Interview with Ryan Ghisi, GM, Global People Programs, Xero

We recently had the privilege of speaking with Ryan Ghisi, Xero’s GM of Global People Programs about Xero’s Flexible Working journey.  Ryan has been on a Global roadshow speaking the Word of Flexibility.  His key message? 

“It’s not a benefit anymore.  You’re simply at a competitive disadvantage if you’re not offering Flexibility to your people.”

In fact, Flexibility is now one of the top reasons people choose to join a company, and it’s now something employees elect over being given a pay rise, with a quarter of respondents of a survey of over 2000 employees in the UK stating that no increase in salary would make them give up flexibility at work, and 36% of people stating that they would need a 31% salary increase to forgo their flexibility.


The Silent Enabler

For Xero, their rapid growth over their 12 year history from 1 to 24 offices, 25 to 2,500 ‘Xeros’ (employees), 200 subscribers to over 1.8 million and their expansion across over 180 countries around the globe, has meant that Flexibility became part of the employee experience organically, almost out of necessity and because of its perfect complement to Xero’s growth strategy.  It’s for this reason Ryan calls it Xero’s ‘Silent Enabler’, where Flexibility at Xero has evolved into an embedded part of the culture, with undisputed, measurable win-win benefits for both Xero and ‘Xeros’ alike, including increased productivity, efficiency, workplace agility, employee satisfaction and engagement, increased wellbeing and balance, reduced stress and a stronger sense of belonging.  The list goes on.


Leading Flexibility

Ryan ‘walks the talk’ with his team of six Millennials, proudly referring to it as the “Poster Team” of Flexible Working at Xero.  Now spread throughout Auckland, Wellington, Toronto, and most recently, also London, Ryan not only works flexibly himself, working from home when needed and fitting his start and finish times in around his other commitments, but he has also supported a couple of his team members’ decisions to work abroad.  Wondering the key to how Ryan has the trust and confidence to successfully manage such a Globally dispersed team?  He says he can be supportive because the individuals in his team are high performers; they know what the outputs are, they ask for guidance when they need it and they deliver.


Structured Flexibility…?

So how does Xero ‘structure’ flexibility?  It sounds like a contradictory concept, however the more we speak to different businesses about how they ‘do’ flexible working, the more we realise that the more structured the approach, the bigger the benefits and impact of flexible working.  And Xero is no different.

There are Four Pillars to Flexible Ways of Working at Xero:

  • When – Xero supports casual arrangements for flexi-time and time in lieu, so Managers can work with their individual team members on when the work gets done. This is reliant on managers being able to measure and manage performance by outcome. 
  • Where – Xero’s offices enable activity-based working by design, so employees can easily transition through various work areas within the office – from quiet zones, for deeper thought and uninterrupted focus, through to traditional desks and meeting spaces. With ‘collaboration and communities’ underpinning Xero’s strategic priorities as a guide, there is support for casual working from home arrangements on an ad-hoc or frequent basis.
  • How – In the true spirit of being a “platform business”, Xero is fully cloud-based and technology is fully embraced and adopted at Xero, in order to maximise communication and collaboration with employees across the world without having to travel.

Xero’s technology really enables me to work anywhere, anytime, on any device, reducing the need to be in the office for set hours to achieve my priorities,” says Ryan.

  • What – Arguably the most progressive ‘pillar’ of Flexibility at Xero, is the strategic move to provide people with flexibility in what work they do. Xero have asked:  how can we provide ‘gig’ opportunities to our people who want them, whilst retaining them and providing them with the security of a permanent job?  It is with this intent in mind that promotions, side steps, training, growth and cross-functional project teams are encouraged and heavily invested in.


Taking a “One-Size-Fits-One” Approach

Whilst the ‘Four Pillars’ bring structure to flexibility, this simply provides the framework for People Leaders to be able to adapt flexible ways of working completely to individuals.

Ryan sums it up by saying that, “Overall, it’s about recognising that each employee has different styles and preferences, has different personal circumstances and that organisations need to adopt a one-size-fits-one approach.”


Future Focus for Flexibility

As with anything culture-related, an ongoing, iterative approach is needed.  Xero will continue to ensure that flexibility is measured via pulse-checks rather than annual surveys and to offer management and leadership courses to support flexible working. 

Having already moved away from the ‘annual performance review’, the focus will continue to be on ensuring leaders have day to day, one on one discussions with their people, so that issues, roadblocks and challenges are addressed as they arise, and so that leaders have confidence in what their people are delivering, enabling growth and flexibility. 

Ryan says that there is work yet to be done on how Xero might leverage their Flexible Working Culture to develop their employer brand as they work to bring it in line with Xero’s great product brand.

To hear Ryan speak about Flexible Working at Xero LIVE, come along to our free event on Tuesday 10th September – spaces are limited, so be quick to secure your ticket here.


About Xero

Founded in 2006 in New Zealand, Xero is one of the fastest growing software as a service companies globally. Xero leads the New Zealand, Australian, and United Kingdom cloud accounting markets, employing a world-class team of more than 2,500 people.  Forbes identified Xero as the World’s Most Innovative Growth Company in 2014 and 2015.