Leadership by design

Chief of Staff editor Bennet Nichol has a one-on-one with Leon Doyle, Customer Strategy & Experience Design Practice Leader at Deloitte Australia to learn how he uses the lens of design to manage his team and forge culture.

First off, can you tell me about your role at Deloitte?

I am one of the senior partners at the division of Deloitte that we call Deloitte Digital. It focuses on helping our clients achieve a digital transformation—how they get their business, their products, their services ready for a world that is increasingly digitised. I also run Deloitte Digital in Sydney.

Broadly speaking I’m split into strategic, operational and client services. I’ll start with strategic.

It’s really about looking above the horizon and making better long-term decisions. It’s about thinking of the practice, not of today, but in three to five years time and how we need to be shaping the way we work.

It’s thinking about the skills we’re going to need to recruit for, it’s thinking about the kind of offering we need to develop. It’s thinking about the kind of work we want to do and the clients we want to do it with.

The operational hat means I’ve got businesses to run. It’s about running a profitable, disciplined business that not only is commercially successful, but also creates a great place to work for our people. A big part of that is our culture—which if you speak to any of our leaders you’ll hear the same thing again and again—culture beats everything.

We are not about working our people to death to make money for our partners. We are not about underscoring work to win and then under delivering. All of that has a human cost. You can’t do good work as a consultant if you are exhausted, or stressed beyond belief.

That’s a big part of what I do. Then of course, it’s servicing clients. I’m a consultant and I love serving my clients.

So I assume you come from a technical background?

Actually it’s art and design. I’m a designer by trade and by preference. Through my almost 16 years at Deloitte I’ve held roles like business analyst, project manager and user experience designer.

Everything in the world is designed, the speaker you’ve got me on now, your laptop, your mug, the clothes you’re wearing, everything is designed.

I’m sure there are things in your own life that are poorly designed. They piss you off and make you ask “why can’t this be better?” What I do, and my team does, is design better things to help create better outcomes.

We have designed loyalty programs for companies. We design experiences for students and teachers. I could talk about this for days. I love my job. In fact, my job hasn’t felt like work for about seven years because I get to talk to really cool people and get to know them.

How did you go from a design background to learning to manage people? Did you have a natural talent for it, or was it something you had to work on?

I don’t know I if I had a natural talent, I don’t think I would go that far. If anything I am curious about people. I’m curious to understand why people do what they do.

That comes from the designer in me. To design well you have to understand the human imperative behind the action. Did you know that 70 percent of people in a supermarket will turn right, not left. Why is that? We think we’re logical. We think we work in frameworks and rigour—and we often do. But we are also really emotional, complex creatures and we will do stuff without even understanding why. Part of my job is to understand why.

To come back to your question, I’m just really curious about how human beings work.

When I accrued a certain level of seniority, the firm just started giving me support, training and learning. I grabbed it and went, “Wow! This stuff floats my boat.” It gives me a lot of energy.

I can only do so much with my two hands in the 40 or 50 hours a week. Philosophically, if I can impact, activate and inspire 20 people and them teach them to activate 20 people each, I can have a much larger impact.

So then, as a designer and a leader how do you create good corporate culture?

I see everything through the lens of culture. At the end of the day, at a company like Deloitte, we are a people business. Our asset is our people.

Role modelling is critical. It’s kind of like, well duh, of course it is. As a leader you can’t say one thing and do another, because people just call BS. One of the first things I model is the power and importance of vulnerability.

If teams can be vulnerable with each other, it creates a safe space at work. When people feel safe, that’s when they can be their best. When people feel safe, they feel safe to screw up. The only way to learn is to be open to screwing up. When people feel safe, they know it’s okay to say, “I’m sorry I made a mistake.” That’s one of the best ways to form a good relationship. To actually ask for help and know that if you screw up you’ll get help.

It’s all about vulnerability and I work very hard to role model that as a leader.

The second is to put a disproportionate amount of time on my leaders. The partners that I lead and developing them. I can only do so much with my time, but if I can activate my team leaders it helps them be the best versions of themselves—in their own unique way.

I also put huge amounts of focus on creating an inclusive culture. Background, age, sexual orientation, gender, I don’t care. Everyone needs to feel like they have an important part to play in the team and they will be included—it helps the performance of the company.

If everyone thinks the same in my team then I’m screwed. We cannot solve the problems we’re faced with if everyone thinks the same. You need that diversity in thought.

The final thing is a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. The behaviour you walk past is the culture you create. I have zero tolerance for bad values and bad behaviour. Zero tolerance. No excuses. I don’t care how much money they make, or how much money they bring in, it doesn’t matter. If someone demonstrates bad values—I’m not saying there are no second chances, everyone screws up—but if someone demonstrates a consistent and systematic inability to hold the values that we hold dear and behave in that framework then I have very little tolerance for that.

But we’re not a cult, our values are simple. Take care of each other. It’s so human. It’s obvious when someone is not taking care of someone else and it’s not good enough.

How do you see the role of an EA and can you give me some insight into you personal experience with your EA, Michelle Smith?

It’s interesting. I don’t see Michelle as an EA or PA. I just don’t because I think that title can sometimes bring with it certain assumptions and preconceptions and biases. Michelle is part of my team. She happens to have a set of responsibilities that are quite specific, but she is no less important than any of my clients, or the directors, any of my designers, my 3D animators, etcetera, etcetera.

That’s one framing comment. The second is that I’m enormously respectful of her time, her expertise, her experience and her training. When you do something as well as she does it stops being work and it becomes a craft. It is an art as much as it is a science.

I understand that when you moved to Sydney, you made the choice to work remotely with Michelle. How does that play out from a technical standpoint?

When I took my secondment to Sydney for three years I was talking to my managing partner, and he was asking what the firm could do to support my move. I said there was one more thing. I said I am not changing EAs.

He kind of looked at me and went, “Oh.” I think he was expecting me to ask for something else. I said I’m just not changing. He said that was fine and it made sense.

I made it absolutely clear from the start that I could not do this role without her. I would not take on this role without her. It gives you a sense of how important that relationship is. You know what? We haven’t missed a beat in terms of a relationship.

We chat, text, talk more frequently than we did in Melbourne. It used to be a chat as I walked past her desk, but now I’m picking up the phone. We had such a great relationship beforehand—which makes it easy.

Nominate for the 2020 Executive PA Awards

Leon Doyle took home runner up for Boss of the Year at the 2019 Executive PA Awards in Sydney for his exceptional leadership and business management skills. Do you know a superstar boss that deserves recognition? Nominate them for the 2020 awards. Click here.

Deloitte Digital brings together the discipline of Deloitte with the power of creativity. Servicing clients like Adobe, Apple and Google, Deloitte Digital provides creative strategy, experience, design and content that helps companies give their communities a seamless online and physical experience. http://www.deloittedigital.com.au