Surviving lockdown, and reforming for the future

It’s been a tough time for any services business surviving the shockwave impact of lockdown, and the knock-on challenges to winning new projects, encouraging client confidence, and keeping productivity up. At PaperKite, we’ve been no different. Now, after ending our first quarter with financial and employee engagement scores in an encouraging place, I wanted to reflect on how we got here, and what’s next for leadership at PaperKite.

Huddle the entire company on a standup every morning

Thanks to tools like Google Drive, Google Meet, Slack, Jira and Miro, we’ve had a great basis for remote collaboration for some time. But even so, lockdown was a serious test.

And with so much unknown about the way ahead, we chose to connect with the entire company every morning over a video call for 15 minutes. It became a time to lead from the front, emphasise our big priorities, communicate wins throughout the week, and ultimately help everyone connect to a wider mission driven by a supportive and present community of PaperKiters.

Don’t forget your roots my friend – culture is key

Last year, we started to codify our culture, and that included the articulation of our five core values, as well as identifying a core competency where we strive to put people first.

Blair Mainwaring, founder of Ocean Design, taught me that, “you worry that times like these will destroy your culture; in fact, culture is what gets you through”. And he was completely right.

From improvising team breakfasts over hangouts, to remote Friday Sessions with quizzes and talent shows a plenty, to a perpetual watercooler video call to join and blow off steam with workmates, we did good here by rethinking ourselves and adapting for a new normal.

Our champion of culture, Priya Bhana, wrote all about this in her blog, so do have a gander for more.

Like Pri says:

“Culture at PaperKite is about playful people-first experiences that delight”.

And I’m so proud of her for embracing the physical and mental challenges of lockdown to help PK stay true to this, and strive to put our people first.

Hold your clients and partners close

We knew that our clients could feel unsettled by their own abrupt new work practices, cash challenges and economic uncertainty. So, at a time where digital would be key to enabling connection with their customers, it was important that we reassured our clients that we were prepared to support them, and weather this initial storm.

Helping Hell Pizza implement mobile contactless delivery, and ensuring BPMe would enable essential workers to buy fuel without people contact – now was our time to bring our digital strengths to bear.

We even managed to launch a new service offering of Conversational User Experiences, based on Intercom’s chatbot platform. Our partnership with Intercom has opened up whole new ways for us to create better digital experiences, which we put to the test for Rippl customer support, and we’re poised to go live with two new clients that used lockdown time to work on customer-facing projects that enable humanised touch with digital scale.

It’s also been uplifting to work alongside our partners and fellow small Wellington businesses. Warren Sue at WellingtonNZ has been a true ally. And I cannot emphasise enough the value of Stephanie Gray and Samantha Gadd at Humankind – they’ve been trusted sources of wisdom and expertise, helping us get through perhaps our toughest ever organisational challenges as a company. Consider them your first port of call if you’re ever in need.

Martina Saville and Fraser Reeves from Virtual Marketers have also been outstanding in helping us craft better strategies, tactics and messaging for promoting ourselves. I’m particularly proud that together we stood up our IGNITE Design Sprints offering, which helps clients create new ideas and test them with real customers in only four days.

Unite around a purpose to unlock energy

A number of us at PaperKite have family and backgrounds from overseas, and seeing the social impacts of flawed digital solutions to contact tracing around the world started much passionate internal chat. Jonny McKenzie, founder of posBoss, enlightened us to just how big an impact this would be on the hospitality sector. We were compelled to act, and so created Rippl.

But holy moly, I had no idea just how much energy and enthusiasm we’d generate, both in-house and from the market. From buzzy feedback from cafe managers like Elliot Doe at Neo (“so quick and easy”) to the PM mentioning Rippl on the 6 o’clock news, to Dr Ashley Bloomfield saying on national television that he uses Rippl when buying his morning coffee, the activity has been unprecedented.

Uniting everyone at PaperKite around the purpose behind Rippl – from product development to customer service to keeping focus on our mainstay clients too – meant that we turned into a product company overnight. Every ounce of available capacity (and some late nights!) was poured into bringing Rippl to market, to help show NZ and the world that we can be safe and support kiwi businesses while putting privacy first. Thrilled that the Privacy Commissioner agrees, awarding Rippl the Privacy Trust Mark – one of only four in the country.

A massive callout goes to Andrew Millar and Hannah Colenbrander for their stellar work on Rippl social media – “one app to scan them all” is my personal fave. What a formidable team you make.

Lean into hard conversations and tough decisions

It’s been my personal mission for almost six years to help PaperKite reach a state of perpetual success that can flourish, without the need for any one single hero to step up and save the day. And the impact of Covid-19 has pressure tested the company to our extremes, forcing us to review every cost, every aspect of how we operate, and make difficult choices along the way.

Thanks to those efforts, we now have an encouraging pipeline, a tight and unified senior leadership team, a rock solid purpose of better digital experiences, and a world-class degree of employee NPS, underpinned by a supportive people-first culture.

But while we’ve survived this emergency phase, the road ahead will be a longer harder kind of recovery. And in my view this demands an evolution in leadership at PaperKite.

That’s why I’ve decided that now is the time to hang up my Managing Director hat, and move on from PaperKite, to better enable the company to reform itself, and brave the next phase of recovery and growth.

I’m gladly making way for Antony Dixon to become our new full time Chief Executive. With our Founder Nic Gibbens also stepping back from operational duties to govern from the board as Director of the company, it’s an opportune time to reshape ourselves for the path ahead.

And there’s no finer way to toast what’s got us through lockdown than seeing Pri Bhana take on a role in our Senior Leadership Team as Director of People & Culture. An outstanding decision, which complements Antony well, and will hold PaperKite in excellent stead, no doubt.

As our Tech Director Rob Holmes pointed out to me: 

“Tough times don’t last. But tough teams do.”

It’s been a privilege to lead PaperKite through this most recent tough time, and I’m reassured to put it in the hands of Antony and team to watch just how high this kite will fly.

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