From XU Magazine, 
Issue 24

Leadership development critical as remote working becomes the norm

With a business name like the Centre for Leadership Advantage (CLA) it’s no wonder that this organisation has been inundated since we were all hit by a global pandemic.
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As business leaders and people managers struggle to keep up with the wellbeing needs of their teams, together with the challenges of homeschooling, the lack of human interaction, and the move to a home office environment; building leadership skills in your team has never been more important.

We caught up with Celeste Coyne who is the Operations Manager at the award winning AFR Fast Starter Top 100, CLA. She’s been involved since day zero and has played a major role in the growth of the company, watching it go from strength to strength over the last four years. Celeste supports a team of 10 consultants including organisational psychologists providing psychological products and services for leadership.

Reimagining the business

About 12 months ago CLA embarked on a business process transformation and spent a lot of energy looking at how they wanted to run CLA. After rapidly growing  organically,  the time came to refine their structure and create some clear operational guidelines for their business in order to keep scaling. In addition, the impacts of COVID-19 meant CLA needed to offer consulting services remotely and flexibly, including from home.

Given the diversity of the team, offering an environment that recognised the benefits of flexible ways of working was (and still is) a real attraction. CLA strives to be agile, to be able to adapt to this ever-changing landscape and to be an “employer of choice”.

“The decision to implement a really sound work from home policy that valued autonomy and trust, made the move to the new normal incredibly smooth,” says Celeste.

Adapting with speed to the challenges of COVID-19

By implementing cloud apps like WorkflowMax/Xero and investing the time early on to set the team up for success when working remotely, CLA were able to adapt quickly to the rapid changes brought on by the pandemic. With everyone flourishing in their home office environments by being supported by the right tech stack, the key focus was on  shifting gears and approaching collaboration a little differently. “We’ve become masters of Zoom and Hangouts, daily check-ins and touching base. We’re totally virtual - 100 percent,” says Celeste.

“We made a concerted effort to keep a lot of our normal team touch points going but just doing them virtually.”  

For example, CLA’s normal wine time on a Friday afternoon at four o’clock - still happens, just now over Zoom. In the beginning there were some strict guidelines at these sessions; no talking about the virus; no talk of politics and no work talk. They were really aiming to keep the social side of work alive because it’s such an ingrained part of their culture.

“It’s very, very easy when you’re not seeing someone day to day or nine-to-five to be able to tell if they’ve checked out, or if there’s something on their plate that they’re not processing well or they can’t deal with. Over-communicating is key,” says Celeste.

Cloud apps make remote working easy

Whilst CLA have always leveraged cloud-based platforms since its inception, as the business grew, they saw a clear need to implement more rigorous project tracking and management processes. When CLA made the decision to become a cloud business they reached out and sought advice from an expert. Being Melbourne based, they found BlueRock Digital who specialise in change management, digital transformation and regularly implement job and project management solutions like WorkflowMax.

“The team at BlueRock were incredibly helpful. We ran a discovery session and mapped out all our processes and procedures and they taught me how to use the software and set everything up. Now there’s nothing we don’t know about WorkflowMax! The whole team uses it everyday,” says Celeste.

“Being cloud-based, WorkflowMax and Xero have been integral to rolling out a productive remote work environment.”

CLA are connected seamlessly and able to keep their finger on the pulse, no matter where all their teams are based. Celeste says, “WorkflowMax has been a huge revelation for our team in the sense of just being aware of the project planning process. It’s been really beneficial, specifically during this time. The Lead manager and reporting features have allowed us to easily see how we’re tracking against milestones, what’s coming up in the pipeline and just how efficient and productive our people are on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. I love that I can log in from anywhere and instantly see the time and progress of all our projects and the actual work that my colleagues are doing in real-time. The software keeps us all connected.”

COVID-19 has created space for fresh ideas

Another really interesting initiative that CLA has rolled out as a result of COVID-19 is their Leader Assist Program, where the business offers pro bono support to key clients to help them through this tough time. This includes 1:1 support by way of brief phone calls to help work through any leadership and engagement challenges their clients are having. This genuinely heartfelt program was dreamt up by the team of psychologists, is based on empathy, and is a way for them to give back to their clients and the broader community.

CLA has done a whole lot of rethinking themselves within the business around their remote offerings for clients, and have recently built out a new leadership series and now offer masterclasses online, which cover key topics and issues that people managers are facing right now. It’s a real value-add in the current environment.

“Some businesses and individuals may not be in the position to schedule or organise a full leadership development program right now but by creating bite size value-added content for leaders that can be consumed within a lunch hour has been very successful.”

Rather than focusing on courses that cover a whole range of topics, CLA will custom design and package training programs to help leaders focus on key areas that need addressing, now.

Another exciting thing CLA have recently embarked on in partnership with Business Chicks in Australia, is the creation of an open program specifically designed for women to build leadership skills, capabilities and connections. The LEAD program is committed to helping women on their leadership journeys.  Xero also has supported  Business Chicks and provides members with a host of informative and inspiring content on everything from tax and cash flow to mental health and wellbeing (and all that lies in between).

CLA has made a concerted effort over the past two years to open up their leadership programs, not necessarily just to organisations, but to individuals that want to develop themselves, to better their understanding of self and create pathways for success.

Thoughtful insights from Australian leaders on the impact of COVID-19

In addition to designing and delivering leadership solutions, CLA is also active in conducting research with industry. In a recent piece of research conducted by the CLA who surveyed leaders and managers across Australia on how they are navigating leading during COVID-19, leaders shared the lessons they have learned during this challenging time.

Leading people remotely. For those needing to suddenly lead teams remotely, this has been a challenging shift. Many leaders described what they felt was their inability to tell if people were really managing under pressure, as they weren’t able to ‘read them’ (observe body language) or check on the team via the informal methods typically used. Some leaders also noted that remote working made it harder for them to be across the detail of what their team were doing, particularly given the fast pace of work during this period.

Dealing with pace and uncertainty. Both for leaders within essential and non-essential services, several respondents described their greatest challenge as having responsibility for making high-stake decisions, very quickly, in a complete absence of certainty. This included needing to keep up to date with very swiftly changing circumstances and information coming to light on a daily (if not more frequent) basis.

“Writing the playbook for something that is unknown. We didn’t know how to set up the right governance structure and controls, how much latitude to give our GMs in running their business units, when to go tight and when to go loose,” – C Suite, Manufacturing.

Balancing competing demands - Leaders also described the need to balance between prioritising business and people needs, responding quickly to rapid shifts in business priorities, protecting short term revenue whilst positioning for long term recovery, along with the challenges of communicating these decisions to their team.

“Needing to hold different mindsets simultaneously. Needing to cut costs and figure out where to grow, have one foot on the brake and one on the accelerator. Especially when everything is very contingent and you are making decisions amongst a very quickly changing environment,” – CEO, Professional Sports.

2020 to date has been incredibly challenging for all of us and building leadership capability in your team has never been more important. If you’d like to read more from the Leading through COVID-19 report you can visit it here.

If you’ve recently made the transition to remote working, or you’re looking to support a remote setup permanently, our free guide (created in partnership with BlueRock Digital and Everperform) provides tips and best practices for professional services businesses looking to improve the way they work remotely – you can access it here (

And, if you’re keen to find out how to become a 100% cloud-based business and keep on top of your productivity, your people and your profit, reach out to us at WorkflowMax and Xero. We’d be happy to help you discover the right tools to help you conquer this new normal.

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