Month: November 2018

Christian Van Niekerk is passionate about business innovation. The Grant Thornton director – who commenced with the company in 2003 and quickly worked his way up the ranks – has recently been recognised as a Performance Inspiring Awards finalist by the company for his work on a reporting model he created.

Christian says his work with Kiikstart led to the development of reporting templates that are changing the way the company presents to its private advisory clients across Australia. We asked him to share more about his journey to a Grant Thornton directorship, and his views on leadership.

Kiikstart: Congratulations on your award nomination for creating a new approach to reporting at Grant Thornton. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt about leadership during your career?
Christian: Thank you. Probably that true leaders need to stand up and make tough decisions. You don’t get into a leadership position because you’re friends with everybody. Sometimes difficult things need to be done and said. I’ve had to make a few tough decisions along the way. If you don’t make them, you can’t truly be a leader.

And the other lesson is around the importance of looking after yourself. Leaders tend to just go on and on and not stop and look after themselves – and we should. You need to have your own time and preserve your own mental and physical wellbeing in order to be an effective leader. I have three children under five at home, so balancing it all is important.

Did you always aspire to a leadership role or end up here by chance?
I like to think I’m your traditional introvert who doesn’t go looking for attention. At school I was the kid who’d rather get an F than stand up and do an oral presentation. Having said that, I ended up being school captain in year 12 and chose accounting because I thought I could be in the corner and do numbers and not interact with people. I didn’t go looking for a leadership role, but as I got more responsibility and started training the junior guys, I kind of fell into leadership.

What do you love most about your role?
I enjoy the responsibility that it brings; and feeling like you’re making a difference to people’s lives – whether it’s the client you’re looking after, or your staff. I’ve trained and mentored so many staff through the CA program. You become a go-to person to give them advice about where their careers end up going. I enjoy the challenge of helping them through that.

Who do you look up to in business?
Leaders who inspire me include Richard Branson. I’m inspired by where he came from, how he built his empire, and the way he views life. His philosophy around caring for your employees because they look after your customers is so true. I really align myself with that thinking.

How important is it to be passionate about what you do? And how do you maintain that enthusiasm for your work?
If you’re not passionate about what you do, then you shouldn’t be doing it. I think people can see through you if you don’t believe in what you’re delivering.  At times it can be difficult to maintain your enthusiasm. I’ve often found my enthusiasm rejuvenated by the younger people coming through; their passion tends to rub off on you. It’s fantastic sitting down with them to discuss their own career trajectory, and how I can support them in that journey.

In the last five years I’ve been given more free reign in terms of what I want to do, and how I want to do it – including interacting with clients at a different level, and presenting to them differently. I’m extremely passionate about innovation.

How has Kiikstart supported your work at Grant Thornton?
I engaged Ali personally one year ago in an informal mentoring role. We went through a 10-week one-on-one training program, which pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I’m so glad I went through it.

From there, we developed a program called GT Grow in Adelaide to help our staff understand what it is to have a career and grow it. Ali has been a key part of that. Her sessions around owning your career and what that means are designed to stop people from expecting their employer to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to their training and development. The underlying premise is that your learning journey belongs to you.

What are some of the key takeaways from your work with Kiikstart?
The work I’ve done with Ali has been amazing, and resulted in some great changes. One of the key takeaways for me is around doing things differently for clients. Working with Ali challenged me to consider how tax results delivery should change for the client. The reporting model we’ve moved to as a result ensures that we don’t get bogged down in technical language. We used to deliver results to our clients by going through financials page by page, and pulling up detailed excel spreadsheets. Now, we explain the outcomes, and don’t get so caught up looking at the financials. It’s very visually driven. We started by rolling this out in the Adelaide office, and it’s since been rolled out nationally.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I think I’ll still be a partner in an accounting firm, continuing to focus on self-improvement, and looking at the ways we develop and deliver results to our clients, ensuring we’re continuing to innovate. For me, a focus on work/life balance and family is key. At the start of my career it was all about the corporate tree, and I never really appreciated having a family, and that’s certainly changed in the last few years. I want to make sure that balance is maintained.

Having your team behind you is essential to any brand or business’ success. Big or small, not-for-profit or corporate, if your staff believe in your brand and love where they work, this will shine through.

At Kiikstart, I work with brands of all different sizes all over the country, and creating healthier company cultures is one of our key areas of work.

Here, I’ve covered nine ways you can improve staff buy-in. You’ll not only create better cultures, but your brand will thank you for it too.

1. Regular team meetings
This might sound obvious, but busy companies caught up in the reactive daily grind of demanding workflows can sometimes forget the basics. As American baseball manager Casey Stengel famously said, “Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play as a team is another story.” The same is true of all workplaces. Bringing your team together for regular meetings is essential to creating a culture of open communication where everyone feels included.

2. Set the agenda
Once you do bring your team together, ensure this time together is efficient and purposeful. Clear meeting agendas with defined outcomes will mobilise buy-in from your team. Ensure that everyone in the room has action items to their name at the end of each meeting to keep them accountable. And also ensure you set timeframes for delivery and future follow up.

3. Create a culture of idea-sharing – it needs to be a given
Company cultures – yes, there can be more than one – usually start at the top, so working to create a culture of idea-sharing is essential to achieving staff buy-in. If your company’s CEO or your team leader proves to be a good listener and creates a supportive space for idea generation and exploration of ideas, staff will be more inclined to share their thoughts. This might include acknowledging and drawing on the particular expertise of front-facing staff who deal with customers day to day, who may offer important insights into your brand or business.

4. Change up your job descriptions – be prepared to re-design roles
Every member of your team needs to understand their place in the business. This is why redesigning job descriptions to focus more on outcomes and less on processes is essential. Staff also need to understand the elements of each other’s role so they have a full picture of how each role fits together. Personal attributes and attitude should also form part of each job description – not just technical expertise.  Ensuring that attributes such as respect, enthusiasm and helpfulness are included will likely be more useful to your team than a long list of tasks.

5. Encourage experimenting with ideas – across all roles
Creating both formal and less structured opportunities for idea generation and experimentation is one important way to improve staff buy-in. Making work fun, team building activities and creative events can all boost morale and encourage your team to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset.

6. Change the look & tone of performance reviews
To get the best from your team, performance reviews should be treated not only as an opportunity to ensure staff are meeting your KPIs, but also to see how you’re faring as their employer. A recent report entitled ‘State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia’ found that only 52 per cent of employees feel that their workplace is mentally healthy, while 21 per cent had taken time off work in the past 12 months because of stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns. Employers should view performance reviews as an opportunity to check in with their employees and consider ways to create a happier, mentally healthy workplace environment.

7. Create opportunities for growth
As part of performance reviews, staff should also be given an opportunity to help drive their professional development opportunities. Giving staff opportunities to upskill not only benefits your business, but also keeps them interested and helps them feel valued. Consider developing learning plans with members of your team to help facilitate this work.

8. Share the love
Ensuring that employees feel valued and credited for their work is absolutely essential to achieving ongoing staff buy-in. Incentive programs, team recognition and bonuses are some of the ways to share the love. Creating a supportive culture where good work is recognised and rewarded will encourage staff to share their ideas and consistently put their best foot forward.

9. Measure your success
Finally, ongoing assessment and review of measurable actions will not only help to avoid confusion, but will also encourage action, both as a team and from individual staff members. Opportunities for self-reflection need to occur more regularly than at annual performance reviews, so consider other internal measures beyond your company’s financials. From balanced scorecards to anonymous surveys, consider a range of measures to ensure your team is performing – and identify areas for improvement.

Then, share them with your team to ensure everyone is part of your brand’s continuous improvement journey!