The Redbubble challenge: managing growth

When you move from start-up to listed company on the Australian Securities Exchange in less than 10 years, you’re bound to experience growth pains.

But when you also move to 31st spot in the 2016 Great Places to Work survey from outside the top 100 after sending your managers on a customised leadership program at Melbourne Business School, you know you’re managing growth well.

Growth at Redbubble, an online marketplace for artists, co-founded in 2006 by Melbourne Business School alumnus Martin Hosking (MBA 1993), required turning a bunch of creative individuals into an integrated, global leadership team with a common goal.

Developing leaders

With offices in Melbourne, San Francisco and now Berlin – as well as new shareholders to please and plans to boost sales to $172 million in 2017 from $71 million in 2015 – managing growth at Redbubble is an ongoing challenge.

To help his workforce adapt to change, Martin needed the managers, reporting directly to his senior leadership team, to step up and develop a shared understanding of what it means to lead as a group at his fast-growing, global company.

“We participated in the Great Place to Work survey. Before this program, we were well outside the top 100, and we’re now in the top 31 of organisations in Australia.”

Martin Hosking (MBA 1993), Redbubble CEO and co-founder

Shifting culture

In early 2015, 12 months before listing on the ASX, Martin turned to his alma mater to help create and deliver a customised leadership development program for his ‘extended-level’ managers, one-step down from the top.

This collection of young, motivated and highly talented operational managers were focused on their own patch and scattered across the globe. To get them on the same page and moving in the same direction, they needed to bond and gain the confidence to lead teams – while becoming a team themselves.

Program partners

Martin, and his top leaders and program participants, partnered with Melbourne Business School Executive Education to develop a highly tailored, five-day, residential program that produced a cultural shift in how the organisation worked.

Program development began with a discovery process to identify the tensions, challenges and current thinking within Redbubble. This knowledge was used to create the program and match the learning objectives to the company’s business goals.

Identifying tensions

Pre-program interviews with participants – Redbubble’s operational managers – identified several tensions and paradoxes, common to many fast-growing companies. But rather than eliminate them, they became key program themes to develop participants’ ability to manage effectively.

Individual vs collective: Getting employees to move beyond ‘me first’ thinking to ‘you and me’ and ‘all of us’ attitudes.

Rational vs relational: Rational tensions – strategy, work organisation and processes – appear when people seek direction, clarity over priorities and help to work across boundaries. Relational tensions – the confidence to make decisions, be available and authentic, and share information – occur when people want to build trust and respect, listen, establish shared goals, get involved in decision making and act autonomously.

Accountable vs dependant: Managers want to be responsible and accountable but fear ‘sticking their head out’.

Commercial control vs innovation: The need to drive sales and minimise risk can stifle innovation. Managers get stressed by priorities they don’t understand and targets (set elsewhere) to deliver results, launch products and meet deadlines.

Technical vs adaptive challenges: Technical challenges are often well known and the solutions understood. Adaptive challenges are less obvious. Solving them often requires people changing thinking and practices, or working outside an area of expertise.

Aligning program and business objectives

With the identified tensions and paradoxes now front and centre, the leadership program’s learning objectives were personalised and aligned with Redbubble’s business goals to become:

  • Improve my understanding of leadership, create a shared language, management style and direction, and the capacity to adapt and refine my personal style
  • Increase my understanding of the importance of the strategic direction of the organisation and my role in taking accountability to deliver goals and objectives
  • Build relationships to enable partnerships and cross-functional, global teamwork.



Great place to work

Martin Hosking says his investment in developing the leadership talents of his high-level managers and improving their ability to work together has led to a cultural shift at Redbubble.

“The program had a very significant impact. For that group of people, it’s connected them to Redbubble. It’s given them the skills and language to talk about issues, how they interact with each other, and how they want to lead within the organisation, and that’s really important."

“It was very good for us that we were able to work with Melbourne Business School in a way that was very customised to our specific needs.”

Martin Hosking (MBA 1993), Redbubble CEO and co-founder

 
















Partner with us

For more information on how we can partner with you to develop a customised program that supports your leadership challenge, phone us on 1800 00 66 80, or +61 3 9349 8788 if outside Australia, or email us at programs@mbs.edu.

You can also learn more about the challenges of leading a fast-growing company from Melbourne Business School’s Greg Harbidge, who was the Redbubble program director.