Transformation

Adore Beauty, Iress and Slack executives on why agility is key to adapting to change

Modern leaders share how their companies successfully pivoted during Covid-19, and their views on agility as a fundamental business advantage.

Author: Nina Hendy29th October 2020

Below you’ll find insights from the second of a leadership series about how Australia’s fast-moving companies have successfully pivoted during Covid-19. A number of high-profile executives share their new perspective on a range of topics related to the disruption of work as we once knew it. 

You can watch the full panel on demand as these leaders delve deep to explore what larger and more traditional organisations can learn from fast-movers when it comes to organisational agility. 

During a virtual CEO panel in partnership with The Australian, Adore Beauty co-founder Kate Morris, Iress CEO Andrew Walsh and Slack’s head of APAC, Arturo Arrarte, share how their organisations were prepared for the disruption of work when Covid-19 launched Australia into a nationwide lockdown in March. 

Modern business success requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink and reinvent—particularly when you’re a fast-moving company coordinating global growth during a pandemic. Morris, Walsh and Arrarte are all leaders with an agile mindset. “Agility has to be in your culture and your organisation’s blood, along with the willingness to try things that might not work, and break new ground,” Morris says.

Information is power 

An agile company must consistently have information pumping through its veins, says Morris, who founded Adore Beauty more than two decades ago in a Melbourne garage. She reverted straight back to startup mode at the beginning of the crisis, over-communicating and collaborating in a bid to overcome high levels of uncertainty. “Covid-19 was a time where we needed to ramp up that information flow to make sure everyone across the organisation had access to it, because everyone needed to be able to respond differently.” 

In periods of uncertainty, information is power, she says. “Otherwise, how can you test, learn and iterate if you don’t have data flowing back to you in terms of how your customers are responding, or how the needle’s moving in relation to the things you’re doing?”

Communicating with her tight-knit network of like-minded e-commerce leaders also helped Morris and the broader industry navigate the pandemic’s challenges, with Morris herself assembling a ‘Slack war room’ where 150 online retailers shared ideas and documentations during the crisis. “I think that really saved our bacon in those early days,” she says. 

“We were able to get businesses that ran their own warehouses in a specific Slack channel to talk about what measures they were putting in place to make sure they could keep their teams safe, such as social distancing, splitting shifts and deep cleaning. And there was a policy on working from home, because not everyone has an HR department that could throw these things together.”

We were able to get 150 businesses that ran their own warehouses together in a Slack ‘war room’ to talk about what measures they were putting in place to make sure they could keep their teams safe.”

Kate MorrisCo-founder, Adore Beauty

 

For Walsh, the crisis highlighted the importance of democratising information across organisations, which also helped Iress pivot rapidly during office shut-downs. “Information is no longer peer to peer, it’s simply too slow,” he says. “Whether that’s in a business context or in a crisis, and I think the speed of information, and the democratised access to that information, has been really key.” 

At Slack, we often talk about how access to information is no longer about command and control. “If you can get access to the information you need to do your job, that rubs off everywhere, with a culture of openness and transparency,” Arrarte explains. “There’s little tolerance for hoarding information when trying to attract talented employees. They want to be in environments where the information is open.”

If you can get access to the information you need to do your job, that rubs off everywhere. Employees want to be in environments where the information is open.”

Arturo ArrarteHead of APAC, Slack

 

Encouraging an autonomous work environment

During the industrial revolution, businesses were built as machines designed to produce as many products as possible. “Right now, I think we’re identifying that organisations need to look more like an organism that’s evolving. It’s about being smart about how you structure the organisation,” Arrarte says.

Walsh adds that he has rid his company of organisational charts. “It’s too rigid to think about teams and boxes. And bureaucracy is the death of agility. We emphasise a flat organisation and culture focused on how to invest in people and trust them to use their skills and intelligence to make the right decisions. Teams need to be autonomous, so they can get their job done.”

Bureaucracy is the death of agility. We emphasise a flat organisation and culture focused on how to invest in people ...Teams need to be autonomous, so they can get their job done.”

Andrew WalshCEO, Iress

To give people the opportunity to produce their best work, Arrarte says that meetings should be used for decision-making, not updates. 

“We’re probably using synchronous methods far too much, sitting in presentations where a pre-read could be really helpful,” Arrarte says. “When people jump onto a call, it should be all about the discussion, asking clarifying questions and debating what’s being presented. As you scale, you don’t want to create a culture that thinks, ‘We had nine hours of meetings today, therefore it was productive.’” 

With a more distributed workforce likely to become a norm in the wake or continuation of the pandemic, Morris shared that leaders should be honest, authentic and vulnerable. There’s a fine line between encouraging autonomy and staying connected.

“People don’t necessarily need to hear that you have all the answers, but they want to hear from you.”

Read our guide to learn more about navigating the disruption of work. 

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