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BEN NEWTON

Head of Product, Your Call

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Ben Newton, Head of Product, Your Call.

Ben Newton is Head of Product at Your Call, a business which plans, launches and manages ASIC compliant external whistle blowing programs. In his role Ben creates and manages market leading products by building high performing, diverse, cross functional teams to identify and solve key customer pain points. His personal goal is to help teams and their members outperform their expectations within a supportive yet challenging environment.

What sort of flexible work practices have you undertaken in your career?

In a previous life I was attempting to represent Australian on the beach volleyball world tour. The combination of training and competition made it virtually impossible to fit into a traditional 9–5, Monday to Friday work schedule. The only way to achieve both goals was to train when I had to and work at odd hours in order to service our clients. Ultimately, getting the job done was all that mattered so the hours were never a problem for the clients I worked with.

During this period, I was quite self-conscious about the appearance of slacking off, leaving to go to the beach, when in reality I was giving my all in two separate forums, sport and work.

As I got older and my wife and I wanted to have a family so my priorities shifted away from beach volleyball and was replaced with a desire to be present as my children grew. At this point in my career I was lucky enough to have a lot of flexibility to work the hours I wanted and the location wasn’t important. The only thing that mattered was how well I communicated with team members and whether I was getting my job done at a high level.

The ultimate flex was still yet to come for me though. One week before I began working at Your Call COVID hit and my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer which put us on a course for 18 months of treatment. Couple this with remote learning for two primary school age kids and I couldn’t fathom how I’d get any work done.

As it turned out though, I couldn’t have started at a better company. Nathan, the CEO, offered me full control over my start date and the hours I wanted to work. This initially manifested as only 3 hours a day but grew rapidly to full time but on a skewed start/finish time that fitted with the other demands I was facing. Currently, I am working remotely four days a week. This will evolve, and inverse to one day at home, but that change will be dictated by me rather than any demands from our leadership.

What I’ve learnt is that if you hire great people, give them what they need to succeed and ensure their incentives are well thought through, then you can allow for a lot more flexibility and achieve great outcomes.

What are the biggest barriers or challenges you have overcome in advancing your career so far?

I’m in software and product development but my formal qualifications are primarily in film production and screen writing. This has led to me living with a fairly persistent level of imposter syndrome. This is never more prevalent than when I’m speaking with highly qualified or experienced professionals. What this can in turn result in is a lack of willingness to apply for some roles, or share my learnings, because I felt there was some big secret that I didn’t know about.

As I’ve become more experienced, I’ve gradually realised that qualifications aren’t the golden ticket I once thought they were, and industry lingo is often used to cover up a lack of deep understanding rather than demonstrate it.

I’ve been lucky enough to interview a lot of high performing folks in technology through my work with truenorthpodcast.com and what I found is that successful people often have a circuitous route to the top and it’s their willingness to put themselves out of their comfort zone and give it a go that has set them apart.

Don’t get me wrong though, qualifications and study still has its place and is extremely valuable, just not to the extent that I had thought it to be.

How do you think your industry and business has changed this year as a result of COVID?

For the majority of my time at Your Call we’ve been in COVID so my perspective is a little skewed. We’re definitely seeing an increased number of whistleblowing disclosures. We believe this is occurring because people are working remotely and feel more confident about speaking up. Not having to face the person implicated in the wrongdoing every day appears to be leading to a greater desire to report the problem.

Another interesting change is that workplace safety investigations and their associated interviews have always been something that had to be conducted in person. Not long into COVID, regulations had to change and allow for remote interviews. This has opened up the job market for investigators as their location is no longer so crucial to the role.

It’s been a very challenging year for many, how have you personally worked to change the conversation and support initiatives within your business around flexibility and areas such as wellness / health and productivity?

In my first 6 months at Your Call I was a part of a small working group who was charged with identifying and validating our group’s Purpose and Values. Being intentional about what you stand for and care about is important to me, so I was deeply grateful to be a part of this process.

For me, when I say intentional, I think about having something deliberate and accessible to all stakeholders so that you can have a shared understanding and conversations based off that common starting point.

Having our values clearly stated facilitates conversations about flexibility because you can point to the values and show that none of them are predicated by any type of rigidity. Then in turn, giving flexibility and ownership to team members will most likely lead to an upholding of our values and achievement of goals.

Something I can’t claim any responsibility for, but have benefitted from is our Employee Assistance Program, our partnership with Happiness Co, and our social club. All of these are directly aimed at providing support, guidance and a sense of belonging to all members of the team.

You’re a big supporter of flexible work and an advocate for helping women advance. We’re seeing change, but it’s still slow across many industries — what sort of programs is Your Call championing to support more gender diversity at leadership levels?

For us at Your Call we’re building a lot of frameworks and process from the ground up. We’re starting with a lot of the small things that we feel will lead to bigger and better outcomes. Things like measuring how many women and people of colour are entering our applications for each role and in turn how they are progressing through the interview process. The aim here is simple, if we can measure the diversity of our recruitment pipeline then we can uncover unconscious bias and homogeneity of our networks. This in turn allows us to take targeted action to address imbalances.

Other basics we are trying to get right when building our teams is to ensure we encourage candidates to tell us what unique requirements and goals they have so that we can respond to these in a way that sets our team members up for success. In my mind this goes beyond the table stakes elements such as paid parental leave.

The other obvious one, is that for each senior role in my new product team I am working with Puffling and other prominent women in my network to identify talented women who might be a great fit for our team, leading us into the future.

With such a focus on remote work, what are your tips for building culture and community when people aren’t necessarily together in physical spaces each day?

I’m sure my ideas won’t be news to anyone. Communication and transparency are the top two items for me. Often times people correlate working remotely with less personal interaction and more asynchronous communication. This is where things can go off the rails in my opinion.

I like to organise regular check-ins with teams and individuals using video calls to try and develop rapport and empathy amongst one another. Being able to see the environment they’re in and hear the kids in the background is important for understanding the pressures they are under.

I’m also a strong believer in keeping goals and actions simple, clear and readily available. When working remotely it’s so easy to make incorrect assumptions or have frequent micro-misunderstandings which can lead to bigger problems. We’re a big fan of virtual whiteboards and Confluence to share ideas and learnings.

Could you share your top 2 or 3 predictions for what the new future may hold and how workplaces will shape up heading into 2021 and beyond.

I’ve been keenly focussed on climate change over the past few years and I recently read a quote that I loved.

When you say that despite climate change and the associated emissions created you can’t change the way you do business and live; Mother Nature says, “Here’s a global pandemic, practice”.

2020 has provided us with an opportunity and a wake-up call. Collectively we’re now able to call bullshit on so many aspects of life that we thought were set in stone. The most obvious is remote work leading to sub-optimal outcomes.

I don’t think people want to work by themselves, but what I do think is that people want to have control over their lives and not spend two hours per day in a commute. To borrow from Mark Twain, the reports pertaining to the death of the office are greatly exaggerated. Being together, in-person, still has significant benefits and it’s my belief that we’ll see teams coming together 2–3 times a week, or perhaps more so but only during the middle hours of a day. For many, like me, starting at 7:30am is much better than a 9am start, but should I be expected to finish at 5:30pm just because that’s what the 9am starters do?

All that really matters is; are you getting the job done, is the job nourishing you personally, and are you having a positive impact on those you work with.

Ben shared his insights with Puffling’s Niamh Fitzpatrick.

If you’re interested in more on Puffling or being featured in a future interview profile, connect with Niamh here.

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