Meet Antonia Brandberg Björk, our Chief People Officer at Voi. From values to visions, purpose and people, Antonia celebrates the fact that talent is at the core of our business and culture. She is committed to bringing top talents into Voi, developing them and making sure that they feel rewarded, excited and engaged all throughout the journey. As you can see from our chat with Antonia, just six months into her Voiage, Antonia is one passionate ‘people person’.
How long have you been with Voi and why did you decide to join us?
Six months now and, to be honest, I did spend a lot of time considering what I wanted to do next. I was kind of ready to make a change.I know that I need to be in an international environment and one that is focused around hyper-growth, or big transformation. However, the final piece of the puzzle for me was very much around finding some type of an organisation with a greater purpose and so Voi was a great fit.
What about our founders? Did they also fit?
When I met Fredrik Hjelm, our CEO, we just clicked. We just had so much to talk about and were very aligned on how to build the people side of our business going forward, the challenges that the business could face and how we could support and solve these.
At Voi we talk about talent and people instead of HR. From your perspective, why do we use this language and narrative?
The term human resources seems extremely antiquated. It’s actually kind of treating people as an asset although, to be fair, our greatest asset is our people. But it’s important to acknowledge the value of talent. It’s at the core of all the processes that we want to put in place. It’s also at the core of the policies we want to drive and the way that we want to manage our business. So it’s about bringing top talents in, developing them and making sure that they feel rewarded, excited and engaged all throughout the journey. If you don’t win the race for talent, you don’t win as a business.
Are there buzzwords or clichés around people management that bug you?
Not really, because all cliches are fine if you actually live up to them. The problem is with some businesses, they can throw around big words and make big promises around people, and then there’s nothing to back them up. There’s no substance to it. So, in my view, I think everything goes as long as it has substance to it and is actually lived by.
If you could offer training to every person at Voi in just one thing, what would it be?
Leadership. I mean, you’ve got personal leadership, you’ve got leading others, you’ve got leading the business. Leadership relates to us all regardless of your role at the company you are always leading in some form or other. So, if I could choose just one thing, that would definitely be it.
We have employees around the UK and Europe – is there a difference hiring in, for example, Spain compared with Sweden?
These are good examples because I lived in Spain for years but I am Swedish. So you kind of hit a nerve there! However, I think regardless of any country this is a big, big issue for Voi. Because we are so extremely diverse and international with people in 11 countries so far, and growing. This means that we need to be very mindful not only of our company culture, but also of the local cultures and customs of the countries or regions where we are operating. It’s everything from labour law, which varies from country to country, to cultural aspects such as how you approach people, how you discuss things, how open or not you are. In particular, there are different customs around leadership in each country.
How do you, and Voi cater for this diversity?
It is very important for us to have a defined company culture so that we can build a strong bridge that supports us managing people across geographies. It’s an important part of our leadership development going forward, so that we can confidently tackle international and global challenges.
We have a strong equity policy when it comes to people – what’s the most challenging aspect of this policy for you?
We do have a strong equity policy when it comes to people management and hiring talent. At the same time, the best candidate wins. That is extremely important but, for sure, we are actively striving to reach diversity in all our teams and this is very much on the agenda.
As for the most challenging aspect – well I think it’s always easier to set these types of goals and follow our own principles when there’s an abundance of candidates and it’s easy to hire. But it becomes much harder to really live by that when you are fighting for talent. In the tech community, for example, there’s a war for talent out there right now. So it’s very hard to be picky. You’re picky about finding the right candidate, but then, on top of that, to factor in diversity, inclusion and fairness becomes very, very tough.
What about hiring women in particular? The transport sector doesn’t have a great reputation in terms of gender equity.
I agree and we have a goal to increase our female representation of the company to 50% by 2025. We are definitely moving towards that, and I don’t see why we wouldn’t be able to reach that target. But with that said, it’s a male dominated industry and this is something that we are very committed to changing, as you can see with our recent research and collaboration with Women in Transport.
What was the first thing that stood out for you about Voi people?
I think two things really. One is how passionate people are. I think it’s an enormous strength that we have. A lot of people who join Voi are both passionate about what it is we’re trying to achieve but also about us as a company. There’s a lot of people who really live and breathe Voi and that is absolutely fantastic. You can’t create that artificially. The second one is how extremely helpful everybody is. We are still a startup and we’re missing a lot of structures, overviews and things like that. So it’s not always that easy to navigate the Voi world and who’s who. But everyone just leans in, is really welcoming, friendly and helpful, so it all works.
Is there any aspect of Voi as a potential employer that you think we can improve upon?
I think that we probably need to be clearer about what’s in it for people who are joining the company. It’s about building the whole Employee Value Proposition and offering clarity around our values, what it is that you’re entering into and what’s in it for you. We are getting better at getting these messages across, but we need to improve the packaging around this.
What would you tell your 20 year old self if you were starting out in the workplace?
I would probably say ‘calm down’. It’s very different from when I started out 20 something years ago but if you look at young people today, it’s very competitive and they put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves. They’re living in this ‘quick click’ world where there’s a constant hunt for the next kick, the next promotion and the next step. There’s also the risk of early burnout and disappointment, because the further up the ladder you get, the harder it is to get those kicks. So it’s really about just having a little bit more patience, enjoying and getting the most out of where you are at the moment rather than constantly jumping onto the next step.
What are the three most important qualities needed for working in a rapidly growing startup?
I think the first one would be courage – to allow yourself to venture into new kinds of areas, make mistakes, learn from them, recalibrate and move on. The second one is very much about collaboration. Extremely important. You can’t do it alone. Nobody can, regardless of what role you have. And for the third one, I go back to leadership because I really believe it’s at the core of everything.