Impacting community through coaching capability

Impacting community through coaching capability

 
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Guest Bio

Jonathan srikanthan

Atlassian Foundation Director/Co-founder of Young Change Agents

Jonathan or Jono Srikanthan, is the Atlassian Foundation Director and the co-founder of Young Change Agents, a social enterprise aimed at helping our young people see problems as opportunities. Jono gets excited about being able to make a positive change in his community and leading, motivating and empowering others to do the same in their community.

Jono has managed two iconic Australia Foundations, Qantas and Atlassian, where he has had the opportunity to harness business resources for the betterment of society. Jono’s focus areas include social innovation, corporate foundations, social enterprise, skilled volunteering, people leadership, organisational & career coaching. 

SHOW NOTES

 

In this episode, Jonathan Srikanthan, Atlassian Foundation Director talks about all things Atlassian, 1% pledge initiative, giving back to the community, tips for aspiring foundation managers and pro-bono coaching to the non-for-profit sector. Jonathan shares insights about his coach training with IECL and how coaching capacity can contribute to and have impact in our communities. It’s a great episode with lots of gold nuggets. Please note this episode was recorded in early 2020 before the pandemic. 

 

Transcript

Renee:
So Jono, what can we as coaches or can organizations in general learn from the All Black psyche? You’re a fan. 

Jono:
I was surprised you put this question in here actually because for Christmas, I got given a book called Legacy and I highly recommend it. I’m only halfway through it mind you, which talks about what businesses can learn from the All Blacks. And the first chapter really stood out to me and the chapter is called Sweeping the Shed. So there’s a tradition in the All Blacks that the top player of the game or the player of the match has the responsibility at the end of the game after all the work and the lockers are down, when people have changed and they go out that they have to clean it up, they have to pretty much sweep it out sort of thing. And it’s a tradition that’s been going for a while now. And the idea there is to maintain or bring humility back into the role back into players. To think that no one person is bigger than the team and bigger than the game. And I think that’s something that we as coaches and we as organizations, businesses could really learn and the people we’re serving and the people and the team that we’re part of is actually bigger than us. And so humility, I think, is something that I’m learning a lot in my roles but as a coach and in Atlassian, the organization I’m working for. 

Renee:
And speaking of Atlassian. What’s it really like to work at Atlassian? 

Jono:
You should know, you guys are based in the same building that we are. You know about our t-shirts and you know about the dress code that we have, but that’s really very peripheral. It is probably one of the most remarkable companies I’ve ever worked for. The values are at the core of everything that we do. There’s five values that govern it. Two of it has got some pretty interesting language in there, but it really hits home about what we are and what we’re trying to do. And for me that was the first thing that I really learned about the organization and then still do very much value. It’s a highly innovative, very strong culture in what we do, but at the heart of it, there’s a real genuine focus on giving back. And I’m speaking in the context of working in the foundation, the charitable side of Atlassian, it is very generous in terms of what they do. And I’ll talk a little bit more about it as we progress. 

Renee:
So can we dig into that now? You’re the Foundation Director of Atlassian Foundation, what does the foundation do? What are some of the activities and that generosity, what does that look like? 

Jono:
Yeah, so we’ve got three main focus areas and what we work in. It is about, essentially the best way of summing it up is about bringing out the best in education with the young people, bringing out the best in business and bringing out the best in our people, or Atlassians. In the education space, we’ve got a goal to really get behind and support innovative education practices that’s really going to scale and reach millions and millions of people. And we’re working with some really awesome non-profits around the world. And to achieve that Pledge 1% is the focus of number two. And I’ll share a little bit about that in a minute, but essentially it is about growing the Pledge 1% model in different businesses. And then finally the area that I am probably most passionate about, an area that I look after is bringing out the best in our people. So as Atlassians, as employees, our people are given five days a year to volunteer, to give back, to make a difference in the communities that we live. So it is about how can I engage them and how can I motivate them and how can, and I say I but it’s actually our team. How can we do those things to get the best out of them, giving back to their community that they live in. 

Renee:
And on 1% Pledge, that’s not an Atlassian initiative, it was something that was established before Atlassian took that up. Could you tell me a little bit more about that? 

Jono:
It’s actually one of my favourite stories I love to tell because that’s one of the best examples of generosity. So I think Salesforce pioneered it initially with their 1-1-1 model. And the idea is to essentially give back 1% of your profits, your employee time, products, and so on. How it came about in Atlassian is actually, again, it’s really lovely story. Scott and Mike, our two founders, early on when they set up Atlassian wanted to do something impactful and meaningful but like any new business owner starter, you just don’t have time. And so what they did was they took, they made a decision to give away 1% of the equity in the company. So this is going back 2002, 2003, 2004, around that time when the company was worth nothing. It probably even, I think that time were in 10,000 credit card debt or something like that. They made the decision to give away 1% and it was a pretty easy decision to do back then.

But if you fast forward it to now the company is worth, I don’t know, 35 billion US dollars. It’s a significant amount. So that 1% to give away it would be a lot more difficult, especially now that it’s a publicly traded company, you’ve got a whole bunch of regulations and so on like that. And so that’s a model that really worked well for us, worked well for Salesforce and a number of other organizations. And so what we did was we got together with Salesforce and a few other organizations and actually set up a non-profit really in the US whose sole focus is to grow that Pledge 1% model in other startups is to get that model working in startups, early stage companies.

And so far, we’ve got about 10,000 organizations that have taken the pledge, which is amazing. And in Australia, we’re sitting at about, I think about 1300 that have taken the pledge, which is again, it’s reflective of the ecosystem that we have here but again it’s amazing. And what we want to do is see that growing, we want to see people, organizations activating those pledges, acting on those pledges. And for anybody listening, who has a small business with their own, we’d really encourage you to take it. It’s really simple. It’s just a commitment that you make online. You are committing to essentially give away either, and I would say either and or 1% of your equity, your profit, your employee time and, or your products. So it’s either or. A lot of early stage companies start with just employee time, because it is the easiest thing to get started on. So that’s the idea behind Pledge 1%. 

Renee:
Thank you for sharing that. It sounds like a simple thing to wrap your head around and something that you can apply, as you say, from day one regardless of business size. So you have an incredible experience and background in managing two very iconic Australia foundations. So you’ve talked a little bit about Atlassian Foundation, but you also managed Qantas foundation previously. And in both those roles, you’re responsible for leveraging business resources for the betterment of society. Just some of those things you’re just referring to. So I know there must be some of our listeners out there that are very keen to get some tips or some learnings from you in terms of the experience that you’ve had. And particularly I’m thinking of those people that, maybe aspiring foundation managers or looking to take a leading role in foundation type work. So what tips or learnings could you share with them? 

Jono:
Sure. Yeah, it’s a question that I get asked a lot and I’ve narrowed it down to a few things that I would really say. The first thing is don’t or at least initially don’t do any formal study in the process. So a lot of the questions I get asked is Oh, look, I’m thinking of going and studying this qualification and impact work at this university and devoting two, three years of my life to do that. I would say don’t do that initially, because what we’re finding is the people that are coming out of these courses have got fantastic theoretical knowledge, but very little experience in applying that in the workforce in the real world. So my advice is get in and just volunteer, volunteer in the organization that you’re working in. And a lot of people that I do talk to people in corporates that want to move into these sorts of roles within their corporate.

So my advice is first volunteer your way in. Get in there, get to know the foundation of the CSR department, learn about it, get stuck in. There’s always opportunities to be involved. And then as you start developing, and as you start entering that space, then probably look at some formal study in that space. But really first thing is you want to really, really understand the organization. I would also say focus on the transferable skills that you have rather than the actual qualification. So much of what we do and the peers in the space don’t wake up and go, we’re going to be a foundation manager. We usually come at it from different backgrounds. I’ve come at it from a public service/HR/project management/type roles. And it’s those skills that you develop in those roles that you can transfer.

And to give you an example, I’ve just hired three people in the last year and a bit into the foundation Atlassian. And none of them had foundation specific experience, never studied this formally, but they had amazing transferable skills that we needed. So for example, about three months ago, hired a guy that used to work with us at Atlassian, a software developer but had an amazing video and comms skills. And that was something that we needed. And now he’s our comms person developing to be a foundation manager sort of thing. So the second thing I’d say is focus on transferable skills and really work on those. And the final thing I would say is network like crazy. Australia is really, really small in this space. We’re not as advanced as the US and Europe are in the CSR and foundation space.

So there’s very few opportunities that come up like this. And so a lot of opportunities that do come up usually happen within sort of informal networks. So my advice is use the channels that are available like LinkedIn, and so on like that, and reach out to organizations that you admire. I think that’s really important. You do target organizations that you admire and then reach out to the foundation managers there, the CSR people there to connect for coffee and just pick their brains and do it in a genuine way, not to get a job out of it, but to really learn and to understand the organization. 

Renee:
And on the flip side for the organizations who are considering setting up their own foundation, you’ve mentioned 1% Pledge. Is there any other tips or advice you’d be giving to organizations looking to do something similar? 

Jono:
Absolutely. The first thing that you want to consider when you’re setting up a foundation is don’t. And I say that, don’t, it’s because a lot of people are almost enamoured with this idea of actually having a foundation and doing some good out of it, but really the structure tends to be quite restrictive depending on what you are trying to do. So the first thing I would really advise is knowing what you are passionate about, knowing the why behind what you’re trying to do. If you can figure that out as an individual or as an organization, then the structure follows. And we see it through Pledge 1%, there’s very few that we see going down that line of setting up private foundations. Generally private foundations are really, really good if you’ve got a sizeable corpus that you’re going to be, I guess, stewarding.

But generally when you’re starting out, I would recommend just figuring  out what you want to do. Classic example, we have people that follow their passion and generally do a lot of their giving, a lot of their volunteering through organizations that they support. And they find that a lot easier than actually going down the route of setting up foundations, which is really expensive setting up to managing to maintaining and so on. It takes a lot of money to do that.   

Renee:
As your own giving back, you provide pro bono coaching to the non-for-profit sector yourself. Could you share how this works for you and a couple of examples of work that you do in that space? 

Jono:
Sure. Yep. So generally the coaching that I do for the sector that comes out of my volunteering. So we get five days a year to volunteer. And essentially for me, where I feel I could add the biggest value with my skillset is around coaching in the sector. And there’s a couple of areas that I focus on. First, as we mentioned, is just people trying to break into the sector. And I shared a little bit about that and some of the advice and some of the work I do there, but then secondly, it is with non-profits and non-profits who are learning or starting out and wanting advice, thinking through how they approach organizations, corporates for funding and so on like that. So we do a lot of work around that and not necessarily telling them what to do, but more about getting them to think through their ask, getting them to think through their strategies and so on like that.

There is a bit of work that I do around mentoring young kids in the space. Again, these are young kids just trying to find their purpose in life, trying to find the next steps. And actually it’s not even just young people, it’s everybody at every stage in life. And there’s a lot of people in their twilight of their careers that are done the deed in corporate Australia or have made their mark in their career and now want to move into something a bit more meaningful. And those are some of the most fulfilling conversations that I do have because I ended up walking away learning a lot more about my career journey as you help other people through theirs. 

Renee:
And what types of coaching do you do? There’s that pro bono coaching in the not-for-profit sector, but I’m sure there’s other ways that you’re coaching at this present time. 

Jono:
So one of the main reasons I got involved with IECL was to develop my coaching within Atlassian. There’s actually two reasons, one was I wanted to develop my coaching skills within Atlassian. And secondly, I wanted to take all this coaching that I was doing and then formalize it in some way and what better way to do it than actually have some qualification around it. And so to answer your question, I’m doing a lot more within the company itself. So I have a small team of six people that I manage. And a lot of the conversations is now coaching conversations as opposed to something that is a lot more directive. And that’s great because you start to see people take ownership of the solutions and ownership of their own journey and their own projects that they’re working on, their own tasks and so on like that. And rather than relying on me to tell them what to do.

But also within Atlassian, broader than my team, Atlassian, it’s a really interesting place at the moment. We are growing incredibly fast. There’s a lot of technical people who are amazing at their craft, but being moved into team lead type roles. And without actually much formal training or anything in that, which, when you’re moving so fast you don’t get that opportunity. So to actually have people like coaches to come alongside them and talk them through their management styles and their career journey and then how they get the best out of their team is, I find again, really fulfilling and that’s something that’s happening a lot off. And I think there’s a lot of value in coaching and Atlassian’s been trained in that coaching technique to get out of. So that’s kind of my main ways I’m doing it internally within Atlassian.

There was one other thing actually, if I can add, there’s a lot of ask around and it’s not just Atlassian. And I’m seeing that around corporate Australia, around employees finding their purpose. And I say a typical conversation goes like this with an employee or someone within the sector is, “I love my job, I love my team, I love what we’re doing, I love what we’re achieving, but I still have a sense or a lack of purpose in my life. And can you help me get a job at a non-profit? Because I think if I work at a non-profit and I’m doing some social good there I’ll have that sense of purpose.”

And really what happens in these coaching conversations is as we explore it further, the individual then starts to realize, Hey, actually, I can find that fulfilment in my role. I can find it in the tasks that I’m doing. It’s just that flip in terms of their focus, in terms of how they perceive what social impact really is and their role. And that’s been exciting seeing that happening within the company, seeing that happening outside the company. 

Renee:
Can I go back to something you mentioned a moment ago and explore it a little bit further. You were talking about what sounded very much to me like a coaching approach to leading. And when you’re talking about that transition that someone’s making into leading a team for the first time and a coach’s role in siting alongside them to help them step into that. But doing that in the context of fast pace and high growth, it reminds me of something that I watched recently, which was the previous CEO of LinkedIn talking about, at that time of high growth, you have to change style. You have to change tactics, there’s literally no time to be with everybody all of the time and providing direction, guidance training. So you must take a different approach. And I’d love to explore that a little further with you in terms of how you see that coaching approach to say, leading a team, enabling organizations like Atlassian to grow and to do that fast. 

Jono:
I think there’s two things that really stand out. I think the first one is, you’ve got to know that when you hire you’re hiring the right people that have the potential to execute. That’s actually get shit done really, really fast. That’s the first one. Secondly, I think it’s really important to have trust in the people that you hire, that when you do give them the task ahead, that they can execute on it. And when you’ve got those two things going for you, your role as a coach just becomes that much faster, much, much easier. So your conversation is really around, okay, look, what are we going to focus on today? What’s your concerns? And then that becomes a conversation. So the person that you’re coaching then actually brings the agenda to you and it becomes a more of a process around self discovery.  And that could happen very fast. It’s one of the things I learned, one of the memorable thing I learned when I did the IECL coach is how to coach on the run, how to coach on the fly sort of thing.

And so much of these conversations just happen while you’re at the water cooler or when you’re on a quick VC. And it’s just really about asking the right questions. As soon as you can ask the right questions, you can just see the light bulb happening, but you can’t do that. If you haven’t got the trust built with that person. And if you don’t hire the right people into the role, and that’s just something that we see in these fast-growing companies happening a lot. There’s so much effort put into hiring the right people like Atlassian interviews. Most people go through about six to eight interviews before they get the role. It’s a lot of hoops to jump, but it’s to ensure that we get the right people. And it’s also ensure that the people that we get actually want to come and work with us. We put a lot of effort into that. And then secondly, we put a lot of effort into building trust in the teams that we do. And I think those are two real foundational things. 

Renee:
You’ve mentioned a couple of times, your IECL coach training, and you are part of the IECL alumni. What drew you to coach training in the first place?

Jono:
Yeah, I think I mentioned if before. I think two things, I generally had a need to adopt a better way of leading my team, the six people. That was beyond being directive. That was the first real goal. Secondly, I’d really wanted to formalize a lot of what I do in an informal capacity within Atlassian or outside of the sector. And so to have some qualifications, some methodology, really helped. And it really gave me something to hook it on to. And then also just having a community around me that is supportive, that is encouraging, that is almost in the same boat really helps. And I think they’re the main things that really did. And actually you guys being based in my building having to jump in a lift and go down a few floors really, really helped. 

Renee:
It’s handy. What research did you do beforehand to determine whether IECL was the right place, there was a few options out there and aside from us being in the right building. 

Jono:
That played a small part. Look, to be honest, not much, but a lot of what I got was the alumni people that I was talking to had done the level one, the level two, and they were the best advocates, I think, IECL actually had, it’s like, Jono you’re doing this already at Atlassian, you’re doing this externally, go get certified, go get some formal structure into it. To be honest, I didn’t really look anywhere, I just listened to some of the people that crossed my part that were recommending me to do it. And just that word of mouth was probably stronger, that recommendation through alumni was lot stronger than anything else that I really saw. 

Renee:
And you’ve, as you said, undertaken your coach training and you’re applying it in a range of ways. How would you now describe your coaching style? What’s it evolved to at this point? 

Jono:
I honestly don’t know that I have a style. I don’t. I generally do think I tend to be quiet, I’ve learned to listen more. And that’s something that my wife is really appreciative of, but people just really generally appreciate it, that you can actually sit and listen. And so that’s something that I’ve learnt a lot, that I’ve practice a lot to do. I’m being less and less directive. And I’m stunned to realize sometimes, actually most of the time people have it within themselves to actually find the solution and actually run with it themselves. And it’s just asking the right questions at the right time is what makes the difference. So look, I don’t have a style, I think the style sometimes needs to change with individuals. But, no, generally I don’t have one. 

Renee:
And what about us we look forward the future, what are you aspiring to do in particularly in relation to your coaching? How are you seeing that you might be coaching in the future? Is it any different? 

Jono:
Yes and no. I’d like to do more in the sector. I really would like to see a lot more people moving into this space. I really would like, especially Pledge 1%, I’d love to see a lot more organizations moving into the giving back space. There’s opportunities there, within Atlassian as well within our team we’re exploring this concept of self-directed volunteering. And this is where teams come together. They form together around a social cause around an area that’s really passionate. And then they go out and they do something in that space, usually around high school volunteering. And I think there’s opportunities there for people in the coaching space to really come alongside them and actually provide the support and almost ask the right questions, sort of thing, to get them going. So I think that’s probably something that’s got me really excited about 2020. How can we grow? Self-directed social impact within Atlassian. It would be awesome to see that happening within the broader community as well. 

Renee:
What do you see your role is in that? Would you like to be working with one of the teams or a few of the teams, or do you see yourself more as the coordinator of the efforts? 

Jono:
Look, when you work at Atlassian, the first thing you learn is whatever you do, it’s got to scale. And so the challenge that we have here is how do you take something that is so personal and so almost a one-on-one interaction and how do you scale that. Which might involve a technology component or something to it. And that’s where I’d really like to play and be involved in and explore. How can this go beyond just Jono or beyond the few people that are coaching at Atlassian, how can it scale and how can people be self-empowered to ask those questions themselves so they can get better performance. 

Renee:
Probably in the right place to find a technology part of the solution. 

Jono:
Probably. 

Renee:
When I was doing the research and preparing for our conversation today, I was reading, which anybody could, on your LinkedIn profile that said that the two things that get you really excited in life and we’re getting a sense of that in terms of the stories you’re sharing and the experience you have. We’ve explored a bit today, but the first being able to make positive change in your community and the second being able to lead and motivate and empower others to do the same. So I’m curious with everything that’s going on, if we even just think locally for a moment, Australia’s experienced drought and fire and rain and everything else, things coming our way, Coronavirus and so forth in the region. What advice would you give to others about making positive change happen in their community? And considering that, particularly in times like this, where people want to give back, they want to do more, they want to be part of solutions and be active. How do they become more active or how do they make choices around that? 

Jono:
It’s nothing like the last couple of months to really highlight that internally. When the bush fires hit, we had so many people putting their hands up and not just within Australia, our team members in some of the remotest part of the world saying Jono what can we do? How can we fly in and go and help? People just generally want to do stuff because they feel compelled, they feel the pain. My advice is start where you’re at. What’s in your hand and what can you do with what’s in your hand? And for some people that might be as simple as, look, I don’t have much time, I’ve got money, I can give money. That’s the thing that they could do. Other people it’s like, okay, I don’t have money, but I’ve got the time and I’ve got these skillsets. That’s where I can sort of help.

So I would really start by saying, look, let’s look at what’s in your hand, let’s look at what the needs are out there. There’s an element also of just being realistic. There’s some things you feel the pain but you can’t always do things. So acknowledge that and believe that, sometimes you just can’t do it, but there are people out there that can, there are in better positions to do that and look at how can you support those. And a really crude example is I see a lot of people wanting to set up their own private foundations and things like that to start doing things in the community.

Well, we’ve got 600,000 non-profits in Australia. Do we need another non-profit to do that? Look, is there someone that you could really get behind and champion and offer your skills and money to do that? So that’s where I would encourage people to start. I would encourage people to look beyond the emotion because emotions will come and they will die down. And it’s after the emotion dies down, that’s where I really feel a lot of the work really needs to start. 

Renee:
So Jono we’ll come to the end of our conversation now. Thank you so much. I mean, we’ve touched on everything from the All Blacks through to foundation tips in your experience, aspiring foundation managers, also looking at pro bono coaching services and not-for-profits sector. So many things we’ve talked about, but what I’m getting a strong sense of, and I’m sure our listeners are, is in particular how skill coaching capability can contribute and have impact in our communities. I’m sure it’s getting me thinking, it’s getting a lot of our listeners thinking about what they might be doing differently in the future and prompting organizations to think about thing like 1% Pledge and other efforts as well. Thank you. It’s been a fascinating conversation and I’ve really enjoyed having you as our guest today. 

Jono:
Thanks Renee. 

Caitlin Manning
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