At Open we identify and examine customer issues. At DNA we deliver on that thinking.

"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein

Service Design

Working at DNA is different.

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‘Eating our own dogfood’ is DNA shorthand for practicing what we preach, and our business model gave us a real opportunity to do just that. Three years ago we applied the design thinking that is central to our approach to the very way we employed people and ran our business.

We rely on talent and the talent we need is rare. Operating across many disciplines in two locations and serving the needs of a large client base whilst being still a small organisation, means there is often a miss-match between supply and demand – too few people and too much work or the opposite.

Our design approach simply says we must first absolutely understand the human condition as it relates to our challenge before really pushing the creative boundaries and finally testing prototypes till we have a workable solution. Our exploration discovered that the talent we seek often does not want nor can accommodate the standard full time, salaried position that was the common offer. At various ages and stages they wanted flexibility for family, study – other challenges. Similarly the business needed greater flexibility to shrink and stretch various capabilities to better match the client workload. 

That old agency approach of a fixed salary but a limitless expectation to do the late hours when needed was an anachronistic barrier to performance. One at odds with our culture, where both the business needs and the broader needs of employees are recognised with the client and the work having primacy. 

Discerning which parts of the paradigm of employment were rules we had to follow and which were just engrained habits was surprisingly difficult – and in truth the rules are few. But with that established the creative process to imagine a new paradigm honouring the foundation principles – talent, flexibility, fairness – was easy.

In an overly brief summary, employment at DNA is made up of two components, Core and Chance. Core is a maximum of 72 hours a fortnight (nine 8 hour days a fortnight or four 9 hour days a week) and is often much less. Regardless of the hours actually worked to meet client requirements the core salary is constant. But overs and unders are tallied automatically and build up a reservoir of time to be either worked later or taken as future leave. When the workload expands beyond what core flexibility can accommodate chance hours are available to employees – paid as a casual wage. The balance of core and chance can be renegotiated as employees’ life needs change.

Whilst at one level the system is simple, it requires a complicated administrative machine not available off the shelf, and employees and managers have to learn a completely new set of habits, expectations and behaviours.

Despite these challenges, three years into this experiment there is no way we would revert to the normal employment model. A large part of our team has been recruited under this model and found it a unique and highly attractive component of the DNA package. Those employees we converted to the scheme have become used to it and in many cases love it as much as we do. It has built a new commercial resilience into the business and we have been able to employ talented people who would not have been available to us under the old system. Fundamental to the system’s success is a strong vibrant and aligned culture and good management. We know we can always do better at these but we know now that the thinking that drove the design is sound – reassuring since it’s what we do.


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