During his 19 years with Skanska, starting as a summer trainee, Supervising Site Manager Harri Vesanto and his teams have built more than 1,000 homes in the Helsinki, Finland, metropolitan area. Those homes are important to enabling that region to thrive, and just as significant is how they came to be.
Harri and his teams drive the connection between safety, green and operational efficiency through small but strategic acts done every day, working relentlessly for long-term benefits. As a result, there has not been a single accident on his sites over the last 10 years. There is also no construction waste to be taken to landfill. Harri leads by example and prioritizes the development of the entire project team, including subcontractors. This ensure that the positive impact of his work amplifies over time.
For being a role model in developing people, leading high-performing teams and living the Skanska Values, in 2018 we selected Harri for our Great People Award. Here, Harri shares insights about helping people and teams be their best.
What's your approach to building strong project teams?
A strong project team is made of both experienced colleagues and those early in their careers. An effective team also has people with different skillsets and backgrounds. Also, everybody needs a chance to grow and learn. Even if someone fails while trying to be their best, there's no judgement. All these things help in creating high-performing teams.
How did you develop that approach?
I learned "inside out": I saw what didn't work and learned through that. During my early years as a carpenter, I saw how unsatisfied employees were at the site. The way projects were managed back then was very different. When I was in a position to change things, I wanted to make the most out of it. I wanted to renew and improve routines and change the way people were treated.
How do you work to develop people?
I try to provide everyone with diverse opportunities so they feel motivated and challenged. As a supervisor, this does take extra planning, and it requires that I know my people very well. But helping those on my teams broaden their experiences and progress in their careers is very important. It makes me happy to help others succeed, so I am eager to invest the time and effort for this.
Naturally, subcontractors are no different: they also need to feel welcome at the site and be informed like everyone else. It's our responsibility to create good working conditions for the subcontractors. Everything has to be ready for them so they can work well and efficiently. At the same time, they too have to reach the same quality and timetable requirements as everybody else.
How have your teams eliminated accidents and waste to landfill?
Ten years without accidents has required a long-term safety effort. Changing people's mindsets doesn't happen quickly. It takes patience and time, conversations and education. Punishing or complaining doesn't motivate people to truly change their habits. I've tried to keep a positive approach.
The same goes with landfill waste reduction. We started to experiment with different solutions 10 years ago. We wanted to step up with sorting at the worksite, and we learned through mistakes and trials. Much depends on the worksite: at some sites you can do more and on some less. Now we concentrate on sorting and compacting cardboard and plastics so they can be re-used. Metals, rock and other materials are all recycled.
How do you link green, safety and cost efficiency?
The only way to combine these three priorities is to be involved in the planning phase, to be present from the project's very beginning. That is so important. Everybody – including the construction site manager, the developer, the designer and other partners – needs the opportunity to comment and to listen to different views. This requires flexibility and a willingness to listen and develop solutions from everybody involved. We at Skanska also want to maintain high quality without sacrificing our principles.
What's the best way you've found to build trust?
Keeping promises and standing behind your own words is a must. Openness and respect are other key things to keep in mind.
How do you motivate people to innovate and continuously improve?
By having a positive attitude and by encouraging feedback. I'm interested in people and I'm happy to talk with them, whether about work or just to ask how they're doing. I've received positive feedback that people like that I actually spend time on the worksite and chat with people.
While running a project site, how do you stay focused on the most important things?
By daring to delegate. When I share responsibilities and authority with other supervisors in a wise way, I can concentrate on challenges and better anticipate future issues. With my background as a worker, I've had to learn the skill of delegating. It took me about three to five years before it became a natural way of working.
No one can fully master all aspects of a project, especially with today's digital tools and special fields. I have to build and trust a team that has skillful specialists who are brilliant at their field of expertise.
What is one piece of advice to help others grow in leading teams?
Have a persistent attitude and believe in what you do. Also, have an open mind in exploring and utilizing new solutions.
What are your interests outside of work?
When and if I have time, I play football and go to Skanska's floorball games on Wednesday evenings. In the summer, I also fish and roller skate. My wife and I have three daughters, 12-, 14- and 16 years old. They all have hobbies – teaching and training gymnastics, horseback riding and floorball – so the weekdays are busy.
We also have a summer cottage in southern Finland – it's going to require some work this summer.