Sixer Spotlight with Berni Xiong

Health over the hustle

After years of working in the corporate space, Berni Xiong shares her journey to finding purpose and a people-first culture that prioritizes wellness in the workplace. First, we'll learn why she has moved away from the hustle culture ideology. Then, we will explore the importance of health and well-being in business, along with the benefits of a culture that values and supports people. Join us as we learn about her venture to Agile Six, and the insights and successes she has had along the way. 

Who is Berni Xiong?

I am a daughter. I am a mom. I'm a new grandma. I'm a fur mama. I am a sister. And I am a coach, trainer, and servant leader who enjoys putting people first in all of the work I do and all the projects I get behind.  That's me in a nutshell.

Q. What do you do at Agile Six? 

I've been at Agile Six for a little over a year and a half now. I am currently a Delivery Manager and Scrum Master for a group called Onboarding and Operations on a project called ReportStream, and our sponsor and customer is the CDC. 

I'm responsible for helping the team be successful. Our team is in charge of onboarding those who send data to public health departments to report certain disease types they're required to report. We also support public health authorities that receive that data from those sending entities.

My job is to help a team of engineers. We also have a designer who occasionally  supports our team by supporting the user experience part of the onboarding process. We make sure we are getting folks onboarded in a timely and efficient manner. Ultimately, our goal is to scale the onboarding process so that we won't need people in these roles in the future. 

The second scope of our work is to handle any customer support issues or any operational type processes that can occur. This is our time to gather that intel and find out what customers need to improve their experience. Then we take that information back and actually improve the user experience by creating features that can enhance that experience. Then we can streamline how people are connecting to the ReportStream product. 

Our goal is to be pandemic ready so that next time folks can get the help they need to report the data in a timely, efficient, and quick manner.

Q. Tell me about your team.

I have a fantastic team. It's all engineers at this time. Once in a while, we get a designer to come in and support our work. All of these engineers have fascinating experiences and backgrounds. We feel like a family on our team, and that's rare. I have been in a lot of teams, large and small, across the private and public sectors, and this is one of the best teams I've ever worked on because of the people and the trust we fostered in our environment.

Q. What’s the biggest challenge you've tackled at Agile Six?

I wouldn't say it's so much of a challenge as it is a frustration, maybe even within myself. Agile Six is an amazing organization that allows you to be you and show up wherever and however you want. Growing up a type-A person, I want to show up at all of those spaces and places. I want to show up, utilize all my skills, and help out where I can. It’s that whole roll-your-sleeve-up mentality that fuels me. It brightens my day to show up and be that person to help and support my team and my organization. The frustration I have at times is I wish I had the capacity or bandwidth to do more to help Agile Six as it's growing.

Q. What is the most rewarding part of your job? 

What I love about this role is helping the team members prevent burnout. It's a very difficult and complex project, and very engineering-heavy in terms of the work required to create these product builds and improve the ReportStream software. Many times you'll have engineers coding nonstop, or they have to stop what they're doing because they have to put out a fire due to some crisis or emergency that shows up. So many times, we take for granted there's a human behind the machine. 

What has been fantastic about being a Delivery Manager is helping them feel more productive and organized in their work, and motivating and empowering the team to continue doing this hard work. I appreciate them and show them that every single day they show up to do this great work, it is making a difference. Sometimes when you get stuck in the weeds you forget the impact you're making.

Q. What is it about the Agile Six culture that you like?

Among the many reasons why I love being a Sixer is there is this area of shared synergy; in so many words, they believe in putting people first.  For a very long time, I've believed in putting people first. That's been foreign to me, having worked in both the private and public sectors for large and small organizations, and for different types of managers where I've heard the opposite for some time now in my professional career. 

Can I share a quick story? In my former career in business development, one of the companies I worked for had this mandatory Lunch and Learn, and the HR person brought in a health expert. We all had to take this questionnaire about our stress levels. The outcome they wanted to get was to find out our scores, which helped to determine whether our stress levels were at risk of health issues. I was happy when I got my score. It was on the low to moderate side of the scale, which meant I had a low risk of developing any health issues. I remember in front of me were my boss and a colleague; they were giggling and exchanging their results. And I'll never forget this moment—I'm minding my own business, and my boss turns around, looks at me and says, “My scores are off the charts. What did you get?” So, I tell them. And his response was not what I expected. “You know, Berni, if you’re not stressed out enough, you'll never be successful.” Those were the exact words that came out of his mouth. A manager who's supposed to empower and motivate me. I don't know if he thought that was an effective way to do it but it didn't do it for me. What he didn't know about me at that time in my life was that just months before that day, I was hospitalized. And it was stress that induced the illness that put me there. It probably took me about a month or so to rehab and recover from that illness. Not only was it insensitive of him to put me down in front of my entire team, but I believe it was also horrible advice. 

He's feeding into this hustle culture ideology that teaches us that burnout is good, let's glorify workaholism, and let's celebrate life/work imbalance. I learned what kind of person I didn't want to be that day, and it also made me question whether I was in the right culture. 

Q. What factors were most important to you when considering your next job or career move?

I've told you this before behind the scenes, but I'll say it here publicly in front of everybody. I didn't think there was a company out there that cared enough to say, “let's put people first, let's put our health first, and let's make sure that we balance life and work because that all matters.” I heard words like that plus more on the Agile Six website and when I talked to folks from Agile Six, whom I interviewed with when I first learned about the role I'm in now. In the past, I was like, I'm never going to work for an employer again. They'll never get it because they only care about profit and revenue. That is so untrue with my experience here at Agile Six; they understand all those things.

Even the CEO, Robert Rasmussen—I've heard him say countless times in meetings, “Though we care about what we do here, and we care about our work,” he says, “I care about all of you first. Please take care of yourself first.” 

You hear somebody say that from the C-suite; how can you not want to model after that?

With every fiber of my being, I can honestly say that this is one very unique organization that truly understands this ethos that I live by: health is more important than the hustle. The way I see it, and Agile Six agrees, we must put people first if we want them to succeed. And the byproduct of that is we, as an organization, succeed.

Q. Who is Agile Six for, and who is the right kind of person that would fit in this company?

It's more of the mindset of a person who will do well at Agile Six. That mindset has a couple of things that would make them happy here and also help them to align with others with a similar mindset or heart space.  

You care about people. You care about making a difference. You care that the world's a better place. If we show up every day and show that we care about each other, ourselves, and the people we're impacting -  that's the number one requirement of a Sixer.

Ability to self-organize and self-manage. You're not expecting someone to tell you what to do. You have the authority to make your own decisions. You're not fearful of making your own decisions. You don't wait to ask for permission to do things if you wholeheartedly believe it's a good choice. 

Be the boss of your own desk. Another thing as well is somebody content with being the boss of their own desk, being the boss of their own work, not expecting to get credit for something so they can climb up this imaginary corporate ladder into the C-suite. You already are the CEO of your own desk, so when you have a mentality like that, it makes it much more enjoyable to show up and feel seen, heard, and valued.

Q. What core value resonates the most with you, and why? Purpose, trust, wholeness, self-management, inclusion, or all of the above.

Thank you for the last option, because I was having trouble deciding the most important one to me because I don't think that independently they're as strong as if they were holistically together as one.

If I think about my team, for example, there is trust on the team. They all are great at self-management. They're all very inclusive of each other's differences and skills; if there is anything else that sets them apart, they're very sensitive to that. They make sure that they're cognizant of how they care for each other. They're all very purposeful in the way they work and the way they show up, and what matters to them, and why that ends up making them do such great work that they do.

The wholeness piece is also huge because everybody shows up with different personalities and sense of humor, and I think that makes the team camaraderie so fantastic. You don't want everybody to be homogeneous; you want everybody to have a different flavor, style, and flair. 

All these core values that Agile Six has, when I apply them to this awesome team I have, are all the perfect ingredients for a successful and amazing team. I think they [core values] all have to work together to make a difference.

Q. What has surprised you the most about working here?

I think what has surprised me is also why I absolutely love working at Agile Six – it’s the number of opportunities for growth and sharpening your skills as a professional. If someone chooses to change their career or advance their career, enhance their skills, maybe they stay in the same role, but improve it in some way. It doesn't matter what path you want to take. They encourage you to choose how you want to grow within this organization or not.

Q. What would you say to someone considering a career at Agile Six?

Make sure it aligns with how you want to show up in the world and the kind of work that you want to do. If you want to show up and help improve government systems and processes, if you want to be a part of that impact, if you're not afraid to self-manage, if you're not looking to climb the corporate ladder, and if you care about people, come on in.

Sixer Spotlight is an ongoing series to share the stories of our team. If Berni’s story piqued your interest in a career with Agile Six, explore our open roles.