Work agile, work together, work better
Monday, July 11, 2022
Ellis Delahay is Strategy and IT Director at PostNL International and will lead PostNL’s partnership with RightBrains. A young, female professional, Ellis has already made her way to working at a leadership level and shares with us what she has learned so far about the benefits of collaboration, the importance of agile working, and her thoughts on the future of IT.
Knowledge from the network
A self-proclaimed people person, Ellis understands the value of working together and nurturing networks. “My ambition is to create something with people. I like to create together, not by myself; I don’t believe that I am successful solely by myself. I believe in synergies; if I have good ideas, and you have good ideas, then together we can make great ideas.” In practice, this translates to strong and active communication, both internally and externally.
In the partnership with RightBrains, Ellis looks forward to gaining more knowledge about the steps PostNL can take to excel at becoming a front runner in workplace gender equality. “Our IT teams are 30% female already, but at a management level, I am the only woman in a team of 10. We are working on this, but what can we learn from other organisations? What can we learn from other female leaders? I want to get the knowledge out of the network, and more food for thought on how we can excel in the future.”
Across her own organisation, Ellis has already created a large internal network. This means there is a shared understanding of the work to be done, and it allows skills and knowledge to be exchanged in moments of problem-solving. “I’ve worked with all the IT departments across the company. I know many people there, and I understand what they are all doing, so if I need a problem to be solved I think ‘ah, the people from that department can really help here’, or ‘the person in this role can bring something to the table there’.” Ellis likes to pair up with people who are experts in their activity, but who might not enjoy taking the stage so much and uses her strengths in confidence and leadership to complement their knowledge. She also believes that if your strength lies in getting to know people and encouraging the right people to talk to each other about the right ideas, then you can bring great power and connection to the workings of an organisation.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Ellis is also a believer in more flat organisational structures, especially given the fast pace with which the field of IT is changing and growing. With rapid digitalisation, processes come greater expectations of both products and people, and a need to accelerate IT development. To deal with this, Ellis has been a key player in pushing an agile working agenda in her organisation. “Agile working is a means to get your people into effective teams. It’s like transforming your organisation and moving it forward with many little efficient speedboats instead of one big oil tanker that can be difficult to move somewhere. This can sometimes mean hierarchies are not so clear, that everything moves very fast, and that the structure becomes very fluid. It creates a different era for which we have to prepare ourselves, and this era is a very people-focused one.” She explains that agile working depends on being transparent, building strong teams, and daring to give autonomy to those teams.
“As we head towards a more human-oriented work floor, human interaction will increase in importance, pushing hierarchical interaction into the background. For this, we need more women. Women often have characteristics that are less about command and control and focus more on how we can achieve results, what communication styles we need, and how we can attract the right people. We need to actively get more right-brained people on the work floor.”
Leading by example
Honesty is a quality that is crucial to leadership, and Ellis leads by example. “I share my emotions when they are there, and I am very clear that it’s okay for emotions to be present on the work floor. If there are tears, that does not mean weakness, it means something might have really got to someone, or that there is a great deal of care about something. I lead by example; I am honest about the things I know and the things that I don’t, and I’ll be upfront if I make a mistake.”
Ellis has always naturally taken the lead in situations, and so it is no surprise that she has already been working as a manager for quite some time, but again her understanding of collaboration informs her work: in her previous department, she installed a people manager to work alongside her. “With the fast turn that digitalisation is taking, you see that managers are often occupied with results, with goals to achieve, and with targets, they have to meet. Having a person in your team who has no result-driven responsibilities, who is solely responsible for employee happiness, really pays off.” Her people manager made great progress during the pandemic, organising meet-ups for team members who were parenting young children, facilitating group training, and checking in on those who might need more support with home-working. Ellis notes that this should not be a remarkable feat; it does not take a huge amount of work or money, but really creates a certain kind of attention and fosters good human interactions, which in turn increases employee happiness, reduces sickness, and aids talent retention.
Cycle of improvement
Ellis speaks from experience when she places a high value on employee happiness. She doesn’t have a particular job title on the horizon that she is blindly striving for, but rather looks forward to meeting developmental goals and gaining powerful and positive experiences through doing what makes her happy. “I strongly believe that if you do what you love, you will get better at it. If you get better at something, you will love it more, and in turn, you will get better at it again. My advice would be don’t choose a career opportunity because it sounds sexy or rewarding, but choose with your heart. Does it feel right? Do you think you can learn things that you’d be excited to learn? Then say yes, because you will probably love it, and when you are happy you will excel.”
So Ellis is clear about the future of transparent, people-focused organisations, but what about the field more broadly? “IT is an inevitable future. When you want to make changes in a business, almost everything requires IT and a digital focus. I started working in IT by chance; I was looking for a job that was dynamic, that involved change management, and that would give me an opportunity to learn a new discipline. When I began working with PostNL I quickly realised that I had already worked a lot with IT throughout my studies, only it had not been emphasised.” Ellis explains that many elements of the business have merged into IT, and it is a field that will soon dominate the professional landscape. “If you are curious about entering IT, and are doubting whether it is a good time or a right fit, I think now is the time.”