Diana Nadebaum is a commercial and strategic HR leader with over 20 years of illustrious experience in a range of global leadership roles and industries (including property, technology, professional services, banking & finance, retail and automotive). She is presently the Chief People Officer at GURNER™, one of Australia’s leading innovative luxury lifestyle and design brands.
Diana comes with a strong understanding of all aspects of HR, including resourcing, talent, organization development, leadership, rewards, remuneration, learning, productivity, communication, change, HS&W, payroll and culture best practice, gained through her rich experience across the Australasian, UK and US markets.
In this exclusive interview with People Matters, Diana talks about striking the right balance between talent and business priorities through these disruptive times, leadership behaviors critical to building business sustainability, and building a high-performing digital workplace culture.
Read on for highlights from the interview.
In a career journey spanning over 20 years, what were some significant milestones and experiences that shaped your outlook and approach as a leader?
The first experience that shaped me as a leader was when I was living in London during the global financial crisis (GFC). I was working for Lloyds TSB when the GFC happened, and we acquired HBOS, another large bank. For the first time in my career, I had to go through quite a substantial change and integration process, where I went from being a talent and resourcing specialist to having to make some challenging decisions around the future of the business, its structure and systems, as well as making selection decisions around the people. For the first time, I was in a large scale change role vs resourcing role. And I had to learn very quickly how to manage such a big transformation, but also how to manage the expectations and the engagement of the people that are involved in that change.
My next experience was during a major transformation at Telstra in the Consumer division, where we realized that we needed to differentiate the way we operated. And it was really an end to end transformation from a people, processes and systems perspective, but also a change in the product and go to market strategy. I had to work with the senior leaders to make many challenging decisions, focused on securing a better future for Telstra and our people. We unfortunately had to impact some people to secure a sustainable future outcome. So again, it was around how you make commercial decisions, while managing people as best as you possibly can through that challenging personal transition.
And then the most recent one has been COVID. In my last organization, we were facing a change in the market conditions following the onset of COVID, which had a potential and eventually a realized impact on our revenue.
We needed to make some challenging decisions around how we build the future for the many, which did mean an impact for a few. And that's when we implemented new ways of flexible working, new ways of retaining people instead of making roles redundant by saving on property cost instead of people cost.
Interestingly, we were able to increase engagement during this time by doing it in a very transparent, open way, where we were communicating with our people almost weekly, to make sure that they felt engaged through the process. So those are probably the three main changes I've had to deal with which has shaped me and my priorities as a leader:
- To make sure the business is sustainable
- To ensure a focus on your people, maintaining engagement so that the culture remains strong
- To combine these two priorities, which can at times in the short term seem conflicting, but for sustainable long-term outcome go hand in hand
Amid chaotic times like the present, there are several decisions and tasks that demand a leader’s time. What strategy helps you strike the right balance between talent and business priorities through these disruptive times?
For me, the safety and well-being of people is incredibly important. It's almost a fundamental that everybody should have a strategy around. And that doesn't change.
The way you handle that might be different, but safety and well-being of your workforce is a critical priority for any people leader. And if it's not, they probably shouldn't be a people leader.
In addition to this, my priorities center around the business priorities. I believe in having one big, hairy, audacious goal, one key goal for the whole business, and then everybody aligning around that. Priorities in HR should be the priorities of the business. So, the second you start to do things that aren't going to impact and add value to the business, that's not going to get you desired people outcomes either. My priorities are always shaped by sitting together as a leadership team to understand where those priorities are, and then building my plan out of those.
High level, I build my plan based on a couple of key pillars:
- The first pillar is talent and capability. So that's anything from having an employment value proposition all the way to making sure that we are attracting the right talent, rewarding and retaining the right talent, and development for our people in line with our future and current capability requirements.
- The second one is building high performing teams. This centers around productivity, but also around leadership, and developing the right leadership capabilities to equip people leaders for success. This will ensure a high performing culture through leadership.
- And the third pillar is around organizational effectiveness. So that is anything from the right footprint and locations of the business to the most fit for purpose organizational structure, to the right systems, policies and processes that are going to shape the business and make it sustainable for the future.
That's how I think around my strategic priorities. But they change significantly depending on where the business is at and what the business goals and priorities are at a particular moment in time.
What leadership behaviors do you think are critical to maintaining and building business sustainability?
We are living in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), so we need to build leadership capabilities, which allow for agility and flexibility to not only focus on the realities of today, but the ability to pivot and be nimble. Leaders need to be able to foresee what may happen in the future and plan for that. Leaders need to also be authentic, transparent and open. They need to be able to provide feedback, receive feedback, share with their team, and show up in good times and bad times.
Leadership is no longer about being a subject matter expert, knowing all the answers. It’s about leading a team to be at their best, leveraging the innovative and diverse thinking of others.
As a leader you also need to be able to lead through your peers and stakeholders, enterprise agility is just as important as people leadership, especially in larger more complex organizations. It’s largely about how you are able to connect and build relationships.
Also agility, being able to pivot when there's change and being able to learn from what you've done in your previous role and bringing that to your new role is really important. It's about being agile enough to build the right next steps for the business you are in today, not the one you were in yesterday.
It's about being open to your own areas of development, being self-aware, and being able to challenge yourself around how you can be better, being able to build a group of mentors and coaches around you who support your transformation. People who make you a better version of yourself.
Leaders also have to be really focused on the well-being of their people. How do you support them, but drive them to be their best? How do you get the best out of your people? It's not ok to just get results now, the how is really important – this ensures you build sustainability. So we don't just measure the what, we measure the how. Engagement is critical, 360 degree feedback is critical. Leaders need to be able to hear feedback, accept it, digest it and most importantly, act on that feedback.
How can organizations better enable flexibility and balance such that both wellness and deliverables are catered to?
Every single business needs to look at what flexibility can mean to them, test those boundaries, and if they're not comfortable with going the full way, do some trials across parts of their business to see whether or not it's viable to change. What are you afraid of? What are you scared about if you don't provide that flexibility? Let's try to see if what you're concerned about does happen. And let's put mitigating factors around that. Are you worried that people won’t be productive? Then put measures in place to see whether productivity improves, changes, or stays the same. Then analyze why. What can you do differently?
As with any change, the reason why people don't implement flexible working initiatives is because they're afraid of what might happen. So it's how do you actually put down on paper what you're afraid of, challenge it, put mitigating factors in place, and then look at how you can overcome your concerns.
People are becoming so much more open to flexibility; true hybrid workplaces are becoming a reality. However, while the world has changed and pivoted, some businesses are at a risk - they may move backwards if they don’t do the same. Organizations need to challenge what they thought was possible. I think it's really important that we continue to do what we've done through COVID, challenge in a positive way, understand what the reality of flexible workforce might look like in your business – this will be different for every organization.
I do believe Australia has been really at the forefront of this because we've been greatly affected by the lockdowns. We've had no choice but to change and make flexible working a true reality. And when you have no choice, you pivot. And we have pivoted significantly. I'd say that if there was a workforce survey now vs. prior to COVID, there'll be no more than double the amount of people working from home and being supported through that. We've worked out that providing remote technology support for our people working from home is non-negotiable in many cases; and additionally, we need to provide them with well-being support to be successful.
Specific to ANZ, what are some employee experience trends shaping the workplace and workforce expectations in the new now of work? Are you noticing any specific shift towards employee experience platforms?
People are looking at EX platforms, at how to streamline that experience for people, make it easier for them to communicate, make it accessible on their devices, and how to build a much more collaborative workforce where you're sharing ideas in a virtual world. The virtual way of working has really driven that need for technology, even for smaller businesses.
Also, people are becoming busier. So the expectations are that their administrative function will become easier to manage.
Overall, employee experience has grown to become a bigger role focused on specifically implementing change to help people to be more successful, more productive, improve their well-being and mental health, and employee experience platforms are increasingly playing a key role in shaping that experience.
What is your advice for leaders working towards building and enabling a high-performing and collaborative digital organizational culture?
Firstly, it has to be an ongoing journey, you can't build something and expect it's going to be consistent throughout, you need to constantly evolve. Secondly, get the right people involved - people who will be the true users of any platform, the end users are critical to build a valuable fit for purpose experience. Don't build it in isolation, don't just ask project managers or HR to build culture, make sure that your key people are a part of the process of building and shaping what the future will look like.
Focus on being very careful about who and what your business is. Values are now more important than ever. They are a critical factor through recruitment and onboarding, and they're really important throughout your performance process. You can easily hire the wrong people into your business if it's not very clear who you are or if it's not communicated really openly and transparently. You need to make sure that you're constantly checking in with your people and using those platforms to collaborate, measuring how people are feeling and where they are today.
Have one technology collaboration tool, make sure that everyone's using that same tool and bring people together that way. Train them, support them, make sure that they have opportunities to get together both virtually and in person where possible. What hybrid looks like will be different for every business, every division, and every role and individual. Build personas of people in your business, understand and appreciate what they are looking for. Ask yourself, what's a new mom looking for? What's a graduate looking for? Can you teach a graduate virtually, or do you need to carve out space to see them to be developed in person? It's really important to build a model that's right for the business, right for the role and right for the individual.
Additionally, I think that transparency is key. You need to make sure that you're communicating very clearly what the new working model looks like, and what the expectations of each role are within that model. Make sure your KPIs/OKRs/ performance measures are in line with this and are transparent.
Be very clear on what's expected in the new world and don’t expect it to be static - evolve as your requirements change. If you think this current “new normal” will last forever, that's not going to serve you well for the future.
Building a high performing hybrid work culture is going to be an ongoing, constantly evolving journey. Involve your people in that change, your change champions will help you shape the way.