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How The Lab17 scaled Indebted’s people function.

InDebted are a new kind of debt collection agency. One focused on customer experience and providing people with the tools they need to easily resolve their accounts.


Ben Watiwat
VP of Finance and Operations



Debt collection agency


2016, Sydney, NSW, Australia


Digital, product led debt collection


Fully remote - globally distributed


Scaled from 60 to 270

The Lab17 deliverables

  • Preboarding process

  • Sapling implementation

  • APAC Newbie Day experience

  • Establishing effective 1:1s

  • Goal setting

  • Values refresh

  • Engagement survey

  • Culture Amp implementation

  • Hired Head of People and 2x TAs

  • Values in action

  • Global Newbie Day experience

  • Established quarterly Grow Convos

  • 2x people strategies

  • R&D business partnering

  • L&D

    • Effective 1:1s

    • Asynchronous remote working tips (2x videos)

    • Coaching through Grow Convos

    • Goal setting

    • Coaching values through Grow Convos

  • Values campaign

    • Job shadowing

    • Customer agent 1:1 sessions

The beginnings: 

When The Lab17 and InDebted’s partnership began, InDebted had around 60 employees. Two people were dedicated to people and talent. 

The organisation had recently acquired a business from the US, Delta. It was a time of transition -  from small and scrappy, to a larger, maturing organisation. 

The challenges

The Lab17’s People Development Lead, Steph Cawthorne, was at the helm of the partnership. She explains the challenges InDebted were facing at this time:  

The challenges that come with this stage of growth are common. What emerges is a need for lightning-fast knowledge transfer between tenured and new employees, initiatives that drive a sense of connection, engagement and retention among the group, and a burning need for role and goal clarity among the chaos. In InDebted’s case, these needs were amplified by acquiring 50 new employees through their recent acquisition.

Steph Cawthorne

Steph Cawthorne
Lead People Development Partner  The Lab17


InDebted’s VP of Finance and Operations, Ben Watiwat, was aware the ramp-up time for new starters had increased as the business became complex. He reached out to The Lab17 for help, initially to implement an HRIS, and to set up a seamless and memorable onboarding experience. Ben gave Steph a mission to ‘accelerate the time-to-impact for our new-starters’. Ben reflected:


What we were finding was that we were trying to get top talent, we were trying to grow the business, and grow the people. We weren't. We hadn't done anything with investing in the fundamentals. So, as a fully remote organisation, onboarding was the biggest issue that we had.

When you’re bringing in great talent, and you don't find a way to leverage that talent, they'll leave quickly, because it's a competitive market.

We want to make sure our people are able to add value from day one, and feel that they’ve got the right support, and the right instruction behind them to do their best work. I want our employees to have the right experience from the start of the recruitment process, right through the first 90 days. So, the first chunk of work that The Lab17 did was around that onboarding piece.

Ben Watiwat
VP of Finance and Operations

The Lab17 dug in over the initial few months, implementing the HRIS, Sapling, automating and simplifying the preboarding process (50% reduction in manual steps), and designing InDebted’s Newbie Week experience. Newbie Week featured several connection sessions for new-starters around the globe every month, to build understanding of the strategy, product, customer and culture.

Onboarding InDebted.png

Ben noted the importance of this foundation:

The onboarding piece is fundamental to us. I think of it this way -  we had around 60 people when we started with The Lab17, and we now have 270. 210 people have come into the organisation since we started this process. That initial onboarding, which has evolved over time, has touched every new employee that has come into the organisation.


Being embedded in the business over this time, The Lab17 started to notice other areas where they could add value. Once the People Operations person was feeling confident running the onboarding experience end-to-end, the focus moved to performance.

After establishing a clear performance philosophy with the leadership team, The Lab17 focused on building manager capability across 4 elements: 

  • 1:1s

  • Goal setting

  • Coaching

  • Feedback

‘This involved immersive learning experiences, where leaders were able to apply their skills in action, deepening their learning’, said Steph. ‘Our favourite part was producing InDebted’s leadership podcast ‘Leadership at InDebted’, as a way to deliver bite-sized, just-in-time learning content to their busy people managers.’

Podcast graphic (1).png

Mission, vision and values refresh

While rolling out performance, The Lab17 were involved in a refresh of InDebted’s mission, vision and values; creating alignment and clarity for people as they set performance goals. This resulted in delivering a ‘values in action’ framework which now features in employees quarterly Grow Convos.

At the same time, The Lab17 assisted Indebted in hiring two Talent Acquisition leaders and a Head of People, Rimonda Ohlsson. Steph worked closely with Rimonda, who talks about the delivery of these building blocks: 

Our leaders are time poor, so we're bringing the magic, the little snippets to them each month on topics that they want information on. There are elements we’re weaving in on purpose, but a lot of it is about their voice. For example, “I don't know how to have an effective one on one. I'd like to know more.” The way that Steph delivers this knowledge and guidance to our leaders isn't “you must do this”, it's more, “let's have a conversation about what's working.”

Our people are developing in real time. They’re taking in the snippets and going, “Oh, that was really good. I've got two new things I'm going to focus on. I've got two new things in my toolbox that I didn't have before.” We're trying to incrementally change, and level them up to be competent leaders, successful leaders, open and empathetic leaders. That's going to be impactful for a business that's scaling fast.


Rimonda Ohlsson
Head of People

The Lab17 continued to build InDebted’s people initiatives, setting up their employee listening strategy, facilitating two People strategy days, launching a values-in-action campaign (including organisation-wide job shadowing), and business partnering with InDebted’s R&D executives. 

The four day work week

A partnership milestone was the move to a four day work week. The Lab17’s focus for this was unlocking team efficiencies. This was achieved through learning and development experiences, focusing on remote and asynchronous ways of working.

InDebted launched the Four Day Work Week to combat burnout and mental health challenges in their already 100% remote workforce. Employees aren’t expected to do their 38 hours over four days, but instead they find ways to work more efficiently within the existing 7 or 8 hours per day.

The launch of the Four Day Work Week has seen 98% of employees report that the change positively impacts their wellbeing, 99% report they are provided the support they need to work flexibly and they also saw an increase in the average number of job applicants of 283%.


InDebted's Founder and CEO Josh Foreman speaks about Lessons from InDebted’s four-day work week via SmartCompany.

AFR BOSS Best Place to Work

At the deep end of the partnership, InDebted won the AFR BOSS Best Place to Work, in both the Overall and Technology industry category. Steph reflects. 

There are two reasons why I think they won, and deserve this award. Number one - they are mission and values led, and number two - they prioritise people and culture.

It’s that simple.


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