Marina Kinnunen

Success is made together – Our doctoral alumna Marina Kinnunen leads the Wellbeing Services County of Ostrobothnia

Nina Jokiaho
Marina Kinnunen is a determined goal achiever. As a director, she has constantly updated her knowledge and developed her leadership skills while working. Today, she feels she has found the means to achieve better health and social services for people and to create a great workplace.

Marina Kinnunen has more than 20 years of experience in the social and healthcare sector. Before her current position as a director, she worked in several other managerial positions. Becoming a leader was not her initial career plan.  

– I like my job as a director. The best part of it is to develop practices and processes. I have always studied while working. My studies have always been related to my work and how to improve it. So, you could say the urge to develop and improve, has taken me to this point in my career.  

Kinnunen admits that she has gone through quite a learning path as a leader. As the organisation has grown and she can no longer meet with the whole staff, she has found new ways to lead.  

– I give people a lot of freedom to do and develop their own work. I am by no means watching over them. It is important to me that everyone remembers why we are here, what we are doing and that we need to constantly strive to develop better services for our population. I have been told that it's easy to come and talk to me. My door is always open, but I encourage staff to primarily deal with issues in their own work communities. 

My best leadership tip is: Always aim to develop and listen, genuinely listen.
Marina Kinnunen, director of Wellbeing Services County of Ostrobothnia

Since last autumn, Kinnunen has held "at the same table" events. Her biggest lesson from these events has been that she doesn’t need to talk much.  

– Our staff do hear me a lot on different occasions and get enough strategic management elsewhere. The most important thing in these events is that I am present and genuinely listen to them. These occasions are very important to me. I get direct feedback about how our employees are doing. I also get to know how our customers perceives the services we provide now. 

Kinnunen is a nurse by her first profession. In 2010, she received her Doctor of Science in Economics and Business Administration from the University of Vaasa. She has always studied while working. How does she find time for both? 

– I have been a competitive athlete. I am used to fully booked days from a very young age, as well as always having a goal to work towards. Maybe it's also a way of life, to always have several things going on. My studies and research have always given me new dimensions to my work.  

She states that the director's job is 24/7, you simply do not turn off the phone. But there are ways to cope. 

– For me, it's sports, I make time for this every morning. This way I make sure I stay fit and able. I do admit that the best thoughts and ideas are often born on the jogging path, she laughs.

Change management while the social and healthcare sector is in a major crisis 

17 organisations have merged into the Wellbeing Services County of Ostrobothnia, that now employs 8,000 people. This is the result of the health and social services reform in Finland, the so-called “sote-uudistus”. The change is huge and has taken its toll on Kinnunen, the managers, the staff as well as their customers. 

– At the beginning of last year, when we started, not many - not even me - quite understood how huge the change is. Many thought that the change did not apply to them at all, but then noticed that it really affects everyone. With so many organisations merged, nobody’s activities remain completely unchanged.  

The staff was able to perform their core tasks quite well, but the managers had to find their place and create new practices and ways of working. The administrative challenges were enormous: new systems, complex data transfer processes, incomplete data and so on. 

– I honestly say that at the beginning of last year, I didn't wake up in the morning thinking wow, this is great! It was really exhausting and a wake-up call for me too. I had never imagined that I needed to worry about people getting paid or not. Salary payment delays really sapped the motivation of those affected. 

Major changes and coping with the challenges that comes with them take their own time. Kinnunen expresses her gratitude to the staff for coping and for keeping up the positive spirit.  

– Now, I feel that we are building our new organisation together and we are trying to find opportunities for each employee to influence our workplace. We now have much better resources to develop than any of us had as individual organisations before. 

Marina Kinnunen

The media reports on long queues, overcrowded emergency rooms, and no available appointments. Can an ordinary person still get to see a doctor? 

– Yes, you can still get doctor's appointments. But I must point out that as we did this massive merger of 17 organisations, our sector is in one of the toughest crises in its history. The personnel shortage in our sector is starting to show very strongly. And as if this is not enough, we were also still in the middle of the pandemic when we started last year.  

Kinnunen states, that at some point the entire Finnish society will have to engage in the discussion of what services can and cannot be done. The maximum number of personnel has been reached and yet the need for services is still increasing. Kinnunen feels that one of her most important tasks as a director is to ensure that the staff can do their job well. This requires that certain limits are set on how much one person can do. 

– I still strongly believe that we will sort this out and that the health and social services reform was exactly the right thing to do. We have good goals in our strategy, and we must look at these, no matter how hard it is sometimes. Last year demanded a lot from all of us at every level. I do feel much more positive now. The change is not finished, it lives and develops all the time. We will cope when we solve one challenge at a time. We need to genuinely listen to our staff and population, both in good and less functional matters and find new solutions and ways of working.  

In January 2023, the Wellbeing Services County of Ostrobothnia was awarded the SHQS quality certificate, proof of high-quality and high-level social and healthcare activities, and the first welfare county to be awarded such a comprehensive certificate. 

– We are at the top of Finland when it comes to quality work. In this area, our goal is to be pioneers and top-notch in the Nordic countries. Our region has relied on quality work for a long time also before the merger. This is why we succeeded to get certified so quickly, and of course we could not have received this without our eminent staff. 

Cooperation with the University of Vaasa  

University of Vaasa and the Wellbeing Services County of Ostrobothnia have a lot of co-operation. But according to Kinnunen, even more could be done. In 2021, Kinnunen launched a five-year co-operation project with Professor Harri Jalonen and Professor Emeritus Pirkko Vartiainen from  Administrative Sciences research group.  

This project has gotten off to a good start and Kinnunen has benefited from it already.  

– Last year, with the big merger and all the challenges, we had weekly discussions with the university's professors. They gave us a lot of tools to cope. They brought a lot of new research information into our discussions; they picked out interesting new studies that they thought could help us forward and offered good tips and tools for change management. You could say that they coached us with science.  

As a part of the same project, Suvi Einola, director of strategy and development of the Wellbeing Services County and doctoral alumna from the University of Vaasa, is working for a joint graduate school. There are many employees in the Wellbeing Services County, who are expected to do research or study more. Kinnunen actively encourages all employees, regardless of level, to get excited about continuous learning. 

– I think that we here in the Wellbeing Services County should be better at utilising and implementing the research done at the University of Vaasa. Vice versa, we do offer university researchers a good platform for further research. It is most important that we keep an open dialogue, and that we constantly look for new forms of cooperation on different levels. Find ways to work together for the sake of the common good. 

What is the Wellbeing Services County of Ostrobothnia?   
As a part of the health and social services reform in Finland, the so-called “sote-uudistus”, 13 municipalities and specialized hospital care services in Ostrobothnia formed a municipal union as of 1 January 2022. In 2023, also the rescue operations, special care services and two more municipalities joined in; now a total of 17 organizations have merged into the new Wellbeing Services County of Ostrobothnia. In 2023, the funding model will also change and directly elected decision-makers will come to power. The goal of the reform is that in the future, the focus would be on the promotion  of the well-being and health of the population. 

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