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March 22, 2021

From scaling to merging, communication is key: Lessons in agile HR from Mira Magecha former CPO Just Eat

This interview was held in July 2020. All references to companies and experiences stem from responses made at that time. Since held, Mira has moved on from JustEat and become a Non-Executive Director of Unidays, an Advisory Board Member of Unibeez and a founder of Granology UK.

Collaboration is the key to agility, and that’s the secret sauce that lets startups outmanoeuvre and out-accelerate their more staid, process-oriented corporate competitors. How do companies build collaboration in?

It starts with culture, not process. And communication is absolutely key. It’s not just making sure everyone gets together once a week — though that’s important. It’s about making sure that leadership adequately communicates mission, vision and values to the whole organisation.

It’s also about employees being free to communicate with management, knowing they’ll be listened to and their perspectives will be valued, and being able to bring their whole selves to work — especially when they’re not coming to work and the conversation is a Hangouts call. That’s how organisations get through lockdowns, address systemic diversity issues, and develop colleagues along with the business.

Key takeaways:

  • Two-way communication is key. Make sure that employees know their perspectives are valued and their feedback is listened to.
  • Whether growing, scaling or merging, taking care of the team is primary. Even COVID-19 can be addressed this way: look at team cohesion first.
  • Diversity doesn’t stop. Important diversity and inclusion work — ‘belonging,’ at Just Eat — doesn’t ever get finished. We have to keep learning and improving.
  • Be willing to be vulnerable and learn. Professionalism is important, but it shouldn’t require you to hide who you are. 

How did you get started in your HR career? 

I'm one of the weird ones that chose to do an actual HR degree. And ever since I've worked in related fields, either in consulting or the HR world. 20 years on, I'm still doing related things in the same field. 

I did some temp jobs after university, and then I joined the BBC. I stayed there for a couple of years and it was a great foundation. It's a huge organisation, and it had all the policies you could ever imagine back then written up and documented. And it was really useful for me to see how the things I’d learned at university came into play in a workplace policy process. 

However, I felt it was too rigid and prescribed. It wasn't quite the right HR-focused career, for me. I stayed for two and a half years. Got tons of experience, made some amazing friends, then about six or seven years later I went into consulting.

What was it in particular that drew you to Just Eat?

Just Eat is a global hybrid marketplace, focused on online food delivery. It was founded in 2001. That surprises a lot of people who expect it to only have been around for the last few years! It's grown from a crew of 15, in a basement in Denmark, right the way to a FTSE company primarily based in the UK.

Earlier this year [2020] we merged with Takeaway. So we are now Just Eat Takeaway. The main focus is connecting tens of thousands of restaurants with millions of customers and hundreds of different cuisines, so that you get the world at your doorstep in terms of food and what you want to eat.

What are the biggest changes you've seen in the people and culture since you've joined?

I've been at Just Eat almost five years, and it's been an interesting journey. I joined about a year after IPO (Initial Public Offering), when we were going through that growth journey of becoming a FTSE business. Some of the questions I was enabling the business to answer: What does that imply? How did the governance need to change? And how can we keep the culture of being very much a startup business? 

We still wanted to be innovative, agile, and fast. We were still growing. So how do you keep all of the things that make us great and unique, but at the same time, ensure that we are applying all the corporate governance codes that you now have to as a FTSE?

The journey we’re currently on is very different. It’s about integrating two large scale listed businesses into a single organisation while adapting our business model to fit a changing world and changing consumer expectations.

You're the diversity and belonging sponsor at Just Eat. Obviously, it's a hot topic in light of the Black Lives Matters movement. Can you tell me more about this work?

We've done a lot of work in this area, and by no means are we done with the process. I don't think any organisation or anyone would ever say, it's an exercise that you start and there’s an end, there’s always improvements and more to be done.

It’s something that continues and you reiterate and you do more. And so we kicked off our diversity inclusion initiatives, what we call belonging — you belong at Just Eat — about three years ago.

We started with a lot of initiatives specifically around women to start with, to set up networks, to understand the challenges within a technology business for women and to better support women. We slowly brought in other areas of belonging such as wellness, mental health, STEM ambassador programs, the LGBTQ+ community, the BAME network, and neurodiversity networks. 

So it's grown from where it started three years ago. And we're still nowhere near done. Specifically, around Black Lives Matter, we held an event on the 1st of July where we invited all our colleagues — virtually, obviously — to a Stronger Together, Just Eaters versus racism interactive day. There were external speakers, internal people spoke on panels, addressing their experiences of racism, and what we could do better.  This was an employee lead day and probably one of the best of its kind I’ve ever participated in.

It was a brilliant day, but it can’t stop at just one day. We have to continue the movement. 

You've got 20 years of experience in HR building high-performing teams in a broad range of organisations, BBC, Capgemini, now Just Eat. What are the main characteristics of a high-performance team culture?

If building a high-performance culture was an easy task, I think we'd have tons of them all over the place. I think what makes them high-performing teams is open communication, the collaboration, and the shared vision. From there, it’s about giving everyone ownership and understanding the part they individually or collectively play in achieving the outcomes.

You talk about the role of agility as a secret ingredient for Just Eat. How do you think that will look in the future? 

Agility in terms of our people function, and as a product and tech business, is what we’re famous for. But applying that to people functions can be a challenge, especially during the merger process. Although we operate in the same industry and have a similar business model, actually, we're different in terms of leadership, values, culture, how we interact, and how we communicate - you wouldn’t expect it to be the same. 

It's going to be an interesting journey. And it was never going to be an easy one. But the management team absolutely deserves credit for realising that and listening to feedback. It's a real joint collaboration in terms of what it should look like and how we come together as one global business.

How has the shift to remote impacted connectedness within the business? How do you see the future of remote work at Just Eat?

The UK government have recently cleared businesses to decide what's right for their staff.

So our approach from a UK standpoint is very much, ‘who do we need back in the office?’ and ‘what are people's preferences?’ We don't plan at this point on re-opening offices and making it mandatory that everybody comes back into the office.

Offices will open and people will be able to go in, but we want to understand, ‘what's the need — from a business point of view, but also in terms of personal preference and connectivity?’

In the initial days of lockdown, we put measures in place such as doing weekly surveys, understanding where people's challenges were, asking what we needed to do more of, less of — ‘how do we need to communicate now?’

Colleagues were supported in all sorts of different ways from mental health to physical health. We put on exercise classes, meditation classes, yoga classes, quizzes, all run by staff. We had virtual counsellors in place. It got to the point that colleagues were like, ‘okay, we're really connected. Can we almost stop?’ 

One aspect we noticed really early is that before, you could be almost two different people at work and at home. But by having people opening up their homes, having Zoom conversations — or Hangout or Meet conversations in our case — people got to know each other on a different level. They got to understand their family and home circumstances. So we've seen different kinds of connectedness as a result of the lockdown. 

From a technical point of view, we were right in the middle of an employee engagement survey — the next stage starts tomorrow! But we’re a tech business, so we could theoretically work remotely — we just had to find ways to make it work.

What's a key learning experience that's been pivotal in your career ?

You don't need to be an expert in everything. Whatever your position, asking for help is the right thing to do. I hate using this word, but show your vulnerability.

I remember one of the elements of doing consulting is 'consulting guard.' Put your professional face on and turn up to work. And that is who you are. Forget everything else outside of that. 

And I've now had to spend a while learning to kind of go, ‘yes, I still need to be professional and I still need to do all of those great things. But at the same time, I need to let a bit more about me out, and I need to let people in more.’ 

And so the thing I would say to everybody is don't let work or your professionalism hide who you are as a person. 

And if anyone is worrying about impostor syndrome, remember that actually, you're in your position because you've done all the right things to get to where you are. You've got more learning to do, but don't let that put you down. Trust in your instinct. Use your gut. As much as people say, what's the data behind that, sometimes your gut just tells you. 

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