Adam Smith
What: Head of Digital at Hillsong Church
Field: Tech
Where: Sydney, Australia
Follow: @mradmsmith

HOW TO lead a tech team


Adam has been working with Hillsong Church for around a decade, involved in teams including Youth Ministry, Creative, I.T. and Digital. With Hillsong Technology, he aims to connect people to the Church and create new pathways for engagement with technological innovations by managing websites, digital marketing, databases and management systems globally.

Introduce yourself and tell us what you do
I’m Adam! I work for Hillsong Church leading a brilliant team that looks after the global digital footprint of our church, managing strategy, design and direction for, coordinating digital marketing for our conferences and music brands, spearheading digital innovation in apps and development and through Hillsong Technology taking our learned experiences beyond the four walls of our church and delivering tools to help the capital C Church.

Where are you from?
Born and raised in Sydney, Australia where I still live with my wife and two dogs.

What inspired you to work in Tech?

When I was 7 years old my grandfather (a mechanical engineer) showed up at our house with a box of parts to build a PC and told me that computers were going to be very important and that I had to learn everything I could about them”
- Adam Smith

I’ve never stopped that pursuit of knowledge as it relates to technology and it’s ability to change the world.

At this moment, how do you measure success in your company?
I have a few measures for success. Looking at our Church from the top level (a global organisation with locations in over 20 countries representing hundreds of campuses), attendance and growth are very key to measuring our overall impact and success. 

Intrinsically - are my team happy, fulfilled and continue to feel called to serving a vision far greater than ourselves? 

Because we are involved in a number of areas there are variable measures for success depending on the project. In digital marketing seeing extremely positive ROI on ad spend is a key metric. We have shifted strategy with from being focussed on traffic as a metric for success to focussing on content engagement - desiring to input and create value as much as possible for every individual engaged with the site as opposed to just running as many people through the site as possible.

Which areas of growth are you focusing on at Hillsong Technology?
With Hillsong Technology, we have two main goals. To serve the vision of Hillsong Church specifically in the area of innovative digital technology AND to provide digital product solutions that benefit all churches as a result of that innovation. Right now we are focussed on engaging as many churches and organisations as possible with VERRIS, an app platform we have built, in order to continue to resource ongoing design and development of new products.

How would you describe the company culture at Hillsong Technology?
Hillsong Church ‘company’ culture is highly relational. As a result, we have a sincere and absolute focus on building into our teams and creating a place where they are empowered to pursue personal development while achieving business goals. Being highly relational is not without its challenges though as it means we sometimes sacrifice process and procedure in favour of adhoc project shifting and people pleasing. It’s a fine balance and we are by no means perfect at it.

What’s the big dream for you with Hillsong Technology? The 5 year plan?
I would love to see Hillsong Technology creating digital products that provide such a level of value to churches and individuals that walls between churches and denominations are broken down and more people than ever are connected to Jesus and to each other.

Throughout your career what’s been the biggest risk you’ve taken?
I always hire based on the person and not skills/qualifications. It’s a risk in the sense of the gap that may exist at the point of hiring and the job that you know needs specific skills to get done but it has never not paid off.

“Skills can be taught, character cannot.”

What does fear of failure mean to you?
My team and their development and wellbeing are my biggest priority in everything we do. Healthy and happy teams will always produce incredible results so failure to me would look like a team that is burnt out, unhappy, unfulfilled and void of passion.

What’s been the biggest challenge throughout your entrepreneurial journey? 
We continually face a resource challenge. We will ALWAYS have more vision than resource as a Church and we feel that particularly in the technology space, as the costs involved with good digital technology are so extreme and we are working with a very very small comparative budget.

Talk to us about the challenges with a B2B business model. 
One of the major challenges I think we have with B2B is that the product we produce becomes reputationally reflective of the business/organisation we are partnering with.

Eg, if we produce an event app for an NGO conference and the app experience isn’t fantastic we have not only failed to provide a satisfactory service to the organisation but we have also tarnished that organisation’s reputation with the people engaging directly with them. The advantage I think we have though is that we have our own consumer market (in the form of our own Church) we can engage with first and thankfully they are pretty forgiving.

What qualities do you think it takes to be a leader?
I’ve always approached leadership from the perspective of never asking the people I’m leading to go somewhere or do something I wouldn’t be willing to do myself. As a result I think the greatest quality a leader can possess is being the person in the room most willing to serve everyone else.

Any there any bad recommendations you hear within the tech industry?
Oh where to begin! I probably make bad recommendations all the time! The worst thing that I think I see though is people giving any kind of direction or recommendation without having enough (or any) context around what they are speaking into. I see a lot of “doing things for the sake of it” rather than creating a strategy and then deciding upon what’s required to outwork said strategy. 

As a professional in the tech industry, what tools or apps do you use to make your life better?
Slack - I wish I could consolidate all of our organisations comms into Slack so I didn’t have to go back and forth from email. It has helped create more naturally flowing ongoing conversation rather than the more polished and formalised nature of email.

Wunderlist app - works great for me but any kind of list/task tracking would also do the same job. I’m just constantly having conversations and meetings that result in actionable items and so having a tool to quickly note them down and not let them instantly slip out of my brain is a necessity.

Wrike app - project management is a job on its own but at the size and scale we are operating at as an org and with the global nature of my team; we need visibility of everyone’s current responsibilities and progress and Wrike works brilliantly for us.

My bicycle - disconnecting from the digital world and cycling with my friends keeps me sane.

How do you manage to keep up with the rapidly moving tech industry?

“We don’t and I think it’s impossible to expect that you will be able to. But it is absolutely necessary to maintain relevance as much as possible and it is A MISSION.”

We ensure that we are constantly investing in time spent researching and up-skilling our teams and it helps that we have a group of people who are very passionate about how technology can help the Church as that passion turns into a desire to be as ‘in-the-know’ as possible.

What advice would you give 20 year old Adam? 
Buy a tonne of bitcoin right now and sell it in exactly 10 years! Ha. I would actually tell myself to learn as much code as I can. I’m useless in that area and EVERY DAY I wish I could code what’s in my brain into actual products and tools. 

Favourite quote, scripture or motto?
Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all” - David Lynch.

26 July, 2019



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