Bringing magic into the workplace

It's so magical to be involved with a sector that is so full of possibilities.' | Photo: Graham Jepson

In pursuit of productivity and a winning culture.

How you let staff be the best and most productive they can is a hot topic in management.

Is it a matter of having the right processes and structures, or more about innovation and ideas?

Annalie Killian

Catalyst for Magic, director of Innovation, Communication and Social Business, AMP

The first thing that strikes you about Annalie Killian is her unique job title, “catalyst for magic”.

Does Killian actually wear a star-spangled cloak, wield a magic wand, cast spells and read the future from a crystal ball? Well, not exactly …

Killian’s other “straitjacket” title (as she calls it) is AMP’s director of innovation, communication and social business.

But rather than pulling rabbits from a hat, her role is more about stimulating creativity and imagination in employees at the financial services group, and spreading this “magic” outside the company.

Killian grew up in South Africa in the 1960s, and traces her creative genes to her maternal side.

Her mother and grandmother could both be described as “domestic goddesses” – although Killian calls them “makers” – as they spent hours flower arranging, decorating cakes and sewing clothes.

“I am quite passionate about having creative role models,” says Killian. “I think it is worrying that this generation spends so much time and attention on the screen and not on creating things in the physical domain.”

It’s easy to assume that Killian started her career in the visual arts or the theatre, but you’d be wrong. Instead, she followed her father’s footsteps into a career in accountancy in the early 1980s, and initially worked at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.

But early on her many talents – other than crunching numbers – came into play.

She unravelled a series of serious irregularities in a client’s accounts by analysing more than the numbers and using her emotional intelligence.

“I was probably not your typical accountant,” Killian says. “I’ve always been an extroverted, very colourful soul.”

Moving into BHP Billiton’s aluminium division in Africa, as the first female in management ranks, she did a “complete career sidestep” into communications and organisation development, when she was asked to implement quality circles and safety policies for the shop floor workers.

Killian thrived as a bridge between the shop stewards, the workers and the management team.

She also developed the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) platform.

In the late 1990s, she decided to migrate to Australia. She took up an IT and communications position with AMP in Sydney, just as the internet was becoming a phenomenon. 

"I think the darker side of the internet is emerging, when our data is being tracked or sold and our information is used out of context." – Annalie Killian 

“I grasped it very early on and realised how it would give real power to the consumers, and also how the internet and social media could be used for internal collaboration and social enterprise within AMP,” she says.

One of the keys to this, Killian believed, was ensuring all employees had unfettered access to the internet (which they didn’t when she arrived at AMP), and also to develop an intranet so that they could communicate within the company.

They are concepts that seem commonplace today but were edgy at the time.

Simultaneously, Killian wanted to expand employees’ access to learning and development, and heighten their exposure to innovative thinking globally.

To achieve this, in 2005 Killian launched a one-day Amplify Festival for AMP staff.

Nearly a decade later, it has become a biennial, week-long conference and a year-round public online learning platform, with monthly speakers and discussion forums.

Lee Barnett, AMP’s chief information officer, says that as the instigator of Amplify, Killian is now well known throughout the company as a strong networker with a creative flair, and a passion for anticipating the business impact of emerging trends.

“New ideas and technologies are integrated into the delivery of Amplify and bubble their way to the top through the EXPO innovation showcase by staff, start-ups and business partners, and our hackfests and crowd-sourced innovation challenges,” Barnett explains.

“It’s an invaluable pillar of our innovation ecosystem, an immersive learning experience that’s become core to AMP – and increasingly our business stakeholders.”

Killian has also thrown open participation in the festival. Now it’s not only for staff – members of the public can access events, too.

A vital part of the Amplify Festival is the “Bright Sparks” event, where PhD candidates battle it out in a live storytelling pitch of their thesis topics, using multiple visual metaphors (including koala costumes) and the winner receives A$5000.

“What is Bright Sparks? It’s the brightest minds in Australia breaking the edge of what we know,” Killian says.

As AMP’s catalyst for magic, Killian is on the cutting edge of new technology, but at the same time she believes it’s timely to reassess the way in which we use social media.

“I think the darker side of the internet is emerging, when our data is being tracked or sold and our information is used out of context,” Killian says.

“I think this cyber utopia might have a dystopian future. As leaders, we need to be informed, think carefully and navigate ethically around the decisions we make.”

But on a brighter note, even after 14 years at AMP, Killian says that every morning she is very motivated to get into the office: “It’s so magical to be involved with a sector that is so full of possibilities and be a catalyst to develop human potential. That is what drives me.”

This article is from the October 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK.

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