Nicola Harrison

Director of Talent & Inclusion, RMIT University

1. Who was your favourite teacher at school? What did you learn from that person?

Primary school. Mr Green. I remember him reading us the BFG (Roald Dahl). He taught me humour and empathy and a life-long love of reading

2. What seemed like an inconsequential decision at the time, but in hindsight turned out to fundamentally reshape your life?

My choice of Uni. Honestly, my criteria was all about the city and nightlife not if the Uni was any good. I was a bit of a grunge girl with pink hair (I wanted to be Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth) and so Nottingham was chosen over Durham because of ROCKCITY. I misspent a lot of time there! Because of that choice I landed my first job which was in East Africa, met my partner and moved to Australia and the rest as they say, is history

3. What habit or behaviour or belief have you recently acquired? Why is it now in your life?

I was going to be smart here and say something like recently I have started to believe that eating lots of chocolate cures everything but actually I think I’ve always believed that. Instead, I’ll answer truthfully. I’ve developed a habit of going to the sea (at least once a day) and trying to inhale all of the oxygen. Why? COVID19. The claustrophobia I feel with lockdown to a 5km radius and curfew, increased decision making at work, home schooling, parental guilt, the News and compulsory mask wearing in public leads me to the Sea. I think it helps.

4. What are the three books that you would unhesitatingly recommend to others? Why?

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

There are books that we all know of so well it doesn’t even occur to us we could actually read them. For me, Catch-22 was one of those books. I finally got to it when I was in self isolation back in March. All I can remember is I kept giggling all the way through…

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Disturbingly accurate summary of society. The ending always gets me – pass the Soma please.

The Underground Man, by Mick Jackson

I fell in love with the old man. It has such warmth, eccentricity and is touchingly human. It’s also based (loosely) around Nottingham castle and the tunnels running underground that connect it even today to the city centre.

5. Imagine: if we were to go to people who don't think very highly of you, what do you think they would say about you?

Huh, Do these people exist? Ha! Probably “she has an opinion and she’ll let you know it”

6. What is your untrainable superpower?

Hmmm… I’d say Optimism.

I find that I generally start from a place of “everything will work out.” This has its pros and cons as a super power.

Pro’s – I don’t get super stressed or suffer sleepless nights often, I stick my hand up for challenges and love to tackle difficult problems without worrying a lot about failure, optimism can be pretty contagious and influence those around you to be up for the quest (whatever it might be)

Cons – occasionally biting off more than I can chew, I prefer to wing it (because it will be fine) then dive into the detail I need to win hearts and minds (I have learnt some discipline on this one because that approach seldom works), and I’m constantly thinking about the next country I’ll move to or the next project I’ll take, which drives my husband crazy.

7. On what topic would you never make a joke?

Slavery. Still happening and nothing funny there

8. What do you think is acceptable today but will become taboo tomorrow?

I think today there’s often still an acceptance that Mental health issues are not a “real” illness. Organisations dismiss or don’t acknowledge the role they have to play both preventative and to support. The good news though is that I think that is changing. Those workplaces where that belief and behaviour/culture remains are finding it damaging to the brand, making them seem antiquated.

9. What is the best purchase you’ve made recently? Why?

A Delonghi Automatic coffee machine. I have no barista skills and having lived in Melbourne for so long I can’t cope with bad coffee. It grinds the beans, froths the milk and cleans itself – amazing!

10. Cheese or Chocolate?

Why choose? But my death-row meal would be a cheese platter (with wine- LOTS of wine as the hangover won’t matter)

11. If you were to own a bar, and you could design it how you wanted, what would it look like?

Like a Vernon Panton interior but I couldn’t let anyone in to mess it up so probably not a viable business model

12. If you were a giant mega Monster what city would you rampage first? Why?

New York. Everytime I go it gives me the shits

13. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t underestimate the importance of your personal brand and find a sponsor in your organisation who will advocate for you. A close friend now, (but at the time GM Marketing at Kmart) first bestowed this wisdom on me. Just like consumer marketing, the same principles apply – what do you want to be famous for and where are the proof points? Define it and own it. Share those proofs points widely and for me, nurturing my professional relationships and finding my advocates outside of HR has always been beneficial

“What do you want to be famous for and where are the proof points?”

14. What decision makes you say, “What was I thinking??” when you look back on your career?

Well, I proudly achieved an Archaeology degree from Nottingham University (1st class BA HONS – small brag to dampen the suggestion that I only spent my Uni time at ROCK CITY). What was I thinking? Well, firstly I’m totally going to own the Indiana Jones thing! Why would you not want that life? Upon deeper reflection, I think I was led by a fascination with people and their stories. Whilst it may look completely tangent to where I find my career now, I think in my role as Talent and Inclusion Director the same fascination exists. Other people’s views, cultures, beliefs, motivators, skills etc aren’t usually obvious, they need to be discovered, excavated if you like…

15. What’s the one bad quality you wouldn’t mind in a colleague? Why?

Bluntness. Some might, but I don’t find it an offensive trait. I like to know what people really think and I appreciate a candid conversation. Even if the intent isn’t positive or I disagree, I find value in knowing where someone’s opinion is.

16. Have you ever been the weakest member of a team? How did you handle it?

God, all the time. A guiding principle I live by at work is to surround myself with people smarter or more skilled than me. I aspire to work with those I’ll learn from but it’s not a strategy for the weak of heart. I have had “oh shit” moments when I realise the gap and the effort I need to put in to step up. I find learning exhilarating and I’m curiously at my most content and feel privileged (in a masochistic sort of way) when I’m in a steep learning curve.

17. What common wisdom in our industry needs to be debunked

Oh so many, but here’s a few obvious ones that I can’t believe are still around. That time to fill and cost per hire are meaningful metrics (why?) and that external talent is “better” than internal.

18. Who will be the winners & losers in our industry in the post-Covid19 world?

Winners will be brands that embrace and maintain what’s been learnt through COVID 19. That most jobs can be done remotely and with reduced hours and that caring for the wellness of your employees needs to be the priority. Those that nurture this opportunity will see growth in diversity (it matters!) and profit from a truly Global access to Talent. Companies where Recruitment has evolved to become holistic and revolving around career (with external acquisition and engagement being only one lever) will be the winners. Losers won’t do these things and will try to carry on as before

19. Do you have a secret tip, tool or trick that’s contributed to your success?

No trick but a learning I have made is that solving a business’ problem is not enough. You need to know what is cared about and focus there. AND once you’re successful, make sure you share the data in a way meaningful for your C-Suite. Its your ticket to the play.

20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With … ?

Gemma Saunders who recently founded Workplace Edit. I’m nominating Gemma here because she’s tackling Inclusion in the workplace where it actually needs to be (but where angels fear to tread) in ways of working, systems and behaviours.

Thank you to Nicola Harrison for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune

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