23 June 2017
Insentra CEO Ronnie Altit and Great Place to Work Managing Director Zrinka Lovrencic go on The Download to discuss all things people and culture including the trends in workplace culture, what makes a great place to work and why it’s not all about Foosball tables.
SOME KEY POINTS IN THE VIDEO INCLUDE
[4.38] Why celebrating wins in the IT industry is so important
[15.01] One easy thing you can implement in your business to see an immediate difference in your work culture
[18.50] How is the global landscape changing for workplace culture
[21.17] The 3 lessons Zrinka has learnt personally through growing the business
[26.12] The craziest thing Zrinka has ever eaten
READ THE TRANSCRIPT
Ronnie: Hi, and welcome to The Download. Today, we’re blessed to have Zrinka Lovrencic with us. Zrinka’s the managing director of Great Places to Work. Not only that, but Zrinka’s also an MBA graduate and was a New South Wales finalist in the Telstra Women’s Business Awards. Zrinka, welcome.
Zrinka: Thank you for having me.
Ronnie: It’s a pleasure. Thank you for joining us. Tell us a little bit about your role at Great Places to Work.
Zrinka: For the last six and a half years, I have been a managing director of Great Places to Work. I actually joined Great Places to Work 10 years ago. I started out as a consultant. I was, in fact, the first employee in Australia?
Ronnie: Really? You’ve worked your way up from the bottom through?
Ronnie: I guess when you were first employee you were the managing director then, weren’t you?
Zrinka: No, I wasn’t. I wasn’t quite. Great Places to Work has a unique makeup. We are present in over 50 countries, so we’re affiliates. Therefore, 10 years ago, somebody I knew, he started Great Places to Work in Australia. I joined the team because I thought it was such novel concept that there’s companies out there that people like going to work to. Maybe that’s because I was an accountant in my previous life, I didn’t believe it.
Ronnie: So was I, but don’t tell anyone.
Zrinka: Okay, we’re in good company. That’s probably why you like our Excel spreadsheets of results.
Ronnie: There you go.
Zrinka: After three years of being a consultant, the opportunity came up to buy the business from my previous boss. Hence, I became the managing director.
Ronnie: Fantastic. Tell me, why are you passionate about workplace culture?
Zrinka: It’s a win-win situation. Your first instinct is to say that it’s the right thing to do, to be nice to people. However, the right thing to do isn’t necessarily what everyone believes is the most important thing. However, by engaging employees and by having an envt where people truly believe in what the company is trying to achieve, and they understand the role that they play in that, it also benefits the bottom line for the organization. At the end of the day, we’re doing something great for the shareholders as well as the employees. It’s not hard to be inspired by that work.
Ronnie: Tell us a little bit about the Great Places to Work study.
Zrinka: Backing at 1997, our company was actually started in the early ’80s in San Francisco. We have always been into transformation work. We help companies transform into better workplace cultures, and so on. 20 years ago, Fortune magazine approached Great Places to Work and asked if they could do an annual list of the best companies to work for, and so our list started. Now, we produce that list in over 50 countries around the world.
Zrinka: It’s a really great way to peek into some of the best performing organizations and share that with the wider community. Hopefully, inspire them to make a change in their company as well.
Ronnie: Tell me about three of your biggest accomplishments.
Zrinka: It’s actually hard to narrow it down to three. Having gone through the Telstra business nomination process, it made me stop and think about everything that I had achieved. As a business owner, you just keep on going. You achieve one thing and it’s like, “Great, take it, go into the next thing.” This was really an opportunity to sit back and look at everything that we had accomplished in that time.
Every day I walk into the office, I’m incredibly proud of my team, of everything they have achieved. We celebrate a lot of things. We celebrate all the milestones you could think of, whether they’re financial, or talent acquisition, or personal achievements in everyone’s role. I’m incredibly proud of the work that we do.
Also, when we go to our clients and we see the difference it has made to people on a personal level. When individuals come up to us and say, “My manager has made all these changes. I just enjoy coming to work so much more now.” That makes me really proud as well.
Ronnie: All right. It’s not just a study then, it’s actually working with organizations around that to help them become better as well?
Zrinka: That’s right, yes.
Ronnie: You mentioned a word that’s really important to us at Insentra. Celebration’s one of our key values. I think a lot of people lose sight of not even the need but the benefit of just stopping and smelling the roses. Even the small things and just celebrating the wins, it’s such an important thing.
Zrinka: You are in an industry that is facing negative unemployment. It’s really hard to make the time to stop and reflect on what you have done because you’re constantly behind schedule, behind time, don’t have enough hands on deck. It is really important to sit back and help your team understand that they’ve done a great job that is appreciated. You want to use that as a motivation as well to help them do it again.
Ronnie: I think you said something that I find really important which is, “You make the time.” A lot of people say, “I don’t have the time for that.” It’s like, “Yes, you do,” because if it was important enough to you, you’d make the time.
Zrinka: That’s right.
Ronnie: I totally agree. Tell me, what does success look like for you? What’s the finish line for Zrinka?
Zrinka: Finish line, not so much because I get asked a lot, “What’s your exit strategy?” I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else than being at Great Places to Work, hopefully, for another 10 years. Success to me is really walking into the workplace every day, waking up happy, and looking forward to going to work. I have been in a situation, many times, where I’ve worked and often not wanted to go to work; in previous companies, not here.
Ronnie: I always say to people, “If you wake up in the morning, you decide you don’t want to go to work, decide whether it’s the workplace or the role.”
Zrinka: That’s right, if you’re going, “Thank God, it’s Friday,” you’re, “Wednesday, hump day. I’m halfway through the week.” If you’re working for the weekend, you’re probably not in the right role.
Ronnie: Couldn’t agree with you more. Zrinka, we met as a result of Great Places to Work when Insentra came eighth last year. One of the questions I asked you then is a question I’m going to ask you again because I think everybody would like to know. What are some of the common themes you see in Great Places to Work?
Zrinka: When we ask employees about why do you love working here. Same with employees at Insentra, “Why do you love working here?” You’ll never hear a response from great organizations, it’s because of the pool table, or because of the food, or because I can come finish work and start work anytime. The most common response you will always get is people will say, “I absolutely believe in what my company’s doing and I want to be part of that success.”
Ronnie: Right, so it’s the vision, understanding the vision of a business.
Zrinka: Understanding it, and having a clear line of sight between what is that that I come here to do every day, and the end goal.
Ronnie: Am I contributing to that end goal of that company?
Zrinka: Yes, and something bigger than just a task I perform every day. That’s really important. That fulfillment is incredibly important to people today. That would be the most common thing. Creating that line of sight, actually, requires a lot of leadership at all levels; from senior leadership right down to the team leader. You need to be a coach for your employees. You need to be able to create the landscape, draw the map, and then coach everyone through it.
Ronnie: Are there other themes outside of working towards the same vision?
Zrinka: Definitely, creating an envt where people can collaborate and work together. That’s very important for for innovation to flourish as well. And again, increases people’s accountability in the workplace and feeling like they’re part of the bigger solution, creating opportunities for people to share ideas with their senior leadership as well. That two-way communication is incredibly important to strengthen the alignment. Also, ensuring that there are processes is in place to recognize good work. Also, have conversations when work’s not so good.
Ronnie: There’s a lot of things that go into that.
Zrinka: There are a lot of things.
Ronnie: A lot of that more common, more new style of leadership, if you like. What do you say to the people who think that this is all just fluff?
Zrinka: I usually ask them are they meeting their other KPIs. The response is most often, “Do not know.” That there are other deficiencies in the business coming through, that is why they’re talking to us in the first place. The world has changed. We’re employing a generation of employees in Australia that has never seen an economic like our time that has grown up with access to education and access to information. Therefore, we have to mold the organization to suit that envt and to get the best out of it.
Ronnie: I totally understand what you’re saying there. It’s just that you often hear people say, “It’s just fluff.” And then you get the opposite side of that which is the rhetoric, that says, “My people are everything. My people are my number one.” I don’t. As an example, and we are a great place to work as you know, I don’t say that our people are my number one. Cash is my number one.
Zrinka: Cash is king.
Ronnie: Cash is my number one. That is my number one A. My number one AA are our people, and my number two are our clients. People might think, “That’s really odd. Why is the CEO saying that his number two is his clients?” The reality is, the number one for our people are our clients. The way I look at it is if I have cash, I have people. If I have the right people, I’ll have clients. If I have happy clients, I’ll have cash, and so too will it continue.
Zrinka: That’s right.
Ronnie: The people thing is so important, I see out there. You obviously have so many more organizations that you work with where it is rhetoric. People can feel that, right?
Zrinka: Absolutely. When you think about it, professional services employed 72% of the workforce in Australia. It makes up for 70% of our GDP. It actually makes up 70% of the global GDP as well. We’re right on par with those statistics. However, globally, it’s growing at 1% per annum. It’s, in fact, the fastest growing industry in the world.
When you think about it, the biggest resource we have these days is people. Their skills and their knowledge is not something that stays with your organization when they leave. You don’t retain that resource once it’s gone. If you’re investing all these money into your resources and co-investment, you can look at salaries and expenditure around people, why wouldn’t you want to maintain that? Because if you were spending that on machines, you would service them.
Ronnie: You’d maintain them.
Zrinka: You would maintain them.
Ronnie: What a fantastic point. Let’s talk about that in the context of inspiring people. What do you think are the key things that inspire people who work in companies? I try not to use employee because I just think it conjures up the wrong relationship in an organization like, “You are an employee.” No, you’re a member of the team. You’re part of the group. What do you think it is that inspires people to do better and do more from what you’re seeing?
Zrinka: Feedback is very important. Most people show up at work every day thinking that they’re doing the right thing and thinking that they’re doing their best. It’s not until somebody talks to you and validates it for you and says, “Thank you, this is amazing work,” that you truly start believing it.
Also, when somebody approaches you and says, “Maybe we can do this better. Maybe we can look at improving your performance,” do you reflect and think, “Well, maybe there is a different way of doing this. Maybe I can do better.”
Feedback’s incredibly important. A lot of organizations are getting rid of their clunky annual performance reviews because it is looking backwards at 12 months of performance, not forward. Having regular conversations with your team is important to inspire them.
People love stories as well. Stories about their clients, stories about how their products have made a difference to the client’s business, to the client’s lives, and so on. If you have an opportunity to bring your client’s in and have them speak to your team members, it’s a huge benefit. It really does inspire them to want to–
Ronnie: They can hear what they’re doing. It comes back to that vision as well. I can see that what I’ve just done has had that impact on that organization, which has then meant this can happen. We did that, and it’s all in accordance with where we’re going. I totally agree with you there. You talk about feedback. I will say, at Insentra, feedback is a gift. Sometimes you get gifts you don’t like. You might get socks at Christmas that you just don’t like. [laughs]
I think the feedback’s really interesting. A lot of organizations, I think, focus way too much on providing constructive feedback and not enough on that celebration that you’re talking about before. Actually, shouting out to people and calling out, “You know what? You’ve done a great job. This is really excellent.” Not only that, but letting the rest of their peers know the outstanding work that they’ve done too. Giving them some acknowledgement.
I think you’re right. Those things do definitely inspire. What are some of the things that you’ve seen? You’ve seen so many in that 10 years, lots of analysis, lots of spreadsheets. Comes back to your accounting days for you too, it makes you happy. What are some of the trends you’ve seen in the IT industry as it relates to cultures across the industry?
Zrinka: It’s quite interesting. 10 years ago, a lot of our clients on the best places to work were financial institutions, and then the GSC came. It was probably 50/50 finance and IT. IT organizations survived and continued to grow. I think IT organizations are almost the catalyst of the way employee engagement is now. As an industry, they were the first to recognize that there was a shortage of talent. What are we going to do?
Ronnie: It still is.
Zrinka: It still is, yes. What are we going to do to retain the great employees that we have and the great team members? What are we going to do to attract the best into our organization? It has been growing. I really think that the IT industry have been a trendsetter. A lot of the times, organizations will ring us and say, “Can you just tell us what are the five things Google does?”
Ronnie: Can you give me the secret sauce, please?
Zrinka: There is no secret sauce. It’s really understanding your organization, where you want to take it and who is required to be part of that team, and moving forward that way. Attraction and retention is still a huge area of opportunity for most organizations in the technology space. Really refining and capitalizing on bringing people on the journey is what will be required to guarantee success and continual growth.
Ronnie: People do ask you that and I’m going to ask you as well. What are some of the easy things that people can do in their organization that will have a relatively immediate impact on their culture? I think what’s important when I ask you that question is, you always say culture starts at the top and it permeates and percolates from the bottom. Permeates within and percolates from the bottom. As I say, it’s not going to be the secret sauce, but what are some of the thematic things that you think can make the biggest difference?
Zrinka: Usually, when you’re doing analysis, like a survey, there are some low-lying fruits there. The most important thing to do is to have a conversation with your team to say, “The overall organizational results have come back saying these. What does this look like for you? What could be done differently to make this a better situation?” Usually, when your team members mark you down on an area, they know what good looks like. They will be full of ideas of what can be done to improve the situation.
Most organizations I go to, I love doing this exercise before the board meeting. I’ll ask random people in the hallway, “What are the five goals your organization is working towards?” Most people can answer that because it’s continually repeated in communication. And then I’ll say to them, “How does your role contribute to those goals?” 80% of the time I’ll get the response, “No, it doesn’t. The goals are the sales team’s goals.”
Ronnie: Back to what you were saying before.
Zrinka: Creating that line of sight between your role is vital to those goals. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t exist. Really, that is probably the starting point. Defining what is it that your company’s trying to achieve, and then start linking everyone to that story.
Ronnie: I think that’s a wonderful piece of advice. In terms of Great Places to Work, the survey runs annually?
Ronnie: Do you, as an organization, provide the opportunity to companies outside of the process, if you like, to become a great place to work. Where you might still run the same surveys and deliver same results, et cetera, and outcomes and help organizations to better, is that how you do it?
Zrinka: Absolutely. That’s actually the core of our business. The study’s a side project, you could say, once a year, where we get to interact with amazing organizations and use that to inspire us to make changes in the other organizations. We do provide the same analysis. We do provide certification for organizations as well, ones that aren’t as lucky as Insentra to be on the list. That’s really our day-to-day job.
Ronnie: I will stop you on that and I’ll say it’s not luck, it’s a lot of hard work.
Zrinka: It is true.
Ronnie: It’s hard work to make a great place to work because you’ve got multiple personalities, all of him want different things. Ultimately, there’s a consistency across everyone. Everyone wants to have a great place to work. They want somewhere with good people to work, they want to enjoy what they’re doing, et cetera, but it is hard work. What’s not hard work? Hard work, I think, is doing something you don’t enjoy. It’s something that needs focus.
Zrinka: Yes, you’re right. If you focus on creating an envt where the team members are aligned to the vision, the goals, and the mission, and acting the behaviors of the values that have been said by the organization, your job as a manager will actually be easier as well.
Zrinka: You won’t have to continually put out fires.
Ronnie: You might. It’s just you might be doing it with gasoline, right?
Zrinka: That’s right.
Ronnie: Trudging tack a little bit, at a global landscape perspective, and with the way things are changing, what do you think’s going to be the requirements in the next couple of years? Particularly, as we’re seeing more of the younger generation coming through who have different expectations, and like you say, have never lived through tough times. Generally, like tough economic times. What do you see in terms of the changes that are coming into the global landscape? What should businesses be looking to do?
Zrinka: I think we’re at a really exciting junction because we are in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution. Technology’s playing a much bigger role in organizations. There’s a lot of uncertainty and lot of people are a little bit afraid, “What does this mean for my job? How is my job changing?”
I think it’s an incredibly exciting opportunity because technology’s going to take away the mundane tasks we don’t necessarily enjoy doing and allow us the opportunity to really work on clever things and exciting projects. I think it’s something that the younger generation will catch on to quite quickly. Young kids know how to use an iPad better than their parents these days. I think it will suit them quite well. A lot of transition and training will have to happen with the older generation of employees.
We have to think about the Australian economy. Where do we shift our training, where do we shift our education, how do we train our children to do jobs that don’t exist yet because they will exist by the time they’re ready to go to work. It’s a really interesting time to take stock of the landscape and look at where organizations are heading. How can we utilize technology to take care of the mundane tasks so I can move and do the clever things?
Ronnie: For sure. Tell me, what do you want for the team that reports to you?
Zrinka: That’s interesting.
Ronnie: How do you inspire them? How you make them be their best? You are the Great Places to Work analyst, you must be a great place to work. Tell me something of what you guys would do?
Zrinka: I sometimes feel like I have the hardest job. Through the study, my employees are exposed to amazing organizations. Every day I’m bombarded with ideas of, “Hey, this company does this, can we do this,” and, “This company does that, can we employ that?” I’d always say, “Sure, how does that align to our vision and how does that align to our values? If it does, we’ll employ it. If it doesn’t, well, it aligns to that organization.”
We’re an incredibly mission-driven organization. We truly believe that by transforming workplaces we are able to transform society. You spend the best nine hours of the day at work, why should you not enjoy it?
Ronnie: Absolutely. What are the top three lessons you’ve learned personally as you’ve grown the business and as you’ve been working with organizations?
Zrinka: One is that you can’t control everything. I’ve 23 people reporting to me. I have to trust them that they are doing the right thing in their role and give them the freedom to do it.
Ronnie: Do you have 23 direct reports?
Ronnie: How do you manage that?
Zrinka: Trusting them a lot.
Ronnie: Right. You must run a very open culture then?
Ronnie: I imagine open doors, constant communication. It’s not like they’re reporting to you, they’re working with you.
Zrinka: Absolutely, everyone’s got their tasks and they do align. Everyone understands how everyone else’s job impacts their own.
Ronnie: The first one is can’t control everything?
Zrinka: Can’t control everything. Secondly, stressing about things doesn’t make it better, I know. Going through that initial growth period of the business, and we were growing at a 120% for the first three years.
Ronnie: That’s fantastic.
Zrinka: Yes, after I took over. It’s now steady at 70%
Ronnie: Steady at 70% growth, my heart bleeds for you. What a wonderful statistic.
Zrinka: It feels like a holiday compared to the start. You go through a lot of stress. You stress about cash flow, you stress about some wrong choices you’ve made about bringing people in the team. Stressing about things isn’t going to make a difference. I’ve just taken a calm approach to things. Take a deep breath, go for a walk around the block, and then have a conversation with whoever the conversation needs to happen with.
Thirdly, is that it’s so important for me for my employees to be happy at work. They cannot tell other organizations, “You have to keep your team members happy,” unless they are themselves. I have a very open book policy with everyone. If you’re upset about anything in the workplace, we can have an honest conversation. Even if it’s about me, fine. Actually, great if it’s about me because it gives me an opportunity to correct something.
Ronnie: Which is one of what we call that in Insentra, we call it the pebble in the shoe. Which is as soon as you got a little pebble in your shoe, come and talk to us about it before the pebble turns into a blister, and before the blister gets infected. You’re right. It doesn’t matter who it’s about.
You talk about stress isn’t good. It’s great to say, “Don’t stress.” The reality is, as a CEO myself, you do stress. What are some other ways? You walk around the block, that’s great. Do you meditate, do you exercise? What are the strategies you have to combat that stress?
Zrinka: Firstly, my house is a work-free zone. I don’t even have a laptop at home.
Ronnie: Fantastic. You switch off once you’ve left the office. That’s it, you’ve switched off.
Zrinka: That’s right. Also, it prevents me from taking things home and then saying, “Well, I’ll just finish this at home.” Because it never gets finished at home by the time I make dinner, doing the usual evening routine, it doesn’t happen. My role is if it has to be done, I will stay in the office until it is done, and then go home.
Also, on the weekends, I try to stay outdoors as much as possible because I’m stuck in an office all day every day, Monday to Friday. Lots of exercise, I think really helps to keep you focused to have that in your routine. You have to define for yourself what does work-life balance look like for you. There are a lot of definitions out there.
50/50 isn’t reality for everyone, nine to five isn’t reality. You have to really sit down and think about what it is that makes you happy, what fulfills you outside of the workplace, what fulfills you inside of the workplace, and balance working off that.
There’s nothing better for me than spending Sunday afternoon at the dog park reading The Economist while my dog runs around. I love that. It gets me started for the next week. I read about what’s happening in the world and I see my dog enjoying life with 20 other dogs.
Ronnie: That’s fantastic. I think there’s a lot of core messages in what you were just talking about. Nine to five’s just really not reality. Nobody who owns a business wants their team working ridiculous hours. You’re right, nine to five’s generally not a reality. Define your own work-life balance. Stick to it and make sure you do get out, and you do do different things rather than being stuck in the office. Is that a fair summary of the things that you do?
Ronnie: I think that’s really important. If you could describe yourself in but one word, what would that word be?
Zrinka: One word?
Ronnie: One word.
Zrinka: One word, I would say, happy.
Ronnie: I would think that would probably be one of the most amazing responses to be able to say. I don’t think there are that many people in the world who could just quietly come out there and say, “One word to describe me is happy.” That’s wonderful. Clearly, you’ve been successful, you’ve great social network, you do a lot of good fun things, et cetera. Just overall, you’re happy. That’s really fantastic. Crazy question. Tell us the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Zrinka: The craziest thing I’ve ever eaten is the great unknown of my life. I did part of my MBA in China. We were out at dinner one night with a multinational organization and their team. There was 14 of us in the MBA class and we were eating something. We turned to our lecturer and said, “What is this?” His response was, “It’s better if you don’t know.” [laughs]
Ronnie: You don’t know what it was but it was crazy?
Ronnie: Tell us. Texture, what was the texture like? What would you have thought it might have been?
Zrinka: We were convinced they were bandaids.
Zrinka: It honestly looked like a bandaid that’s been soaking in soup for awhile.
Ronnie: That certainly sounds a bit crazy. Zrinka, thanks very much for spending some time with us today here at The Download, most appreciated. I think you’ve shared some amazing insights into what it does take to be a great place to work. You’ve obviously seen a lot out there in the industries, the varying different industries. What I think that I’ve picked up throughout this is that the industry doesn’t necessarily matter, the consistency across the border is the same.
People want for the same and a great place to work. If you do things, you do them consistently, you get people aligned with your vision, let them understand what they’re doing that makes a difference, how it makes a difference. It’s not the pool tables, it’s not the bean bags, it’s not those things that make it a great place to work. It’s more the others, the former ones.
Zrinka: That’s right.
Ronnie: That’s wonderful, thanks very much.
Zrinka: Thank you.
Since 2008, Zrinka has been working with organisations across a variety of industries and locations to assess their workplace cultures and support them as they seek to transform their organisations to become not only great workplaces, but increase their shareholder returns. As the MD of Great Place to Work Australia, Zrinka is the curator of the Business Review Weekly “Best Places to Work” list published each year, is a featured speaker on workplace trends and management strategies.
A featured speaker on workplace trends, Zrinka has focused her research on management strategies and people practices aimed at improving workplace