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Workplace: the future is wow

We spend a lot of our hours working, and I feel if I can make people feel set up for success, feel like they’re doing something valuable, feel like they’re being valued for what they do, the flow on effect of that for them, their families, customers, the community is massive.”

Who at ANZ can remember what it was like working here six years ago?


Those of you who were here at the time will remember we had quite a traditional way of working, of rewarding our staff and tackling major projects.


For those not at ANZ, the way of working we had would not be strange to anyone who’s worked at a large, complex organisation.


But that way of working was simply too rigid for a rapidly changing, increasingly digital, modern bank.


We have transformed ANZ and the leader who joined the bank in May, 2017 as our head of Talent and Culture, Kath van der Merwe, has been central to that transforming in the way we work and achieve our goals.


On news Kath was leaving to take on a similar transformation role at Telstra, we caught up to chat about the changing nature of work and her experience at ANZ.


Shayne Elliott: I know why we hired you Kath and it was, largely, to be a change agent. But why did you come? Was there some essential attraction?


Kath van der Merwe: There was going to be lots of change taking place but purpose and values were going to be at the heart of how that change would happen.


We spend a lot of our hours working, and I feel if I can make people feel set up for success, feel like they’re doing something valuable, feel like they’re being valued for what they do, the flow on effect of that for them, their families, customers, the community is massive.


My background had been in consulting – with a real focus on people at the heart and core to driving success. I also have a PhD in Psychology so I felt I had a toolkit that was relevant and transferable given the amount of change and transformation you were looking to drive and that passion about people.


One of the frustrations as a consultant is you’re not in the team. And so it was the opportunity to be in the team for the long haul and really partner together to drive lasting, meaningful change that appealed to me.


Shayne Elliott: How do you keep staff moored during times of great change?


Kath van der Merwe: You know, everybody comments about how special the culture is at ANZ, and it is. And at the heart of it there are two really important elements that make the culture of ANZ different.


One is that deep commitment to purpose as a really core foundation; that’s just a non-negotiable. And it really does guide decisions – the big ones and the little ones, daily.


But the other was instilling a sense of growth mindset and the need to keep adapting and learning and evolving. That’s meant, through the time I’ve been here, we’ve been able to dial up the focus that we’ve asked people to have on different things.


If we think about it … during the Royal Commission, that was a time of humility, reflection, learning from the mistakes made in the past and taking a deeper sense of accountability.


We also moved to a phase where we were adopting agile ways of working (and) our new reward framework, (that) was about helping to kind of create a greater sense of team.


Then there was supporting each other through COVID – how do we help our people think about their own wellbeing, think about their teams and care for them, and … stay focused and deliver when there’s so much disruption going on?


And recently … we’re turning more to that high performance culture around those three critical behaviours. Create. Deliver. Together.


They’ve kind of built off that really strong foundation of purpose and adaptability, and the different areas of focus have been natural evolutions.


Shayne Elliott: So much about leadership is actually psychology and you do have a PhD in psychology. How useful was that as a background coming into a role like this?


Kath van der Merwe: It helped in building some foundations around understanding motivators for people - how to drive behaviour change, those sorts of things. But that possibly stems as much from a genuine curiosity in me as much as from the content. Those are the sorts sort of things I’m interested in when meeting people or thinking about organisations. So, I do think it was a really, really helpful underpinning.


But going on to do a PhD, I learned a lot from that about resilience and endurance. That kind of felt like a perseverance test… it went on for a long time. But you know, you’re also learning skills like problem solving and communication. So, the benefits of that probably go beyond the core of psychology as well.


Shayne Elliott: When you think about the last six years, what are some of the things you look back on… and go, “Gee, those are the things I’m really proud of as a leader, that we, the team [has] achieved and for which ANZ is a better place for those interventions or changes?”


Kath van der Merwe: I feel incredibly proud of being able to lead a really, awesome team and work in partnership with my colleagues around the executive committee and with you to be at the heart of enabling the transformation and performance over the last few years.


And whether that’s helping to change the shape and size and the nature of the workforce, strengthening the culture, supporting our people through COVID or, more recently, replacing all of the core people technology - which is in its infancy but with time will really improve the employee experience and enable you to make much better data driven decisions about the people at the bank.


Some other things I have been able to be involved in that I feel really proud to have been part of are delivering on ANZ’s commitments to reconciliation in Australia and our community giving programs. Over the past two years, I have also had the great privilege of leading ANZ’s service centres in Manila, Bengaluru and Chengdu.


Shayne Elliott: Well, Kath. you’ve made a fantastic contribution. And I know that many, many people here will miss you enormously. So thank you very much.


Kathryn van der Merwe: Thank you Shayne.


Shayne Elliott is CEO of ANZ.

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