The Secrets to NetApp Australia’s Award-Winning Workplace

Establishing a great workplace culture doesn’t come easy – let alone maintaining it for an entire decade. This year, the Great Place to Work institute ranked NetApp’s Australian office amongst the top ten Best Places to Work in the country, for the tenth year in a row (since the study started, in fact!). Kim Nixon, Human Resources Manager of NetApp ANZ, explains what it is about NetApp’s culture that warrants this 10/10 track record.


Why do you think NetApp has been in the top ten for a decade consistently (in BPTW)?


I think it’s because we always try to focus on the health of our culture as well as our business results. We’re extremely fortunate that NetApp’s global vision has supported this since the company was established 25 years ago: it’s given us a solid foundation to build on.


The consistency comes from commitment: making NetApp a great workplace isn’t just some whimsical thought. In fact, we treat the Best Places to Work study as a benchmark for ourselves every year: it tells us a lot about where we need to make changes, where we’re struggling, which departments might need support, and what actions we should take. We’ve also tried to embrace a twofold approach to cultural development: of course, we need strong leaders who believe in our core values, but buy-in from the broader employee community is also crucial.


What is NetApp’s ‘secret sauce’ in maintaining a great culture of employee engagement?


I wish there was one! It’s hard to pin down: even now, we’re constantly learning and figuring out how to do things better. If anything, I would say we strive to be authentic about our values. These include things like “Going Beyond”, “Get Things Done”, “Humility” – practical ideals with everyday applications. I might struggle to define the je ne sais quoi of our culture, but it’s immediately clear whether someone lives these values out or not.


What’s also crucial is that we don’t tolerate these values being compromised. In the office, we do our best to speak candidly and openly when we feel our values aren’t being adhered to, and take productive steps to educate or correct behaviour which contradicts those values. We’re not perfect – and our definitions about what’s acceptable inevitably vary –  but by being honest and accountable to one another, I find that we’re able to maintain the core ethos of our company reasonably well.


How are employees rewarded for high performance at NetApp?


Both monetary rewards and recognition play a part. On the first, our aim is to provide financial rewards within the realities of running a multinational business. We try to make sure these rewards match as directly with the results that we want to see, both in business and cultural growth.


In terms of recognition, we encourage public acknowledgement of both individual and team successes. That happens through established practices like our “Catch Someone” recognition program (where we encourage employees to turn the spotlight on co-workers’ less-visible achievements), as well as more informal things like the way we give credit in team meetings or when receiving praise from our customers. But if our people are all aligned with values like humility and getting things done, money or praise won’t dominate their thoughts. In a sense, we want to reward people for that attitude, rather than the actual work they’ve done.


How do you help employees to maintain a healthy work/life balance?


We try to give people the autonomy to deliver good results. I believe it doesn’t really matter if you’re at home, at the office, or out handling your personal matters – just so long as you remain accountable for your performance. We have a few mums and dads in our company, and if they need to leave early to pick up their kids, or attend a school sports day or competition, they don’t need to clock that in or “repay” the hours later. In fact, every year we host a Kids at Work day for our employees’ children to come in and see what Mum and Dad really do. For us, family always comes first.


We also do what we can to support our people when times aren’t as good. I can’t count the number of times we’ve told staff to take a day off – whether due to illness in the family, personal turbulence, or just sheer overwork. There are also health benefits and wellness programmes on offer, but I think what really defines our approach to work/life balance is that we don’t keep score.


A lot of workplaces say they embrace flexible working but don’t really support it on the ground. That’s something we try our utmost to avoid. Sometimes we do have managers who want to take a more prescriptive approach, and if that goes overboard then HR will get involved and provide coaching around it. Similarly, if we discover evidence that someone’s abusing this flexibility we will also approach them and address their behaviour without delay. I think accountability is the secret: most of us try to watch one another’s backs to make sure we’re practising what we preach.


How important is philanthropic work at NetApp, and how are local employees getting involved in the global Food for Hunger campaign?


We launched the Food for All campaign this year to take our volunteerism efforts to the next level. Our goal is to give 25,000 hours in paid volunteering time to food organisations worldwide by the end of this year – an ambitious goal, but one that we feel will really challenge us to grow our philanthropic muscles. In Australia, we’re partnering with Foodbank – supporting their collection and distribution of unused or unwanted food to those who’d otherwise go hungry.


However, most of our philanthropic work ends up being initiated and driven by our employees. We provide 5 paid volunteer days a year, and we’ve found that really encourages them to take a more active role in giving back. Every quarter, there will be at least 3 to 4 projects going on. Some involve working with big NGOs like the Cancer Council or Hartley Foundation, but many are just grassroots initiatives – like renovating the house of single mother Leanne and her two kids:



We don’t force our people to give: it’s in their hearts to do so. Recently we heard that one of our business partners’ employees lost their house to a fire. A collection went around the office and within days we raised a few thousand dollars to provide urgent financial support. I think it just comes with the values we try to live by.


How is NetApp changing the way it works in this age of digital disruption?


We’ve been embracing many of the collaboration tools and platforms that enable much more mobile and flexible working, particularly cloud-based apps which fit with our own enterprise transformation. Our HR and workplace tools are moving into similar SaaS models to keep up with that need for more flexibility. But I believe the most critical element to handling digital disruption isn’t the technology but the people. You can have the latest and greatest collaboration technology, but it won’t deliver any benefit if your leaders aren’t flexible and your employees aren’t accountable. Our winning strategy for tackling disruption is simple: stay true to our values and trust our people to do their best.


Amy Ngian