Ryan’s Strategy is to Keep on Learning

Ryan McKergow and Dr Anthony Peloso

Ryan McKergow has had his fair share of on-the-job learning, and trial and error, but recognised that with his new role, he needed new leadership skills, and he needed them quickly.

With the ELP, Ryan had the benefit of being able to select focussed learning to pick up the skills he needed to apply in his workplace, in this case, strategy. Ryan stated:

The key thing I took away from that course is (that) strategy is really about focus. What is your business going to focus on? That was the key insight for me going through that unit.”

Ryan was one of our first non-government participants to take advantage of the Enterprise Leadership program (previously Emerging Leaders program or ELP).  His early studies at QUT started with a Bachelor of Corporate Systems Management, effectively a blend of IT and business, which lead to a Bachelor of Business. This started his love for lifelong learning, a strategy which he credits as furthering his career, particularly in technology initially, now in running a business.

Ryan’s real-life strategy is to keep on learning, whichever way he can; through reading, podcasts, conferences or more formal learning. One of his personal strengths is being organisationally and motivationally organised, using the latest technology or ‘old-school’ pen and paper to keep up with and balance the needs of, his work and family life.

Ryan’s attitude on life-long learning also applies to giving-back.

Ryan also discovered the benefits of having a mentor when he was a student at QUT and part of the career mentoring scheme. When he had the experience, and the opportunity, he became part of the QUT Mentoring Program for students as a mentor himself.

Connecting with people such as his mentors, and fellow participants has also lead to life-long business relationships.  His attitude to giving back continues into his work culture at Elabor8 and different MeetUp groups that he is involved with, instilling the knowledge that he has from his experiences and giving that back to the community.

Whether it’s mentoring someone or being mentored yourself, (or) attending conferences, there’s always something new to learn.”

Our vision at QUTeX is to “Inspire leaders to forge a more effective and respectful real world” and I think that Ryan is doing exactly that. Well done, Ryan!

See the full video here:

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Tony: Hello, I’m Antony Peloso from QUT, and today I’d like to welcome Ryan. Ryan, thank you so much for being with us.  Tell me a little bit about yourself and what you’re doing.

Ryan: Yeah, sure. Thank you, Tony. So, I’m Ryan McKergow. I’m currently the group manager for an IT consultancy called Elabor8, So we specialise particularly in agile software development and that whole internet process of how you take a new idea through to something that’s, whether it’s a website or application, so, I lead a team here there’s twenty of us here in Queensland in my role entails everything from strategy to business development operations. So, that’s the professional side, from the learning side, I’m a former QUT Graduate, I did a bachelor degree here and then continue to learn as I go, so that’s what we’re talking about.

Tony: Wonderful, okay, and what inspired you to get into this business that sounds fascinating, really, strategy is my thing, you know, and I find it is absolutely a thrilling occupation.

Ryan: So, I landed in this particular role, so, I joined the company’s seven odd years ago as a consultant, so out of university of I entered the workforce through a graduate programme at Suncorp. In the end, I was working predominately as a business analyst on IT projects and then leading some small IT teams as well, and project teams, and then through that experience I was able to move to Melbourne and join Elabor8 where I’m currently at as a consultant and had a variety of experiences, and then wanted to move back home to Brisbane for family, and basically created the position for myself to start off a Brisbane office, and see whether we could crack into the Brisbane market, and fortunately, four years later we’ve been successful at that, and now have a team 20 here.

Tony: Wonderful, so Ryan, what inspired you to study at QUT in the first place?

Ryan: Yes, so, I was in a bit of a conundrum at the end of high school trying to work out which university, which degree to put on, and I was fortunate to attend the open day at QUT and they introduced to me this new course available running called The Bachelor of Corporate Systems Management, it’s effectively a blend of IT and business, which sounded perfect to me because I was always interested in technology, but not hands-on development and coding part of it, more just working with IT applications but then the business side interests me as well, so if it wasn’t for that degree I probably would’ve landed in a Bachelor of Business. I’m not sure I’d be in the same position as I was, and now in my career, so, it was fortunate that I landed in that particular element, that started my lifelong learning experience, in kind of furthering my career particularly technology initially, now in running a business.

Tony: And I know that you continued your engagement with QUT, so, tell us what’s happened recently.

Ryan: Yeah, well that’s right so about three years ago that’s when we first met. So, I was interested in looking at the Emerging Leader Programme, because I just started this role, in leading the Queensland office for us and wanted to develop myself further, and I knew that strategy in innovation was an area that wasn’t necessarily my strength, but I’d say my strength lay on the execution part and I knew there was going to be fundamental part of my role going forward, so I then since learned that I was the very first private sector person to join the Emerging Leader Programme with QUT and the Graduate Business School. So, then learnt with yourself and that was really enjoyable experience, and to learn from other peers and particularly given it was a larger public sector cohort, to learn about, I guess, the complexities in all the different scenarios you need to think through in government that you need to learn as well I think the key thing I took away from that course is strategy is really about focus, what is your business going to focus on, that was the key insight for me going through that unit with yourself.

Tony: Thank you, and I know that you really continue to develop that and really develop your strategic capabilities and embedding that in your team, as well. Tell us a little bit more about that.

Ryan: Yes, so, I how I probably approach that is it is a blend of now on the job learning through, as well as mentorship, so by trial and error working on strategy development and learning more from our directors as well, in terms of strategy development in the company that I’m working for but also more recently I’ve connected with now my current mentor,  and she’s in a Chief Executive Officer role, so we have talked about a range of different things, and so she helps me understand kind of what’s the broader business context in terms that strategy development and kind of piecing things together as well.

Tony: And I know that you’re also a mentor to the QUT Mentoring Program for our students. Tell us a little bit about that if you would.

Ryan: Yeah, so, interestingly when I was at QUT myself I was part of the group, the career mentoring scheme, and had a mentor in that capacity and always wanted to return the favour when I felt like I had the experience to offer someone else, so over the last couple of years I’ve been mentoring someone. We’ve continued that relationship even after they graduated from QUT, so it’s… it’s good to then reflect back on those earlier stages of your career and sharing those insights and even just someone entering the corporate world, well sometimes, just you know, what might seem natural for us now like it’s all a new experience with them. So being able to pass on my knowledge and experience to them that’s been really valuable.

Tony: And I know that you’ve kept up your relationship with the Graduate School of Business as well, you have an ongoing partnership.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s right.

Tony:  Which is great actually.

Ryan: Yeah, it’s my pleasure.

Tony: We love that. Now, tell us a personal growth story, if you… if you don’t mind, Ryan.

Ryan: Absolutely, so, I think it’s been ever since I’ve finished university, I think, you always reflect back on your time on uni and wonder what did I learn there? I think that the key thing it actually taught me was to continue learning. The learning doesn’t stop once you finish at university. So, when I was in the graduate program also always looking for both opportunities in terms of project experience but they’re looking at different training courses to further expand my knowledge and that’s particularly where again the interest in an agile is, agile software development, was particularly focus of Suncorp and how they worked. I then continued various different forms since then so attending conferences further training courses may be a standard two-day course or blended learning experience so I’ve gone through a range of different experiences over my time since being at QUT to continue that journey and probably will never stop as well.

Tony: And I know that you have developed and host that series of ‘lunch and learn’ through Ellabor8. I think that’s an incredibly important contribution to us in Queensland. So or what inspired you to do that how does that work?

Ryan: Yeah, so that’s actually, that’s something that’s a part of our DNA or our values even more so in Elabor8 and it’s… it’s instilling the knowledge that we have from the experiences we have been giving that back to the community,  so, when I was consulting in Melbourne I was part of different MeetUp’s,  presenting at conferences there and then part of our plan to expand Elabor8’s office in Queensland was to continue that, so look at different conferences that I can speak at, or sponsor different MeetUp groups that either we can support, or that were already established or start brand new ones like the ‘lunch and learn’. So, all of that was just us wanting to share experience and connecting with the community and really give back.

Tony:  Now, I know that you had a really enjoyable time when you were studying at QUT so what are some of the highlights of your study experience?


Ryan: Well, do I talk about the time in the uni bar like playing pool in between those classic eight hour stretches between your 8:00 AM lecture and your 5:00 PM lecture. So, well that’s part of your classic university experience, but I think one of the benefits of our course was that we had a small cohort and so you really got to know each other really well and friends with some of the people that I studied with since, and I work with someone as well that I studied with through that graduate programme,  also through that course so having that small cohort where particular group assignments you could know that you can trust each other and learn from each other and kind of each place you are in strengths, that was a really good experience and kind of, that prepared me for then entering the workforce as well, with a lot of the work that we do is team-based so it’s not individual, and you do have to work well within the team, and focus on that team building and playing to each of your strengths. So that was definitely a highlight for me is kind of having that experience with a small cohort and knowing everyone and being able to learn with each other.

Tony: Yes, and that’s one of the things that we really specialise at Graduate School and at QUTeX, is that cohort model that I know you continued in your workplace as well, so give us some ways that you actually build that amongst the team because we work with your team as well.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s right so, I guess I’ve had the privilege of being able to start a team, up from the very scratch, in some of the things that we did in the early days to almost establish our culture is actually codified, and work out what was it that we wanted to be like, the social contract of such in the Queensland office for us so we actually went through a full day workshop talking around a range of topics, but one of the things that we focused on was what’s the culture that we want to instill, say since then that’s being our talking point for anyone that’s coming on board to the team in almost to the extent of getting people to sign our social contract, this is the way that we work, so,  we wanted to continue that everyone’s involved in part of the business, everyone has their own part to play, and we want to share knowledge with each other and trust and respect each other, so that’s been one path. Then another has been because we’re a consulting company we don’t get to see each other face to face very regularly most people in, some of the consultants are full time at their different clients and so we’re completely different offices and we’ve basically had a tradition, from the very start that we would always meet together on a Thursday afternoon, which we’ve maintained to this day, where we will meet together, or virtually meet together, and talk about a range of different topics that might be knowledge sharing, could be social catch up, it could be talking about our goals and objectives. So that’s a couple of different ways of how we looked after the team and maintained our culture throughout the last four years.

Tony: That’s really really quite an amazing and quite fabulous, and if you could keep it going, I think it’s really, really important.

Ryan: Absolutely.

Tony:  So, what advice would you give to someone who was looking to follow you in your footsteps?

Ryan: You’re making me sound a lot more important than I am, but feel like that’s good, Tony. So, I think for me, I think it comes back to that point of your learning never stops and so you’re always looking for different ways to learn something new whether it’s reading a book, whether it’s attending of course through QUT, whether it’s mentoring someone or being mentored yourself, attending conferences, there’s always something new to learn. Look at the rate of pace of technology is.

For example, like, the iPhone didn’t exist over ten years ago, and yet now we’re up to the  latest version with completely different operating systems and applications that we’re constantly learning about. Video technology wasn’t much of a thing ten or fifteen years ago, that maybe we had a teleconference line. So there’s always something new to learn and even in the business perspective in there, in the specialised in strategy development, there’s always something new to learn, so an area that I’ve particularly paid attention to and learned a lot over the last eighteen months is how do you connect strategy through execution in that span through what’s called objectives and key results, so something that was popularised by Intel and Google in the early days and now it’s quite popular Equisite helps you look at wherever you sit within the organisation what’s your alignment up to the overall organisation strategy and say how do you then by your role helping them progress and helping them achieve their objectives.

Tony: Ryan, I’ve known you for quite a while, and I know that you’re incredibly organised and incredibly motivated, so tell your audience how you do this, and what keeps you going?

Ryan: Yeah, sure. Anyway so it’s been through trial and error over a period of time and working out what works really well for me so on the organisational side, I’m fortunate that it’s a strength of mine, I kind of lean into that even more size so, so I’ve used an approach called personal Kanban, which is a simple technique it has two rules visualise your work and limit your work in progress and so that can take various formats or I’ve had sticky notes on walls with what am I currently doing to get it out of my head and out of context, and focusing on one thing at a time, ideally through to the classic to-do list which is what I’m currently using my notebook that I carry everywhere, so I write a new To-Do list every day, small tasks to complete every day, and focus on completing one thing in time and even more so if I can group is similar activity together then do that some kind of in that context rather chopping and changing and losing focus and all that.

So that’s on the organisation side, the motivation slide I think motivations are interesting concept because I think motivations only short term and so for me and then how do you balance motivation within discipline as well, so for me, I’ve formed a number of small little habits that I start each day with, so you can be exercising and stretching in the morning it can be practising gratitude and things that I’m grateful for, it can be going for a morning walk, cold shower so though I don’t recommend them in winter, so different things just to have like those little disciplines that kind of help prepare you for each day, ‘cause reality is you’re not going to be on you’re A-Game every single day. We all have our ups and downs or there might be something affecting us but if you got a kind… that routine that can rely on that kind of helps you get in the mood and that’s been the discipline that I’ve relied on it’s the rather kind of always trying to be motivated ’cause the reality is I’m not.

Tony: They sound like wonderful lifelong lessons and I love that combination between motivation and discipline, I really never thought about that, that’s a wonderful really wonderful insight.

Ryan, having watched you I know that you have a combination of an electronic lifestyle and way of managing things and also you’re pen and paper man, so tell us a little bit about that? 

 Ryan: Yeah, exactly, well I would be lost without my calendar like that helps me by keeping track of the various meetings that I need to attend and also then the various tasks I need to do. So, I combine blocks in my calendar off, like this is my focus time on this as opposed to necessarily just all being meetings. So I carry my phone around everywhere and that helps me stay on track of what are the different things and help me plan out my day but I also find that it can be a bit overbearing at times of just relying on technology as well and sometimes you just want to go back to the basics of having that simple pen and paper and almost the satisfaction of striking something off your to-do list so that’s why I’ve combined the two and haven’t relied on having everything virtual or technology where I have done that in the past of having virtual to-do lists or virtual Kanban boards I’ve gravitated more back to the classic pen and paper to manage my work now.

Tony: So, there’s a tip from the… from the master everybody. So, what last, the last word of wisdom that you like to have with our without cohorts.

Ryan:  Ah, you’re putting me on the spot and like having to come up with some tales of wisdom but I think it for me it really comes back to always be learning something, say, and that can come back to what I was saying before about building in that discipline, how do you build in that discipline so one thing that I’ve done to just reduce that barrier to going on I need to read that book I mind that I work well while listening to podcasts in particular so now I build that into my morning routine so going for a walk, I’m both exercising and learning something new the same time and that kind of helps me just have that discipline of learning something new rather than it always having to be that big event.

Tony: And I know that you’re a father of three so you have a pretty busy life I imagine.

Ryan: Yes, I do. I’ve got three young daughters ones in school and two in daycare and yes so I have to lean even more so in to organise sense or strength that I have yet to try to keep on top of everything and yeah, I guess using that discipline of being quite strict with my time means that I can have that balance between working in family life as well.

Tony: Well thank you so much for being with us today, Ryan,  it’s been up total pleasure, yes thank you so much, thank you.

Ryan: Thanks Tony


Tony is a Corporate Educator for QUT, teaching strategic thinking, strategy implementation, innovation and marketing. He has strong expertise in strategic thinking and business planning, innovation and creative processes, and leadership development. Tony’s research interests include employee loyalty, organisational climates, and corporate reputation.

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