Bringing Design Closer with Gerry Scullion

Bronwyn Van Der Merwe ‘Exploring and Scaling Design Culture internationally at Fjord and now Culture Amp’

John Carter
March 7, 2023
38
 MIN
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Bronwyn Van Der Merwe ‘Exploring and Scaling Design Culture internationally at Fjord and now Culture Amp’

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Episode shownotes

In this episode I caught up with Bronwyn Van Der Merwe, VP of Design at Culture Amp.

We speak about Design Culture and tap into Bronwyn’s absolutely incredible background and personal experience that saw Bronwyn spearhead the evolution of Fjord in APAC regions.

What were the key things that Bronwyn did to ensure the scalability of a design culture at Fjord in Australia, and also when it scaled into Asian regions like Singapore and Japan. How did they balance the local culture in each region and touch on how this was handled as the merger between Fjord and Accenture unfolded, that ultimately saw two cultures merge.

We speak about Bronwyn’s past, tapping into their Commerce background, and how this ultimately provides them with a brilliant lens to peer through when looking at the commercial impact of Design. We chat about the work that they are doing at Culture Amp, and the special culture that is unfolding within the business.

I say this lightly, but this is a must listen to anyone in Design leadership.

Links

Accenture Song: https://www.accenture.com/au-en/about/accenture-song-index

Culture Amp: https://www.cultureamp.com/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bronwynvdm/

Other useful links

Episode Transcript

This transcript was created using the awesome, Descript. It may contain minor errors.
Note: This is an affiliate link, where This is HCD make a small commission if you sign up a Descript account.

[00:00:00] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: A lot of the consultants and sort of strategists, they just wanted a designer to come and join their team. They're like, I've sold in this big piece of work. I've got all these kind of teams running. Give me a designer. And I was always like, no, I'm not gonna do that. I'm always gonna put in a team, right, of designers, and I'm gonna sort of really focus on the way in which we work.

[00:00:21] Gerry Scullion: Hello and welcome to this is eight cd. My name is Jerry Scullin and I'm a designer educator, and the host of this is eight CD based in the wonderful city of Dublin, Ireland. And our goal here is to conversations that inspire and help move the dive forward for organizations to become more human centered in their approach to solve and complex bi business and societal problems.

[00:00:40] Gerry Scullion: For subscribers on our podcast, on the newsletter in. You'll have read that we're getting closer and closer to a massive milestone on the podcast, and that is our millionth download. We're currently in and around 850,000 downloads at the moment. I wanted to give a huge shout out to everyone who has messaged us recently to congratulate us.

[00:00:59] Gerry Scullion: Thank [00:01:00] you so much. One thing you can do is hit the subscribe button wherever you're listening. Folks, it will mean that we can stay in touch and you get notified when a new episode drops. Folks, you are in for a real treat here and in this episode, I caught up with Bronwin Van. VP of Design a Culture Amp.

[00:01:15] Gerry Scullion: We speak about design culture, and tap into Bronwyn's, absolutely incredible background and personal experience that saw Bronwyn spearhead the evolution of Fjord in the APAC regions. Now, what were the key things that Bronwyn did? It ensured the scalability of a design culture at Fjord in Australia, and also when it scaled into the Asian regions like Singapore and Japan.

[00:01:39] Gerry Scullion: How did Bronwyn balance the local culture in each region and touch on how this was handled as the merger between Fjord and Accenture unfolded? That ultimately saw the two cultures merge. Now we speak about Bronwyn's past, tapping into the commerce background and how this ultimately provides them with a brilliant lens to peer through.

[00:01:57] Gerry Scullion: When looking at the commercial impact of design, [00:02:00] we chat about the work that they're doing at Culture Amp and the special culture that is unfolding within the business. I say this lightly, but this is a must listen to for anyone in Design Leadership if you like. What we're doing at this is hcd. Please help us out by leaving review wherever you listen to the podcast.

[00:02:15] Gerry Scullion: It only takes a couple of minutes, or you can go warm better by going to this is hate cd.com. Becoming a patron. You can get an ad free stream in this podcast for as little as one Euro 66 per month. Then you can get a shout out. There's also other plans there. We can get exclusive items, like a really, really beautiful hoodie that's embroidered, it's eco-friendly.

[00:02:32] Gerry Scullion: Literally all the money goes towards editing and hosting and maintaining our website, which is now a repository for human-centered design. Goodness, with nearly 250 episodes. Let's jump in. Branwin, great. Tavi on the show.

[00:02:46] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Thank you Jerry. Lovely to be here.

[00:02:48] Gerry Scullion: Absolutely. I'm, I'm thrilled to Avi on Business A City.

[00:02:51] Gerry Scullion: It's been, you know, you've been on my, I've a, I've a, I have a traveler board that, um, has been going since day one and you've been in the [00:03:00] left channel for. Day one. So, um, you're at the very start of saying someone, you know from way back when you were at Fjord, um, at that time when we launched. This is cd.

[00:03:12] Gerry Scullion: So I'm delighted to finally have you on the show, but for our listeners who maybe aren't aware of, um, the privilege I have of speaking to you for the next 40 minutes, maybe start off, talk a little bit about yourself and where you're from and what you.

[00:03:27] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Sure. So I, um, am currently the VP of Design at CultureAmp, which is an Australian tech scale up that does HR software.

[00:03:35] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Um, but I've been in design for the last 20 years or so in, uh, various design leadership positions. I, um, sort of cut my teeth at the BBC in the uk. I spent 15 years there, um, and then, um, moved back to Australia and, and was at a company called Massive Interactive. A couple of years before going to Fjord and, and, um, uh, setting up Fjord in Australia and scaling across Asia.[00:04:00]

[00:04:00] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Um, and yes, been at for about nine months. But yeah, I'm a South African who grew up in Australia, then spent a lot of time in, in, uh, the uk, uk. And now, yeah. Have just returned back, like in the last sort of 10 years or so, back to Sydney.

[00:04:16] Gerry Scullion: So you're South African, but you moved to Australia at the age of five, and then you moved to the uk, um, in your twenties.

[00:04:23] Gerry Scullion: What power does that give you as a leader when you've got all these different backgrounds, um, kind of leading into, you know, who you are, like how, how does that shape you as a leader?

[00:04:34] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Well if one of the additional things that also happened to me, my, my childhood is I actually moved around a lot within, um, within Australia.

[00:04:43] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: So I went to seven different schools, um mm-hmm. in both primary and high school. So I think what that ha that and moving around, you know, multiple sort of cities and countries, it's, you sort of learn to be very adapt. Um, and flexible and I think you learn to, um, how [00:05:00] to understand certain sort of contexts and cultures and sort of what you need to do to, to sort of fit in.

[00:05:07] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Um, and, and, um, you know, thinking about school survive , you know? Yeah. Um, so yeah, I think you definitely, uh, yeah. . And I think it's also given me a love of variety. Like I do like to, um, to have new situations and new contexts, and I need to f kind of feel as though I'm moving forward or I'm growing or I'm sort of in, um, a new situation where there's something sort of unique Yeah.

[00:05:33] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Uh, to get out of it. So I, you know, I, I sort of don't like. Getting stagnant for too long.

[00:05:38] Gerry Scullion: Absolutely. W would, would it be fair to say if we use the word resilience, um, it teaches you a former resilience? Um, as and, but we're both expats, we were chatting about that beforehand. Like, you know, the resilience of being able to upticks and leave and form your own and forge your own path is something else.

[00:05:57] Gerry Scullion: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. There's something really [00:06:00] powerful in, in the expat, um, mindset of being able. Move and start a life and rebuild and go again.

[00:06:08] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Yeah. And make connections. I think, you know, and I think each connection that you have in each, you know, um, new relationship, if they build and build and build and you just get this amazing kind of, um, network across many different sort of cities and locations and then they all disperse.

[00:06:25] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: And so yeah, you sort of end up with this, um, amazing set of, um, connections from across the.

[00:06:30] Gerry Scullion: Mm. Now from our mutual friends. Um, and there's, there's too many to mention. Um, one of the things that I heard way back in 2014 in Sydney at the time, uh, it might have even been before you actually joined Fjord, was, uh, how you were shaping and how you're going to shape design culture.

[00:06:51] Gerry Scullion: Okay? And the people that I. Who I'm friends with both commented on the fact that there was an excellent design culture and they, they [00:07:00] kind of pinpoint Bronwyn. Okay. The name Bronwyn kept on coming up in conversations. We're gonna talk a little bit more around design culture and forging a design culture, what that means.

[00:07:11] Gerry Scullion: So if you imagine way back in 2014, you joined Fjord and the executives are, you know, Bronwyn's gone in. Okay. What's your mission at that point? Um, and how do you sell that into the executives about what you're gonna try and do and why you're trying to do this?

[00:07:30] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: So I was hired into f to set up our Australian business.

[00:07:35] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: So I was like, uh, employee number one. So they had been acquired by Accenture in 2013. Um, and I was joined, joined in 2014 and was the first. Um, new studio outside of the original footprint, which was all based in Europe. So I was hired to basically establish, um, a design capability under the brand named Fjord within Australia.

[00:07:57] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: And, um, yeah, so my, my mission [00:08:00] was really to, um, hire a, a amazing design team and then scale that and it was very much around, um, Building a new business and a new revenue stream based on selling strategic design, service design and product design, uh, sort of services. Um, my ambition, it was one of the things that I did, um, and some of the advice that I got very early on, which really helped me was focus.

[00:08:29] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: So, um, The, someone gave me the analogy of like, it's very easy at a company like, uh, like Accenture, uh, when you, you come in to build a design capability like Fjord where there are all of these different clients to be like a teddy bear where, um, everybody's pulling on an arm and a leg in their head and, you know, all of a sudden the stuffing comes out.

[00:08:47] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: They said, you know, the best thing to do is really just focus and, um, get some runs on the board with one or two clients. And so at that time, um, Telstra was our sort of key client. Yeah. And. I spent a [00:09:00] lot of time saying no, actually to all of these requests that were coming for this very small design capability that I had with the view of letting that design team.

[00:09:10] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Form, build the relationships, start to kind of get some runs on the ground and deliver some really great work. And we were lucky enough to work with Telstra for a couple of years and do multiple projects that created this body of work that was like a set of case studies that really gave us credibility and stories of impact.

[00:09:28] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Um, and by really sort of protecting the team by, by sort of saying no to so much, you know, it really allowed them just to, um, focus on getting those success stories. So that's, .

[00:09:40] Gerry Scullion: Yeah. For anyone who doesn't know Telstra is, uh, one of Australia's major mobile and phone networks. Um, so they're They're probably the biggest one.

[00:09:51] Gerry Scullion: They are the biggest aren't

[00:09:52] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: probably, yeah. Yes, exactly. They're the biggest. Yeah.

[00:09:54] Gerry Scullion: Wasn't sure if Phone or TPG had amalgamated or any of that kinda stuff, but one of the things [00:10:00] said, Focus is a really good, um, as a good word that, and I've heard that repeatedly from, from design leaders, but in terms of the hiring process, building a world class team mm-hmm.

[00:10:11] Gerry Scullion: You can look at the skills, but what are the attributes that you're looking for in terms of a, of a character? Uh, that you're gonna try and hire for. Are you able to look back, I know it's nearly 10 years ago now that it probably is 10 years ago actually. Um, yeah. That you were in that position. So it may not be that fresh of a memory, but if you can remember what you were trying to add to that system.

[00:10:33] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: So I think, um, I always look for curiosity, um, in a designer especially, uh, you know, the kind of work that we're doing was at that stage was very much focused on service design. Um, yeah, so curiosity systems thinking, being able to understand, you know, a big complex domain and boil that complexity down to something really simple.

[00:10:52] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Um, so that you can give that sort of 10,000 foot view of a system to these stakeholders to help them understand sort of what's working and [00:11:00] what's. Um, emotional intelligence for me is always critical. Like, you know, you just don't want the brilliant jerks. Like you need, you need to hire people who are good at, um, at interpersonal relationships who can keep their ego in check, you know, who who come, um, uh, and can engage with people in a, in a really positive and and effective way.

[00:11:23] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: In a sensible way. Yeah, in a sensitive way. Yeah, those are the sort of the, the, the key things. And then creativity, you know, I think that was the core differentiation that we were bringing to Yeah. Um, you know, what was a management consulting firm, which is very sort of, you know, left brain, very sort of, you know, commercial, very strategic, very individualistic, and we were bringing in a team that was very creative.

[00:11:47] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Very, um, uh, very much about holistic thinking, very customer centered, um, and using, um, you know, a completely different approach to get to business outcomes approach. That was [00:12:00] collaborative, that was, you know, design thinking. Of course. So bottom up as opposed to top down, we were going in and we were saying we're not the experts.

[00:12:06] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: But we're gonna be really curious and we're gonna go and do a bunch of research and we're gonna unearth all of these insights. We're gonna talk to all of the frontline staff we're gonna talk to, um, and we're gonna involve them and collaborate with them because we think they know what the answers are.

[00:12:19] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: They know what the problems are, they know what the answers are. So we're gonna, you know, work with all of them to unearth both the problems, but also their ideas. And then we're gonna synthesize all of that and then, We are gonna, you know, provide this strategy to go forward, which was complete opposite of how a lot of consulting works, which is like, you are the expert in the room and you bring your frameworks right?

[00:12:37] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: And you kind of, you come in, you tell them what's, you know, what's wrong. Like we had this completely different approach. Yeah. And a lot of my job talking about culture. Was to try and advocate for that approach and provide this almost like protective membrane over this design team to enable them to do this kind of work and to advocate for this process and to also advocate for the teaming.

[00:12:58] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Because again, [00:13:00] the sort of mental model in, in this particular context, um, of a consultancy was that a lot of the, um, Consultants and, and sort of strategists. They just wanted a designer to come and join their team. They're like, I've sold in this big piece of work. I've got all these kind of, uh, teams running.

[00:13:15] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Give me a designer. And I was always like, no, I'm not gonna do that. You know, I'm, I'm never, I'm always gonna put in a team of designers. Um, and I'm gonna sort of really focus on the way in which we work with like the actual methodology and approach and also the teaming. And so I made actually quite a lot of enemies.

[00:13:31] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: in, in those first days developed a reputation for being really sort of potentially a bit difficult or a bit precious. But for me, you know, I knew that to retain these amazing designers that we'd. Um, hired, we needed to set up the projects correctly. We needed the right teams, we needed the right duration to get to the quality, and we needed the right process, which was very different to sort of the stand process.

[00:13:52] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: So that was sort of part of my job of building that culture, was to provide that protection and the advocacy and the education sort [00:14:00] of out into the wider business.

[00:14:02] Gerry Scullion: Yeah. So a lot of curation is what I'm hearing is, was, was part of your role, like monitoring it and saying No and Yes. Looking for those bits of red tape.

[00:14:12] Gerry Scullion: That Big Brother. The big brother in, in, in the Accenture sense. Mm-hmm. Um, yeah.

[00:14:18] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: And a lot of increasing who to work with.

[00:14:20] Gerry Scullion: The role of the design leader in, in that sense. Mm-hmm. . Um, how did you see it evolve? Cause you, you were at Fjord for quite a while and obviously, you know, your role, you, before you exited, you were general manager of apac, um, so you were looking after a huge, like for anyone who doesn't know how big Australia is, like the client is, must have been pretty extensive at that stage cuz you were getting closer to Accenture coming in and, you know, the brand where it's currently at, at the moment.

[00:14:47] Gerry Scullion: What was your role then as, as the years passed by and, and the team size grew and, you know, the, the sort of differentiation between that membrane that you were talking about started to maybe wear away a little [00:15:00] bit. How, how was that handled from yourself? Cause that must have been quite hard if, you know, I'm looking at the resilience that you, you have and you've displayed throughout your career to see that design culture potentially be challenged from, from something exterior.

[00:15:16] Gerry Scullion: How was that and how did you manage that?

[00:15:19] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: So my role changed, um, To be, rather than on the tools being like a service design director. I then became sort of the, uh, a managing director for the actual business, and my job then became to scale fjord across the regions. And so we scaled across Australian, New Zealand, had about seven or eight studios across Australian New Zealand, and then.

[00:15:38] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: um, I was asked to set up Fjord in Singapore, um, and then take over a team in Hong Kong and eventually, um, set up a team in Tokyo. Yeah, so that was for me, an amazing experience as a leader to, to be able to sort of go into these. Um, Asian cities and understand the market, understand the [00:16:00] capability, understand the education system, and you know, where to find designers, try and find the right clients to set up a cornerstone sort of for that business.

[00:16:07] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Uh, work with the sort of stakeholders in those regions and then launch Fjord in each of those reasons. So, so that was an amazing experience. Yeah. Um, but what I do question,

[00:16:19] Gerry Scullion: sorry, go on.

[00:16:21] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Just to finish off on that, that point about the sort of the culture, what I did find is as we scaled and grew and as we came more integrated into the fabric of Accenture, that membrane, I had to let that go.

[00:16:31] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: You know, I had to actually very consciously. Train the designers to better collaborate with, to better partner with our, um, you know, consulting colleagues. Because more and more the work that we needed to get done and the impact that we wanted to see actually required us having really multi, uh, multidisciplinary teams.

[00:16:50] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: And that brought together the technologists, the strategists, the change, um, uh, sort of managers and all of those kind of other disciplines and to actually get the impact to [00:17:00] change, like services, you know, that we were working on. Yeah. We really needed to partner and collaborate much better. And so over time I had to go on a whole sort of mindset change with the team.

[00:17:10] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Yeah, I'd say so. To encourage, to encourage that.

[00:17:13] Gerry Scullion: So, Over the time, the, the projects probably, you know, grew in size, um mm-hmm. , you know, if you're getting to that level, you're bringing in Accenture or the Beam, if it's, you're gonna be dealing with a lot more people at that point. So, um, but one of the questions that I, I wanted to.

[00:17:30] Gerry Scullion: You're the perfect person to actually answer this question. So the design culture within Sydney and Melbourne, okay. Like are, are one thing. Okay. But when you start moving into other territories, I'm really interested and I'm fascinated. I did my thesis on Japanese design and Tokyo and so in particular.

[00:17:48] Gerry Scullion: Okay. The development of the Walkman. I wanna understand a little bit more around your role because it would've been at that point that the membrane was starting to kind of shimmer is [00:18:00] probably the nice way of saying it. Mm-hmm. and then you were opening up Singapore and Tokyo. Okay. How do you revert back into that original kind of embryonic mindset of setting up a design culture in two, you know, very diverse, um, societal cultures, and how did you manage

[00:18:17] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: that?

[00:18:17] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: A lot of research, um, certainly and, um, sort of trying to immerse myself and, and better understand, um, the culture. A lot of talking to people who were, um, from those cultures. So, you know, obviously the fortunate thing is I'm not setting up, um, Fjord as a standalone thing in, in Tokyo. Yeah. You know, if there's already a very big Accenture business.

[00:18:39] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: In fact, it's one of the largest Accenture businesses in Tokyo, in Tokyo. You are, yeah. You are already going into a very well established business with a, with a big client base. So I had leaders there that I could sort of speak to and talk to and collaborate with on doing this. Okay. But my strategy with both, both places was really to focus on.

[00:18:58] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Finding the [00:19:00] right leaders because I knew that I couldn't be there on the ground day to day, um mm-hmm. , you know, helping to orchestrate things. So the best thing that I could do, the most impactful thing I could do was find the right leaders in those locations, hire them, set them up for success. You know, train them, you know, give them sort of, you know, the, uh, the download, download, everything there, there was about sort of our culture and our dna.

[00:19:23] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: And then the other thing that I did with, with Tokyo in particular, was to. that team with three of the Australian pe Ians, so three designers including Eduardo Krantz Eduard, who, uh, just recently, um, you know, connected us again. Um, so he, by, by transferring those three, um, and they weren't all Australian, you know, one was a, um, sort of American one was.

[00:19:47] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Yes, exactly. German

[00:19:49] Gerry Scullion: from UK .

[00:19:51] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Yeah. And then one is a Malaysian Australian. So very diverse backgrounds for those three that went over. But they helped to bring the cultural dna n a of fjord [00:20:00] and our processes and our methodologies and our language and all of those kind of things. Um, and then we, um, we sort of gathered all the designers that were already part of the, um, The team, and we've sort of brought them under this one umbrella.

[00:20:12] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: And then we started a, a massive sort of hiring spree. You know, there must be a hundred designers in that team now. Um, and so, um, it was very much recognizing that what, um, What we couldn't just do a copy and paste of what works in Australia. Yeah. So it was around a lot of, um, listening and learning, a lot of experimentation, a lot of adjusting styles.

[00:20:33] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: You know, design thinking, um, is a very collaborative place where, um, you know, if you think about in Australia, you know, we'd get all of these different people from across the business, as I said, you know, people from all different levels of an organization together in a workshop to kind of do ideation and things like that.

[00:20:51] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: In Japan, that doesn't work so well because actually, you know, when you get a lot of different people in a room together, the people who are more junior don't necessarily speak up in, [00:21:00] in quite the same way. You know, the person who is more senior, there's hierarchy and, uh, everyone defers to that person.

[00:21:05] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: There's hierarchy and, um, there's less confidence, uh, you know, to sort of share ideas in that kind of forum. So, you know, we had to do things like. Seeding ideas for people to react to as opposed to asking for them to, um, okay. Sort of, uh, come up with ideas on the spot. So we had to adjust our processes and our methodologies and our ways of working to take into consideration.

[00:21:27] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: We do a lot more socializing of ideas before we get to a sort of stakeholder meeting, so we make sure we spoke to everyone individually. So when you go in there, it's just a sort of a rubber stamping. You're not trying to get everybody on board to make that decision then. And I said there was quite a lot of things that we learned along the way in terms of different approaches, um, for

[00:21:46] Gerry Scullion: those different cultures.

[00:21:48] Gerry Scullion: It's exactly what I'm, you know, I was hoping to hear because. Those nuances are hugely, um, hugely powerful in, in those kind of societies, and I was really keen to [00:22:00] hear that perspective. I remember a number of years ago I spoke to her, a fantastic practitioner called Aubrey Blanche. I dunno if you know Aubrey.

[00:22:08] Gerry Scullion: Oh yes. She's at

[00:22:08] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Kramp.

[00:22:10] Gerry Scullion: That run away. Really?

[00:22:12] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: I was going, yeah, she's out. Ed, she's

[00:22:14] Gerry Scullion: amazing. Atlassian. So I, I remember when I was doing work for the RSA in London and I was kind of convener and knew Wales. Ridiculous role. But anyway, um, I went in and I, I wanted to ask Aubrey a few questions around scaling the culture in Atlassian.

[00:22:32] Gerry Scullion: And they had a really interesting perspective about how the locality defines the culture. Um, Within Atlassian. So if you're opening up a sa an office in San Francisco, they look at the, the diversity quotas over there, what's representative, and making sure that the office kind of mirrors the society that it's in.

[00:22:53] Gerry Scullion: I was like, wow, that is a really kind of forward thinking way of scaling culture. So [00:23:00] your culture is effectively reflective of society, societies where you're based. Mm-hmm. , my question to you is Fjord is, is mainly. A Western, uh, organization originally, like it came out of, you know, central Europe if you want.

[00:23:15] Gerry Scullion: Was it originally London? And then London. Yep. London. Yeah. So a lot of the, the behaviors from a cultural perspective are probably quite Western. Um, outside of what you just outlined before, how have that been adapted into the, into the Asian market? Can you.

[00:23:34] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Well, I mean, one of the things that we decided and was very clear from the Japanese leaders of the business was that we wanted to hire Japanese people and Japanese speakers.

[00:23:44] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Yeah. So those three uh, um, designers that we seated from Australia were the only. Uh, people who, um, who, who are not, uh, you know, Japanese. And with those three people it was, you know, we had to make a commitment, but they weren't gonna just [00:24:00] move there for like 12 months. Like they all had to commit that they were in there for the long term.

[00:24:03] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: They were gonna go and learn Japanese and they were sort of committed to, to that journey. So there was, you know, certainly, um, that commitment to hire, um, a Japanese. Uh, team for the Japanese market. Um, and it was, you know, helpful to have some English speaking, um, people because there are, you know, multinationals that they also work with in, in Japan.

[00:24:23] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Absolutely. But, but yeah, teaming and language was, uh, was really critical. Um, yeah.

[00:24:32] Gerry Scullion: I wanna take you back to a, a question that I asked earlier on around, um, hiring for the character and, and the personality, um, and the nuances of what we. Probably define as, as being awesome designers. And I know we, we know many of them, like you just mentioned Eduardo there.

[00:24:49] Gerry Scullion: And I hold Eduardo in the highest regard and especially around emotional intelligence. Yeah, emotional intelligence is one of his things. Um, I know I, I, myself and Eduardo worked together [00:25:00] years ago, probably just before Fjord actually, around 20 13, 20 14, around those years, but. I I wanna ask you a question around your own background, cuz I know you studied commerce and you studied science, and we may have mentioned that on the podcast.

[00:25:17] Gerry Scullion: I'm not sure if that was in the pre-conversation or not, but why is it you think, why is you, um, let me rephrase this question a little bit. So many of the best designers we know aren't design trained, you're one of them. Okay. What benefit do you feel that that gives to designers? You know, what's the role of academia then?

[00:25:40] Gerry Scullion: Design academia specifically if many of the best designers we, we've worked with, And Undesigned trained?

[00:25:47] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Yeah. Well, in my particular instance, uh, case I, um, did a, ended up with a degree in, in commerce, not something I was ever particularly interested in. I sort of just ended up doing that. [00:26:00] Um, and then I learned on the job how to be a designer in a sort of late 1990s in, in London.

[00:26:06] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Um, And back then it was at the first wave of digital. Um, you know, this whole thing of the internet was just brand new, so there wasn't a lot of kind of formal education around it anyway, and everyone was sort of making it up on the spot. And I got most of my training at the b BBC with this amazing set of, of, um, Pioneers who, who's, who's sort of both from a technology and a design perspective.

[00:26:30] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Um, but I think what has happened in my career, like particularly at Fjord, my role morphed very quickly from being a designer to actually a business leader like I was the gm. I ran the p and l, it was a very large business. I had, you know, 350 designers across the ridge. And, you know, it was a, it was a, it was a.

[00:26:47] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: As was a business leadership role. And I think my training in, um, commerce and, you know, my background in, um, you know, not in the craft, but in business, um, has helped [00:27:00] enormously. Yeah. Yes. Yeah, I think, and you know, I think that's sometimes what holds design back from having that seat at the table is that we are very trained in the craft, but sometimes less trained in commercial realities of business or in operations or in strategy or, you know, you know, business strategy.

[00:27:19] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Um, and, um, and that can hold us back. So I think that's where, in my case, it's been certainly very helpful.

[00:27:27] Gerry Scullion: It's funny, I, um, I'm gonna be releasing a podcast with Ben Reason from one of the founders of, of live work. And as we were talking, we could see that Ben's journey from mid nineties, uh, has eventually evolved and where live work going now is kind of reflective of where he was.

[00:27:48] Gerry Scullion: For you personally. It almost seems like you discounted the commerce piece a little bit in your earlier career, but yet, It's, it's really been probably one of the core [00:28:00] skills that helps you be able to flip between the languages. Uh, and I'm doing my pocketbook psychology here as well, but that adaptability that you, you learn as a child seems to have been very powerful, uh, for your growth as a design leader.

[00:28:15] Gerry Scullion: Am I making huge leaps into the unknown here or is that something that you feel you've, you've connected. No,

[00:28:23] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: I think it's, um, it is something that I've sort of vaguely connected, but I think, you know, talking to you about it right now, it's sort of, it's, it's definitely, um, very clear. I think the other, the other thing that I have, I think.

[00:28:38] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Really lent into as an adult, which I think has really helped on my design leadership career is actually psychology. So I, um, I sort of started to see a therapist when I was like in my early thirties, maybe late twenties, uh, in London for various, you know, uh, personal reasons. And that started a journey of sort of [00:29:00] self-discovery through, uh, through sort of, um, you know, weekly.

[00:29:05] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Therapy sessions, which I've now, I've never sort of stopped in some ways. Yeah. Like I, I really love having somebody to talk to outside of myself and my family and my work situation. Who is a professional who's paid to do that. Yeah. Who understands. I love that. And that sort of, that journey, uh, , you know, and I really, that's one of my strong sort of philosophies in life is like to, to seek help to get the help that you need.

[00:29:27] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: And don't assume that you've got all the skills and knowledge, and I do the same in parenting or like how to look after my dog or like how to be a great human being and leader at work. You know, take every opportunity for coaching and, and for mentoring and all of those kind of things. And I think that has really helped.

[00:29:42] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Cause I think one of. , the things about being a great design leader is not only being good at the sort of commercial side of things and having an, you know, good understanding of the craft, but is also that sort of self-awareness and the ability to show up, you know, as an authentic, genuine, caring leader who really connects with people and can, [00:30:00] um, can understand and, and can be cons kind of consistent and yeah, uh, reliable in terms of how I show up, you know, and of course it's an ongoing journey and I'm by no way am I there yet, but I think it's.

[00:30:13] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: you know, quite significant. I think part of, of how I've ended up where I've ended up

[00:30:18] Gerry Scullion: understanding the bruises, the brain and the behaviors is what I've heard. And, um, love that. Yeah, I love that. It's, um, it's a phrase that a lot of design leaders that I've worked with in my career have that ability to self-reflect and really understand their role.

[00:30:37] Gerry Scullion: How they're actually operating. Mm-hmm. . Um, so yeah, it's really refreshing to your design either just call it out straight away. I see a therapist as well, psychologist. Actually I think there's a little bit of a difference, but pretty much the same function. Um, one of the other pieces, brown and, and my brain has gone dead.

[00:30:54] Gerry Scullion: I wonder, maybe it's cuz it's nearly nine o'clock for me and haven't had my dinner. Um, I was gonna ask you [00:31:00] one other. And then I was gonna let you go. Oh yeah, I know what it was. So y you're on a career trajectory at the moment. You're now at CultureAmp. You need to give them a shout out by the way. You need to talk about the work you're doing.

[00:31:16] Gerry Scullion: Um, tell me what you're doing, um, at culture at the moment and also your own personal. What does the next Yeah. Say five years look like for you? Like you've achieved so much and you're still so young, what is it that you, you're hoping to achieve in the next five years?

[00:31:34] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: So, yeah, I, I, I've joined CultureAmp nine months ago.

[00:31:38] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: As I said, I'm the VP of design, so I lead the design capability, CultureAmp, uh, do software that, um, helps organizations to create a better culture. So engagement. Employee development, performance management, and many other things around sort of, um, you know, goal setting and one-on-ones. And so it's, it's very much the reason that I chose to go there [00:32:00] was because I believe very passionately about, you know, people and culture.

[00:32:04] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: And this is a tool that helps organizations have great culture. And I'm very passionate about inclusion, diversity, and like working with people like aub. Blanche that we just spoke about before, um, and creating tools to try and drive equity inequality within, within organizations. Yeah. Um, for me, after working at, um, in a, you know, large, um, you know, Fjord and Accenture and very large organizations with big corporates, I really wanted to try working in a tech scaler.

[00:32:30] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: I kind of felt that that was a really interesting space. Um, Not startup. I felt that was probably too small for my sort of skillset, but helping an organization to scale, um, and um, in that particular space, uh, in, you know, in people and culture was sort of felt really wonderful. Um, what I am charged to do at CultureAmp is really to, first of all, um, Get the business across our, sort of exper our vision for the customer experience.

[00:32:58] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: So create that vision [00:33:00] and get that alignment across the vision of, of business, of what is our, um, sort of user experience, customer experience. Um, it's to create a great design practice. So hire, you know, we're a high growth, um, organization, so a lot of my job, the last, you know, double size of the practice in the last sort of six months.

[00:33:16] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: So a lot of it has been hiring again and finding a really great team, um, having the team feel really engaged and feel. You know, proud of the work that they're doing and having a mini meaningful contribution. Um, and then, um, obviously just improving the product experience in terms of retention and, and usage and adoption.

[00:33:34] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Yeah, so for me it's a really big learning curve to go back into. A product company and to be, you know, creating software. You know, I've been in sort of more of a service design, um, world, although product design is very much a part of that. And if you ever hear anti talking, he'll bang that drum. Um, but yeah, for me that's, that's the learning curve is to get back into the detail of, um, of product [00:34:00] design again.

[00:34:00] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Um, and also think about how I can bring all of my skills and expertise around sort of istic understanding of customer experience into this particular. Yeah, Abely,

[00:34:08] Gerry Scullion: like I remember I was saying beforehand, um, I saw Rod present about Culture Amp years ago, maybe about 2016 in Carriage Works in Sydney, and I was like, That looks like a sensational business to work for.

[00:34:23] Gerry Scullion: It really, um, it comes from a mission, like it comes from, it wasn't just like another startup that was hoping to get investment. It, it, it sounded like it was coming from a deep place from the original founder. Um, In terms of managing that culture. Um, and I know, you know, there's been some movement, uh, rod isn't there, but like in terms of managing that, that original culture and that vision, does that fall into your lap Almost.

[00:34:49] Gerry Scullion: It's, it's not like at Fjord where you, you are able to set a lot of the design culture yourself. You've almost have to continue and hold the reins now for that. Does that change any way [00:35:00] your attack on, on managing the design culture for culture?

[00:35:04] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: I don't think it has. I think, um, when I started, uh, nine months ago, um, One of the things I noticed there was quite a few key kind of pillars of a great design culture that just weren't there.

[00:35:17] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Um, so okay. Being able to sort of go in and work with the existing design, leadership and all of the practice to create those key artifacts around values and purpose and mission to create those strategy. And what are the core initiatives? You know, some of the initiatives around accessibility, customer journey mapping?

[00:35:35] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Um, our design system, Um, our ways of working with product and engineering, like some of these are some of the pillars of the strategy and some of the things that we're working on. Um, doing co-creating that with all of the designers, you know, felt like something that I was very familiar to me and that we sort of did together.

[00:35:51] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Yeah. Um, and then, you know, we're working, we, we use all of our own tools, so engagement surveys and one-on-ones and, you know, performance management. So we use a lot of those [00:36:00] tools to, um, to help us to create a great culture. Awesome. But picking up an existing team, running with, I sort of, I feel as though I'm still bringing the same toolbox and the same kind of um, uh, instruments.

[00:36:14] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Instruments to do it. Yeah. Um, just with a, a new and amazing and fantastic team that I've, uh, inherited and, you know, since also hired quite a lot of people into

[00:36:23] Gerry Scullion: absolutely Bram look, we, we'll throw a link to Culture Amp for anyone internationally who doesn't really. I haven't really heard too much about them, but they're awesome.

[00:36:31] Gerry Scullion: Okay. And give them a, a, a big kinda shout out for people to follow them and, and check them out on LinkedIn as well. If people want to reach out to you yourself. Um, what's the best way for them to do that? How would you prefer to be in contact with, with the listeners?

[00:36:45] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: I think probably the easiest way is through my LinkedIn profile, which is Bran vd.

[00:36:50] Gerry Scullion: Okay. I'll throw a link to that one in the show notes as well. Brahman, I always end the interviews by thanking the guests for their openness and their honesty, showing some vulnerability, talking about some stories, some, some [00:37:00] battle stories there. Some war stories as well. So thank you so much for being so honest, uh, and open as well during the, during the conversation.

[00:37:06] Bronwyn Van Der Merwe: Thanks, Jerry. It's been wonderful to chat to you.

[00:37:12] Gerry Scullion: There you go folks. I hope you enjoyed that episode, and if you enjoyed it and want to listen to more, why not visit? This is hate cd.com where you can learn more about what we are up to and also explore our courses while you're there, thanks again for listening.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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