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Thursday September 19 2019

How Australia’s Top Tech Leaders Build a Culture of Success

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Written by Michael Catford

December 17, 2018

Workplace culture

Over the last couple of decades, there’s been a lot of talk about workplace culture and the effect it has on the success of a business. Where once the workforce clocked in, did eight hours of desk or production line work then clocked out again, we now have the opportunity to ride around on scooters inside cavernous tech offices, work flexibly when and where it suits us, or find a workplace that simply feels right.

This development has been a decidedly good one for both employee and employer. A good culture leads to happy employees who are more engaged, productive and likely to hang around.

How company values and workplace culture drive success

How exactly does culture convert to dollars? The benefits are laid bare in some incredible numbers from Gallup. According to this report, a highly engaged business unit can expect a 41% reduction in absenteeism, a 17% increase in productivity, and will experience 59% less employee turnover.

David Sturt, Executive Vice President of employee recognition specialists O.C. Tanner describes the six aspects of culture as purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, well-being and leadership. These are the areas that an organisation looking to capitalise on the benefits of a good company culture should be focusing on.

But real-world implementation isn’t done with a morning memo from HR saying ‘Hi team, today we’re going to change our culture to a better one. Cheers’. An organisation’s culture is, in essence, its DNA, and as such, it is deep-seated and incredibly hard to alter.

So how does a modern company develop a strong culture, a community at work, and realise the tasty benefits mentioned above? To find out, we spoke to five of Australia’s foremost tech leaders, an industry forever pushing the Australian work culture envelope.

Suhagna Nundeekasen, Talent Development Manager, hipages

As a home improvement platform, the company culture of hipages naturally aligns with (and to some degree stems from) its mission statement. “We work together to achieve effortless efficiency for our customers and consumers through living our values and our DNA of Make it Happen,” says Suhagna Nundeekasen, the company’s Talent Development Manager. And this togetherness bleeds into every arm of the organisation.

According to Nundeekasen, the positive workplace culture at hipages centres on bringing people together in celebration or support. “We take as many opportunities as we can to celebrate our achievements together. We recognise each other through our values wall, our monthly town halls and socials, and our hipages auctions in the sales team. We also come together to support great causes, such as Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea, R U OK Day and Steptember.” But she points out that the focus on team isn’t at the expense of the individual. “We also have our Thrive program, supporting our people to focus on their social, financial, physical, mental and environmental wellbeing.”

Nundeekasen believes that the structure of hipages is what enables such a friendly and supportive culture to exist. A carefully constructed induction program allows new employees to quickly get the lay of the land, and the use of smart tech helps even the remote team members to feel like an important part of the workplace environment.

“The way we work allows our people to collaborate cross-functionally on high-impact projects, and support each other to achieve great outcomes,” she surmises. “This also makes us develop as individuals personally and professionally.”

Johanna Seton, COO of OpenAgent

We’ve talked before about how real estate agent comparison site OpenAgent is nailing workplace culture, simply by allowing their workers to be themselves – ‘dare to be a little weird’ is the office credo, and it’s a reputation that Chief Operating Officer Johanna Seton says the company has worked hard to earn.

“It’s the little things that you can’t take for granted that really make a difference. Making sure a new starter has someone to go for coffee with on the first day or introducing them around the office can go a long way. Asking people their opinion on things, listening to their feedback and giving them input into how we do things as a team makes an individual care and feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves.”

Along with these ‘little things’, Seton and OpenAgent have put in place a series of programs designed to recognise great work within the team. “OKRs (objectives and key results) allow people to see what they’re working on and how that fits across the broader business. We have things like a fortnightly tech show-and-tell and a monthly company lunch to bring people together to share what they are working on. We take time to celebrate milestones together and acknowledge when something important happens to someone in the team in either a work or a personal sense.”

But the foundation upon which the enviable OpenAgent culture is built is embracing individuality. In Seton’s words, “we recognise that our differences make us stronger as a collective,” even if that means team members arrive at work dressed as a cockroach, which Seton says has happened before.

Jason Fischer, Head of Development (Pacific), Bambora

A healthy business culture and workplace environment stem from what the organisation values, so a positive workplace culture can only exist in a company that cares about its team. To that end, Bambora has taken a holistic approach to the question of how to build a team culture that breeds success.

The company’s Head of Development for the Pacific region, Jason Fischer, gives a few examples of the things that promote a sense of community within the organisation. “The informal catch-ups that people can have with all levels of the business [has a positive impact]. Being able to have an open, genuine conversation with everyone from the junior who just started all the way through the Managing Director. Being able to just hang out when you need to take a break from a challenging piece of work. Being able to pull people together from different parts of the business when needed to get something really important done.”

Fischer also places a firm focus on diversity when building his teams. “It’s really important as a leader to try and create a well-balanced team. They say you hire in your own image. I think it’s super important to always be aware of that and make sure you’re checking any cognitive bias in yourself and the hiring team. This is a very hard thing to do, but you need to focus on the merits of the person in front of you and not their age, sex or colour.”

But building a diverse team must be balanced with building a team that will all row in the same direction. Bambora does this by laying out the company’s vision, hiring people who believe in it, and ensuring that the higher-ups in the organisation live and breathe it in order to be workplace community leaders. “[The vision] needs to be led from above, but will only succeed if you have the buy-in from the rest of the people working in the organisation,” says Fischer.

Liz Crawford, Chief Product and Technology Officer, Flare HR

Specialising in all things human resources-related, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Flare HR offers a shining example of workplace culture within its own four walls. Liz Crawford, the company’s Chief Product and Technology Officer, knows the value of a cohesive team better than most.

“Flare believes strongly in putting people first,” she notes. “Creativity, problem-solving and individual development are all fostered, and there’s room to take risks, fail and learn as a team.” And it’s this balance of team and individual that is at the heart of the Flare HR take on a successful company culture.

To ensure that the hard work they’ve put into their culture doesn’t go to waste, Crawford and Flare’s focus on finding the right team members. “The most important thing is that team members show up to work every day with a desire to support each other and build a great business together. You don’t need similar personalities or backgrounds to create a high functioning team. What matters is that people share the same values with regards to their work. Culture fit is not about whether or not you want to hang out with someone on the weekend; it’s about sharing the core company values.”

Alison Cairns, Technology Advisory Partner, EY

Building a Better Working World is at the centre of everything we do,” says Alison Cairns, a Technology Advisory Partner at EY. And this construction project begins within the company’s own four walls.

According to Cairns, diversity is key at EY, and the company strives to accommodate any individual who can add value to the business. “We have elite athletes, musicians, people who work remotely, and team members who are parents or have a carer role on top of their full-time work role at EY. People are genuinely interested in one another’s backgrounds, and through flexible work and superior collaboration tools and technology we are all able to create a sense of community.”

Understanding the benefits that different ways of thinking can bring to an organisation, EY is making a name for itself as the Australian leader in workplace diversity. The proof is in the numbers. “Currently we have 46% female split in EY Technology with 74% born outside Australia. 60% of the team are under 35 years old, bringing new thinking and ways of working,” says Cairns. She also notes that the rate of technological change has made diverse teams, and the fresh thinking they’re known for, all the more valuable in recent years.

To Cairns, when it comes to business culture, you get out what you put in. As such, EY puts in more than most. “EY invests heavily in formal training certifications and experiences for our people, particularly our younger team members. By doing so, we attract and retain great talent, giving them responsibility and credentials to continue building their personal brand and purpose.”

A happy team, a diverse team, a cohesive team, and a team with a purpose: according to five of Australia’s tech leaders, these are the hallmarks of a culture of success.

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Written by Michael Catford

December 17, 2018

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