NIB’s new Head of HR Hanna Pajunen

12 Dec 2023

Turning focus to People and Culture

“People, culture, leadership and development. Those are the key topics for us, since they have a real business impact,” says NIB’s new Head of HR Hanna Pajunen who started at the Bank in September. In this interview, she talks about why she wanted to work for NIB, how the first hectic weeks within a totally new industry have been, and what she feels are the most topical issues to focus on within HR.

When sitting down to discuss with Hanna about her first thoughts of her new job, it is easy to forget that she has been at NIB for only a few weeks. She is already involved in several pivotal development projects and has become a force to rely on from day one. However, we are curious to hear how the first weeks have felt from her perspective, and she seems pleased.

“Yes, I feel I’ve had a very nice start,” Hanna begins. “Everything is new obviously, so my learning curve is vertical. I learn new things every day and every time I meet a new colleague. I’m still very much in a listening mode, meaning that I want to observe, reflect, and listen to be sure that I get things in order in my head.”

“I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting many different people in the organisation. I’ve participated in the Executive Committee meetings, been present at the meetings of the Board of Directors, and I’ve met with all the managers in the Bank. And of course, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my team within the HR unit to get a sense of how HR is creating impact at NIB. I feel that this is a very inspirational organisation to be part of, and I’m very happy to be here.”

Compared to the expectations or the image you had of NIB before you started, is there anything that has surprised you?

“Well, first of all, one of my expectations has indeed been confirmed, and that is that this is an expert organisation. The building is full of great people, and the brainpower is something I could feel from day one. But perhaps one surprise was that there are a lot of different committees that our employees are part of, and for me, that translates into a culture with many channels where people can create an impact and raise their voice. So that was perhaps something that I didn’t expect.”

“Another thing to mention is the positive sides of being part of a smaller organisation, like NIB with only some 240 employees. I’ve previously worked for Nordic and global companies with even hundreds of thousands of employees, and it’s clear that the impact one can have as an individual HR professional is much broader in a smaller context.”

“And finally, something from a more personal perspective, is that at NIB I’ve entered an industry that is totally new for me. I had expertise in supporting business within the pharmaceutical and insurance sectors, but banking is something new.”

“That means that every night when I go home, my brain is still spinning with all the things I’m trying to put in place around the business and how we do things. HR topics are usually more or less the same wherever you go, but I perhaps didn’t expect that the efforts of learning a new industry would take this much brainpower.”

Considering that the banking sector was new to you, how did NIB manage to attract you here?

“I chose to apply for this vacancy because of the purpose of the Bank. That was something that caught my attention, as I really wanted to be part of the green transition. I wanted to be part of an organisation that does good things in our region, and to discover how we can contribute to that journey from HR’s side. And I was also looking to be part of an international organisation where the Nordics and Baltics are relevant markets, so in that sense this was a perfect match for me.”

Now when you’ve started, what do you see as our strengths when attracting talents to the Bank and to Helsinki overall?

“For my part, I’d say that the strength was much about the people I met during the recruitment process. They all contributed to the fact that my interest in NIB increased step by step on the way. I feel it’s important to get a glimpse of your potential future peers at an early stage.”

“During those discussions, it became clear to me that people here are very committed to the purpose of the business. They want to be part of something bigger, and that was something that resonated strongly with me. So, that’s definitely a strength for NIB when recruiting, and I think that could be emphasised even more strongly externally.”

And what about the challenges?

“Well, one challenge when attracting international talents to Helsinki is that Finland can be seen as a little peripheral compared to the bigger European metropolises.  But during the hiring processes, we want to show that Helsinki is an inspiring, vibrant, and safe city to live in, and Finland as a stable host-country, known for its good school system. And—of course—for being ranked as the happiest country in the world for many years in a row,” Hanna adds with a smile.

Two months is not a long time in a new workplace, but you’ve rolled up your sleeves and got straight to business. Could you give some examples of projects you are prioritising right now as our Head of HR, and why you think they are important?

“Yes, I would say that the things that we are working on at HR right now are all related to the cultural transformation NIB is going through, or the cultural journey we are on within the Bank.”

“One very cool project that is dear to me is the new employee engagement concept that we will implement in 2024. We hope this will support the cultural transformation into a trust-based and transparent organisation, at the same time giving people ownership around their own engagement and possibilities to have an impact.”

“So, to summarise, I’d say that the topics are related to the culture journey but also to leadership—focusing on how we can support the leaders in the Bank to become even stronger. And finally: development, making sure everyone feels there’s enough support to develop and grow at an individual level.”

“These are the top priorities because they have an impact on the business. We need to have a culture that nurtures business, we need to have leaders that make their team members shine, and we all, as employees, need to have a growth mindset that helps us become better and stronger professionals.”

It seems employee engagement is at the core of what you are aiming for. Can you elaborate a little on what “engagement” means to you in more concrete terms?

“Yes, for me it means that if people are engaged, they’re happy to work and contribute, they’re willing to go the extra mile, and they’re also good ambassadors for their employer externally. And then we need to remember that different drivers build engagement. It isn’t just about sending out a survey asking ‘are you engaged or not?’, but more about the overall feeling or emotion that people have towards their work and employer, to put it very simply.”

The field of HR has developed a lot over time, from employee administration to covering a much broader scope nowadays. Which aspects do you feel are most central for your work, and how do you see the field developing in the future, including within NIB?

“I’d say the topics that will become even more important are—no surprise—related to people, culture, leadership and development.”

“If you look at the field of HR in different external channels today, you can even see that many companies are renaming and rebranding their HR functions to ‘People & Culture’ instead of just ‘Human Resources’. I think this is a nice way to show that the focus of HR is transforming from an administrative and reactive operational function into something where we really can add value to the business, and where we are proactively driving the agendas around these topics. So, as I see it, that’s the clear way forward for us at NIB as well.”

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