“It’s up to me to create a work environment where employees at all levels can make a meaningful impact—not simply go through the motions.”Joanna Murphy | CEO of TaxBack.com
For Joanna Murphy, CEO at TaxBack.com, her people are her priority. As business risks and the broader socioeconomic landscape continue to evolve, sometimes in unprecedented and unexpected ways, it is her team that will help TaxBack.com remain agile and adaptable in the face of change.
“Things are so fluid,” she said, referring to events such as Brexit and the multifaceted fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Businesses need to be willing to change because what you did yesterday isn’t necessarily what you should do tomorrow. We all like comfort and what’s safe, but what’s safe and comfortable in business isn’t necessarily helpful.”
“Having good ideas is all well and good. The real test is our capacity to bring those ideas to life.”—Joanna Murphy
According to Joanna, anticipating an ever-broadening array of potential risks and challenges is crucial for business leaders. But rather than focus on the downside, she sees opportunity in every situation. “My starting position is not that the glass is half full, but that it’s entirely full. I see opportunity in almost everything,” she said.
That said, she is acutely aware of the danger of complacency and groupthink. Joanna promotes diversity in the firm’s hiring strategy to maintain a productive degree of tension within the business, ensuring that preconceptions are challenged and assumptions are tested. “I actively encourage our people to come through with ideas,” Joanna added. “But having good ideas is all well and good. The real test is our capacity to bring those ideas to life.”
In that context, creating a safe and empowering environment for employees is critical. The secret sauce, according to Joanna, is a determined focus on follow-through and trust. “It’s important for people to see their peers being rewarded for making brave decisions,” she said. “And while we look for a certain level of disruptive thinking, we have regular meetings to test new ideas and build consensus with the ultimate goal of keeping the business fresh.
This appetite for innovation has been baked into the company’s DNA since it was first established by entrepreneur Terry Clune in 1996. Joanna attributes the growth and success of Taxback.com and its parent group, CluneTech, to Terry Clune’s focus on customers—listening to them, identifying their challenges and finding new solutions to meet those challenges.
“We talk to our customers continually because that allows us to understand the performance of our value proposition better and stay in tune with what the market wants, rather than simply assuming that we know.”
“The two most important words in the English language are ‘thank you’ and the importance of recognition cannot be overstated.”—Joanna Murphy
Business leaders worldwide have been challenged by talent issues in recent years but according to PwC’s 26th Annual Global CEO Survey, they appear intent on retaining talent. Like her peers, Joanna also faces the challenge of keeping the best people in her business and beyond typical factors such as remuneration, how and where her people work has become a critical consideration.
“As society learns to live with COVID-19, it has become clear that our people prefer to use their home offices for day-to-day work and visit our offices for meetings, creative work and team-building,” she said. “The shift to hybrid working certainly has advantages—particularly for those who may have been isolated or lacked social interaction. It has also allowed parents to spend more time at home with their families, which you can’t put a price on.”
Despite the changing work environment, productivity has increased and Joanna’s employees are more motivated and content than ever. “Our managers trust our people to do their jobs to the best of their ability and the company has been clear in valuing creativity, innovation and growth,” she said. “Because there’s strong trust between management and employees, we have enjoyed low turnover. That means a greater sense of continuity and community for us as an organisation.”
As business leaders face another uncertain year, Joanna’s advice for fellow CEOs is to keep their thinking fresh, stay close to their customers and recognise the effect of gratitude on employee engagement.
“The two most important words in the English language are ‘thank you’ and the importance of recognition cannot be overstated,” she said. “So stay humble, be grateful and keep the lines of communication as open as possible. If you can do that, you will foster a culture of open innovation where people do their best work in a way they enjoy.”
Managing Partner, PwC Ireland
Partner, PwC Ireland