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23 min watch with captions and full transcript

Now a VP of HR, Magda Lategan has worked for Estée Lauder for almost 30 years. The keys to
her rebel success? Debra Corey sat down with Magda to find out.

In this episode of The Rebel Interviews series, Magda shares her tips for:

  • How to develop people to think outside their mindsets
  • Why leaders of all levels should learn together
  • How to train and develop for key leadership messages


Be a rebel like Madga:
  • Learn to love the obvious
  • Have a theme
  • Challenge your people to think in a different way
  • Set the rules of engagement
  • Don’t be afraid to mix brands, teams, and departments
Our favourite quotes:

It's all about mindsets and we've all got a very particular mindset. And what I'm hoping to develop is people that just look outside the mindset to say, ‘Well, what else is there?’

We talk about lead from every chair. We say you can lead if you're the receptionist, if you're the MD, if you're a sales executive outside. We have to help people to lead from every chair by giving
them skills.

Magda's interview

DEBRA COREY: Hi there. I'm Debra Corey, and I am the co-author of the book Build It: a Rebel Playbook for World Class Employee Engagement. I'm really excited to be here today with Magda Lategan from Estee Lauder in Australia. We're here today to talk about a play that is in the book, which is about learning. It's a high touch approach to learning, which is perfect  for a company like Estee Lauder and you'll explain what that means in a minute.

What I like about it and why it's rebellious is that, it really does make learning unique to your workforce. It's innovative, it's creative, all the things that being rebellious is all about. So before we jump into the play, maybe you can tell us a little bit, Magda, about the company.

MAGDA LATEGAN: Thank you Debra. It's a very exciting company. Estee Lauder Australia have been around for 52 years. In fact, Estee Lauder itself was established in 1946 by Estee Lauder. From the very beginning it's something that... When you join this company, you grow up with is the high touch. We have just under 2,000 employees and across many different brands, and I think that's what makes it exciting because these brands are in competition with each other but we're also a family. You know, if you think of a family, how do you keep the family spirit but also the competitive spirit? So, for instance, the way MAC will train may be different to the way Clinique will train, or Estee Lauder. These brands keep us alive. They give us the passion and the feeling that why we want to be here.

It's all about our customers. I think, from my point of view and from what you've described in the book, our employees are our internal customers. We need to give them the same experience as we give our people behind the counter and to our customers. Today it's all about the consumer and how do you make sure the consumer stays with you. So we like to give our consumer a bespoke experience and that's what we call high touch. And it's a high touch experience for that person.

So our credo is bring the best to everyone we touch. Touching is very
important to us, touching people's hearts and minds. I'm a bit mad and crazy. I've been here around 29 and 1/2 years. I come from an art background, and so I think putting me into HR was probably a bit of a risk for the company. But it wasn't about me, but the wonderful people that I work with and how we together can make learning a high touch experience.

DEBRA COREY: You see, I think it's really great to have creative people in HR because a lot of times in HR we've got a lot of black and white structure, processes. And what makes, what I think makes HR successful is when you add the color, and you add the creativity, and you've definitely done that in the learning program. So I guess it's no surprise then, that when you looked at your leadership learning program, you did add a little bit of Magda flare to it. So, I guess, if I start with the why, what was the reason that you decided to put in place this program?

MAGDA LATEGAN: I think we were looking at our current and at our future leaders, and the uncertain world that they face. You know the trends that are happening. They're happening so fast that something's a trend today, and it's not a trend tomorrow.

: Yeah.

MAGDA LATEGAN: There's so much messaging out there that our customers hear, that our people hear, and how can we help, assist our leaders and our future leaders to be able to cope with the future?
I think that's the thing, yes, I can send somebody on a negotiation skills course, yes I can do all of that. And yes, those courses are very, very valuable. But I felt we needed to put together a course or a program that helps people stretch their minds. To do that, I do believe you have to put some creativity into it.

Now, I'm told some people are, accountants are black and white. You know, just give them the answer. We had some very senior accounting people on this program and one of them actually said, he's already been with us 35 years, and he said to me, "It's the best and the most amazing program I've ever been on because you looked at my heart, you looked at my mind, and you looked at my soul."

DEBRA COREY: Good for him.

MAGDA LATEGAN: And to me that, he still laughed and talked to me about it, but to me that's what's important. So to me learning, adult learning, is a little bit about fun as well but stretching people. Learn to love the obvious.

DEBRA COREY: As a leader, we expect so much out of our leaders. And, you know, you can learn the textbook accounting, HR, those types of things, but being able to manage such a diverse workforce, you're right, you need to learn more of the emotional intelligence part of it.

MAGDA LATEGAN: That's right.

: And that's, to me, how learning has to evolve and what innovative companies like you are realizing that, that's really the role to focus on that and less on the traditional type of management development.

MAGDA LATEGAN: That's right. I agree. And I think it's that collaboration because, if you think of it, we've got 17 brands represented in the company. So, if we run a training program and we try to tailor it to all 17, so I think one's got to think what is it that you, collaboratively, can do together? I think, you know, that's what's important. So they have to think about stepping out of their comfort zone.

To me, it's all about mindsets and we've all got a very particular mindset. And what I'm hoping to develop is people that just look outside the mindset to say, "Well, what else is there?" So this program to me was so exciting because we collaborated. I think, one of the key things that we did in this program that was such a success for me is, when people arrived at the program, they were all dressed the same. You're going to say to me "Oh my goodness," They all got 5 T-shirts, some were T-shirts, some were sweatshirts, whatever. And they could choose the bottoms that they were allowed to wear. They could wear black, or white, or brown. But everybody looked the same. So it's a bit of a leveler.


MAGDA LATEGAN: And I think it also makes people kinda feel, "Well, I'm in the group with the MD but it doesn't matter because I'm here to learn not because he's the MD. He's going to learn from me, and I'm going to learn from him." The whole program was based on that everybody's equal. I mean, we didn't say, "You're all equal." We just kind of... everything we did.

DEBRA COREY: But it's those subtle things. I think that's really, really intelligent the way you started from the beginning with such an important message.

MAGDA LATEGAN: That's right. Have a theme. Make sure people understand the theme and make them dance.

DEBRA COREY: Oh, is that your tip? Okay, yes.

MAGDA LATEGAN: Yes, that's a tip. When I do orientation, the team call me, and, "Can you come and start the orientation?" I have all these people sitting there and then we make them dance and make them do moves. But putting that aside, it's about people feeling the same. Then, we divided people up into teams. Okay? We made sure that the teams were from different functions and different brands, because the way you sell skincare in LeMay, which is a beautiful brand, and MAC, and finance, are three very different functions. So to me it was important that those people learn to work with each other. And I think a big learning for people, as well, was that you know the guy in finance, that management accountant's got some very good ideas. And so I think there was that camaraderie. It wasn't, "Oh, you know more than me because you're the brand manager." It was, "Let's learn together."


MAGDA LATEGAN: And so, it was those subtle little things. They all had bandanas and different colored bandana so that you could see who the team was. It wasn't silly. We had a silly night as well. You've gotta allow that, but people were intrigued. At night, when people came to dinner, for the whole time, they had to wear their t-shirts so there was never anybody that could get dressed up in anything different. That could be creative though. Some people were very creative with bandanas-

DEBRA COREY: Put some thought into that. Yeah, yeah.

MAGDA LATEGAN: There were some very creative things happening with bandanas, but we won't go into that.

DEBRA COREY: That'll be the next video.

MAGDA LATEGAN: I think so.

DEBRA COREY: There we go, yes.

MAGDA LATEGAN: How to use a bandana, or tie a bandana.

DEBRA COREY: I think it's interesting also. I've worked in a retailer before with different brands before, how you did bring people together. That says something about the company. You're all Estee Lauder, you're all going in the same direction. Was that one of your objectives in this training program, to create this collaboration?

MAGDA LATEGAN: Collaboration is one of our, I would say, our key successes in Australia. I think we get views in the organization as a country that really does collaborate. I think it is very important. All our training now, we're busy with digital training, very similar concept. It's not over five days, but everybody's involved, and it's very collaborative, and to put different people from different brands and functions together is, to me, what the richness is, of the program.

The level of engagement that you have, if the presenters are also of another level, and I certainly, again, don't mean that normal training programs don't have amazing presenters, but we had people from Wharton University. We had Mark McCrindle, who's a local social researcher. Dr. Andrew Hayes, who's and expert in negotiation. These weren't just a normal training program. People realize that the investment was into people who stretched their minds because Kathy Pearson's view on strategic thinking. We all know strategic thinking, and these are the things you learn, but she took us on another journey. She challenged us.

DEBRA COREY: Is that why you brought in these external speakers?

MAGDA LATEGAN: That's right. Their brief was, "We want you to challenge people." Not challenge people in the way that right or wrong, but challenge people in thinking about things in a different way. I think that's what was exciting.

DEBRA COREY: It also makes them feel special in that you're taking the time to bring in all these external speakers that can challenge them.

MAGDA LATEGAN: That's right, and did case studies with them. Got their views and challenged some. "I think this is an idea." And Kathy'd say, "No. Well, why? What about this? Did you think about that? What about this?"

So, people in the room started to open up and think of different ways of approaching... That's why, to me, you have to think creatively. I think the other part that was important to me is we started off every morning with exercise. Now, you know not everybody's. You know, what time? 5:30, if you weren't there, you got a knock on your door.

DEBRA COREY: Oh really. That's like boot camp.

MAGDA LATEGAN: Yeah, yeah, it was like boot camp. What was great about it, there were different choices. There was boxing. There was to go for a walk. There was doing exercise so it didn't matter, but we ended the afternoon with meditation, and we had somebody coming and doing deep meditation with us.

DEBRA COREY: Interesting.

MAGDA LATEGAN: It was the whole being.

DEBRA COREY: Is that the intent for doing it on both sides, meditation and exercise, to look at the whole being, as you say?

MAGDA LATEGAN: Yes, it was. Just before we did the meditation, we had what we called Learn to Action teams so the people then broke into their natural teams, which remember we've mixed them up.


MAGDA LATEGAN: Then, they break into their natural teams, and they say, "Okay, today was about the consumer. It was about training. It was about messaging. What can we as a team take away from this?"

People would set personal goals and the goals for the team. Those goals have been followed up on. I can give you many examples of things that came from that, that we now actually use.

DEBRA COREY: I love that also because a lot of times, you spend all this effort sending people to training. Then, you put the notes away, and you never do anything with it. It sounds like it was really activity based, action based, followed up. Was that the intent of all of it? To keep going past the training?

MAGDA LATEGAN: Yes, I think so. Yeah, definitely because I think if you don't, as you said, you get some amazing training programs, amazing, and you always learn something from it, but you walk away and three, four weeks later, you forget.

To me, the advantage to doing something like this with your leadership team is that, you often send one person off on a program, and they come back, and they're all so excited. They're like one of those little Duracell bunnies that jump up and down, terribly excited. Everyone around goes, "What have they had?" Suddenly, we had 50 leaders, who came back, and there was this buzz of excitement, and people wanted to hear more about it.


MAGDA LATEGAN: So, people are very excited about, you know, when they go on the program. We've had smaller versions of the program, and we're now planning another 5-day residential program. I think that's exciting. Involve the people, but set the bar high because you say, "Those people, they're not going to be able to cope with this." But, these people do, and people ask the questions.

DEBRA COREY: What type of results? You talked about you've got lots of examples of things that people have done. What kind of examples can you talk about?

MAGDA LATEGAN: One of the things that was interesting. We had Dr. Andrew Hayes doing negotiation. You know negotiation is always about, it's about win and lose, or who wins, who loses, who doesn't. Obviously, he taught a little bit about the basics, but Estee Lauder companies is about relationship building, and so he spoke about negotiation in the relationship situation, about negotiation between two people in a team. It's not just your negotiation that you use outside. Your techniques are the same. It was interesting that the teams were all separate. Then, on the last day, they all had to tell us what they learned interaction was. One of the learning actions, they said, we want to run this negotiation skills course for all our people in Australia.

DEBRA COREY: That's good.

MAGDA LATEGAN: So, we do. We've got one coming up. A residential program is required for all our employees. They have to be with is for six months or so, and they go on the negotiation skill program.

DEBRA COREY: That wouldn't have happened if they hadn't taken that course.

MAGDA LATEGAN: It wouldn't have happened because people go, "Oh, negotiation skills. My people don't need to go on negotiation skills."

The other thing was, whilst we thought we were very good at collaborating, the power of bringing all the marketing managers together from different brands and talking about what's happening in the market, people were more open to that. I'm not saying it didn't happen before that. We had these little groups forming, task forces. People were now keen to be on a task force, even if they didn't, maybe, know much about it. Let's say we have a social and digital task force. You have somebody from finance on there. People say, well you know. Or, you have somebody from the warehouse. I think people bring different things to meetings so I think those are three of the big call outs. Also, that we realized that we have such a pool of talent, and that we don't, as much as we think we do all these amazing things, people like to be creative.


MAGDA LATEGAN: Now, creativity doesn&#39;t have to be dancing, but yes, it could unleash ways that people could be creative.

DEBRA COREY: That's a lovely way of putting it. Unleash. So, you're unleashing collaboration. You're unleashing talent. You're unleashing creativity. When we talked at the beginning about it being high touch, a lot of the activities, it sounds like that's a theme in what you did. Everything was high touch, touching people in different ways.

MAGDA LATEGAN: I think it's so important, Debra, because I think, often, we think it's an internal training program. We'll just have a few notes. We'll have a few sandwiches outside. Now, I mean we do just go that extra mile. And it doesn't have to cost a lot of money. It's just that personal little touch, knowing things about people, celebrating things, and letting people work in teams and not always that team. In each team, there was a leadership member, but he wasn't, or she wasn't, the person that would always tell everybody, stand up and talk, everybody in the team got a turn to be the spokesperson for the team. I think that's quite empowering as well. For people to understand I have a voice. We talk about lead from every chair. It's sort of a global thing. We say you can lead if you're the receptionist, if you're the MD, if you're a sales executive outside. We have to help people to lead from every chair by giving them skills.

DEBRA COREY: That's really important because a lot of times at companies, you have values, or missions, and purposes, and they're words, but it's translating it into actions. It sounds like that's what you did.

Let me ask you a question. What kind of tips? You've now done this. What kind of tips? Somebody's inspired by what you've said, and they think, "Wow, I'm gonna go out there. I'm gonna do it." Obviously, they'll dance. We know that. Do a bit of exercise, yes, yes, but what kind of one or two tips that you could give people who might wanna do this?

MAGDA LATEGAN: I think you have to look at your business strategy. You have to say what are the key things that we believe is gonna be part of what we need. For us, it was around negotiations, strategic thinking, around the whole person. We had somebody talking to us about our own personal goals, what we call the corporate athlete, and also the consumer. I think you have to understand what are the messages. Then, perhaps make sure that you don't have too many things happening on one day. What we did is each day, we took one subject and worked with it on that day. My biggest learning was we didn't give people enough rest time. I think people did say it was fantastic, but it was full on.

DEBRA COREY: It's that balance of jamming too much into, if you're gonna take people away from the business, but yet, to your point, not overwhelming them.

MAGDA LATEGAN: That's right. We were gonna give them one evening free, and then we decided, "No, we're not gonna do that. We're gonna have some fun activity." Which people loved, but people were exhausted. I'm in two minds. As you say, you've got a captive audience, you're away from the office, and so that's a tip. Another tip is right up front, we set rules of engagement so when people came into the room, in our opening address, we spoke about what are the rules of engagement.


MAGDA LATEGAN: The main ones were no devices, so nobody was allowed to have a iPhone or a laptop on during the session.

DEBRA COREY: Which seems so basic, but so many people don't do that, so yes, I agree. Definitely.

MAGDA LATEGAN: Seems very basic-


MAGDA LATEGAN: It sets the standard though because you go to these workshops and people are busy playing with their devices. That was interesting, is that you ask people to be open and you kind of have a contract with them, that we're delighted to have you here, but we need your input. So, I think the rules of engagement were very important.

DEBRA COREY: Setting expectations.

MAGDA LATEGAN: We started on time. I know those are little things, but to me lessons learned. Tips is stick to that. If somebody is, unfortunately, then they do take their call during their break, we're not waiting for somebody. The doors open, the music stops, and people come in. The other thing is that you do need to mix the teams up, and I think not be scared of the different levels so it's different levels, as well as different brands and departments. You do give people the opportunity, but you also must make sure you have a very strong backstage team. HR and creative services were the backstage team. They were there all the time. People needed things. That was the high touch. The snacks were all energy snacks. We didn't have stuff that could make people fall asleep.

DEBRA COREY: You thought of everything.


DEBRA COREY: You really did.

MAGDA LATEGAN: We did. A lot of the ideas came from the team. "What about this? What about that?" You do have to make sure everybody understands what you're trying to achieve because if you don't, you know. Then, you must celebrate. We had a graduation ceremony at the end, a proper graduation ceremony with proper caps, capped them and did the whole thing. People felt special.

DEBRA COREY: Everyone's gonna want you to come and plan their next learning program.


DEBRA COREY: No, I think it's really good. It's not gonna be done the same in every company. You made it something that's unique to Estee Lauder and your values, your culture, everything, that works. I think, just to add on to your tips, you said at the beginning, "I would make it your own." Which is what we say about everything about employee engagement. So take some of the lessons and some of the learnings and innovation from Magda, but go back and be a rebel in your own way. But, don't be afraid to challenge what you're doing and do it differently 'cause you've had fantastic results. You really have.

MAGDA LATEGAN: I remember running one or two things by some of the senior leaders. They said, "Oh no, we can't do that. That's not right." I think you have to say, trust yourself. Sometimes you do just have to trust, and make it your own. Make it your company. If it doesn't work, you can do something different next time.

: Exactly. Doesn't have to be perfect. Great. Well, I could go on talking much longer. I'd say we could end with a dance, but that might be too much for the video.

MAGDA LATEGAN: Yeah. I don't know if they'd be able to keep up with us. And what music I'd choose. My music list is very extensive.

DEBRA COREY: Great. Thank you very much.


DEBRA COREY: We've got lots of information, other videos like this on rebelplaybook.com. Lots of ideas to help you with innovation and becoming a rebel however you'd like to so just go out there and do it.

MAGDA LATEGAN: Thank you, you have a great show.

: Thank you very much.