A CMO Show Blog Post
Top dog no more: Why management must change in Australian business
A CMO Show Blog Post
Top dog no more: Why...

With more than 15 years’ experience in the Australian media industry, Narelle Hooper has seen significant shifts in business management and performance. She recently sat down with Filtered Media’s star content producer, Nikki Majewski, to map out the Australian organisational landscape and the changes in social connectivity  impacting the workplace…

Nikki Majewski (NM): Why do you think there is no longer a top-down approach to management in Australia? 

Narelle Hooper (NH): We’ve got combined forces of technology and generations in the workforce now who are very much socially networked and who don’t respect authority for its own sake. You have to earn respect.

According to American management expert, Gary Hamel, the architecture of bureaucracy and the era of conformity have passed and organisations that don’t realise this are in dire straits. The hierarchies that have been effective for many decades just don’t suit today’s socially networked environment. The value now in organisations is derived through knowledge and services, and the connections between ideas and between people.

The capacity to work together and to bring out the best in each other and share knowledge is critical, and often doesn’t fit that old hierarchical structure. The information doesn’t flow quickly enough or easily enough. One of the biggest factors that’s going to affect our productivity in future is our capacity to bring our teams together and help them collaborate better. It’s a big gap at the moment in productivity and it’s where there’s a huge potential for Australian business to get some advantage.

NM: What is the consequence for managers out there who are reluctant to take on this advice? 

Narelle Hooper
Narelle Hooper

NH: It’s a skill that we as managers and leaders are all going to have to learn, otherwise you’re not going to be as useful to your organisation as you used to be. So my tips are; make sure you get lots of different people around the table, different ideas, different mindsets, different ages, different genders and racial backgrounds; and then bring out the differences in that group. Practice active listening and don’t rush to a solution.

A good coach is someone who knows when to be quiet and let the group flow. They make sure the quiet people, the introverts, reach a level of comfort where they feel they can have a say and they’ll be heard. It’s a real skill, and experiential learning is part of that. Giving people a sense of their impact on groups and their impact as leaders is important too.

NM: How can you encourage experiential learning within your team?

NH: We actually get the best out of people when we get them in an environment where they’re playing, where it’s fun. So probably the worst thing you can do is sit people down and say, “Right, we’re going to have a brainstorm session now and expect you all to be more innovative”.

Cut back your meetings as much as you can, if you can’t get anything done in 10, 15, 20 minutes, you start to think about how and what you’re trying to achieve. Short, sharp standing-meetings are really good for this reason.

Another technique is to be aware of organisational group dynamics and put those to work. Rotating the different roles in the groups from time to time so the loud person has to be quiet and take notes or the quiet person has to leave the group can work well.

You’re trying to create an environment where you can release the ideas locked inside people’s heads. You need different tools to make that happen, and understanding of human-centered design for problem-solving and team dynamics is key.

You can start the session by putting yourself in the shoes of the customers and consumers and go from there. 

NM: Over the course of your career, what shifts have you observed when it comes to leadership and team building?

NH: It used to be that the leader was the person who said, “Well I know what to do…” but increasingly a good leader is someone who says, “Look, I know there’s an issue here, I’m not quite sure what the answer is, how can you help me or how can you help us find a better solution for this challenge?”.

A really good leader now is secure enough in themselves to let other people thrive and claim ownership of the intellectual property. So your role as a leader is as a facilitator and an enabler of other people.

The hardest work to do as a leader is the work on yourself, but it’s the most important work. So the question to ask is, “How is what I’m doing positively impacting the capacity of others?”. If you’ve got enough self-awareness to know when you’re not impacting in a positive way, that’s a real strength. People talk about the old EQ and IQ, and EQ is really important.

The collective intelligence that we’ve got within groups within organisations is where the economic value will be added in companies. Our capacity to put that intelligence to work through our ability to modify our behaviours as individuals, is really important.

Narelle Hooper’s top tips for getting the best out of your team:

  • Hold short, sharp standing-meetings
  • Encourage people to take up new roles
  • Make the work environment playful and fun


Narelle Hooper is a corporate advisor and company director, and the former editor of Australia’s leading business magazine, BOSS. Her new book: New Women, New Men, New Economy is out now. 

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