Decentralised leadership is a scary concept for most organisations. For my co-founder and I, it’s the bedrock of our company culture. To put it more plainly: our managers have more control over the company than we do.
Our workplace philosophy has always been about people management—being a coach not a captain. It’s easy to just throw developers at a project then manage at a distance, and many organisations do just that. At Propel however, we invest heavily into building up world-class managers who lead from the front.
So, has it worked? Propel Ventures has taken out the 4th spot on the 2021 Australia’s Best Workplaces™ List, in the 30-99 employee category. The annual list is produced based on one of the world’s most comprehensive assessments of workplace culture by Great Place to Work®.
Propel has consistently ranked high on the Great Place to Work® index. In 2021, 96% of our employees say Propel Ventures is a great place to work, while a typical Australian company is rated at around 55%.
This recognition of our workplace culture and business values tells us we must be doing something right. So we’ve taken some time to introspect and analyse the other cultural elements of our workplace that go into making the unique mixture that is Propel's rocket fuel.
Managing how we manage
My co-founder and I both come from a background of working for high-performing companies driven by a culture of success and navigated by the absolute gold standard in competent, inspirational leadership.
Our view has always been that a strong culture of both support and accountability enables the collaborative spirit that drives business success, and that foundation is built on leadership that practices what it preaches. We have high expectations for our leaders, and as such set clear expectations of how their performance will be measured. We evaluate their performance in three areas: product success, people development, and their contribution to Propel as a company.
A lot of time and energy goes into coaching our managers on how to give good performance feedback, and to think deeply about how best to lead individual team members to success. We subscribe to the Radical Candor Framework by Kim Scott, which lets us push through to the kind of valuable feedback that’s often left unsaid when people don’t feel safe to fully speak their mind.
This links back to one of our key values as a business—having direct and honest conversations that get to the core of the issues. Our leadership approach is a way of enabling our people to work towards direct outcomes, being coached through challenges by the wisdom and experience of their leaders without the distortion of politics. In 2021, 84 percent of our people say they feel the feedback they receive during their formal review process adds value to their work life.
Working on what matters most
When we work on projects we align everyone around a clear mission: to deliver great products with product market fit. Our Product Managers are deeply connected to that higher purpose, and lead their teams to make an impact for our clients by taking ownership of the solution we’re delivering from the beginning.
We believe it's our job to provide them with that freedom. The end result is not necessarily what our client tells us, it fits around what the customer (end user) really wants. We won't take on work if we don’t feel our team can effectively influence the product’s success.
Our Product Managers are pushed to think holistically about the problem we’re solving, from three perspectives:
- Is the product that we're delivering the right thing for the customer?
- How is it going to achieve the business outcome we’re looking for?
- What do the technology teams need to deliver that outcome?
Empowering autonomous teams
A distributed leadership approach means we expect our people to run any project as if they’re spending their own money—to take ownership and have a bias for action. Our methods and approach support coaching for transparency and autonomy. We describe it as a safe, connected environment, where everyone is trusted to get the job done.
We feel we have a group of passionate people who want to do great work, and we often need only to get out of their way and facilitate any incidentals that arise along the journey. That winning attitude feeds into our culture, which feeds back into trust, and productivity. A virtuous circle that has helped Propel Ventures as an entity take on an organic, collective cultural identity.
Going to remote work for us caused little disruption or productivity concerns because we’ve never needed to look over each other’s shoulder to be productive. It was a smooth transition to business as usual with an agile workforce who can reliably work anywhere. This kind of flexibility means we’re also able to offer remote roles beyond Melbourne, now putting out the call to talented people anywhere in Australia to join us!
Thanks to our amazing team
Thanks to everyone who has been a part of our work family for their dedication to our philosophy and values, and for that acknowledgement of the welcoming environment we’ve been able to build together at Propel.
This is also a measure of how well we’re tracking for the future, to continue partnering for success and leading the product from a place of cultural wellbeing while growing our talent base and scaling up the leadership group. Ensuring our people are well looked after and feel great about coming to work every day helps to set us up for continued success as a business, and obviously that wouldn’t have happened without every individual contributor.