Bendelta's co-founder, Natalie Micarone, on what it takes to be one of HRD's Employers of Choice
What does it take to be an Employer of Choice? Integrity? A commitment to mental health? Upskilling, ground-breaking benefits plans, or even innovation in digital tech? Well, according to Bendelta’s co-founder, Natalie Micarone, it’s really a combination of all that – plus an unwavering loyalty to people first.
Jodi: [00:00:15] Hello and welcome to HRDTV. I'm Jodi Walters, journalist at HR Director. Today, I'm joined by Natalie Micarone, co-founder and director at Bendelta. Bendelta as an HRD five star employer of Choice Award recipient. Natalie is known for her insightful questioning, deep intellect and dangerous clumsiness. Welcome to the show, Natalie.
Natalie: [00:00:40] Thanks, Jodi. That's one of my team who I think wrote our website up, captured that that well-known trait of mine in terms of maximum clumsiness. Lovely.
Jodi: [00:00:51] I'd love to know more about that. But let's talk about the award that Bendelta has won, the HRD five star Employer of Choice Award. Obviously, you're doing something special to keep your employees happy there, Natalie. What are some of the initiatives that you're focusing on to achieve that?
Natalie: [00:01:09] Yeah. Thanks, Jodi. Lovely to be here. Well, I think we probably had a little bit of an advantage, a bit of a leg up in the sense that Bendelta's reason for existing is to try and create human potential organizations. So we probably had a pretty strong focal point. What does that look like for our clients and consulting? And one of the things that we did very early on was see ourselves as our own human potential lab. So we've got a long history of experimenting with new and different ways to think about how we shape organizations to make sure they can be as fostering of our human potential as possible. So I would say we've been on this for a little while. I think it's probably worthwhile thinking about the ethos of of Bendelta and and a couple of the dimensions that we set up. It was it was set up nearly 20 years ago now and set up on the basis of wanting to be able to have a very high trust environment. And we set up a bunch of principles which we call the Bendelta Code, and those are our go to reference point pretty much every way in which we operate. And what they've actually managed to allow us to do is operate with very minimal structure and rules and policy along the way. It means sometimes it's more messy, let's say euphemistically organic environment. And so there's also there's always plenty of things that we're working on to think about how we can be more efficient. But it's also been probably the best thing that we've we've done, which is that it's enabled this environment, which is a very organic, innovative human exploration lab. And so a couple of the really interesting things that have happened along the way, but maybe crystallized in the last couple of years as we've had the pandemic really put the heat on organizations evolving themselves is the way in which we look at how we support people to have maximum impact in their roles. And for a lot of organizations, they will call that performance management when it comes to this line manager who typically reports into and one of the things that we've done is not have any of those things. So we actually have very little structure in Bendelta. No one has a manager, they have a coach. So someone who's there to sponsor them, support them and hold up the mirror in terms of the kind of questions that might probe someone to go a little deeper and their experience. And the reason we've been able to do that is we've created a really strong data flow in the business. And so everybody has what we call an impact framework, and that impact framework is made up of a range of different things that covers everything from their financial contribution through to capturing how they went. And on a recent project with colleagues, through to acts of kindness that people comment on throughout throughout the month. And so people have this continuous feed of data in terms of how they're going. What's been really interesting about that is it's created a culture where people have huge ownership over the impact that they're having. They've got sovereignty over it as an adult. So nobody's coming in and saying, Oh, here's a piece of information you didn't know about yourself in a kind of quarterly catch up. They know their data, they own it, and they can make choices as to whether they put the foot down in some area or hold back and another. And so it's created a very respectful, very adult environment where people get to understand and drive the contribution that they want to have during the pandemic. That's been really interesting because that ability to have visibility has kind of disappeared for everybody. We never had in any way because we were a highly autonomous environment. We've always had maximum choice in terms of where people work and when and how. And so that accountability mechanism as well for being able to say, we don't mind what you're doing, what choices you making, we all need to contribute. And that pops up on the impact framework and just allows people the freedom of choice to say, I'll leverage my strength in a particular way to make my contribution that keeps us strong as a company. So I'd say that sense of moving from productivity and kind of rules and management into work and to a view where we can think about having coaches and data and giving people sovereignty over the choices that they make to have great impact in their organizations. That's something that we're really proud of creating.
Jodi: [00:05:46] I mean, I think it's a really great idea. Natalie I love the idea of it, but I can understand that a lot of leaders would be quite skeptical. And could you speak to sort of the benefits that you've seen or I mean, in terms of like output, like is that higher or.
Natalie: [00:06:03] Yeah, look, there's you're 100% right. And I would have said pre-pandemic, there's not much take up in terms of deciding to kind of mimic that model because it is probably at the far end of the spectrum, as you point out. But I think interestingly, over the last couple of years, so we have a range of clients who've actually picked up that part of our way of operating and to their large organizations. So that has been a really interesting progress, but I do think that the data plays a really important role. So one of the things that's been great about being data heavy is to your point, the ability to not only see the kind of lag results of what somebody might be creating financially, because we're tracking so many what we call lead indicators, we've got really great data for how people are actually moving the dial, both in terms of their own individual performance, but also how it's starting to impact things like our client NPS for. So how is it that the market is actually thinking about us and our reputation? We're accounting for that at an individual level. We can look at at a group level. And so it's actually creating suddenly enough more visibility around how we're performing and how we're creating sustainable value. So I would say biasedly I think it's actually delivering even greater levels of visibility and a sense of confidence in how to manage the business.
Jodi: [00:07:33] And just speaking to that data, you have developed some some software out of that data now.
Natalie: [00:07:38] Yeah. So one of the, one of the great things about having a very freedom based culture and one that's being non-hierarchical is it takes the pressure off us as directors as well in terms of needing to be thinking about all things. We've got this magical scenario where innovation comes from in Bendelta, the great example of one. We were working in a partnership with a fit out firm, a really great fit out firm here in Sydney, and we would work for a client and they were having a look at how it is physically changing in terms of the way in which people are working. And a few of the team spotted the opportunity to be able to actually think about the types of personas that are coming out of this post-pandemic world. And what they were able to do is actually utilize data to track the number of different choices that people were consistently making in terms of their preference ways of working. And out of that developed a number of archetypes. So the person who actually does love being at home, the nester and the person who actually finds maximum energy and productivity and performance in the office as connectors or the diabetics who actually are thriving in terms of being able to have a change of community from perhaps where they used to live and work. And so that was just one example. That's how it works over and how it's out in the market and it's giving lots of organisations a language and an ability to think about their back to work strategy. And that came from people right in the middle of of Bendelta actually innovating both a product and an ability to take it to market. So we're super proud of that and really grateful for that kind of creativity and energy that it takes to break new ground.
Jodi: [00:09:33] So, Natalie, it's obviously been a difficult two years for everyone. How was the transition coming out of COVID and coming back to the office for your team?
Natalie: [00:09:44] Look, it's a great question, Jodi, because the reality is, although we're in some ways probably sick of talking about the pandemic, it has been the biggest social experiment. Hopefully that will go through in our time, that many layers of change and challenge. There's lots of areas, I think, in which we've fared well because we were set up in terms of a way of operating that didn't need to change too much during the pandemic. So people had always had freedom of choice as to where they work. And and how they spent their time. So there's a range of things that were less disruptive for us, but there is absolutely a truth in the removal of some of those face to face support structures and sense of connection and community with the intensity of going online and just the lack of what we call third space in terms of the ability to kind of step away and just have different styles of interactions moved. And then the pressure that people had in terms of family layers where they were trying to run their job with their spouse in a different corner and and homeschooling and a bunch of things. And so I think it's really important that there's a recognition that there is a residual fatigue in community currently that is completely understandable from from those couple of years. And so I think that's very important in terms of that sense of connection and humanity and allowing people to ease back in rather than have a binary view of at home in the office. I think we are in a transitionary time and I think the other part of being in this transitionary time is there's been a huge amount of innovation and progress that's been made. And so what we're trying to do is have enough curious conversations around this in terms of what are the pieces that not only do we want to keep versus go back to, but actually that we can keep amplifying and take to new levels of of value. For example, we've been able to create a global faculty, so we have a part of our strategy now as a local core global team, and we would not have been able to do that without the pandemic. It's just not possible to have that level of connectivity with people in all different geographies around the world when the predominant way of working is face to face. And that has created huge sense of diversity and inclusion when people are on a medium that's accessible to all. And so there's a range of things like that which we want to keep building on just because actually the reason that it happens might be hopefully slowly going away. We want to think about how do we keep amplifying those? So there's the innovation at one end of the spectrum, and I think there's the kindness and care and recognition of the toll that it's taken on people. And those are the two big focus areas that we've we've got let's create renewal and let's keep innovating to do things differently.
Jodi: [00:12:46] And what has what has Bendelta happening in the future? What are you guys focusing on for 2022?
Natalie: [00:12:53] So we're continuing down that line. So there's a range of different innovations that have popped up across across the business, and they have probably a commonality in terms of intersection between software and technology and the human component. So there's a range of different things that that are coming out over the next 12 months that are just enable us to take the best of who we are and create a more accessible and democratized version of some of our consulting work. So there's really interesting pieces of the leadership space that'll be coming out soon. And the other couple of things, if I think about it internally, I mean, we've been through an incredibly challenging time. We've never as human beings been asked to go through so much change and pressure, so many different angles. And so we are doubling down on this, our most prized possession, which is our our culture and spending a lot of time building up the wellbeing, support network, the sustainability of our people and the work that we do. And so we've been investing in a range of new roles and also just utilising things that have been our tried and true over many years. So we have something called our all in team days. So very beginning 70 years ago, we bring people together from all around the country. So everybody in the company comes together for a whole day where we learn together, we share some of our latest work that we've been doing. We collaboratively problem solve. We look at our strategy together and how we're evolving it. And so we've built even more value into those, if you like, in terms of consulting academies and a range of things for some of our younger people, the kind of different methodologies that we're bringing into that. So we have a group called the Susteneri Group. So it's another completely self appointed group out of Bendelta who's decided to take the mantle for sustainability, both in terms of our environmental impact, but also our wellbeing as a team. And so they've been taking us through everything from meditations to nature walks to the ability to create creativity and play as how we do our work. So we we're just enriching that. When we get a day where we get the entire company together, it's just magical. And so just continuing to think about how do we keep the value, both in terms of creativity and connection renewal for our team? So I'd say that's that's a big one. And I think the other one is just a recognition, I think, of the holistic nature of people's lives. And we've never seen that more than over the last period, that level of integration. And so, as I said, we are we have an ethos around human potential. And so one of our big three impact and potential and well being, we're looking at that potential area for ourselves and in a more accelerated rate. So that ability to actually create, we have a one big shift focus for everybody in the team. So they come up with their one big shift that they're wanting to make. And so we're wrapping around each individual a whole lot of supports for how is it that we take that thing that's most meaningful to you in terms of taking your potential from A to B and actually support that to be a reality? And either ways of working or we have formal development budgets that everybody gets for external learning outside of Bendelta. How that conversation happens in support of the pods that we're not around functional lines or teams, we have pods like a pod of dolphins whose sole purpose is to come together to support the potential and and wellbeing. And so that's a big focus for us in 2022, is how do we take a really personalized approach to the individual potential within our team?
Jodi: [00:17:01] Well, you've got a big 2022 ahead then, don't you?
Natalie: [00:17:05] I'm not sure it can be any bigger than 20 and 21, but yeah, we're excited.
Jodi: [00:17:12] Well, hopefully it will have a lot less disruption than 2021.
Natalie: [00:17:18] Yes, I've stopped I've stopped banking on that. But yeah, we're looking forward to a really good year.
Jodi: [00:17:25] Great. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Natalie. It's been wonderful to have you here.
Natalie: [00:17:31] Our pleasure.
Jodi: [00:17:33] And thank you to our viewers for tuning in to HRDTV.