The Practical Futurist Podcast — Episode 4: The Future of Work with Dom Price from Atlassian
The Practical Futurist Podcast answers the question “What’s the Future of … ?”
This special episode was recorded live in front of an audience at Australia House in London during Tech Week, where I was invited to be the Master of Ceremonies, and we discussed a range of topics relevant to companies of any size. The event was organised by the Australia United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce and was attended by representatives on Tech Missions from New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.
Dom had flown in from Sydney to take part in the event in London.
You can listen to the podcast below, or via your favourite podcast app. Links to the most popular ones are below or simply search for “Practical Futurist Podcast”. If you can’t find the podcast on your favourite platform, please contact me, and we can get it listed there.
In this show we covered a range of topics:
- The culture at Atlassian
- Place, products, purpose, people
- When AI evolves, what will we be doing?
- Unlearning old ways of working
- Why Dom hates business cases
- How can you “unlearn”?
- The 4 “L’s”
— Longed for
- Example of the 4L’s in practice
- Declining every meeting
- Staying up to date with latest trends
- The Atlassian scale-up story
- What would you do differently?
- How do you hire people before you need them?
- The best advice Dom ever received
- Getting better not bigger
- Creating company values
- The values interview
- Recognising excellence against values
- What makes the Australian Tech market unique?
- Learning a 2nd language — coding
- The hiring challenge in Australia
- Importing talent to amplify local talent
- Success through diversity
- You’re not going to be the next Netflix of …
- Attracting talent beyond free lunches & ping-pong tables
- Hiring for values
- The secret sauce of Atlassian
- How to win the global war on talent
- Running a tech camp
00:38 Episode summary
02:56 Dom’s story
03:50 Why Dom moved to Sydney
04:14 The last 6 years at Atlassian
04:43 Atlassian’s Values
05:18 The culture at Atlassian
06:30 Place, products, purpose, people
07:17 ANZ Bank’s transformation
08:09 When AI evolves, what will we be doing?
08:35 Unlearning old ways of working
08:45 Why Dom hates business casses
09:47 How can you “unlearn”?
10:17 The 4 “L’s”
10:51 2. Longed for & 3. Loathed
11:29 4. Learn
11:52 Example of the 4L’s in practice
12:14 Declining every meeting
13:06 Staying up to date with latest trends
14:08 The Atlassian scale-up story
14:34 What would you do differently?
15:08 How do you hire people before you need them?
16:31 Getting better not bigger
16:56 Creating our values
17:54 The values interview
18:25 Recognising excellence against values
18:58 What makes the Australian Tech market unique?
20:14 The hiring challenge in Australia
20:32 Importing talent to amplify local talent
20:58 Success through diversity
21:31 What more can Governments do?
22:35 Organisations I admire
23:26 You’re not going to be the next Netflix of …
24:00 Attracting talent beyond free lunches & ping-pong tables
24:22 Hiring for values
25:54 The secret sauce of Atlassian
26:38 Audience questions
26:53 Tips to “unlearn”
28:33 If you don’t change this quarter you don’t fail
29:56 How to win the global war on talent
30:26 Running a tech camp
32:27 Find out more about Futurist Keynote Speaker Andrew Grill
More about Dom Price
Intro: 00:03 Welcome to the Practical Futurist Podcast, a biweekly show all about the near term future with practical advice from a range of global experts to help you stay ahead of the curve. Every episode answers the question: “what’s the future of … ?” with voices and opinions that need to be heard. Your host is international keynote speaker and Practical Futurist Andrew Grill.
Andrew Grill: 00:30 This very special episode of the Practical Futurist Podcast was recorded live in front of an audience at the Australian Embassy in London during Tech Week.
Dom Price: 00:38 When we think about the workplace, it’s four things, place is definitely one of them. The other one is products, the technology that we use, and that’s where a lot of people, I think overly index.
Andrew Grill: 00:47 That’s the voice of Work Futurist, Dom Price from Australian Tech Unicorn, Atlassian. I was delighted to be asked to be Master of Ceremonies for this event hosted by the Australia United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce. Dom was in town from Sydney and we had a great discussion about the future of work, scaling a business, “un-learning” your past work habits and how Atlassian is winning the war on talent.
Dom Price: 01:11 We’ve got 4,000 people around the world that’s our IP, that’s our potential. It’s how do we enable them to do the best work of their life every day that is the secret sauce to being effective.
Andrew Grill: 01:20 Dom speaks about the need to “unlearn” our past bad work habits with a simple exercise he does each quarter.
Dom Price: 01:28 The exercise is called the “4 L’s” and essentially what you do is … I do this at the end of quarter for myself and I actually do it with my team as well. I look back on the previous quarter for me as a leader and I’m like, what did I love? So the first “L” is what did I love about the previous quarter?
Andrew Grill: 01:43 I also asked Dom what he would do differently if he had his time again.
Dom Price: 01:47 We spent too long looking for how other people had done it because we were like, what do we want to be when we grow up? Who might have grown up already and how can we be more like them? Which seemed like a logical thing to do. And actually what it did was it didn’t pay enough homage to the secret sauce that we did have.
Andrew Grill: 02:03 He also provided some amazing advice about hiring leaders before you need them.
Dom Price: 02:08 How do you hire leaders or promote or encourage leaders before you need them? So at our rate of growth which while organic is an epic rate, we’re actually growing almost faster than sometimes our people can.
Andrew Grill: 02:20 It was a fascinating discussion and I’ve also included responses Dom gave to some great audience questions at the end of the podcast. Welcome to episode four of the Practical Futurist Podcast. My guest today is work futurist Dom Price from Atlassian.
Andrew Grill: 02:38 So Dom, for people who don’t know you, tell us a bit about yourself and also a bit about at Atlassian … who here knows about Atlassian, who uses their products? You’ve got about two thirds of the room.
Dom Price: 02:46 That’s awesome — thank you! My step-dad still calls it Alsatian. He’s not quite there yet. Bless him. So let me tell you a little bit story about me. About 15 and a half, nearly 16 years ago, I was in this building picking up documents because I just applied to move to Australia. I was working in The Strand at Deloitte at the time, I’d done three years as a chartered accountant I’m now a recovering charted accountant. I’ve been sober for about 3000 days and I became a chartered accountant because my parents told me I would have a job for life and it was true, would have, they didn’t tell me that job was sh**. I thankfully had a really good boss at the time and I was sat there in Deloitte and he said to me Dom: I’ve got this fear that you’re going to leave Deloitte, and I think you’ve still got a lot to learn.
Dom Price: 03:29 Have you thought about doing the same job somewhere else? And I hadn’t, I was doing the traditional thing. I’ve got my charted accountancy. I was looking at all the banks, all these really boring jobs. They paid well and he came to me a few days later and he said, New York or Sydney, and I was like, I don’t like it that much. I think holiday would be weird. And he’s like, no, why don’t you go and do the same job you are doing in Deloitte, London somewhere else? and, and I chose Sydney, I’d never been to Australia, and I spent the last 15 years living and working there and living it and gone through a whole lot of migration of roles in that time because of the boom Australia has been going through. I’ve been very opportunistic. I never planned to be a Work Futurist. I’m sure you didn’t do the same thing around sitting there one day
Andrew Grill: 04:05 No we could see the future, you see …
Dom Price: 04:05 I never sat in a careers hall and went … the future, that’s me. And so where we’ve got to now is I spent the last six years at Atlassian, and those six years have been a massive roller coaster of going from around a 500 person company to now we’re nearly 4,000 people privately listed. We’re now publicly listed on the Nasdaq with a $32 billion valuation, we have 30,000 customers when I joined for now 140,000 customers around the globe. Everything changes in my environment every single day and I love it. I’m addicted to it. But the thing that I really liked the most, and I think you touched on it, a gentleman touched me before, is around culture. The values attracted me to it Atlassian six years ago.
Dom Price: 04:45 Our values like open company, no bullsh** and don’t F the customer and seek first to understand and be the change you seek and play as a team. There are these things I read and I’m like, that’s how I want to live, they’re things I stand for. And I suddenly realised up until that point there were two versions of me. There was a “Work Dom” and a “Social Dom”. Social Dom was a lot more fun, worked more, wore a shirt and a tie. And eventually I realised I didn’t want to be two versions of me and I found an organisation where I could just be me. And so in that time, not only have I enjoyed those values, but our culture has evolved in our culture of openness and innovation and how we drive changes is evolved every single day, which gets me to where I am today.
Dom Price: 05:25 I’ve spent the last three years in a three month experiment, one of our co-founders, I was having a chat with him one day we thought this role and he said, I don’t know if it’s a real thing, let’s give it a try for three or six months and see how it goes. And that was three years ago and we’re still trying to work out whether it’s a real thing or not. And so I get to work with organizations of all shapes and sizes around the world to help them go from that old school that’s not the way things are done around here or the old kind of model of, we just have to do things a certain way and how do we access the potential of all the people in our business and get them to do the best work of their life every day. And I get to do that with Atlassian and then with companies all over the world.
Andrew Grill: 06:03 I want to ask you a bit about the culture in a minute, but I get asked all the time as a futurist: “What’s the future of work?” As a Work Futurist, I’m sure that’s a question you get every day. What are your thoughts in terms of — is it going to involve place, where we work or purpose, why we work or a mix of both?
Dom Price: 06:18 I work with a lot of engineers. We’re a software development company. I don’t like to stereotype, but our engineers love a formula and so occasionally I just have to bow to the crowd and give them a formula. When we think about the workplace, it’s four things, place is, definitely one of them. The other one is products, the technology that we use, and that’s where a lot of people, I think overly index, they are like the future is artificial intelligence, or the future is machine learning or blockchain. You can’t come up with a new idea unless its got blockchain in it and technology is a big piece.
Dom Price: 06:45 I work for a technology company, it’d be terrible of me — I’m at Tech Week to suggest that technology wasn’t important. I was chatting to Lena [Robinson] before. One of the things we shared was that a fool with a tool is still a fool, you’ve just made them faster. So be very careful whose hands you put technology in because it will amplify you down if you get the wrong things in there. And so as well as technology, the things we compliment with our practices like the human to human ways of working and I think that’s the thing that’s massively under baked. Certainly in large corporations in Australia, we’ve seen a great organisation, ANZ bank, one of our big four banks is going through a new ways of working, new ways of leading. They are turning the bank from 180 year old institution into a lean, agile machine.
Dom Price: 07:28 They’re having a lot of failures along the way and a lot of successes, but practices are core to that. And then the final thing, the final piece is people. I think we forget that every piece of technology we use today has been made by a person. People, when they say “Atlassian — our big tech company”, what’s it like? We’re kind of a people company. We’ve got 4,000 people around the world. That’s our IP. That’s our potential. It’s how do we enable them to do the best work of their life every day, that is the secret sauce to being effective. So your tools help people be more effective. I think the promise of AI is it’s going to remove all the minute that we don’t like doing all the crappy jobs. So if that is removed by AI, what will work transpire to? What will we be doing in the future?
Dom Price: 08:09 So there’s two possibilities. There’s actually a million possibilities, but let’s just do two, because we’re short on time. One is this really positive world where we evolve at the same pace, we embrace the work. We’ll probably get lots of leisure time, we’ll have communities and everything will be wonderful and glorious. And that’s the one I hope for. The reality is what are the things that organizations are particularly bad at? And if we’re honest, leaders a particularly bad at is as technology comes in, we forget to unlearn old ways of working. We just copy, cut and paste and so we never quite get the value out of them. It’s why I absolutely detest business cases. Like whenever someone talks about business cases, like a little bit of me just dies and never comes back, because it’s this idea that you can predict 12, 18 months, 24 months out, what’s going to happen?
Dom Price: 08:54 You produce all these models, you sign it normally in blood, you get told to sign it and be like, go and deliver that regardless. And it doesn’t take account of the fact that the world is going through a lot of change. And so for me, this evolution we need to go through is how do we embrace technology, but also how do we find ways of unlearning old habits, old rituals, older ways of working, not that we want to completely forget them. We want to pay homage to them, but I don’t think like most leaders I speak to that their ambition isn’t to run a museum and yet the way they lead is they’re probably likely to be the curator of a museum because they are so stuck in, that’s not the way things are done around here. They can talk about new ways of working, but we don’t measure people on talking about it. We measure people on actually doing it and I actually fear that we suffer a little bit of knowledge obesity.
Andrew Grill: 09:40 So I’ve heard you talk a lot about this notion of “unlearning”. I think people are afraid of doing that because they’ve, they’ve kept all this knowledge for so many years. How would you encourage people in the audience to start unlearning?
Dom Price: 09:49 I have a very simple exercise. I’ll be honest, the first time someone explained this exercise to me, I thought it’s complete mumbo jumbo. A good mentor of mine in New York, explained it to me and I was like, yeah, so boring. And then I got on the plane and I’d seen all the movies because I fly a lot for work and I’ve drunk all the wine. So it’s like the only thing left to do is to do this exercise this lady had given me, and I had that hallelujah moment, probably not at a great time. At 36,000 feet and I’m by myself, and drunk, I was a little bit somberer, but the exercise is called the “four L’s”. And essentially what you do is, I do this at the end of quarter for myself, and I actually do it with my team as well. I look back on the previous quarter for me as a leader and I’m like, what did I love? So the first L is what did I Love about the previous quarter? And that’s because life is too short and you need to really love what you do. It’s not like, it’s love. And actually when you genuinely reflect on the thing that you love doing, it’s probably your superpower. So you probably should be doing more of it. Don’t be overly humble like I haven’t gotten anything that I love. It’s like own that sh**. It’s good. It’s what made you awesome. So do more of it.
Dom Price: 10:50 The second two L’s are actually intertwined, “longed for” and “loathed”. So the longed for is the thing I wish I’d done in the previous quarter and I probably never got the time to do. And the loathed is the task or ritual that just grinds me every single day, and I’m not allowed to add in a longed for unless I take out a loathed, because I’m full. I think we’re all full. I think cognitively we have no capacity to do more so we have to do less before we add something back in. And you know if you’re not doing that because you tend to sprinkle stuff in and you never quite do it, or even worse, you read a book about something and you never practice it because you haven’t given yourself the time, the space or freedom. And then the fourth “L” is what did I learn because the last quarter when I added in a “longed for”, I was probably crap at it, first time I did it.
Dom Price: 11:36 If you remember as a kid, the first time you did something you were awful at it and it was through practice that you became good at it. And there’s some stage of being an adult where for some reason we decided we’re meant to be good at things from the start and were not. So every quarter: “loved”, “longed for”, “loathed” and “learn”. A quick example, couple of quarters ago, I longed to be more mentoring and coaching. I love spending time with people and helping them become a multiplier. The thing that I loathed was I couldn’t do that cause my calendar was full to the brim with meetings. Is there anyone in the room who loves meetings? Just want to check who I might offend with this story. None of you just checking. We’ve got the right people. And so I killed every meeting. I deleted every single meeting from my calendar.
Andrew Grill: 12:15 And guess what? The company survived …
Dom Price: 12:17 … and no one died. But even better. What I did was I sent a note with every decline saying this is either a boomerang or a stick. Sticks don’t come back, boomerangs do. So some of the meetings came back with an agenda, what my role was, what was expected of me, how I could contribute to the meeting. So not only was it great for the meetings that never came back, there was that moment when the meetings that did come back, I’m like, no wonder I didn’t like this meeting. I’ve been doing the opposite role and so I wasn’t being useful in those meetings and people weren’t enjoying my contribution and so not only did I get clarity on those meetings, about two thirds of the meetings didn’t come back. Now like you say, no one died, no customer passed away, no tragic thing happened, but I got probably 15 hours a week back for my time. So then invest in something way more powerful than attending meetings that were’nt useful.
Andrew Grill: 13:06 How do you stay up to date with everything that’s going on? All the new workplace trends. How do you individually keep up with what’s going on?
Dom Price: 13:12 The first thing is to accept that you can’t, there’s more information created every single day than you can ever consume. And then the second one for me is, over time I want to cut the wheat from the chaff, which is a whole load of theory and speculation and here’s what the world might look like in 15, 20 years time. I don’t actually think we can predict it. I think we need to move to a model where we decide that we own it and actually it’s our actions today that determine the future we’re going to live in and if we realise that we’re creating it, we take very different actions to if we think it’s going to happen to us.
Dom Price: 13:42 And so for me, I like to look at trends around pace of innovation, changes to barriers to entry to industries. The fact that every single organisation I speak to in every country in the world is experiencing the war for talent. The fact that we have distributed teams all over the world in different cultures and customs and how we find practical ways of working. They are the things that I think we can take action on today that don’t need a dramatic shift in how we work. They just need to take ownership of it.
Andrew Grill: 14:07 One thing I think this audience especially would love to hear from you is the Atlassian scale up story. You’ve scaled up massively quickly. You actually published a playbook which I thought was amazing. You have open sourced your whole secret sauce and I encourage everyone the audience to go to it — it’s at atlassian.com/playbook. What would you say have been three gotchas that you personally, or Atlassian would have done differently six years ago?
Dom Price: 14:30 That’s a good question.
Andrew Grill: 14:33 I only ask good questions
Dom Price: 14:33 The first one for me was we spent too long looking for how other people had done it because we were like, what do we want to be when we grow up? Who might have grown up already and how can we be more like them? Which seemed like a logical thing to do and actually what it did was it didn’t pay enough to the secret sauce that we did have. And so we spent a lot of time sort of navel gazing externally, we want to be a bit like Netflix, want to be a bit like Google, want to be a bit like Facebook. And then we’re like, no, we don’t. We want to be like Atlassian.
Andrew Grill: 15:01 We want to be a really good version of Atlassian, and how can we own that? That would be one reflection. The other one is — we kind of learned this a few times on and off, it’s difficult, is how do you hire leaders or promote or encourage leaders before you need them. So at our rate of growth, which whilst organic is at an epic rate, we’re actually growing almost faster than sometimes our people can. And so how do you give them the right support network? And the challenge there is you’re trading off getting stuff done today over building muscle for tomorrow. You can’t do both of those at the same time. Right? We’re rubbish at multitasking as humans, we have to admit that. And so finding the right time to invest and plant the seeds, and the right time to focus on the business, that was definite trade off.
Dom Price: 15:45 And then the best advice I got, I’d got it probably about a year into my time at Atlassian, I wish I’d got this maybe 10, 15, 20 years ago. My boss sat me down and said, to keep your job, you have to grow at 40% year on year. And I was like, what? What do you mean? And he’s like, well, Atlassian’s growing at 40% so if you want to stay in your role, you have to grow by 40% if you want to grow in your role, you have to be more than 40% and that was a realisation that my historical career of time served and tenure and saying the right thing to the boss at the right time, the “Deloitte way”, we could call it the Deloitte way. But anyway, there’s many other organisations I worked in that had a similar model that wasn’t going to work.
Dom Price: 16:25 And that’s when I got onto this arc of unlearning, which was if I wanted to scale up 40% year on year, I couldn’t just get bigger — I had to get better and that required me dropping a whole lot of historical ways of working.
Andrew Grill: 16:36 Your company values something that you personally and the company are very proud of and these values are not negotiable and you mentioned one of them already. You’ve actually got to change them because while the values stay the same, the culture will change country to country. I think your first one, which is don’t F the customer doesn’t translate too well in some of the Asian countries, so you have to adopt that. How did you go about setting and implementing these values and if there are companies in the audience that are revisiting their own values, what should they do next week?
Dom Price: 17:03 The exercise of creating was fascinating it occurred because we’d hired a whole load of really technically smart people that didn’t share our values and that’s because the values weren’t explicit and those people created more friction than they did good. And that’s because we run a very autonomous, empowered organization. If you’re micro managing, you don’t need values because if you’re micro managing, you check on someone every five minutes so they have no values other than compliance. If you have autonomous distributed teams, values become more impactful. And the exercise was very simple. They took basically 10 leaders to an off site and those leaders were the people that they believed, if they were to recreate Atlassian on Mars, they’d be the 10 people that take with them. And then they took them and they said right, we’re going to split into two groups of five come up with some values, came back, distributed, came back, came back and landed on the five. And then the way they’ve manifested now in the business I think is probably more fascinating than how they were created because now we do a values interview.
Dom Price: 17:56 So you go through a series of technical interviews but the values interviewer has veto rights and so you can be the most technically incredible engineer. But if you don’t understand values like be the change you seek, build with heart and balance or play as a team, then there’s not a role for you in our organisation. Because a great person in Atlassian is a force multiplier at 10x and a bad person at Atlassian a force multiplier at 10x, but in the wrong direction. And so we have to be very careful about how we do that. And then our internal recognition system, which we call Kudos. So if anyone does an excellent job for me, I can raise a Kudos within 24 hours, I get a handwritten card on their desk. Bob, you did did a great job, Mary did a great job. Here’s the thing that you did, here’s the value that you lived, here is a little trinket could be a a coffee voucher or a bottle of wine, whatever that person’s thing is. And that’s our way of recognizing the positive behaviors and reinforcing them.
Andrew Grill: 18:49 So the Aussie work ethic, I think a lot of us here are Australian, so we know that the Aussie work ethic first hand, how we get stuff done. What do you think, almost as an outsider, because you did come from the UK, but what do you think makes the Aussie tech market unique and how can we better promote Australia as a great place to work and invest?
Dom Price: 19:05 I think there’s a couple of things that make it unique, some that are good and some that we need to challenge. I think the Australian system, we’ve heard the years of growth and the fact that there are tech examples and great exports there. I think we could do infinitely more. I think we’re riding a great wave right now. I do a lot of work in Vietnam — in year eight in Vietnam, every kid does a second language, which is coding. So there’s countries in this world producing people with STEM and arts combined. STEAM that I think is important. The STEM and the Arts combined, but they’re producing that talent and I think the danger of the success of the Australian economy is we could get complacent. It’s just going to carry on, right. We’ll carry on digging stuff out the ground and building houses and it’ll all be all right. And without really appreciating that shift in skills and mindset. At the same time, that growth has created a space where people can innovate and they can experiment. And you see companies both in Australia and New Zealand like Xero who are doing a great job, companies like Canva, safety culture that are sort of following hot on the heels of Atlassian and creating large software organisations.
Dom Price: 20:12 The challenge in Australia is every time we go to hire a software engineer, we’ve got four rich big banks that we’re competing with. So whilst I love that all the banks, are going through tech and digital transformation, they can pay substantially more for a graduate than we can. So we compete on various other aspects, but I don’t think it needs to be a zero sum game. So for us, the way we’ve been able to scale Atlassian is by importing talent from around the world to amplify our local talent, It’s not or, it’s and, so whether it be a senior leader from the US who’s the expert in search technology. We’ve hired a lot from the UK, from Spain, from Portugal, Russia, Poland. You walk around our office, we have a very cosmopolitan workforce and we’re based slap bang in the middle of Sydney.
Dom Price: 20:55 So for me that’s a successful Australian story, but it’s been achieved through diversity. And I think when we realise that we don’t have to grow everything locally, but we have to open our walls and our borders up to sensible hiring, sensible recruitment and sensible growth for our economy. Wonderful things can truly happen. And for us, we’re still a small fish, in a relatively big pond in Australia. But our growth and our contribution to that economy is something we’re very proud of. And certainly as we invest more in the education system and we see graduates coming through with this new experience with these new skills and getting to practice them, it’s very heartwarming.
Andrew Grill: 21:31 So maybe a loaded question, but what more can government do to help you guys expand, get the talent into Australia? Is there something the government can be doing?
Dom Price: 21:39 If I was sat with government officials right now and there was no recourse to what I was about to say things like, let’s not make innovation a poster. Let’s make it something that we do, that would be it. A quick one. Let’s also realise that to be a scaling organization, you first have to be a startup and to be a startup you have to take a whole of calculated risks and gambles. If you’re a kid in Australia, you’re saving up for a deposit for a house, because that’s the Aussie dream and you will be doing that until you about 106 because the economy’s going so well, no one could afford a house, right? That same money is money in another location that another country you’d possibly invest in starting your own business. And so getting that risk appetite of how do we actually, I think we’ve got the competence, we’ve got the intrigue, the curiosity, we’ve got the creativity. Sometimes the legislation or the bureaucracy gets a little bit in our way and anything we can do to amplify that would be wonderful.
Andrew Grill: 22:31 It sounds like you are a poster child and what you’re doing and the team are doing great things, but not that you want to be like them but you go, they share our values or what they’re doing or the way they’re scaling, is there another organisation somewhere in the world that you look up to?
Dom Price: 22:42 I have a philosophy that I can learn something from every single organisation. Some of those things are things never to do, which can be as valuable as the things to do, right? It’s a double sided coin. When I think about the appreciation side of that coin, I’ve been really fortunate to spend quite a lot of time with Patty McCord, who’s the ex chief talent officer from Netflix. She tells some wonderful stories, even better over a chardonay about their time scaling, the challenges, the experience. We have members of Facebook engineering team on our board.
Dom Price: 23:12 Again, the scale that they’re doing things at is fascinating for our engineering teams. There’s organizations of all shapes and sizes. My advice to people is I’ve been doing some work with a telco in Australia, we’ve been doing some work with a bank in Australia, the number of CEOs, were like, we’re going to be the Netflix of X. And I’m like, you’re not right. Let’s, let’s cut that BS, you’re not going to do that.
Andrew Grill: 23:32 It’s the culture that they don’t understand? You need a culture, not just …
Dom Price: 23:35 There are so many facets to that and also, Netflix is a 20 year old company, they were a 200 year old company. You’re not going to be them. So find out the version of you, and my suggestion to them is find out the habit or the attributes that you want to be like, make sure you understand the trade off of that because every decision you make has a trade off. And if you still want it, do it. But do it your way, localise it, understand it and do it your way.
Andrew Grill: 23:58 Final question before we throw it open to the audience. You mentioned the war on talent. What’s your advice to attract people beyond free lunches and Ping Pong tables?
Dom Price: 24:05 Definitely don’t do it with free lunches and ping pong tables because that’s not a way to attract, I mean, if you hire the right person, they can afford a sandwich. We look at those things as a perk — a wrap around the organization, the things that genuinely, not just attract but retain the best talent: Hiring for values has been critical for us because it’s actually helped reduce our turnover and churn because not everyone can survive and thrive in the Alassian environment. Everyone says they want to work in an autonomous and empowered team and then they join then, and they’re like, I’ve never had autonomy. I’ve been micromanaged my entire life. This autonomy thing feels quite lonely and so it’s finding the right environment for you. I think also back to sort of Dan Pink’s work mastery and purpose. You mentioned purpose before. We over communicate our strategy and why we do what we do. We also did an experiment last year when we launched our FY19 strategy last year, Scott one of our founders spent half an hour talking about the things we were doing and then the second half an hour on the things you might think we’re doing that we’re not called, “popular misconceptions and myths” and the number of people both in the audience in Sydney and San Francisco and around the world going, Oh, you know, I was going to carry on doing that because we just roll forward work from the last year to the next year. So we called out all the things we were stopping doing.
Dom Price: 25:22 It was all called business as usual or keeping the lights on and we just stopped it. Again that gives up our people freedom to go and explore and experiment and also the ability to actually drive continual improvement without having to work harder. So mastery, purpose, meaningful work. And then for us, making sure that we recognise those behaviors and give people the chance to do the best work of their life. For me, the playbook that you mentioned before was something that we selfishly ran internally to scale our teams. I actually still fondly remember the day, chatting to Mike, one of our co-founders, I had a talk that I used to do called “the secret sauce of Atlassian” and he said, why don’t you just call it “the sauce”? And I was like, this is why you get paid the big bucks. That’s why he’s loaded and I’m not.
Speaker 2: 26:04 And so we’re like, why haven’t I? And I realised that my old habit of, well I need to keep this thing close was still with me. And so three years ago we shared all of our ways of working externally and every time we find a new way of working externally, we publish it on our website. And now we’ve actually retired our internal vision of our team playbook and we just use the same version we ship to our customers. So it’s one of those mindsets that even though I knew that intuitively I knew were open, I knew I was free to share, I wasn’t. And occasionally you need those reminders that you know, the more we can improve the world around us, the more we can improve ourselves.
Andrew Grill: 26:38 At the end of our discussion, Dom fielded a few questions from the audience and the first one asked about the techniques for leaders to “unlearn”. Dom used leading Australian bank ANZ as an example.
Dom Price: 26:50 The successful ones are easier to share the names on. A lot of it’s about timing. If you look at ANZ as an example, and I can talk about that because we’ve been quite public with them around the things we’ve done, a couple of things that they did really well — first of all, their CEO set the tone from the top. Like here is the state of the banking industry. Here’s the state of the financial services industry. Here’s the state of us as an organisation. We’ve got a huge amount of stuff to be proud of. But if we’re doing the same thing as we’re doing today, in 20 years we won’t exist. When you share that existential threat, and actually the way Shane [ANZ CEO] did that was through talking about the response that they were getting from their customers, so it wasn’t necessarily just an internal change. It wasn’t a consultant saying let’s do an optimisation, it was aimed at customers saying, we will leave you even though we’ve been loyal, we will leave you if you don’t change the way you serve and delight us.
Dom Price: 27:35 So they went for an agile transformation that drove new ways of leading and new ways of working. But they’ve been thoroughly consistent throughout that process. They’ve been very open as they’ve explored. They shared a lot of the things that didn’t work. They’ve also shared the stuff that has worked and they’ve been amazingly brave. At one stage they got every single employee to reapply for their jobs, including the CEO and even the person running the transformation had to reapply for his job because they wanted to set the tone that this was a real change. It wasn’t a PowerPoint presentation talking about change or some posters, it was, we’re actually going to drive this. And if you look at them now in terms of the vibrancy in the organization, the engagement levels, the speed of innovation, their customer satisfaction ratings, all the things you’d want to measure are improving.
Dom Price: 28:21 So the indicators are strong. I compare that to a lot of other organizations that are like, we know we need to change, we want to change and we’re going to talk about change. But they just fail at that hurdle of actually changing. And that’s because if you don’t change this quarter, you don’t fail, right? If you’re a big bank and you don’t make any changes this quarter, this quarter we’ll be fine because the change we’re going to make this quarter pays back in a year, two years and three years. And so for a lot of these industries, the longterm nature of their business means they can have short term success. They’re just not going to be around in five or 10 years. And so one of the things that we share with them is how we balance our portfolio at Atlassian, between the bets we need to make for this year and the money we’ll spend this year for future years.
Dom Price: 29:06 Because for us, we’re not building products for our customers that they want today. We have to build the products that you don’t know you yet need tomorrow and next week and that takes a leap of faith. What that means for us is when we launch new features, we hope that they will work and sometimes you tell us that they don’t and that’s cool. That’s great feedback and we can iterate on that. For a lot of industries they’ve never had to work that way. They’ve existed behind the closed door. They had a strategy function that planned, that produced a three year, five year plan and all they did was then go and execute that and then do a post implementation review five years later. So what we’re seeing is where there is a burning platform, it’s a lot easier to drive that change. For some organisations they are sat on so much margin and so much profit they think they need to change, but the actual appetite’s not there. And for some of those we share our story but it’s up to them to decide when they need to do it.
Andrew Grill: 29:55 One other question related to how Atlassian was winning the global war for talent.
Dom Price: 30:00 For me, we import a lot of talent. Yes, we struggle with some of the visa regulations. We’re still managing to import some talent. That regulation is challenging us, but it’s not preventing us. We’ve also got creative in how we invest, with a whole lot of schooling systems so that we can locally sort of nurture the right talent. We’re having to go back as early as year 8. So we invest in schooling systems, we’ve been running programs where a whole load of school teachers, parents and school kids came and spent the weekend and did a tech camp in our office — Scott and Mike and some of our senior leaders did coding with the them, and it actually wasn’t the kids that were the problem, it’s the parents. It was the parents saying, oh, this software thing sounds like a gimmick. But if you go and become an accountant, Jimmy, you’ll have a job for life. And I’m like, no, you don’t. I can tell you a story about that. And so we’re still getting bum advice from, from let’s not just blame the politicians, we elected them. Some of the parents are making some challenging decisions. And then for us, we’re across 12 locations in the world. So I’m very proud that I work for an Australian company, but we’ve got offices all over the world and we support a global network of people. So I don’t think we’re just supporting the Australian economy. Sometimes for us in Australia, we compete with the banks, but if you want to go and open an office in Silicon Valley, you’ll be competing with Google and Facebook.
Dom Price: 31:13 The salaries are even worse. Right? And they’re wishing that they had the Australian system. So occasionally we just have to look at what we can do. We recently opened an office in Bangalore, not because of low labor rates, but because of access to talent. Right? We were able to scale from north to about 150 in less than a year. All right, and so for rose, it’s about finding the talent where they are. Sometimes that talent, we relocate to Australia, we get to amplify. We’ve got over a thousand people in Australia and hiring the right person in will be a force multiplier. Sometimes we hire in location, sometimes we hire remote, sometimes we hire in our co-located teams around the world. We’ve got a multitude of ways of dealing with that challenge. The fact remains that we are all in the same war for talent and so for us, we scale where we can and the one thing we refuse to do is to lower our hiring bar. So sometimes we’d rather miss our hiring target, but make sure we get the right people.
Andrew Grill: 32:03 An amazing discussion. Would you please thank Dom Price.
Outro: 32:11 Thank you for listening to the Practical Futurist podcast. You can find all of our previous shows at futurist.london and if you like what you’ve heard on the show, please consider subscribing via your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode. You can find out more about Andrew and how he helps corporates navigate a disruptive digital world with keynote speeches and c-suite workshops at futurist.london. Until next time, this has been the Practical Futurist Podcast