Below you’ll find insights from the first 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 building culture.
During a virtual CEO panel in partnership with The Australian, Culture Amp CEO and co-founder Didier Elzinga, TRIBE CEO Anthony Svirskis and Slack’s head of APAC Matt Loop shared how they’ve elevated culture to the top of the agenda within their own fast-moving companies.
Culture has always been a crucial element of boardroom conversations, but Elzinga, Svirskis and Loop agree that building a successful culture requires moving from a top-down decision-making model to a genuine two-way conversation between employees and employers.
Elzinga says some of the globe’s biggest companies have experienced a fall from grace in recent years due to culture loss, decimating shareholder value along the way. “Often, these losses boil down to a lack of culture. They felt as long as they were winning, growing fast enough and making enough money, everything else would play out. And it’s just not true.”
Digital acceleration is here to stay
There’s been a steep learning curve for organisations fostering culture in the watershed experience of a pandemic. Technology adoption has accelerated by more than a decade to enable leaders to communicate with distributed teams and empower them to connect and collaborate.
With these innovative tools, leaders are learning new communication skills of their own, while balancing the delivery of information either asynchronously or synchronously. They’re also contemplating the fine line between not over-communicating in a crisis, while intentionally crossing over into people’s personal lives to make sure they’re coping.
“One of the things that we often forget is that half of communication is about listening. It’s about creating a space where both employers and employees can have difficult conversations about what they care about, what they should be focusing on and what they’re capable of right now,” says Elzinga.
For Svirskis, the crisis also highlights the importance of transparency within organisations. “If leaders aren’t transparent within their company, it erodes trust and diminishes the ability to maintain engagement and productivity levels.
But when you start to use tools like Slack, you can leverage one-on-one communication, and there’s a real information repository that creates a lot of momentum in the organisation. The changes we expect to occur and the decisions we’re making are pushing some fast-moving companies into greatness.”
“Slack is an information repository which creates a lot of momentum in the organisation. ”
A culture of compassion
Elzinga knew right away that bolstering communication would be crucial. “If you look at successful businesses like Slack, TRIBE and Culture Amp, you can see the value that’s created is in the heads of people, not in their hands. That creates a different environment, and there are huge opportunities if you get it right.”
There has also been an outpouring of compassion within the virtual walls of Slack. Leadership teams have responded with vulnerability and transparency to ensure everyone’s family and friends are looked after throughout the year, with regular check-ins common across all levels of the business. It’s been a relationship-building shift that has kept projects on track and teams motivated and connected.
“Slack is about empowering businesses to work in a more effective and streamlined fashion. Leaders can’t keep track of everyone, so creating a culture where everyone’s looking out for each other is key. It’s also emerged as a crucial tool to manage both extroverts and introverts, levelling the communication playing field among teams,” says Loop.
“Slack has emerged as a crucial tool to manage both extroverts and introverts.”
This year, Elzinga committed to sharing a daily video in his
#ceo Slack channel, reassuring his teams that “we’re all in this together and we’re going to find a way to get through it.” These videos emerged as a key tool in helping struggling employees navigate work and home life amid the pandemic.
“My executive coach said to me: ‘Your job as a leader is to absorb fear, not ignore it, not to pretend it’s not there, but just to help people have an understanding of how the organisation is going to get through it and also to connect with them at a human level,’” he says. “Communication is better as a two-way street and any good company culture will have that. It’s about being open-minded as a leader, listening to the team’s ideas, their feedback and input, and making sure they have a meaningful impact on the direction of the business.”
Throughout the crisis, Slack has served as the ideal tool to check the company pulse, which informs leaders what employees want and how to lead through the crisis. This includes more informal “donut” channels, where weekly catch-ups with randomly-selected employees enabled leaders to really get to know their constantly growing distributed teams.
“We also used Culture Amp to send out pulse checks to see how everyone was feeling, which helped us make an informed decision on what employees wanted and which leadership style was best for the organisation,” says Loop.
Water-cooler conversations have evolved
Offices may have been mostly closed this year, but those culture-building water-cooler conversations have not disappeared. Instead, they’ve evolved, and both scheduled “spontaneous” catch-ups and company information shared within Slack channels have replaced these moments.
Elzinga, Svirskis and Loop agree that video conversations with employees in their home setting have a vulnerability and authenticity that allows people to drop the mask they usually wear to the office and just be themselves.
Svirskis says: “When you’re working at home, you miss the chatter of what’s happening in different parts of the business, or the updates you might hear over a coffee break. It’s an important source of information. Now, companies are re-evaluating their operating model to understand who is communicating to whom, how decisions can be made quickly and how to communicate more broadly.
While the future of work is yet to play out, it’s clear that if flexibility isn’t a core part of the employer experience, retaining and attracting the best talent will be a huge challenge.
Employers need to ensure they have the digital tools in place to keep projects on track both during remote work periods—and once teams return to the office.
Read our guide to learn more about navigating the disruption of work.