Trent Innes is the Managing Director of Xero in Australia, and has been with them in the journey of taking the from 40 to 400 people over the past 5 years. He’s started to rake up awards for leadership left, right and centre and will be an incredible inclusion to Spark the Change to talk about how he built what is being acclaimed as one of the best organisational cultures across Australia.

What struck me about Trent is the way he looks at everything with a very simple view, he doesn’t overcomplicate things. He speaks a lot about values and behaviours and has a plethora of examples of things he does to exhibit and influence through positive behaviours.

We spoke through a few ideas, a little about his background, his experience with Xero, how he views management and how individuals can take a stronger hand in their own careers.

Enjoy the reading, and enjoy Trent speaking in person as a keynote speaker at Spark the Change on the 1st of May.


Trent, it’s been a huge year for you in regards to awards and accolades for your work, how does it feel getting that sort of recognition for the work you’re doing?

I find it very humbling. There are so many great leaders out there, but you really are only as good as the team you’ve got around you. I’ve won a few personal awards, but the award I was most proud of was when we were ranked as the best Melbourne based Tech employer by a Hired Candidate survey. That was easily the most satisfaction I could’ve gotten from an award, beating out some of the major brands was a massive validation to what the team have put in.

In my view the biggest competition we have out there isn’t in trying to beat our “opponents” for awards, it’s the competition for talent. Your ability to be successful as an organisation all comes down to the people you have. It’s more competitive than ever, people want to feel a purpose attached to the work they do, it’s our job as leaders to help them feel that way.


How’s the transition from a company like Microsoft to Xero, has anything changed?

To be honest nothing about my approach or relationship with work has fundamentally changed going from a large organisation like Microsoft to an organisation the size of Xero. Microsoft did a lot of amazing things, and in particular they really invested heavily in people leadership.

A lot of the things I learned about leadership come from my training there, my approach simply evolves as I have gained more experience.


Are there changes you’ve made or things you’ve done that you find invariably has the highest impact on employee engagement?

I find people actually over complicate leadership. People will try all sorts of different approaches to try to lead people in a certain direction, but the majority of people are just looking for leaders who are well intentioned and operate with humility.

Good leaders don’t just walk the floor because they think they should, they genuinely care about their people and their teams. But that’s just the modern workforce, that’s what is required today for an organisation to survive. The biggest impact you can have on your organisation as a leader is to genuinely care about it.


Do you find your behaviour influences the behaviour of other leaders in the organisation?

Yeah, absolutely. Something I try to exemplify is the willingness to take ownership of the things that you do, you want people to feel safe and empowered to take things and run with them.

There are funny ways you can get an insight into the culture of ownership (or lack of it) in organisations or individuals. The kitchen is a great sense checker because people’s behaviour in that setting tells you a lot. If you walk into a workplace and you see a messy kitchen, then there’s probably a missing sense of responsibility or ownership of the space, it tells you something.


When I came and visited your offices about a year ago actually, I couldn’t believe that in the time I was sitting waiting for my meeting almost every person that walked past smiled or greeted me.

That really makes me smile because that’s not something we actively encourage or measure people on doing. I always say that with business it’s not that hard, you simply focus on people, customers and community. By making sure that you don’t get distracted by anything else, the nature of your organisation and people becomes inherently good.


How will you be tying your journey and experience into the themes of the conference in a way that makes it easy for them to walk away with applicable lessons?

All these things we’re talking about link back to peoples experience with change. I respect that our organisation isn’t the norm because it’s quite far advanced culturally, but irrespective all people and organisations go through change.

By understanding what good looks like in terms of the sorts of environment and culture you should have around you in the workplace, you should hopefully understand how to carry yourself more effectively in your own and be inspired to seek one out that’s bringing the best out in you!


If you’re in an organisation where it’s not like that, how do you prepare yourself?

There are organisations that are good and bad, and environments that operate in a way likely to bring the best or the worst out in people. I’m a big believer though that everyone owns their own career and people need to act according to that.

In almost any industry there are disruptive organisations that will have modern cultures designed to adapt to the new world, so if that’s what you’re looking for you shouldn’t be afraid to go out and find it.

The generation before this one in the workforce were able to work for income, the economic parameters around them allowed them to. This generation are working for purpose, if you want to be a part of that you have to take responsibility and drive it for yourself.


Is there anything that attendees can be doing before the conference to prepare themselves to get the most out of the experience?

I think the key thing is to reflect on where you’re at. If you’re coming to an event like Spark the Change, there’s already something that has encouraged you to be willing to put yourself out there which is a good sign.

I’d be doing some self reflection before I came in, simply so I can apply what I’m learning to something I have already reflected on.

Interview by Ringo Thomas