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Leading with Kindness

Interview with Anna Kleine, CEO of Fellowmind Sweden

Monday, June 3, 2024
Reading time: 10 minutes

“We are in a great position to lead as a kind industry,” says Anna Kleine, CEO of Fellowmind Sweden. Delivering kindness to your employees eliminates fear, elevates people engagement, leads to higher customer happiness, and boosts business growth.

We were glad to welcome Anna on stage at Companial Global Connect as one of our valued long-term partners. Her session on kindness as a leadership principle clearly reached the hearts and minds of the audience that day. Therefore, we invited Anna to share her journey of kindness with Fellowmind over the past 2-3 years with the broader community of Companial partners.

Anna Kleine

CEO, Fellowmind Sweden

Enjoy this inspiring read!

Q: Your company applies a humanized growth model in your business. During our partner event, you inspired us all with the kindness strategy that you are establishing in Fellowmind. Please share your thoughts behind this strategy? What are the key building blocks of the business philosophy of kindness?

A: We put people at the heart of everything we do, including our fellows (employees), customers, and partners. There are humans everywhere around us. In these times of uncertainty—with the pandemic, mass layoffs, global political tensions, the new digital era where no one knows what will happen tomorrow—creating stability is crucial. For us at Fellowmind, kindness is key to this stability. It’s not just a corporate value but a core strategy.

When I started on this journey, kindness was often seen as a weakness in leadership. In my perception, it’s the total opposite. Kindness is a strength. You have to be brave to extend kindness. It benefits both the giver and the receiver, leading to happier, more productive people as happy people perform better.

“Kindness is a strength. You have to be brave to extend kindness.”

The beautiful thing about kindness also is that it’s cost-free.

We’ve learned it has positive business outcomes, lowering people churn and sick leave, boosting growth, and attracting more female talent.


Q: How do you move from a nice strategy to making people live it? What was your path in terms of building the operational plan? How have you engaged leadership and their teams in making this strategy a reality?

A: We started with a decision to embed kindness into our leadership principles. But, to make this part of our culture and to be able to transparently explain to employees what they can expect from it, we also needed to define what kindness means for our organization.

Kindness can translate into many different things – saying hi to a colleague, giving positive feedback, being respectful, and other small acts of kindness like offering to get a coffee for your fellow when you get one for yourself.

It’s important to involve people in defining what kindness means in our culture, so everyone understands what is expected. We communicate these expectations clearly to all employees and leaders.

To measure our progress, we measure a pulse of kindness. We use a tool that sends out five questions every Friday to check whether we are still perceived as a kind organization. I personally answer these questions, as do all our employees. This helps us track our kindness temperature internally.

“We use a tool that sends out five questions every Friday to check whether we are still perceived as a kind organization. I personally answer these questions, as do all our employees.”

In addition, we support a lot of other defined actions connected to kindness, like transparency, which is one of the pillars of this strategy. Feedback is also critical, setting expectations and letting employees know when they have done a good job. We train people to give not only positive feedback, but also constructive feedback, because focusing solely on the positive can result in missing opportunities for improvement.

There are more connected initiatives that we support, such as stress training, access to psychologists, monthly development talks, etc. We also have mood managers dedicated to maintaining a positive atmosphere in the company. This ensures our kindness strategy is lived out daily by everyone in the organization.


Q: You said happy people perform better. Let’s address the productivity topic. The industry we both represent delivers amazing innovations to increase people’s productivity through technology. But would you agree with the statement that productivity is another side of employee engagement where company culture plays an important role too?

A: Absolutely, I believe that when people feel safe in their environment, they become more engaged and willing to challenge themselves. In our complex industry, feeling secure and engaged is crucial for innovation and stepping out of comfort zones. There are so many things happening in our industry every day – new technologies, new solutions. It’s not even possible to keep up with all of this information. A safe environment encourages employees to ask questions when they don’t understand something, preventing wasted time and mistakes.


Q: Also, safe environments let people make mistakes which are crucial to be able to learn from them?

A: Definitely. Many people say you learn the most from your own mistakes, and I agree. Making mistakes is critical for growth. I make mistakes too and I’m very transparent about this – sometimes I need to reverse my decisions. But I’m proud to know that in our organization, that’s acceptable. It’s a gift to work in an environment where making mistakes is seen as part of the learning process.


Q: Another thing your company does well is utilizing the element of engaging employees in a higher purpose. In your vision statements you talk a lot about connected companies, enabling digital readiness for your customers, and helping people enjoy the technology. From my perspective, it’s a very nice purpose that should unite your employees, create a sense of being part of something bigger, and bring meaning to their work. So, is it intentional? Is it also part of your kindness strategy?

A: Yes, absolutely. I see this as an extension of the kindness strategy. Creating connected companies is a key part of our vision, and yes, it serves a higher purpose which unites our employees and gives deeper meaning to their work. In today’s world, people seek more than just a paycheck—they want to work towards a greater purpose. This approach also includes sustainability and social responsibility aspects, further connecting and motivating our team.


Q: Let’s talk about the link between employee happiness and business results. In your session at Companial Global Connect, you brought very solid evidence of how improving employee satisfaction also helped you succeed in delivering outstanding business outcomes. How are those things interconnected?

A: When employees are happy, we see lower sick-leave and churn, which is crucial for profitability and growth within our company. High turnover disrupts projects and impacts overall performance, so we monitor sick-leave and churn regularly through stress and workload checks. This helps to maintain a healthy work-life balance for our people. We value and respect people’s time and track these metrics weekly or monthly to ensure no team has too heavy of a workload. Team leaders also monitor this and have a regular dialog about this with their people.

What is wonderful is that by having happy people working together, you attract new people that want to work for your company. All of this makes our brand stronger. And, with more talented and engaged people we can take on more projects.

In my experience, people like to work. From what I observe, people in consultancy roles enjoy high utilization. They like having a lot to do and knowing their work is valued. We are careful with this and seek to utilize our people’s time in the best way possible, while helping them grow in their assignments.

In addition to our employees, our clients also appreciate our kindness philosophy as this creates trust that we will treat our customers and partners the same way as we treat our people. The beauty is that when employees are happy and feel supported, they are willing to go the extra mile for the company and for the customer. This translates into better business outcomes, which are reflected in our bottom line and growth.

“Our clients also appreciate our kindness philosophy as this creates trust that we will treat our customers and partners the same way as we treat our people.”

Transparency is also a key part of our strategy. We are open about how the business is performing, and people appreciate this transparency. They want to be part of a successful company. Understanding the company’s performance also helps them see the impact of their efforts

We don’t just define kindness and hope it sorts itself out; we live it each and every day.

Q: For how long are you on a journey of kindness in Fellowmind?

A: Around 2-3 years


Q: How do you keep leadership engaged to continue on this strategy? Culture transformation work does not fit into excel sheets, there is no overnight success. There is a lot of hard work and patience needed. Did you as a company face any challenges or resistance on this?

A: It’s natural, that in the beginning, some people were wondering, where is this heading?”. Some were skeptical about the kindness philosophy, associating it with weakness. They were concerned it would make it difficult to set tough targets or share constructive feedback. However, as we defined clear expectations early on for leaders to deliver kindness while maintaining zero tolerance for unkindness, perceptions began to shift.

It took some time, but employees started to appreciate it, realizing that being kind to each other created a healthier environment where they could focus their energy on tasks rather than protecting their space. People are saying now “I’m so proud to work for a company that has the courage to prioritize kindness. It’s so modern.”

“I’m so proud to work for a company that has the courage to prioritize kindness.”

Over time, growing customer satisfaction and business outcomes have proved that kindness really works.


Q: Do you feel you are already “matured” as a company in this evolution of kindness? What phase of this journey do you feel you are in now?

A: We can always make improvements, but we are making great progress. One of the key things we do is educate all our leaders about kindness and what is expected of them. I personally conduct sessions with all the leaders. Additionally, when onboarding new employees, I spend around two hours with each group to discuss our expectations and culture. I meet every new hire to ensure they understand our values.

This journey is ongoing, and we will never be fully “mature” because there will always be new people joining and new external challenges to face. However, we are on the right path. We continually revise and adapt our approach to stay aligned with our goals and the evolving environment.


Q: This interview would be incomplete if we missed the topic of AI. Did you find ways to enable your employees to use AI – to help them grow more confident and skilled with these tools, to increase internal productivity? How do you approach AI?

A: We are already using AI internally to boost efficiency. For our customers, AI holds immense potential. Even though no one in the market fully understands how tools like Copilot will work in the future, we are confident that AI will have a significant impact on efficiency.

In many organizations, people are stressed about what AI means for their jobs and their future. However, within our company, we don’t see that level of anxiety. Our employees trust us because we talk a lot about AI and what it can and can’t do. We have various initiatives and are very transparent about the fact that we don’t know everything. We are navigating this journey together, learning and adapting as AI develops.

“Our employees trust us because we talk a lot about AI and what it can and can’t do. <…> We are navigating this journey together, learning and adapting as AI develops.”


Q: What would be your advice to other Microsoft Partners who want to establish a more humanized approach to their business?

A: First, you need to decide as an organization that you want to become more kind or humanized. The management must be fully on board with this decision. Then, define what this means for your organization. For us, it’s about kindness, but it could be different for you. Involve your leaders initially and then extend this involvement to all employees, making it clear to everyone where you are heading.

Then, you need to integrate this into every aspect of your organization—strategy, culture, and leadership principles—not just keep it as a value statement. It’s essential to talk about it constantly and practice it daily. Leaders must “walk the talk”. For example, there should be zero tolerance for unkind behavior. If someone is treated poorly in a meeting, leaders need to address it immediately to maintain a safe environment.

Furthermore, ensure consistent communication from top management. I talk about kindness all the time, and so do my leaders, ensuring a unified language and approach. This is crucial, especially in today’s uncertain environment with rapid changes and AI advancements. People need kindness and support more than ever.

Finally, we can all work together to take a leading position in making our industry the kindest one to work. In the tech industry, we need so many more people than we have now, and we cannot just continue taking people from each other. We need new people in the industry. I think we are in a great position to lead as a kind industry. “Do you want to work in a kind environment? Come join the tech industry,”- this could be our joined vision. Yes, it takes time, but every company can contribute to this.

“We can all work together to take a leading position in making our industry the kindest one to work. <…>“Do you want to work in a kind environment? Come join the tech industry,”- this could be our joined vision.”


Q: What a powerful statement to close this interview. Thank you so much for the inspiration and encouragement!

About Companial Partner Community Content

Our vision of facilitating such community-driven content is to bring the real-life stories of our partners to partners, where we all share ideas, learnings, and practices on how we are tackling various challenges influenced by the market or adapting to new opportunities. We at Companial believe it will serve as a source of information, inspiration, and motivation for entire Companial partner community.

Sandra Matuleviciute-Bagdonaviciene

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