How The Lab17’s Leadership and Culture team created a high performance culture at :Different

:Different are redefining property management by integrating human intuition and intelligent technology, to give owners and tenants a superior experience.

Mina.jpeg

Mina Radhakrishnan
Co-founder
:Different

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SERVICE

Property Management Software

INCEPTION

2016, Sydney, NSW, Australia

PRODUCT

Different offers a platform that facilitates and automates rent payment, organizing tenants, maintenance requests, and house inspections.

HEAD QUARTERS

Darlinghurst, NSW.

OFFICE LOCATIONS

APAC

EMPLOYEES AT TIME OF CASE STUDY

150+ employees

The beginnings.

The Lab17 and :Different’s Culture and Leadership partnership began in May 2021, as the pioneering property management company was preparing for fast paced growth and national expansion.
 
:Different were continuing to build on its first-in-market technology platform and surrounding team with a successful Series B raise closing in September 2021.

Problems to be solved.

As the organisation was ramping into this high growth stage, Co-founder and CEO of :Different, Mina Radhakrishna, recognised that the organisation’s performance and development infrastructure needed to be built and implemented as a priority.

She wanted to ensure the people problems they were facing, and the ones that were forecasted on their journey to scale, could be managed and ultimately solved.

Like many startups at this stage of growth, :Different didn’t have anyone in-house with the specialist skillset they needed to take action. A referral was made to the founders of :Different, letting them know that the The Lab17’s Culture and Leadership team were available to help. Mina, reflected:

I think the thing that we came to realize is that this is a discipline. People and culture is a discipline of its own. In the same way that engineering is a discipline of its own, or product management, or sales. And we were like ‘we don't have anybody at the company who understands this discipline or comes from this background’. It would be like, ‘Hey, can we build this engineering product, and not have an engineer to do it?’ And I think that was a really big thing for us. We were like, ‘we don't have the skill set here to be able to do it - we need to bring somebody in who understands it and can work with us.’
 
We grew really quickly as a company, and one of the things that we hadn’t figured out was how to create a culture around performance that felt fair and objective.
 
There are so many things when you're growing as a start-up, you're growing so fast, everybody's just doing the best they can. But, ‘how do I know I'm doing well when everyone is just working hard’, was the thing that we really struggled with. 
 
We didn't want to make employees feel like we didn’t value their hard work, but, at the same time, we also needed to have an objective way of evaluating the quality of work, not just the quantity. 
 
None of us had really ever put a performance structure in place originally, and it's really tough as an employee, because when you're working very hard, you want to feel like your work is valued, but you also need to know how you're doing. As a business, that's our responsibility - we just didn't have a fair or objective way to be able to say that consistently to people across the business”.

'There are so many things when you're growing as a start-up, you're growing so fast, everybody's just doing the best they can. But, ‘how do I know I'm doing well when everyone is just working hard’, was the thing that we really struggled with.' 

At the helm of the partnership, The Lab17’s Senior People Development Partner, Steph Cawthorne, hit the ground running by solving an immediate problem:

Due to the nature of the organisation at this stage of growth, the team hadn’t had any structured performance feedback in the time they’d been at :Different, and this was featuring in the feedback shared via their engagement survey.

Steph Cawthorne

Steph Cawthorne
Senior People Development Partner  - The Lab17

:Different’s founders wanted to have 100% of employees go through a 360 feedback process in 3 weeks, ahead of the end of financial year pay review.

We successfully designed and delivered, with 100% of employees (around 70 people across Australia and Sri Lanka) receiving 360 feedback and a 1:1 development conversation with their manager within this timeframe. 

At the heart of this process, the :Differnauts were asked simple questions based around collaborative relationships. Using this approach, we went from 63% of people agreeing they have clarity on how they’re performing to 86%.

After solving the immediate task in hand, The Lab17 and :Different then shifted focus to the next chapter of building out the sustainable performance and development framework, which was rolled out over the following 3 months.

Steph commenced the next phase with a workshop, guiding the :Different leadership team to understand their philosophy, wants, needs and preferences.

She evaluated that, 'The initial workshop with the leadership team was headlined with the creation of the philosophy and high level principles for the company, followed by presenting an approach to them for their feedback so they could own the process.'

'This included multiple options where I’d get their input to make a decision - for example a 3, 4 or 5 point performance measurement scale. We worked collaboratively to make it look, feel and sound like :Different.'

The framework rollout continued with the implementation of the following:

Effective 1:1s training and guides for leaders, setting an expectation about what an effective vs. trainwreck 1:1 looked like, and how to get the best out of your people through this.

1:1 coaching on goal setting for all leaders and teams, providing templates and frameworks they could work with.

Supported the re-design and re-launch of their company values and worked with the leadership team to create a values in action framework - helping people to know what the values mean as behaviours and how they can live them in their day today. This was followed by a tailored values-coach training for managers to lead a development conversation with their people around values.

Feedback training for 100% of people across the company. Cohorts were divided up to cater to cultural differences across the 2 locations - Sri Lanka and Australia. It was delivered as ‘choose your own adventure’ content, whereby each cohort would pick the topics they wanted to learn about most.
This resulted in 100% of staff saying they would recommend the training to another :Differnaut, plus 94% of employees said they’d increased their confidence and skills to give feedback over the course of the partnership.

Established quarterly performance check-ins that cover goals, values, feedback and a performance rating. The performance measurement framework links to goal achievement and values embodiment. This allowed everyone to have transparency on how they were performing at any given time, with the aim that at the end of quarter, performance check-ins are a no-surprises experience.

Steph notes the highlights and results that emerged from the initial rollout of the performance and development framework:

The biggest success was effective 1:1s. By implementing these as a regular ritual for all employees, we were able to keep the performance and development conversation alive. Development became incremental, continuous and in the moment - as opposed to ‘big bang’ style.
 

4 months after the launch of effective 1:1s, 100% of employees confirmed their '1:1s are a valuable use of their time’.

When we reflected on the performance product roll-out, 94% of employees said they had increased their confidence and skills to give feedback and 88% said the approach to performance was clear and fair.

The foundations were set for the People and Culture function at :Different. The organisation was ready to hire a team to continue building on the framework and its strategy. The Lab17 assisted in finding :Different their Head of People and Culture, a vital hire to steer the team to continued success in this space. :Different’s Co-founder, Mina Radhakrishna:

The biggest thing [Lab17 partnership], is around being a thought partner. One of the other factors that came into play is that they also helped us hire a head of people and culture.

The reason why we're really excited that we've hired a head of people and culture through The Lab17, and what also gives us a lot of confidence about ‘who’ that person is, and ‘why’ they're that person, is that the team that hired them has done the job with us. They know what we need, and what we're looking for.

It felt like a really customised approach. It wasn’t just ‘here's a framework, now we'll use it.’ It was, ‘here's a framework we can start with. Now, what do we need to do? How do we finesse it, and change it? How do we make it work for :Different specifically? What are we trying to accomplish? How are we going to pull it together?’

The Lab17's point of difference is its embedded model, and in the case of :Different, it allowed the team to add deep value to enable them to scale :Different’s Co-founder, Mina Radhakrishna, comments on this approach:

It's been so useful. For example, Steph has a company email, she's on our Slack, in our meetings, she comes to our all hands. I think because of that, it feels like she's part of the team, right?

It's not like she's an external consultant, coming in to just tell people what to do. She's here, she's in it - she's absorbed with it. And I think for us, that's actually a really great approach.