The annual AHRI Awards celebrate those at the top of their game in HR. Four individual winners share thought leadership insights and weigh in on the biggest challenges facing HR. This week’s spotlight: Lynda Gratton CEO Award co-winner Tony Lowings, CEO Australia and New Zealand, KFC Australia (Yum Restaurants).
Q. What leadership strategies do you use to drive world-class best practice?
TL People, culture and process. We’ve introduced strong organisational processes, allowing us to organise our work in a transparent, collaborative and structured manner. We’ve developed an exceptionally strong culture fostering teamwork, honesty and ‘low egocentric’ behaviour, combined with recognition, communication and an environment that allows people to make decisions. We also hire the best people we can and develop them, particularly in leadership capability.
Q. Strong leadership is a must when you’re responsible for sales revenue of just under $2 billion and 30,000 employees across Australia. How do you bring employees along on the journey?
TL People work for people as much as they work for any company. I take a genuine interest in our people, spending time personally coaching people. Our commitment extends beyond the workplace – helping people be their best selves at work and at home.
It’s also essential to recognise that every job is important. We have a phrase: “Don’t look up, don’t look down – look straight ahead.” This means you treat everyone as an equal, and the work each person does is valuable, irrespective of title. I ensure I’m accessible and open in communicating with employees, visiting team members on the ground as they help us make KFC Australia the success it is today.
Q. How has the role of CEO changed in Australia in the past five years?
TL Strategy, business knowledge and commercial acumen are all still important, but the biggest change has been moving from being seen as the charismatic head of a business to being a coach. A leader as coach requires far more nuanced skills around collaboration and culture development, versus task and strategy. I spend more time on driving our culture and empowering people to be their best than on anything else.
Q. What are three challenges facing Australian CEOs in 2015?
1. Making the organisation more relevant to employees and customers. It’s essential that companies give consumers a reason for engagement, beyond the functional benefit of the products or services they offer. People expect organisations to have transparency, ethics and a purpose. At KFC we provide opportunities for young Australians, as well as serving freshly prepared, great-tasting food to our consumers – and we think we do this better than anyone else.
2. Embracing digital. Marketing today is a multifaceted conversation across new channels, requiring significantly higher levels of transparency. We see this as both a challenge and an opportunity.
3. Building a company culture that allows the organisation to continually improve, organically reinforcing its good qualities and shrinking the weaker ones.
Q. How is the digital revolution changing the way CEOs do business? And how much of an impact has it had on your leadership approach?
TL It’s vital for any retail brand like KFC to stay contemporary and flexible – and that’s also required of a leader. When it comes to communication, I blog, I tweet and I now spend more time in front of a camera than ever before. To stay relevant, I need to be immersed in the digital world. I see this as an exciting opportunity, particularly for a dynamic retail brand with a youthful workforce. Internal communication is just as important as communicating to consumers, and we have great initiatives to articulate our purpose and vision, recognise and celebrate success and, importantly, get feedback from the team.
Registration for the AHRI Awards closes Friday 5 June. Submissions are due 2 July. Find out more about how to apply here.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the March 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Star quality’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.