Alison Harrington

CEO & Founder, Moove & Groove
Accelerated Executive Development Program AGSM 1998
Graduate Certificate in Social Impact 2016

Tell us about your current role?

I lead a fast-growing social enterprise start-up called Moove & Groove. We have created a world-first audio and video lifestyle program delivered using silent disco technology to aged care facilities. We provide facilities with our equipment, specialised training and access to our online content platform which contains thousands of specially selected podcasts, songs and videos for seniors. We were in regular contact with our clients and quickly introduced video to our platform to stream church services, karaoke, travel and our 'Active' exercise classes.

Currently, I am driving all facets of the business from product development and logistics to sales and finance, all in the middle of a pandemic! We have a complex business that involves software, hardware, content and training, so it all needs to come together to create magic in aged care facilities each day. On any given day I am dealing with suppliers sourcing headphones, talking to our editorial team about our music playlists and podcasts and then jumping on a Zoom call to our team of trainers who are out there training aged-care staff in facilities around Australia. It's very diverse and I absolutely love it.

How would you describe what you do (what you 'make'), your specialist skill?

My special skill has been to see the future direction and needs of the market and not be afraid to create it. I am intrinsically creative and love creating new products and services as well as a better vision for the future. Sometimes I have been way ahead of where everyone else is (I've learnt a lot about timing and how critical it is for entrepreneurial success and how to sell your vision as well as create it.

How have you responded, adapted or innovated as a result of this new world reality?

We have recently responded in a matter of weeks to the current pandemic and what has been happening in aged care facilities. As the lockdown progressed, family visits became extremely limited and no other external resources (like volunteers, pastors and entertainers) were allowed into these facilities.

Already stressed staff were under pressure to keep residents engaged and not isolated. We were in regular contact with our clients and quickly introduced video to our platform to stream church services, karaoke, travel and our 'Active' exercise classes. We also saw that whilst staff could video call, the reality is one staff member to every 70 residents becomes a scheduling nightmare. In one week, we devised a way to integrate several tech platforms and train staff to enable them to establish a Virtual Visitor program and send families a link to complete and fully automate the online booking system to visit. So far this is working really well and it is so rewarding to see the smiles on people's faces when they see their families via our solution.

What was the catalyst for your response?

The catalyst was hearing the heart-breaking stories from families and the staff feeling really stressed and anxious about how they would manage through this crisis. We speak to our client facilities every day so we knew what was happening on the shop floor. We simply wanted to help people and use technology to do this as fast as we could. We rolled out Virtual Visitor within one week. Our Virtual Visitor program is a fully-automated booking system that enables staff to set virtual visiting hours, send families a link to book times in an efficient, easy to manage way. A click-and-play function to ensure staff could manage 70 different connections in an easy way. It was installed on all the tablets and staff were supported and trained before it was launched to guarantee there were no stress points for all parties involved.

How has your leadership style changed or pivoted in the midst of the unprecedented uncertainty we are now facing?

I have always dealt well with uncertainty and in this current climate it's serving me well. However, I realise those in my team need support and direction about what we will do every day as things are constantly changing. I need to make courageous decisions often without a lot of information - so that has changed. Given many team members are finding this personally challenging working from home (especially with kids) my leadership style has also become much more empathetic as I am now checking in with how everyone is going emotionally. And now more than ever it is important to have a good laugh - in our business, that usually means a team dance!

What were you able to tap into from your AGSM qualification in this new world reality that's been most useful / impactful?

I studied at AGSM after being awarded a Scholarship for Women in their Advanced Executive Development Program and have found so many facets of my learnings useful. I then went on to complete a Graduate Diploma in Social Impact when I decided I wanted to re-focus my career around social change.

My undergraduate degree was in Law at UNSW, so I had no formal business training and I was a product manager at Microsoft when I started studying at AGSM. The key learnings for me were all about the importance of strategic management. My tendency is always to get a lot of things done myself and not focus enough on my role as a manager or setting a direction for the business and managing others. But, there comes a time when you have to go up, and take a helicopter view of the business, and start integrating all of the frameworks together so you can actually build the business. These are really important frameworks and I keep coming back to them every couple of days, especially now because things are changing so quickly.

I have also found the financial management skills I have learnt at AGSM invaluable. I'm an ideas person so whilst I am completely focused on creating impact and am conscious of how important it is to be looking at key financial metrics and drivers of the business, like having cash flow and scaling a viable business. Actually, that's held me in incredible stead in all of the businesses that I've done and I often talk to people about that right at the beginning when they come to me to talk about a start-up idea.

The other aspect is the focus on people management and performance, how critically important that is. The skills I learnt at AGSM about how to better manage people, is going to be more important for me than ever because my team is growing rapidly. I've had to shift gears and re-engage in focusing on a lot of these techniques again.

My recent course in Social Impact was a great way to give me a birds eye view of the social impact space and how I could leverage my business skills to effect change. I not only learnt about different forms of social models and measurement but I met so many inspiring colleagues and all of us were passionate about purpose - I felt like I had found a likeminded tribe. This course relaunched my career into the impact space and I was excited to lead 10x10 Philanthropy as CEO for several years before leaving to focus solely on Moove & Groove.

What are you most optimistic about over the next few months?

I am optimistic about the power of connection and community. We intrinsically all want to help others and many people have reached out to me to help those in aged care and seniors living in isolation at home. At the same time, I can see that adoption of technology into many facets of our lives will be fast tracked even more. We are seeing this in our space and it is unbelievable to see someone who is 80 be completely mesmerised listening to their first podcast on our platform. This is a new world that we can share with the older generations and I see so many people trying new things in this uncertain time. This will extend to lots of areas of our lives from working more at home to taking up a new hobby. Ultimately it will lead us to live more balanced (and richer) lives.

I am also optimistic that this is a chance for a global reset and that people will rethink their lives, interactions and become more conscious consumers. I hope as we come out of this we can focus our energies on the next big challenge of better caring for our planet, together.