Elsa Berg
February 23, 2023
5 min read

A personal story of extreme ownership

How I boosted employee engagement — and satisfaction — at Slimmer AI as a People & Culture ‘newbie’

In October of 2021, heading into yet another Covid lockdown, we were about to send out our automated quarterly e-NPS survey. I was in an Administrative role at the time; caring about all things people. But I couldn’t quite find my own inspiration to give our culture a ‘10’. It had been a tough year with the ongoing pandemic, organisational changes, and an avalanche of work which kept me focused on tasks instead of outcomes. My batteries needed a serious recharge, and I could see that others in the organisation felt the same.

I dreamt of making a bigger impact. In the past two quarters, I had watched our satisfaction scores slowly sloping downward. Some groups within the team had scores going into the negative double digits. The most troubling indicator of a problem was well beyond the score itself: my biggest worry was the lack of engagement across the organisation, with less than 50% responding to surveys, information requests, or participating in activities.

As a young professional in a junior position in the organisation, it was hard to know my real worth and where I could help solve these compounding challenges. Short on work and life experience, most of my ideas were based on research from my academic days. But I also had a strong sense of the heart of these issues and how to solve them.

Working in my favour were our Slimmer AI desired behaviours, which include:

  1. Curiosity: We always look for new and better ways to do things. We love asking questions ​and seek to understand outside viewpoints.
  2. Experimentation mindset: We are iterative and agile, not only in our software development but in everything we do at Slimmer AI. We start with MVPs, utilise hypotheses and data in decision-making, and hold retrospectives to learn from the past.
  3. Teamwork: We are collaborative, always putting the team first. We value a diversity of viewpoints and involve others in our decision-making.
  4. Integrity: We speak plainly and truthfully. We deliver what we promise and we don’t cut corners ethically.

And most importantly to this story:

5. Proactivity: We act without being told what to do. We demonstrate extreme ownership and anticipate needs.

In January of 2022, I had the extreme ownership chance of a lifetime. I was presented with the opportunity to expand my influence by becoming part of the Slimmer AI leadership team which was exciting but daunting at the same time. It’s true that I am at the beginning of my career. But what I brought was a real passion to boost our company and our culture, and the drive to improve the status quo. I also had support and empathetic guidance from other leaders in the team, who trusted me with owning these decisions.

Leveraging my intuition and personal experience from the previous year, as well as with feedback from the team, I charted a course to focus on the key elements I knew would make the greatest possible impact.

I sought out to create a flywheel effect, focusing on a few key themes to address empowerment and engagement, which I believed would lead to a better atmosphere and improved business performance. My 2022 themes were:

  • Creating clarity
  • Learning & Development
  • Well-being

Here’s how I broke down each theme:

Creating Clarity

Slimmer AI is a small but complex company. We believe in the power of individuals owning outcomes (not tasks) and we trust people to make the best possible decisions within their areas of expertise. However, in order for people to feel empowered to make these decisions and drive towards the outcome they own, they were in desperate need of clarity on their overarching goals and the relevant boundary conditions (i.e. what should I do and what should I escalate or delegate).

Together with the CEO, we introduced transparent reasoning and assumptions behind processes (we used the RACI model), along with clear objectives across the entire company (we implemented OKRs). We also opened up the conversation with the whole team so they could share feedback, question decisions, and understand our reasoning, thereby giving back agency and engaging the individuals.

Learning & Development

Creating clarity solved one challenge, but generated another. Once we had defined ‘what good looks like’, the process identified gaps in current skill sets. I sought out to lift up individuals to where they needed to be in order to be more effective owners of their outcomes. This is why we doubled down on the emphasis we put on L&D activities.

I introduced the self-service and unlimited learning platform Udemy to facilitate learning in any area they saw fit. Further, I introduced mandatory development goals which emphasised the importance of keeping skills sharp in our environment. Additionally, we invest in dedicated time for learning activities, for example through our AI Fellowship. It was crucial that the organisation supported these initiatives at the highest level in order for such programs to succeed. The impact on satisfaction has been substantial.


The pandemic years have not passed by our team unnoticed, to put it mildly. And the transformations our company has gone through over the past 3 years had further increased feelings of uncertainty and unsettledness among our team members.

For my third theme, I prioritised well-being to enhance re-engagement and to show how much we really care. We offered mental health support and coaching (through OpenUp). We also made investments into improving our office spaces and introducing home office allowances for much better hybrid work experiences. Our biggest well-being win of the year was our incredible company trip, which again focused on building trust, success, and fun through the power of our Slimmer AI behaviours.

The Outcome

The results have been massive. For example, we’ve seen an increase in the eNPS scores in the first three quarters of 2022. And it’s more than the score: We regularly receive referrals from our team members, and have hired 5 referrals in the last year alone. But the metric I treasure most is our engagement rate. For any survey or activity, more than 80% of our people engage and reply.

The People function is one which depends on others in order to succeed, with other leaders showing their own extreme ownership. I am incredibly thankful to everyone at Slimmer AI who has partnered with me to achieve these goals. Together, we continuously reflect on what is working and what is not.

It goes without saying that I still have much to learn, develop, and grow in my function. I’m still building my experience and career. But the success of last year, the trust of my colleagues, and the opportunity to make the changes I wanted, have made me excited for the future. I learned that by owning my part and driving the change I want to see, I don’t need years of experience to make impact. We all just need to take the first step.

If you have more questions about my experience or working at Slimmer AI, please feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn.