Bring on help — Identify people in each area of your business that can own the risk you have identified as a within their unit. Here, this new friend can monitor risks, report on them and crucially…act on them. They could also look outside and talk with partner organizations and third-party vendors to increase the efficiency of that communication, thereby plugging this straight into your risk pipeline.
As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Stevens of 6clicks.
Anthony is Founder and CEO & of 6clicks — a breakthrough risk management, compliance and cyber security software-as-a-service platform.
Anthony is also the author of Chasing Digital: A Playbook for the New Economy, co-founder of several start-ups, and former Partner and Chief Digital Officer at KPMG. Prior to KPMG, Anthony held executive leadership roles for publicly listed and private businesses, including Spotless Group.
Anthony has a Bachelor of Commerce, a Bachelor of Information Systems, and a Masters of Commercial Law from the University of Melbourne. He is also a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (GAICD) and was named Young Executive of the Year in 2011 by AFR BOSS.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Back at university, I did my fair share of tapping beers and working in restaurants etc. But I was keen to get out and work. ComTech at the time offered a graduate internship program over Summer. It ran for 12 weeks and they provided training in Solaris and firewall technology. That was useful, as it helped me understand what the world of tech was in practice.
At the end of that internship, my friends took up jobs with major consultancies like Accenture and Deloitte. That didn’t feel right to me. It was already a well-trodden path. I have always gravitated to the road less travelled; it suits my personality much more.
ComTech ended up asking me to stay on and started paying me. After the first year or so, I shifted out of security engineering and into e-business consulting which was in vogue soon after the dot com bust.
Back then, companies spent outrageous amounts of money, millions of dollars on a simple website. Insane. I enjoyed running the consulting division for a while, then we got into application integration, connecting big enterprise systems together — SAP, Oracle and others, so, back in the app space.
I was in the office one Thursday night, and the CEO came over and said ‘Ant, our profitability is compressed, the CISCO/Microsoft reseller model is on the wrong trajectory. We need to rethink our business model. What do you think?’ I asked for the coming weekend to think about it and that I needed an hour of his time on Monday. I had never worked harder in my life.
ComTech and Dimension Data ran on a tech-based sales model. “Sell the kit, attach services to the kit”. Super basic. The problem was that the vendors were controlling our model as they set the prices and rebates etc.
One thing led to another and soon after my engagement with the CEO, I took over as CIO of Dimension Data at 28, I had a team of 40 people and a 20 million dollar budget. It was a great learning experience.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When we started 6clicks, we spent a whole heap of time thinking through the challenges in the world of compliance, which would send anyone around the bend. By the time we finished, we realised what we had done to ourselves, the amount of whiteboarding we had put ourselves through was hilarious.
In saying that, at first it was useful to understand the sorts of problems we needed to solve in relation to compliance however it was too abstract and theoretical ultimately.
The lesson we learnt was that we had to break down the problem into smaller chunks, execute on those and get the solution out to market for people to use the system and get some feedback.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
At different junctures throughout my career I’ve had people that have helped, provided support and I’ve learnt from. Early on in my career, it was Steve Nola, the former CEO of Dimension Data that gave me a break appointing me as CIO of the Australian business. He shared lots of experience and I’ve used much of that for many years — appreciated.
Later I had some great support from some non-executive directors on the board of Spotless where I was working. My role at Spotless was intense and challenging so getting some external and somewhat removed perspective on what we were doing really helped.
Right now, I am fortunate to have the support of our non-executive directors and major shareholders who I lean on to share
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Totally, agree. Crucially, you need a purpose that your entire organisation believes in. If you do not truly believe it, you may as well pack up and go home. Our “why” is always in line with the “just cause”. As you know, a “just cause” is shared, yet your “why” can be your own.
Our purpose remains the same as it ever was. Contributing our innovation to a new era of a more closely integrated ecosystem of global risk and compliance. Why is that an important purpose? Well, post COVID success will demand that every industry moves faster and uses more data. This new federated and data-driven world presents amazing opportunities, yet it also presents new risks and threats. What about values, ethics and standards? How can the global business community work together to make sure these are baked into the digital systems making decisions for us?
The inefficiencies in traditional risk and compliance practices not only pose an enormous threat for companies, but for the citizens whose information, money and data they are charged with protecting.
We’re on a mission to automate risk, compliance and assurance to better connect people and technology. In every industry. Simple.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
We really started our sales campaign for 6clicks just before COVID-19 lockdowns. In some way the need to work at home was not too much of a challenge as much of our work can be done virtually. Getting people’s attention through the sales process was hard though like it was with many businesses.
Ultimately, we had to focus on what we could control, and not get too stressed on what seemed to be out of reach.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
It is hard to push through at times, but there has never been a moment where we felt like giving up per se. The trick I have found is to look back a couple of months and consider how far you have gone and just keeping up the same cadence will help things move forward at the same rate after then as well.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical role is to help keep things in perspective and present the future opportunity and vision in a way that people feel as though the mission will be useful.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Compassion goes a long way. A sure-fire way to demotivate your team is to stigmatise mistakes and failure to meet KPIs (in archaic businesses, these usually come in the form of arbitrarily decided metrics). If you feel that a team member is in serious performance danger, try starting the conversation with asking them if they are ok, instead of berating them immediately.
Business leaders are cheerleaders. Make sure you celebrate the wins and broadcast them. Yes, there is always much work to be done, but never miss an opportunity to shout about amazing things your team is doing and recognise not just achievement, but effort and dedication.
Engagement is easy, just talk to them! Be honest, share your plans, your vision for their success and the company’s. Vitally, be available. At 6clicks we are unapologetic in our high frequency of communication. If you are open and honest, then terse communication has no negative effect. The individual knows that the entire team has their back and all communication is done with love and respect.
Switched on leaders will notice when good people start going ‘quiet’. If that has already happened in your company and you have not addressed it immediately, I am afraid it is probably already too late.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Honestly, and in person. Do not hide behind impersonal email blasts that are full of the usual rhetoric. Everyone can see you are distancing yourself with this type of language and approach. Have you ever heard of a doctor giving a cancer patient difficult news over a text message?
Have the courage and decency to deliver it in person and be open to discussion and questions.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
When I consider the alternative, we do not really have a choice do we? If we only made business plans when the outcome was completely predictable then there would be no place for innovation, insight, competition or foresight.
Ultimately, you must make a plan. You must play to stay in the game. As a leader, you trust your own judgement and the talent of those in your team and you push forward. There is not much more a leader can do other than make the best decisions they possibly can with the information at hand.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Focus on what has worked and use that success to help focus on the best way forward. In fact, they say that some of the best businesses are started when times are tough.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
The four most common mistakes I’ve seen business make is:
- Letting go of good people too quickly. There are some industries that have benefited from tremendous success during these times and others that have softened say, just 5%. Many of these businesses have let go of 100’s or 1000’s of talented people. Of course, times will be tough for those folk, but the loss of talent will also hurt businesses that will ultimately have to change and scale post COVID. The decision to permanently downside through retrenchment is one I would be very cautious about.
- Shying away from investment — particularly innovation. It is the challenging times that can help focus efforts and set your business up for success in the future. Many great businesses are founded during these times and we have seen the record-breaking success of big tech companies signal the fact that ultimately, innovation wins.
- Planning on the basis of a long-term contraction. No matter how dire things are now — history has shown these periods are only typically a couple of years until the majority of sectors in the economy pick up. And with pent up demand and no doubt a desire for companies to accelerate out of the current times, the best bet is to remain agile.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
In our case, there is a huge amount of opportunity in the market however the deal cycles can be protracted because of a generally low business confidence.
So, we put our money where our mouth is. As you perfectly phrased it, “growth traction” means that in times like this, companies must make themselves more available to potential customers and partners. Which is just fine by us, as it is something that we already hang our hat on.
Show them how much you care and how much their success is a reflection on your chosen sector. Part of a respectful “just cause” for businesses should involve a desire to leave our companies in better shape than they were in when we found them, for the betterment of everyone. If that means you need to spend more time and take more challenging thought experiments with prospects, even developing tailored product solutions for them, then so be it!
And remember, if prospects cannot accommodate you today, do everything you possibly can to ensure they think of you tomorrow.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
Become a storyteller
If you want the board and other execs to stick with you through these turbulent times you must learn to frame the message appropriately. Find demonstrable evidence and stories of other organizations that either fell or flew above the rest depending on their approach to risk. Having the right mindset in relation to risk is key noting the fact that the inverse of risk is strategy and opportunity!
Your main goal here is to find a way to explain to the board that the very definition of your company’s success rests on its ability to identify, assess and consider risk in all aspects of decision making. The key element to this is your skill in acting as a futurist for the company.
Know your tech
With cybersecurity now taking over as the #1 global business risk, risk managers worldwide are racing to stay ahead of the trends. An adversary can shut down your business in seconds. So, a solid understanding of your digital universe is paramount. That means everything internally (people, process, technology) as well as external suppliers and customer touchpoints.
The next tech step is to do your research on SaaS products that can leverage your risk approach manually and integrate with AI to automate risk identification, assessment and mitigation.
Bring on help
Identify people in each area of your business that can own the risk you have identified as a within their unit. Here, this new friend can monitor risks, report on them and crucially…act on them. They could also look outside and talk with partner organizations and third-party vendors to increase the efficiency of that communication, thereby plugging this straight into your risk pipeline.
One eye on the future.
There is no silver bullet for the unknown unknowns, but the right mindset is a damn good place to start
The question is ‘how can we be continuously glancing over the shoulder of our organization’s present moment and feel confident?’ Well, put simply, the frame you put around your attitude to risk and information security largely determines your experience of it.
Subscribe to other knowledgeable sources and set time aside to regularly to research emerging risks.
Keeping a watchful eye on politics, litigation, products and societal changes is a good place to start
Don’t just analyze the insurable risks that could affect your business and then go ahead and purchase insurance, then wipe your hands. Take a look at the organizational risks and find moments to connect your risk management to the company’s strategy as a whole. What can you foresee that will have a direct impact on your boards ability to govern properly?
Spend just a few clams
Sometimes, you got to spend it to make it. In the global economic situation today, sometimes you got to spend it to stay alive.
There are loads of SaaS platforms and cloud tools that could help you get your ducks in a row. Be sure to get yourself one that not only provides a governance, risk and compliance solution, but with innovation and content baked in to ratchet up your capability. This will give you a great platform and a much broader multi-domain approach to risk.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“…surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.” — Winston Churchil. This is often referred to as ‘never give up’ which has pretty much the same sentiment. I shared the same advice with both my children when they were born and try to live this every day.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!