Leading Through A Crisis: AKQA MD Alisia Muscat

Leading Through A Crisis: AKQA MD Alisia Muscat
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It’s hard to think of another time where leadership in the workforce has been as important as it is today.

The world is in lockdown, an economic recession looms and just about all businesses are facing an uncertain future.

So how do you lead through a crisis?

According to AKQA managing director Alisia Muscat, who is currently leading the company’s 170-person Melbourne office, it’s about ensuring everyone feels supported and heard.

Like many other businesses in the creative and technology space, AKQA has been forced to put in place new structures for managing a remote workforce.

This includes a set of leadership principles, with the notion of empowerment a high priority.

“We’ve empowered the team to lead the way, tell us how best we can stay connected, engaged and motivated,” she tells B&T.

“We’ve said yes to every idea: WFH FM, virtual Yoga, Around the Grounds virtual, Fitness challenges, Easter competitions, the list goes on. The team have been in control of the culture.”

While it is on the team to create the culture, it’s equally important for the business’s leaders to take part and be present – albeit virtually.

“All of our leaders have been present and as involved as possible,” Muscat says.

“We are ‘showing up’ to everything, all the 1:1s, team meetings, review pods etc. In doing so, we are demonstrating we are in this with them and committed to maintaining the same level of cultural and work standards as we did in the office.”

The final pillar of AKQA leadership approach to COVID-19 is transparency, “ensuring all our communication has been clear and honest” and “keeping the communication regular and consistent”, she explains.

With these systems in place, Muscat believes her team can navigate the challenges ahead.

“The leadership principles we’ve followed around transparency, presence and empowerment have kept the team motivated,” she says.

“They are informed and in control of the outcome. They are also fiercely supported by the entire leadership team and their peers – we are all doing this together and single-mindedly focused on seeing our way through this period.”

The bigger picture

As a female working in the technology space, the challenges for Muscat as a leader have not been reserved to COVID-19.

Reflecting on her career, she points to some systemic problems that are still apparent today.

“The industry needs to encourage and invest in female technical craft leaders,” Muscat says.

“Tech Directors, Principal Architects, Heads of Digital, Heads of IT etc. I haven’t seen this space change much at all, but when it does, I think it will have an enormously positive influence on the teams and the work. “

To get things where they need to be, Muscat is a strong advocate for a female-focused approach to promoting diversity.

“I think we have a long way to go in Australia in recognizing and celebrating diversity.

I believe gender is one of the most obvious places to start, which is why many businesses have a female-focused approach to promoting diversity,” she says.

“Achieving balance will require an overcorrection, and I believe a female-focused structural approach is the best place to start, including coaching, education, career development planning, targets etc.

“With more visible female tech leaders, other women will be better placed to follow in their footsteps.”

She points to some encouraging signs of the industry getting to where it needs to be, including her own experience as a leader in a tech environment.

“As a leader of a predominantly technical studio, I have always felt very well supported and encouraged by my peers, leaders and team,” she says.

“I see more female leaders in cross-functional roles like mine, as opposed to pure technical leadership roles.

“I believe attitudes in 2020 are getting to where they need to be, and I have seen a lot of change throughout my career in this space. Now we need the structures to change more rapidly, modernise attitudes, and support growth and opportunity for our aspiring female leaders.”

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