Do away with all the empty words and dare to be nice. That’s the message Jenny Andersson Malm, Head of Consulting at Nexer Group, would like to pass on to other leaders.
“You can perform well if you feel good in yourself”
– Jenny Andersson Malm
She had absolutely no idea she’d ever become a manager. Jenny Andersson Malm’s childhood dreams involved working with aid initiatives or vulnerable animals – helping to make life better for others. It was only as an adult, after “a number of wise decisions and lots of mistakes”, that the school of life led to her becoming a manager in charge of 27 staff at Nexer Group, one of Sweden’s biggest IT consultancies – and that being a leader also means helping others.
“I’ve always had a drive to make a difference, to make things bigger and better. For me, good leadership is all about helping others to succeed and do the best they can,” she says.
From stand-in mother to manager
Raised in the small district of Tiveden between Gothenburg and Stockholm, Jenny learned the importance of responsibility and empathic leadership early on in life. She had to take on the role of “stand-in mother” at an early age as she had four younger siblings and two parents who worked.
“My siblings were 8, 7, 1 and a baby when I was 15, so I was something of a mother to them. We lived in a fairly remote spot out in the woods, so my parents rarely had time to give me a lift to the youth centre in Laxå,” she explains.
Instead, she spent much of her time with the horses at the stables belonging to the family’s neighbours. She found her first summer job at the age of 13, and at 15 Jenny moved into student accommodation in Örebro so that she could attend upper secondary school.
“I was living with university students, so I had a pretty tough time. But it’s always been important for me to make my own way in life,” she says.
Good client care needs empathy
Under different circumstances, Jenny Andersson Malm might have been a police officer now. Her plan was to apply to the police college after she finished upper secondary school and then spent three years working at kennels for pugs in Italy. But her job search came to a halt that year, and at the age of 20 she embarked upon a career in the service industry that would last a number of years – at restaurants and hotels initially, before later moving into sales and then taking on a management role at a travel agency. She reckons her experience from the service industry has been very valuable when it comes to leadership.
“Working in the service industry make you very open-minded. I’ve met clients who’ve had the worst journey of their lives, clients who are angry, disappointed or miserable. You learn how to deal with different people in different situations, how to create trust, but also how to be firm. It’s not true to say ‘the customer is always right’: I’ve always had my staff members’ backs and tried to resolve conflicts without pointing fingers,” she says.
Leadership that makes a difference
Jenny Andersson Malm has developed a lot in her role after 15 years in management, and that’s a journey that never ends.
“There’s no instruction manual on how to be a good manager, it’s really hard to do. Every staff member needs different things – some people want a clear manager, some want a kind manager, everybody wants to be seen, heard, acknowledged. For me, leadership is very much about providing a role model, showing people the way and helping out when needed, but also stepping back and bringing others to the fore, getting people to step up and use their own initiative,” she says.
There’s all too rarely room in the world of work for highlighting the importance of being kind and giving of yourself.
“Profitability, budgets – those are what count, and there’s very little time for the soft values. Instead, many people feel it’s so important to come across as strong that they don’t even dare to ask questions if there’s anything they don’t understand. I’m a great believer in empathy, but I also like to be very clear and straight to the point when I need to be. I’d like to do a lot more with the soft values. People who feel good in themselves perform well at work and enjoy their lives,” says Jenny Andersson Malm.
Insightful remote leadership with Flourish
Seeing and acknowledging every staff member and keeping tabs on how they’re doing has presented a particular challenge during the pandemic while the team has been working from home. Jenny has been using Flourish since autumn 2020 to help her find out what’s working well and what needs to be improved.
“Having a digital tool to help me out has been crucial during the pandemic. I haven’t seen or met up with my staff, so I haven’t been able to pick up on whether anyone looks sad or out of sorts. It’s also been an important tool for picking up on the areas that have underperformed in the quarterly surveys we run at Nexer to see where the trends are going,” she says.
Picking up on needs in the short and long term
Flourish has now been implemented for staff members in Sweden, Finland and India. The tool’s emphasis on the team and the individual has created a sense of commitment and provided a solid foundation for specific action.
“We hold breakfast meetings every Friday where I regularly pull up the results from Flourish and show people graphs and comments. We also ran a major review last spring when signals became apparent that we needed to discuss in greater detail. We got our staff to hold discussions in breakout sessions and received a lot of valuable input that we can follow up on,” says Jenny Andersson Malm.
Having the option of surveying the same focus areas regularly has been a useful way to monitor trends and take action quickly.
“We perform our own surveys on a quarterly basis, but three months is a long time to wait if there’s a problem. Surveying the same focus areas over time allows us to maintain a long-term approach while also enabling us to put in the right amount of effort at the right time,” she says.
The importance of a good working culture
Jenny Andersson Malm is convinced that offering a good working culture where staff members feel seen and acknowledged and enjoy their work is becoming increasingly important as a way of enabling companies to attract competent staff.
“I’ve been working as a manager for 15 years now. We used to take up references from staff members, but now staff members want references from us as a company, and from us managers. Good pay and cool jobs – lots of companies that can offer those. Apart from that, one of our competitive advantages is a really good working culture,” she says.