Natalie Nagele: A Focus on People-First HR Leadership

Mark Lewis
May 12, 2022
min read
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Natalie Nagele: CEO @Wildbit

Wildbit is a people-first business that really inspires us. They're a role model for successfully building a business that serves its employees while delivering exceptional service for its customers.

Here in Australia they tend to fly under the radar - they don’t have the big headlines for raising huge amounts of VC because they bootstrapped for over 20 years. They haven’t hired thousands of employees, but have a tight team of about 40. They’re responsible for a product called Postmark which, from our own implementation, is exceptional software for email delivery.

Recently Natalie Nagele (Co-founder & CEO @ Wildbit) announced their business had been acquired - big congratulations to Natalie and the team.

This announcement jogged me to revisit my notes from about 6 years ago when I was doing a series of leadership interviews and the content is more relevant today than ever.

Best boss you had and why?

I had a boss right out of college that really shaped how I try to lead my team. She was really tough, and most people didn’t like working for her. She was brutally honest and would painstakingly review every piece of work. What I loved about working for her is how much she pushed me and how much I learned in the process. She would red-line everything, and then explain to me why she did it. That meant the next time I wouldn’t repeat the same mistake. I’ve seen too often work just get changed with no explanation, which means the person on the receiving end doesn’t know why it happened. I try to explain every thought that I have, whether happy or frustrated. This way, I can have real expectations of my team meeting expectations.

Your top 3 tips for being a better leader?

1. Shut up and listen (I suck at this).
2. Remember that the work we’re doing isn’t saving lives, so focusing on team happiness takes priority over any deadline.
3. Push your team to be better, because they want to be better and it’s easy to get complacent.

What conventional corporate wisdom no longer applies in today’s workplace?

Counting hours worked doesn’t feel productive to me. If you get a ton done by focusing your time in 35 hours a week, that’s fantastic. I’d rather my team have flexible hours and work only when they’re feeling sharp and focused. No need to sit in front of the computer waiting for 5:00 to roll around.

Workplaces are changing, I predict…

Open floor plans will slowly die out. Whether it’s because remote becomes big(ger) or, more likely, leaders realize that their team needs to have quiet, focused space to work. I’m still amazed at how many people I interview who tell me they want to work remote because they get their best work done at home AFTER work. It’s not because they’re more productive when home, it’s because home is where they have quiet, focus time. Instead, their workplace should protect them from distraction so home can be where they relax.

People-first Tools

Some thought-provoking, people-first practices that Wildbit has open-sourced during their journey:

Principles of people-first business

A different type of job description with examples

The 4 day work week

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