experts.
Hanna Kangas is responsible for competence development of Valio’s experts.

Business and product category managers invariably have a strong knowledge of product concepts and their continuous development. However, the demanding competitive environment, changing trends in the industry and the desire to stay ahead of the market require stronger strategic thinking, customer focus and versatile leadership and influencing skills.

Selling your ideas to senior management is also an important skill, so that good ideas are not wasted because their potential is not presented clearly and concisely.

”Annual category plans should be presented to the management teams in a concise way, so that the management gets a proposal and a compact list of reasons, rather than a long slideshow”

says Kangas

Well planned is half done

The coaching programme for around 40 professionals was the result of a close collaboration between the management, participants and Verona’s consultants.

”We spent a lot of time on interviews to make sure we understood the participants’ needs well enough”, recalls Kangas.

The coaching programme consisted of four half-day, needs-based modules, each with its own theme. The modules covered strategic management, customer value management, performance management and executive management. The regular coaching days were preceded by a joint kick-off day and concluded with a joint feedback session.

After each module, the participants gave feedback, which was used to develop the next modules during the coaching programme.

Full credit to the consultants at Verona Consulting for their genuine desire to understand our operations. They had also worked in the client’s position themselves, so they interpreted our wishes really well”

says Kangas.

The strategic discussion was of significant importance

One of the key objectives of the coaching programme was to stimulate discussion on strategic issues there is no time to talk about in everyday life.

”We wanted people to network with their peers so that they could spar with each other in small groups. The participants were particularly happy with this aspect of the programme”, says Kangas.

Kangas and her colleagues encouraged the participants to continue sparring with each other even after the coaching. This has produced, among other things, an internal book club, where the members read business books and discuss lessons learned with each other.

According to Kangas, the supervisors of the persons who participated in the coaching have also seen the results in their everyday lives. ”You can see at work that these people are taking more ownership, making decisions and also making clearer and more concise business plans.”

The team spirit and innovative thinking of the participants was also stimulated by tasks that included working together to build the tallest possible tower out of spaghetti, marshmallows and tape.

Five steps to organisational learning

  1. Plan the coaching carefully. The views of the management and participants are important.
  2. Tailor to the everyday life of the participants. What do the common doctrines mean in our work?
  3. Give room for discussion. The insights of the participants are more important than those of the coaches.
  4. Build networks. Peer support from colleagues is often extremely important.
  5. Respond to the participants’ needs. The coaching plan should leave room for any needs that arise during the coaching.

Valio in brief

  • Owned by Finnish milk producers
  • Turnover (2022) EUR 2,236 million
  • Employees ~4,200
  • Production plants in 12 locations in Finland
  • Exports to approximately 50 countries
  • Exports account for about a quarter of Finland’s food exports