How Agile HR created an agile business – and left their crisis behind
Agile HR in action
The employees at Swedish DEK Technologies sent a strong message when the employee morale dropped from 86% to 55% green in three weeks.
What happened next surprised us.
With signups from 60 countries for our device to improve employee mood, I see many companies struggle to bring their employee mood back up after a crisis.
What takes other companies 10 months, took 2 months at DEK Technologies. What’s their magic?
Frida Mangen, the agile HR Manager, shares her story of how they use agile HR methods to continuously improve their work environment. This is how they left the crisis behind them:
HR adapting to an agile business structure
At DEK Technologies all engineers apply agile ways of working and use sprints, which is a time-limited and repeatable work cycle.
“We develop step by step and continuously improve. Each team is given the autonomy to organize their own work. We do daily meetings where everyone looks at today’s tasks. When a sprint is finished we do retrospectives and discuss what was good, less good, and where we can improve next time”, Frida explains.
“I try to do the same within HR. Agile HR! I believe in continuously improving instead of doing a yearly employee survey or a performance review twice a year, although these are important too.”
We miss you!
“When I came back after my maternity leave we had increased our staff with 25%.”
During her time off, Frida popped in for an employee conference:
“Last September our employees told us they missed the HR function. They wanted to feel seen and listened to, get more feedback and have good performance reviews. So when I returned to work this was my main focus“.
“I like new tools and new ways to work. When I came across the Celpax to measure employee mood I figured it could complement our agile way of working”, she explains and walks over to where the device hangs by the exit door.
Agile HR: What is happening right NOW?
“I want to know what is happening now. And improve ALL the time!”, Frida says with enthusiasm. “I involve people by asking them stuff like Are we going to keep doing activity X or not? People then raise their hands to vote, and we move on.”
She then points to a letterbox next to the Celpax:
“Employees leave their proposals here; we get quite a few. Perhaps you press red because you simply had a bad day, other times you might have some valuable feedback as to how we can improve and have more green days.”
“We put all the suggestions on a status board”, the HR Manager clarifies and points to where a whiteboard hangs in their modern office.
Sprint planning meeting
“We take five minutes, three times a week, to pick the improvement suggestions we want to work with during the next 3-week sprint.”
“The status board tells us where we are with the tasks, what has been done, what is still ongoing, etc. This is then discussed during our meetings during the sprint.”
Our employee mood dropped: We had to take action
“A while ago the Celpax device started reporting back more and more red”, says Frida.
I ask her if she was able to identify why the Mood KPI dropped within the agile team:
“Well, we have a family environment. When some employees that had been with the company for a very long time decided to move on, that had an impact. We also made one of our regular team changes – it’s good to move the teams around – and that made things a bit messy and created uncertainties.”
“Around the same time, our biggest client reduced their workforce. Their cutbacks actually don’t affect us as a company, but it still created uneasiness among our coworkers. When our employee mood KPI dropped 30 points, we realized we had to take action”, the Swede states.
The agile organization: We wanted everyone to contribute
The Swedish branch of DEK Technologies invited all of their agile teams to a conference.
They wanted everyone to feel seen and listened to and to create a sense of community and belonging.
Or as Frida tells me:
“We wanted to pick up on all the worries that people were having. Our idea was for everyone to contribute, not just to have the boss talking away” the HR leader says with a determined voice.
“At the conference, we re-explained the reason behind us pressing green or red every day. We emphasized that we are all responsible; no one else can solve this for us. We can all influence and come with suggestions for improvement.”
“We’ve grown a lot in a short time and for us, it’s important to maintain the family atmosphere. That is the company culture I am trying to nail down now. This autumn we’ll start with 360 review feedback to get a more complete picture.”
“Our conference was off-site and some employees asked why we hadn’t brought the Celpax device. That was quickly resolved by someone grabbing a whiteboard and drawing a happy and a sad face. People could then write their thoughts around the day. That made me realize how we’ve started to think more in these terms. It’s a simple way to get fast feedback”, says the Agile HR Manager.
And on the dashboard, it was easy to see how the Mood KPI started going up after the event.
100% green mood! Although…
“The other day we got 100% pressing green. Turns out none of the managers were in that day. When the cat’s away the mice play!”, Frida says laughingly.
She then turns serious:
“If this had happened while we had very low results I would have worried. But I actually don’t mind. I think it has to be like that to a certain extent you know? The atmosphere is a bit more relaxed and perhaps you grab a beer at 3… it’s nice. But you probably wouldn’t appreciate it as much if it was like that every day :)”
Related: Authentic Leadership Examples
Agile teams: We hire the WHOLE person
I then ask Frida if she knows why the Mood KPI started going up after the event. I’m intrigued when she says she doesn’t really know:
“It’s hard to exactly pinpoint why this is, but we’re now back to our normal level”, she says with a big smile.
But I know! Just listen to Frida’s follow-up answer:
“At the beginning, I got the question why there’s no middle button”, she continues.
“It makes sense that you should help people take a stand. So many people would go for the middle option otherwise! And it’s OK to press the red button when you’re a bit down or annoyed. We hire the WHOLE person.”
“If you’re going through a tough time at home, it will have an effect on your job too. The working environment is part of something bigger. How can we best help or support you when your spirit is low? Everything affects each other.”
I love her answer!
I’m in contact with companies with Mood KPI’s as low as 8% green.
A surprising amount of companies don’t communicate with their employees. Not when things are stable, nor when there is a crisis. I hear managers tell me they’re not interested in the employees’ wellbeing unless at work.
These companies take a long time to recoup their employee morale after a crisis.
Nailing the basics of a good company culture
DEK Technologies has its basics right, the right way of thinking. It IS important if their biggest client downsizes. Because it’s important for their employees.
Their agile organization spotted the problem, quickly took action and there you go!
Frida doesn’t want to pinpoint, but how many companies stop everything they’re doing to take the whole company for a day out?
We know that communication has an ENORMOUS impact on employee mood.
I can’t think of any more powerful way to turn things around than to grab everyone and go talk about what is going on