Co-Founder Diversifying Jobs & COO Diversifying Group
1. Who was your favourite teacher at school? What did you learn from that person?
Mr Stephens, my English teacher.
He was someone that looked like a wise wizard even though he was in his 40’s. He taught me that there is humour to be found in everything, even in the most difficult or tragic periods of life. Something that seems even more important now. I definitely didn’t think at the time that Shakespeare’s Comedies and Tragedies would be so relevant in these times, especially Shakepeare’s consistent theme of how power corrupts. We are seeing so many democracies around the world become dictatorships and leaders who have become driven only by their need to retain power. Shakespeare understands this only too well.
2. What do you think is true that most people think is false?
That kindness is weakness. I battled so much in my early management career because people didn’t value kindness at work in the same way they do now. I hope the leaders that tried to make me think it was critical to management see it differently now. I expect they do.
What do I think is false? That you need to set people targets to get the best results. You don’t, you just need to find meaning or joy in the work itself and you will typically see people significantly outperform those that are target driven. Our world and work loses meaning if we make it all about the numbers which I think partly explains why so many people are craving real meaning from work. A good job with a good title and pay is just not enough anymore.
3. At what age did you become an adult? What happened and how did you know?
On my 30th birthday, stood on a roof terrace In Cape Town, with amazing friends around me and the realisation that I’d experienced a lot of what life was going to bring. Finding love, losing love, living in a different country and maybe that it was probably becoming too problematic to still see myself as 18 with a 3 at the start of my age!?! I think I knew based on how others now perceived me as I still see myself as the young child with wonder in his mind.
4. What habit or behaviour or belief have you recently acquired? Why is it now in your life?
Tee-totalism – I was a heavy drinker from the age of 16 until 2 years ago. It literally dominated my life – every celebration, every commiseration and just about everything else. I had wondered what life would be like without alcohol for years and finally went for it 2 years ago after I started getting hangovers that could last for days. The biggest surprise in giving up has been how much time you get back that is not lost to drinking. I am definitely not anti-drinking but if anyone is wondering what life might be like without alcohol I can highly recommend it on so many levels.
5. What are the three books that you would unhesitatingly recommend to others? Why?
Having studied English literature at University I am still feeling a hangover from reading too much so I don’t read anywhere near as much as I would like to these days. That said, when I do, it is often based on a strong recommendation to help deal with something I am struggling with in life. Here’s the 3 that are top if mind and had a big impact on me:
The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
I was randomly given this book by a tour guide in Tallinn, Estonia, while I was on a stag weekend. I was really battling at the time to feel good about my career journey having made some personal sacrifices at work. This book made me feel comfortable with the fact that we are the unique sum of our experiences and helped me stop chasing promotions for promotions sake. A great read for anyone a bit spiritual looking to find peace with work and life. In true Alchemist fashion I have also given this book to anyone I meet that is feeling how I felt at that time.
Start with Why – Simon Sinek
Simon Sinek is definitely Marmite, you love him or hate him. I was recommended this book at a time when I was starting to lose motivation in what I was doing and feeling increasingly frustrated as a result. This book clearly articulated, with business examples, what I was feeling and why and has provided me with a framework I now use all the time to decide whether something is the right thing to do (or not). Quite simply, start with why!
Outraged – Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles
The internet has become really divisive and it is getting rarer for people to debate a topic without taking sides. Dotty cuts through this noise and articulates what is really going on when people are taking to social media to voice their outrage. In an increasingly digital world has ‘outrage’ become the new social currency?! A great take on why compassion, compromise and kindness is too often lost in an increasingly binary world.
6. What’s one misconception people generally have about you?
I think when people look at some of the places I have worked and some of the job titles I have had they are a little surprised by the person they meet. I think at times I have felt judged a little more than I feel comfortable with by the places I have worked or the jobs I have done. Sadly, I think we all do that a little bit about others, especially in the Linkedin and personal branding era. In my career I have always been mostly driven by the impact I can have which often meant being the ‘different’ one who was trying to drive change or do something different. I use this common misconception to help us challenge our biases for/against people that have worked at certain companies – why do we still recruit like this?!
7. What personality trait has got you in the most trouble? What kind of trouble does it get you in?
People-pleasing. It’s great for getting to know people and building relationships quickly but means that you beat yourself up when you can’t give people what they want from you. You get better at avoiding it as you get older but something I discuss very frequently at therapy and to keep my mental health positive.
8. What is your untrainable superpower?
Being able to see order in chaos, a trait that is very helpful for working in the forever moving targets of Talent Acquisition!
9. In current industry conversation, what is an example of ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’?
That the recruitment industry will somehow shrink in size due to the increasing use of technology. Nothing we have seen or are seeing in the last 20 years is suggesting that at all! When I started we were still faxing CVs and posting letters to get candidates to call us back. All we are seeing is an amazing improvement in our industry and not an existential threat.
10. What do you think is acceptable today but will become taboo tomorrow?
Cancel culture. I think we will look back on this period and realise that communication on social media did something really weird and not nice to us for a while. We will realise that the way we engage on Twitter and other platforms was really unkind and won’t age at all well when we look back. Everything has become so binary and so right or wrong. I think and hope we will re-discover nuance and empathy so that we can agree to disagree and learn as much from those that think differently to us as we do from those who think like us.
11. What app or tech product have you most recently fallen in love with?
Clickup – a productivity tool. I have only been using a few months but feels like I finally found somewhere that works comfortably as a project manager, to-do list and thought keeper in one place. Making a big difference so far.
12. What is the best purchase you’ve made recently? Why?
Am Ember desk mug-warmer. Working from home and zoom calls has meant constantly going back and forth to the microwave to warm up drinks. A mug warmer has solved all of that and keeps hot drinks perfectly warm as long as you need to. Definitely a privileged luxury!
13. If you were to own a bar, and you could design it how you wanted, what would it look like?
It would look Neon tinged like something out of a Nicolas Winding Refn movie. Think the look and feel of Drive with lots of purple neon and darkness with pool tables, sports screens and retro computer games. If I am ever lucky enough I will build a man-cave that looks just like this…
14. Can you give an example of a time when you had to learn the lesson the hard way?
Some people in business or life will set you up to fail. If anyone has ever inherited or taken over a failing outsourced project from an incumbent or internal team will know. To improve and speed up the candidate experience at an Investment Bank TA team I managed we took over the offer paperwork process from an internal team. They deliberately missed key parts of the handover process and ordered the wrong paper etc to make sure we got off to a bad start. I was too naive and professional in my outlook at the time to see things coming. It meant pulling a few all nighters at work to get by.
Another example, I have to share – small details can have a big impact! In my first RPO gig (around 2007), things were going well and I had been quickly promoted to managing the team. In my first week of management, my team hit the headlines (literally) for all of the wrong reasons. We had a process that all adverts were checked before posting using a Word document to spot any typos or spelling mistakes. What I didn’t realise though was that this check only included the advert’s main description and not the job title. To min and the clients horror, an advert for a “Shift Operations Manager” was posted for a well known Investment Bank as a “Sh*t Operations Manager”. We noticed the mistake within a few hours but by this time it had already been picked up by a newsletter company who ran a story the same day with the headline, “Is this the dirtiest job in the City”. Being an Investment Bank they didn’t really see the funny side and this was compounded further by a National Newspaper (the Evening Standard in London) then running it as a story the next day. Needless to say it was touch and go if someone was going to lose their job and an important lesson learnt about having a 4-eyes process in place for checking anything going out in the public domain.
15. What’s the one bad quality you wouldn’t mind in a colleague? Why?
Excessive human compassion. Always best to struggle with any decisions that might harm others. Too many people forget that in business.
16. Have you ever been the weakest member of a team? How did you handle it?
Yes, first few true consulting projects where I was the only Talent Acquisition person on a team of Management Consultants. Once you get past the ‘what am I doing here’ fear there is so much to learn in how they listen, advise and consult. I made sure that I observed how they operated really quickly and mirrored the style and approach to show that I belonged and could add expertise i.e. not just a recruiter filling jobs.
17. What common wisdom in our industry needs to be debunked?
That people’s experience is the best indicator of what they can do. It’s a curse on our industry and we need to be better at building assessment processes that measure capability and not just measuring history.
18. Do you have a secret tip, tool or trick that’s contributed to your success?
Everyone who is successful in their work has 1 or 2 superpowers that contributes to most of their achievements. If you can identify and observe these superpowers you can then learn them for yourself. It’s the quickest way I have seen to grow really quickly. Think Sila from the Heroes series (2006-2010) who could steal superpowers and you’ll get the idea. Only in this case it’s copying, not taking.
19. If you could add a question for the next person to answer, what would it be?
How did you get into recruitment?
20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With … ?
Seb O’Connell – President Global Markets for Cielo. One of the single biggest influences in my career and one of the most influential and innovative thinkers in our industry. Those that know, definitely know!
Thank you to Luke Davis for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune. Make sure to connect with Luke on LinkedIn