Xero is a cloud-based accounting software platform for small businesses with over 3 million subscribers globally. Through Xero, small business owners and their advisors have access to real-time financial data anytime, anywhere and on any device.
Phil Crothers, Learning and Experience Business Partner and his team at Xero faced an enviable problem. In the past decade, Xero saw a fast-paced growth in the company’s revenue and headcount, almost doubling year on year. One of the most prominent challenges they faced was in the way people were interacting every day.
As a software company, Xero hired many engineers and people who were really good at building things. As they became more of a people company, having those EQ skills and being able to grow was a challenge that they saw right across the board.
There was a huge demand for workshops to help people engage with one another and hold tough conversations during the hiring process. “We’ve had our own leadership development course in the past. And we’ve had other little interventions, but we want to look at something a little bit bigger that covered lots of different areas not just the way in which we talk to one another, but the environments that we create for people, the safety we create for people and how we actually go about building high performing teams.” Phil says.
Xero, from the ground up, was built on good culture. As they got bigger, they found it harder and harder to hold on to that culture. That led to the senior leadership team reassessing over the last few years – What is our culture? What do we want it to be? And how can we maintain it and grow and amplify it?
After a bit of needs analysis and investigation of different intervention strategies, it was evident that Crucial Conversations was the best solution to Xero’s challenges as a business.
“There were a couple of reasons why we landed with Conversations or why we pushed for Crucial Conversations. As our option, I felt that the language within the program and the book really aligned with our values. The language within our values, things like assuming best intent and having that challenging conversation, but doing it with respect, like that sort of language really lined up for me. The fact that it took into account safety as well, we’d been on a big journey around psychological safety, so it was more than just one element. But the major thing I really like about Crucial Conversations is it’s not a high-level training. It’s- here’s a problem, here are some skills that will help you address that you can use and practice straight away.” Phil says.
Getting advocacy from the senior leaders to deliver the program at Xero was a walk in the park. Phil mentions that having the right leaders, such as Steve Vamos, the CEO who was really vocal and not only gave the people the permission to invest their work hours into the program but also empowered them by providing the space to commit to it, was significant to the implementation of Crucial Conversations at Xero. Having the Xero Leadership Team (XLT) support to identify the challenges within the company and address them by offering flexibility to its employees went a long way in getting more employees to learn the speak up skills needed to bridge the communication gaps and address tough conversations with safety and confidence that Xero faced. Not only did they encourage employees to get skilled in the speak up skills, but the XLT team were also committed to running through the program and learning the skills themselves, so they could speak the same language.
After a successful pilot program in 2021 with the Senior XLT and great feedback from all the course participants, Crucial Conversations was rolled out company-wide in full swing. Phil says, “We’re running over three days to three and a half four hours over three days, which in our working world, that’s a huge time commitment. And most people would generally if we put an offering out like that, we did have a bit of this push back in the beginning when people said it’s too long. We can’t do that. And so our senior leaders said -” Look, we’re going to give you the space. We’re not just going to give you permission. We’re going to enable you by creating the space you need to work around to do this.” And now the feedback we’re getting is – can we have longer? Can we have more time?”
Since the pilot program, Xero had to put little to no effort into advertising Crucial Conversations Course with their employees. People were signing up within seconds, which is unheard of at Xero.
“We’ve had to employ no sneaky techniques or anything. Not that we do anyway, but there’s been very little push from us to keep the momentum going. People are reaching out to me on a regular basis. I couldn’t count how many I got a day. When’s the next training? And when can I get involved? When can I get it? We’re at a point now where whole teams and Tech teams are reaching out- 20 and 30 people at a time. When can we run a session?” says Phil Crothers.
So far, more than 680 of Xero’s 5000 employees have gone through the Crucial Conversations training within two years. Of the company’s ten certified trainers, most are from the Xero Leadership Team.
After every training, Xero uses the Net Promoter Score (NPS) metric to measure the success of the training. When asked to rate their overall learning experience, Xero employees gave Crucial Conversations an NPS of 78. Phil says, “We’ve had close to 700 Xeros go through, and at last check, the rating is still at 78, which is world-class. We average around 30 or 40 for internal courses. So, 78, as far as an intervention or learning that we’ve bought is sustained over that period of time – is absolutely unheard of.”
Since its global implementation, Crucial Conversations has had a significant impact on the well-being of the employees at Xero. Crucial Conversations has provided the people at Xero with a common language and framework to engage with people from different age groups, stages of life and cultures. It has built a culture where people support each other and use the skills to prompt them to reflect on what they really want and what are the stories that are holding them back? With the right skills now in their toolkit, they are able to take control of their conversations and feel more equipped to step into challenges rather than being told how to have those conversations.
“We’ve had people that have gained promotions and areas where they thought there was one particular person that actually thought his manager disliked, and that was that relationship was holding them back from him, being promoted. That was one of the stories he told himself was able to have a conversation literally two within the space of a week, and he managed to get the promotion that he wanted and clear up some of those stories that were in his head.”
When asked if he would recommend the course to others, Phil says, “Absolute no-brainer. If you’re if you work with people, which is everybody because 100% of your business is people, 100% of your clients are people. So, if you want to create high performing teams, you need to build trust, and they need to be able to communicate with one another. From my experience in the programs that I’ve seen, Crucial Conversations does that in spades. It gets to the heart of what’s really holding people back and gives some simple solutions that they can use straight away to implement and have an impact and perform, so I can’t recommend it enough.”
• Overall Net Promoter Score maintained at 78 for the Crucial Conversations course.
• Improvement in employee’s overall mental and physical well-being
• Improvement in the ability to hold tough conversations candidly and respectfully
• Improvement in creating psychological safety while holding crucial conversations. Learn more about the Crucial Conversations Program