Towards an innovative corporate culture

Fazer is building a unique corporate culture in their field, where new business innovations and development belong to and are made possible for all employees. Fazer was looking to enhance innovation skills throughout their whole organisation by increasing the use of agile and lean start-up working methods to create new business ideas. Solita helped Fazer design and realise the Fazer Innovation Challenge programme aimed at kickstarting the new culture and creating new working methods.

In early 2018, Fazer founded the Fazer Lab, tasked with developing and researching innovations, as well as refining functional business models, products and services from new ideas.

“At Fazer, systematic centralised development of new business has been going on for nearly ten years, in addition to the dedicated R&D functions of our business units. Competence has improved throughout our whole organisation during this time, and all business units are now more daring innovators – for instance, Fazer Bakeries has produced the Cricket Bread. We use the Fazer Lab to focus our pursuit of transformative ideas that can yield something genuinely new for Fazer. An essential part of this is the development of open innovation through both internal transparency and external partners,” says Eeva Tiainen, head of new business and open innovation development at Fazer.

The Fazer Lab was launched internally through the Fazer Innovation Challenge programme. All 15,000 Fazer employees were invited to innovate on new business ideas. Solita helped Fazer design and implement the programme.

“Our aim with the Fazer Innovation Challenge was to expand innovation activities outside the traditional R&D operations by using crowdsourcing. Our objective at Fazer is that innovation should belong to and be made possible for everyone.

We were looking to create an agile organisational culture by introducing people to lean start-up working methods that allow people to quickly evaluate and refine their ideas,” says Tiainen.

A surprising number of new ideas

The Fazer Innovation Challenge sought out as many people and ideas as possible; enough mass was needed to find the most viable ideas.

“Our estimate was that we would have some 70 ideas, but our worldwide organisation produced 110. We pared the number down to 66, which then received the Fazer Innovation Challenge coaching organised by Solita and the Fazer Lab. All told, some 100 Fazer employees participated in the programme,” says Tiainen.

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    Fazer empolyees

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Solita coaches innovation

Headed by coaches Mikko Väätäinen and Marko Taipale from Solita, the accelerator training programme lasted eight weeks. The programme included coaching on lean start-up tools and methods without the participants needing to learn their backgrounds. The participants were also trained and advised in how to independently develop their ideas.

“Us coaches just asked some little things of the participants: subject your ideas to outside criticism, build a committed team to develop the idea, carry out practical tests and make as many practical iterations of the idea as you can during the programme,” says Mikko Väätäinen, coach and business designer at Solita.

“We were really asking a lot of the participants, but we know from experience that people can do it, as long as the framework is right. In the accelerator portion, the participants developed a business concept of their idea through trial and error, built a team around the idea, tested the idea with real customers and finally pitched the idea to a panel of Fazer management for test funding.

The level of commitment and excitement was incredible. Fazer has a lot of very motivated and creative employees, and it was a pleasure for us to coach them,” says Mikko Väätäinen.

From ideas into new business

From the 66 ideas, a final group of 24 was selected. In the finals, a panel of judges selected three winners based on their pitches. The last phase of the programme took place over three days spent in Madrid, where the coaches worked intensively with the winning teams to polish their business ideas.

The three winning business ideas were a new family of products, a digital service related to nutrition and a new concept for snacks. These ideas are currently being worked on as individual ventures to produce actual products and services under the guidance of the Fazer Lab. Some of the other business ideas have been adopted into the development portfolios of various business units.

"Before the programme, we imagined the new ideas to be product innovations, like maybe a new type of chocolate pastry. We were surprised to find that they were primarily business models." - Eeva Tiainen, Fazer

According to Tiainen, the objectives set for the Fazer Innovation Challenge were met beyond expectations. Fazer defined clear indicators for the success of the program, such as the number of ideas, how many people are exposed to the new working methods and how many ideas make it to further development in the Fazer Lab.

“Great success”

Tiainen describes the accelerator programme as challenging, having to engage participants from seven countries and getting them to participate in short virtual coaching sessions.

“Solita had the main responsibility for the design and implementation of the coaching. We were still closely involved in both – for example, one of the three main coaches was a Fazer employee. This allowed us to account for the abilities of our own organisation and match the content and method of coaching to our industry. I believe this to have been a key part of the success. The numbers also show that the task was successful, as a whopping 24 teams made it to the final. Mikko and Marko came into their own as coaches in the intensive team coaching in Madrid,” says Tiainen.

“Fazer’s dedication made the success of the accelerator programme possible. Seamless collaboration, curiosity and noting the context of the customer organisation are key in adopting new operating models,” says Marko Taipale, business designer at Solita.

Achieving a more agile organisation

To bring a whole organisation on board for innovation, its particular abilities must be strengthened first. According to Tiainen, the Fazer Innovation Challenge was an excellent tool to this end.

“The programme was a fine display of interdisciplinary competition where like-minded individuals who have not previously met can come together. The programme opened up boundaries between the different parts of our large organisation, creating the networks important for building an agile organisation,” says Tiainen.

The essential part in Fazer’s transformation was the creation of a more agile and entrepreneurial corporate culture. It was also important to increase transparency. This is why the Fazer Innovation Challenge programme was opened up to all Fazer employees and each of the initial 110 ideas were shown for all to comment on. Employees were also free to join different teams.

“We have not previously had this kind of culture to this extent. We at Fazer want to show that even traditional industrial companies can be agile and achieve results through new working methods. The lean start-up methods we have learned will create a base for communicating ideas, seeking feedback and subjecting our thinking to external influences,” says Tiainen.

Development continue with Solita

The Fazer Innovation Challenge programme paved the way for cultural change that is still ongoing at Fazer. The business units continue to increase their transparency, interdisciplinarity and dialogue.

The Fazer Lab organisation and Solita continue their cooperation to develop agile corporate culture. After the Fazer Innovation Challenge coaching was completed, Solita has supported Fazer in the continued development of the structure and processes of the Fazer Lab. This work continues in the autumn of 2018 as open dialogue with the Lab organisation and as Solita support, such as coaching, for the business ideas being prepared by the Lab.

Interested? Contact us!

Mikko Väätäinen

Business Designer


+358 44 7504 464