Top Australian companies are learning new things about innovation -- including that sometimes, it's not necessary

Atlassian’s Dom Price, Envato’s Amber Johnson, Facebook’s Ben Gould, Canva’s Zach Kistchke, and Australia Post’s Lauren Trethowan at the ICC in Sydney last week.
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In its quest to become a more modern company, Australia Post came to a realisation about innovation.

For some parts of the work a company does, innovation isn’t necessary.

For Australia Post, the mail simply needs to get delivered.

The lesson is that being an innovative organisation doesn’t mean all staff need to be trying new things, experimenting, or “getting comfortable with failure”.

Lauren Trethowan, Head of Enterprise Culture at Australia Post explained that she is not looking for innovators throughout the business. The practical realities at Australia Post are there are people in the mail room, or out delivering mail, who don’t need to revolutionise the way they do things.

During a panel session at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s “NextGen in Business” event this week featuring HR executives from some of Australia’s best-known companies including Atlassian and Canva, Trethowan said there was a natural gap between innovation teams and those people who don’t need to revolutionise their work to do a great job.

Finding common goals across the company is a major part of Trethowan’s role. Rather than being innovators, one of AusPost’s core values is “improving every day”.

Taking a more global approach to hiring

When asked what skills they hired for, the panellists all wanted people who are adaptable, and willing to learn and grow.

Dominic Price, Work Futurist from Atlassian, said he didn’t want to have all employees busily questioning everything or failing a lot — two values synonymous with innovation.

He thinks that’s a very Anglicised view of recruitment and notes that in a global organisation not all cultures are going to value these attributes. Instead, he prefers to embrace local norms and invest time in storytelling – sharing examples of how things work well — to build a great team.

Diversity of thought

With so many different ages and cultures all operating together, companies are trying to find the right mix of diversity of thought. How do you balance the innovators and the everyday?

For Trethowan, when looking at hiring for diversity she asks: “What are we really trying to achieve? Is it more innovative ideas? Is it to mirror the customer base better?”

Diversity isn’t an easy thing to create. Price noted we tend to hire people who are like us. It takes a lot of extra work to break down internal biases. Price uses a tool called Textio – software that analyses inherent biases in the text of job ads — to try and ensure the content appeals to a diverse group of people.

“I try and game the system,” he says. “I try to find the most neutral language that I can, but it still will find [biases] in it.”

With its focus on diverse hiring, Atlassian went from 10% female technical graduates to 57% in two years.

Zach Kitschke, Head of People at Canva, also shared his global outlook to hiring and workplace culture. Canva has launched its graphic design software in over 170 countries and in 100 languages.

“Hiring is one of the biggest challenges we face. We set out on our journey to start localising [Canva]… launching firstly in Spanish. We learnt a huge amount [when] building the culture internally that localisation was important, being able to hire the right kind of translators, linguists,” Kitschke said.

The conference also heard from Patty McCord, former chief talent officer for Netflix and author of the famous “Netflix Culture Deck”. She said when people are doing something at work that they’re proud of, it’s usually something that’s difficult and challenging. That is universal.

When it comes to innovation, McCord pointed out that innovation can involve simply stopping doing things. If people “stop doing stuff that doesn’t matter” then they are innovators.

According to Tom Goodwin, head of innovation at Zenith Media, innovation is pervasive and it requires an understanding of how different generations interact with a product. He believes this should be an integral part of all business instead of a separate “technology” department. Goodwin thinks that companies need to be less binary about their behaviours and approach to technology to reduce the divide between the online and offline.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s NextGen in Business was held in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne 22nd – 24th May 2018. It’s their inaugural event on rethinking workforces and creating good workplace culture.

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