Bernie Shakeshaft is Founder and CEO of BackTrack, an organisation that gets young people ‘back on track’ by developing strong, happy & healthy foundations that result in positive life pathways and full participation in their communities.
One night, at a Macquarie Foundation event, Bernie was introduced to Elise Sernik by a mutual colleague, Lisa Cotton. Knowing BackTrack, Lisa tapped Bernie on the shoulder and said simply, “You should talk to Elise”.
At the time BackTrack was navigating its leadership, people and culture by feel. As Bernie explains in this video interview, they “had money coming in, their governance was in order, but they were stretched, and they knew they couldn’t go on like that.” Bernie’s instinct told him they needed someone who understood leadership and the realities of a fast-growing youth organisation and an evolving entrepreneurial social enterprise.
As Bernie says, the combination of personality profiling and leadership team workshops that kicked off the work together were “a turning point for their organisation.” The team was challenged to look with fresh eyes at who they had in their leadership tent and their strengths, gaps and blind spots. These first sessions quickly established a high trust, high transparency norm that the team now explicitly values as critical.
As Bernie says, the combination of personality profiling and leadership team workshops that kicked off the work together were “a turning point for their organisation.”
Successive workshops and coaching sessions have, and continue to create, the infrastructure BackTrack needs to steer effectively through growth:
- Generating the BackTrack values: fresh and utterly unique
- Embedding behavioural norms as a way of living that everyone understands and relates to
- Strategic planning that cuts through jargon and complexity and allows the team to keep pushing the most critical tasks to the top of the pile
- An approach to structure that allows the team to iterate and keep pace with evolving needs
- A recruitment process that includes the profiling tool Lumina Select, so that they can more effectively screen for personality and culture alignment
- A sounding board on tough resourcing decisions and advisory on capability and structural gaps
- An impact measurement framework that took 3 years of complex work and synthesized it into a 1-page story of impact, and survey tool that will help them secure more funding and drive quality service delivery
Throughout it all, those first sessions on authentic leadership, and personal-professional development have remained central. Lumina Spark, the profiling tool used at the outset continues to contribute to a culture of self-reflection and interpersonal insight. Everyone is committed to becoming the best leader and manager they can be in the service of the BackTrack mission.
Three years after we began working together, BackTrack and its social enterprise collectively has reached around $6 million, a three-fold increase in turnover. Bernie has been awarded Local Hero, they have launched a successful documentary BackTrack Boys, and there is a book. They have great talent and funding knocking on their door, a thriving social enterprise and a national change agenda.
What stands out for us about BackTrack is their ability to deeply live the principles of partnership. They believe the kind of change they want to bring about can’t be done alone and this ethic fuels both their personal and organisational growth and effectiveness.