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Author: ruthpenfold

That time I officially got engaged

One thing struck me almost the moment I landed at Onfido; just how vocal our people are about what the business is doing and how the business is doing it. It stood out to me instantly as it’s something I’ve seldom come across before to such a high degree. You find it in pockets for sure, but never in a way that encapsulates all teams within the business in quite the way it does here – at least in my experience.

Let’s be clear here, this is a very great thing indeed.

Voices and challenge mean one thing and one thing alone: the team care and are invested in the business and are determined to help facilitate its success.

As part of my early audit of the business and my role within it, I set myself the challenge to unearth what the things were that make this so, and I managed to boil it down to one thing: involvement.

Put simply: people are consulted, communicated with and taken on the journey. Even in the times that this hasn’t been executed brilliantly, a genuine attempt is made. The business strongly sends the message as often as it can; we care.

The Founders ‘show up’ in all senses, and work tirelessly to try to get things right. As a leadership team we invite challenge and embrace all the different voices that help us stay on the right track. This starts with the Founders, who know the business and the people within it inside out, and care deeply about the imprint they are making in the world.

These are the same Founders that decided to hire an HR person as employee number 12; which is incredibly rare in a startup of that size. Also the same Founders who made the call to invest heavily in communications by hiring their first Director of Internal Communications last year. It’s a huge deal for such an early stage business to care enough about the involvement of its people to make this kind of investment so early on.

We’re still learning how to get things right, and iterating on what we share and how we share it, but for a business of our size and age, it’s pretty comprehensive stuff. Company wide goals are set via crowdsourcing data from company wide sources. Ideas and decisions are socialised via well thought out communications channels.

The business stands, for the most part, as one cohesive unit. Most work and projects are delivered by cross functional ‘squads’, which is by no means exclusive to Onfido, but it does mean that the wider community gains greater understanding of what one another’s challenges are by working together first hand. This is something you truly miss out on when you operate in silos.

We survey our teams regularly and we have a laser focus on continuous improvement. We take feedback and we act on it. We also make sure that our reward demonstrates our commitment to our people. This year we launched Onfido Balance, a flexible benefits offering that gives people support for the head, the body and the heart, we have a squad working on what we offer to parents as a business, and all employees have share options and flexible working.

Whether by accident or by design, Onfido has effectively provided the right platform for high performance working; namely igniting greater levels of employee commitment and involvement to achieve high levels of performance, productivity and ultimately profitability. This comes in the form of building skills and creating opportunities for innovation and creativity and is achieved via greater involvement and commitment of employees, which in turn leads to greater overall job satisfaction and motivation. Total win.

The question has been raised over whether you can truly establish a firm relationship between high involvement in work practices and overall firm performance, and perhaps it’s simpler for me to say a resounding yes to that, as I get to witness that first hand at Onfido, and the energy that’s created by working in this way.

The impact created by garnering the full commitment of your people can truly be your competitive advantage.

That is what we have seen at Onfido. The teams self manage in many respects, and our best ideas as a business come from them. They set their own goals mostly and consistently meet and exceed them. Where they don’t, it is typically as there has been another deliverable that has become more important. Because of their high involvement with us as a leadership team, and us with them, we get to see all of this first hand.

Allowing the space to innovate and create means that you can shape shift as a business to maintain or create a market leading position, and I for one can’t wait to see where Onfido go next.

That time when I learnt about the importance of hearing

If I consider some of the most important things I’ve learnt along the way, many of those things have come in the form of people; of friends who pop up and teach me something special that enables the growth needed to level up to wherever I am going next. 

Cynics will say it is just coincidence, haters will say I’m drunk off the joy of life (I am), but for me, I know there’s magic to be found in those moments. 

One of those moments happened to me recently. 

Through my deepening connection to myself via meditation, I found myself becoming part of a project a couple of years ago called Just Breathe – an organisation that creates mass meditation experiences that bring meditation to a wider audience. 

Through this group, I met with Jerusha and Adam Shulberg, who are are the owners of an awesome Audiology practice in Marylebone called Cubex

At that time, I’d paid very little mind to cognitive health. My interest and commitment to meditation was an abundantly personal one; one that was borne out of the need to create calm in my world, to find a way to be peaceful with myself and to stop my emotional pendulum swinging quite so broad and wide.

Jerusha and Adam had become part of the project partly due to their own experiences with meditation but largely due to their extensive knowledge and research into the link between meditation and cognitive health. Put simply; meditation elicits a relaxation response, which reverses the effects of stress in our brains. This allows the space for new neural network connections to unfurl and our brains to become healthier. 

In the world we live in, our brains are continuously exhausted and depleted by trying to make sense of the noise around us. It is up to us to become aware of the impact that our neural network killing way of living has on our cognitive health and what our current health report looks like, so that we can make the changes needed to make it better. 

Cubex were incredibly generous and hosted many of the project’s volunteers for cognitive health checks, and through that experience, I became more aware of the importance of preserving cognitive wellbeing, and how hearing loss can drastically impact the lives of those suffering from it. 

Whilst interesting, this new data merely reaffirmed the path I had chosen to walk along, and I merrily continued with my daily meditation and stillness work. 

A few months later I became aware that one of my parents was starting to behave in just the way that I had learnt might be possible: the quiet withdrawal of oneself from social situations and conversations. 

You see; our brains can only handle a certain amount of cognitive load, and with hearing loss what happens is that our brains have to work extra hard to make sense of the sounds around us.

Hearing is actually a brain process (thank you Cubex), without the brain we only have a series of unfathomable sounds. Those suffering from hearing loss therefore start to become exhausted by trying to make sense of the world around them and for the most part may not even be aware of what is happening until it is too late. The less we interact, the faster our brains deteriorate and the more likely we are to experience things like dementia. 

Even if a person is aware of what is happening this can be something that is incredibly hard to face. It takes real bravery to seek help, and even when you do, it’s hard to find access to the right kind of advice. My parent was aware of what had been happening and had sought medical help, but the solution offered was something that made the sound quality worse rather than better; so hearing became an even more painful experience. 

Happily the Universe had our backs. I could see the signs I’d been learning about, and could see the current solution was having a negative impact, so reached out to Jerusha and Adam and they were delighted to arrange to spend some time assessing both my parents to see what kind of support they might need. 

Because of their open hearts and informal style, the Cubex team were able to provide exactly the right kind of thoughtful but comprehensive hearing support and advice that was needed. 

Today my parent is the proud owner of a state of the art hearing aid. They also laugh more, they tell more bad jokes, they interject into more conversations and we couldn’t be more delighted. The change is quite simply life changing. 

If you recognise any of the signs I describe here, either for yourself or for anyone in your world, please reach out and I’d be delighted to connect you to Jerusha, Adam and their brilliant team. 

Cubex: I am forever in your debt and am eternally grateful for the work you do with both individuals and businesses to bring awareness to cognitive wellbeing. 

That time I learnt the art of negotiation

I’m often asked for advice by friends and peers on the art of negotiation. Over my many years of hiring experience, I’ve become a skilled advocate for the businesses that I’m hiring for, and have been able to hire tonnes of legitimately awesome humans to help towards their mission.

There’s an art to successful negotiation from the business side of the fence, a flow you need to create throughout the recruitment process that means that by the time you are ready to offer someone a job, you know what their motivations are and what matters most to them, as well as what matters most to the business you are representing. From that place of understanding you can safely lead process to a positive outcome for all, whether or not the person ultimately joins the business.

I’ve been great at helping others from the other side also, supporting others in getting clear around what matters most to them, when to show their hand and when not to, and frankly having the bravery to say no when they need to say no – letting them know that there is almost always at least some wriggle room.

Where I was less successful however, was when it came to advocating for myself.

At the time I didn’t really clock how strange it was for a person who understands the detailed inner workings of the offer process, to be such a novice when it came to negotiating their own situation.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Now I can see very tangibly the reason behind the disconnect. Because, whilst I’m a seasoned recruiter, I’m also a seasoned female, with all of the wonderful self deprecating characteristics that are commonly found within that group.

You know the sticky stuff a lot of us wade through; the imposter syndrome, the low self esteem, the desire to feel ridiculously qualified for the role you are applying for, the ‘work really hard and wait for people to notice how good you are’ school of thought.

We have had a lot to contend with as women in the working world over the years, and it’s a delight to see the number of positive initiatives out there to support our development and progression in modern times. None mores so than when it comes to balancing the gender pay gap.

We need that continued support from businesses and other humans, gender immaterial, to get us there.

Sadly I am afraid that stuff alone won’t suffice on this one. We will never really progress past this point until we change the negative conversations that we are having with ourselves. On repeat.

We are responsible for our life experiences and are fully capable of creating a better deal for ourselves in the here and now; in the way we coach ourselves (and one another) to break through and ask for what we are worth.

There is no quick fix here. The only way to start to realise your actual value in the working world, is to realise the real value within yourself. That’s right my friends, personal perception is everything. You won’t be able to effectively ask for more, until you truly believe you are worth it.

The shift here can be a painful one as it comes from deep within, and change of this magnitude takes time and a lot of investment. My lead time for my shift was over a number of years and, whilst that is something that I continue to work on today, I am happy to say I do so from a place of now feeling brave enough to ask for what I perceive to be my true value.

At a recent #YouEqualTech meetup in London, we were reminded by Susie Ashfield that bravery always has to come before confidence. We have to say yes and be prepared to figure some stuff out along the way.

I’ve got a lot better at saying yes to the things that scare me, but some of other the things that have been most supportive to me have been:

  • Surrounding myself with a growing group of super women (and men), who champion, inspire and support.
  • Learning to connect with myself fully, through working on my stillness and my ability to just be, via daily meditation but also healing and coaching work with Sara Williams and Zofia Sharman.
  • Getting better at celebrating my successes first hand by becoming proud of my day to day achievements.
  • Developing a humble respect for my natural inclinations and talents. I recommend a simple Strengths Finder exercise to help you realise that so many of the things you currently take for granted are actually your super powers.
  • Learning how to take a compliment with a simple thank you.
  • Paying it forward and supporting other women in their development. The growth and learning you experience by championing one another is huge.

Never underestimate the power of the people you surround yourself with. They can make you or break you. Have you ever experienced a time when you feel like a friend is actively trying to dissuade you from doing something like negotiating?

Sadly this is something that is extremely common – even I have been that person in the past. It’s simply down to the relationship that person is having with themselves, it isn’t about you. They can’t support you putting yourself out there, because they can’t fathom doing it for themselves. You don’t need to go as far as ‘breaking up’ with those people, but do clock those who champion and those who dampen in your friendship groups, and choose the right audience for the right conversation.

I’d love to hear more from those of you who are working on improving the conversation you have with yourselves. Let’s join forces and co-champion one another.

That time when I realised that I will never stop looking for things that look like love

Haters look away. This blog is unapologetically about the thing that most of us crave and spend our whole lives hunting for even though we all have a limitless supply of our own to give: LOVE.

Have you ever thought about the fact that as humans, love is truly the thing that drives us? Level with me; What’s the thing most likely to drive you loopy? What’s the thing most likely to push your buttons? What’s the thing that evokes the biggest emotional reaction when you feel slighted? What’s the thing that is abundant when you feel most joyful? That’s right: LOVE.

We hunt for it far and wide, often thinking that love is just the thing that can happen with our closest people, and search for ‘the one’. We also seek it in a less overt way, in the form of acceptance, admiration or respect – think about those internet likes. When we boil all of those things down, in our many different ways, we are still just seeking: LOVE.

The real truth about love though, is that – “plot reveal” – it’s within us and all around us at all times. We are literally brimming with the stuff. Each and everyone of us has an infinite resource of love to call upon, we just have to choose to see it that way.

For love is the community that we live in, not just within ourselves or our own immediate community but the global community of humans that we are all a part of. All of us. Pretty much most of the time, if you take the time to look around you, you can find love in abundance, whether in the way that we interact with one another or in the details of how we live.

I fall in love on an almost daily basis; in the beauty of an interaction, the smile of a fellow commuter or even sometimes at the goofy look on my own face in the mirror.

Now I’m well aware that there is plenty in the world that is not love, but I hold firm in my belief that we are all from love and therefore just have to find our way back to it, to ourselves and to each other. Not all of us make it, but it doesn’t make it any less real.

I too am guilty of getting caught up in the whirlwind that is life, disconnecting from my limitless loving resources and forgetting the simplicity of what really matters.

So here’s a little reminder for you and for me, for the days when we get caught up in the grind, of some of the day to day places we can always find it:

  • In the eyes of the person sitting opposite you (even if they are looking at their screen, and watch as they sparkle as they receive a message from a loved one).
  • In the eyes of the child who truly sees you and connects with you (you know the looks that make you feel goofy and awkward, before they are old enough to have learnt to look away).
  • In the heart of the person who lets you skip the line when you only have one item (love those guys).
  • In the soul of the person at your favourite coffee shop, who remembers your order before you walk up (and what might you remember about them in return…?).
  • In energy of the person who sees someone struggling to carry something, and offers a hand to help (I try to be that person as often as possible, as long as it is within my capabilities!).
  • In the way your friend keeps a stash of your favourite tea in their cupboard, just in case you stop by (you know who you are and you are loved).

Lastly, please remember that the most important place of all you can always find it is within you; whether to shine it on yourself or the world around you. Remember; it’s the one thing you can give out and receive back in multiples.

This stuff is just as fabulous in reverse; just think about the difference you feel when you know you have been awesome to someone, and you can bask in the light of their love and gratitude. Whenever I’m feeling like I’m in a deficit, I bring my best loving game to all of my interactions, and greedily fill up my tank with all the love I get back.

Love can change the world my friends. Start with allowing it to change yours and sit back and marvel as it starts appearing everywhere like the miraculous life source that it is.

Ps. I love you.

[Title inspo from Raymond Antrobus and his magnificent poem; “Things That Look Like Love”]

That time when I made a particularly good investment

Sat on the tube this morning, I looked around me and was met by a sea of tired and yawning faces. As I focused on one guy sat opposite me, I could see that his eyes were red, weeping and sore from exhaustion, struggling to stay open. In that moment it suddenly dawned on me that even though I feel a little more tired than normal today; those used to be my eyes and that total exhaustion used to be my steady state. Every. Single. Day.

I tortured my poor little tired eyes by forcing my contact lenses in each morning, then attempted to relieve and revive them with eye drops throughout the day, looking for a fix for the symptoms of tiredness, as opposed to a cure.

I was brilliant at being exhausted, propped up by whatever liquid stimulant I could get my hands on. A true master.

It hadn’t actually occurred to me until today that this has all changed for me and that the investment I’ve been making in learning to rest, and learning to support true rest and recovery time in my sleep, had actually been begun to pay off.

It’s been a bit like setting up a standing order to a savings account; if left alone, the money just goes in each month so you kind of forget it’s happening. Then you check on the account a year or so down the line, and discover its way more than you ever thought you’d manage to save. Magic.

That’s been totally been my recent experience with sleep.

A bit like the terrible spending habits I adopted throughout my early adulthood, my sleeping habits were a hot mess.

The real big change here has come from a combination of lots of tiny changes that add together to create one big whole rested creature.

The biggest of those small changes being:

  • My commitment to creating a set rhythm for my body, by waking and sleeping (or at least attempting to) at the same time each day.
  • Removing caffeine from my world has massively impacted the way I sleep and rest, and my ability to connect to myself enough to know when I am exhausted. It used to mask all that and I used to feel like I was propelled by rocket fuel (happily I have since learnt that I am haha, but now it’s facilitated by rest and plants).
  • Having a cut off point for screen time and allowing myself some peaceful time before I start to wind down to sleeping.
  • Keeping my bedroom as a place of rest, not a place of work. That’s really important, to make the room itself a place your brain associates with rest.

Please also note there are days when I am still a little tired. Today is one of those days. There are also times when I may choose to stay up slightly later to be a part of something I care about enough to do so. To support that I will be mindful of this throughout the rest of the week, and make sure that I have created the right platform of rest on the days that surround it.

My friend (and coach) Zofia Sharman once told me to view my sleep pattern like the tide. So some nights it might not come in so far, but the next night, I can choose to make it come all the way in. That supportive ebb and flow is what I now work towards, so that I can support myself well for those nights when I stay up a little later than usual.

But what of the benefits of real rest (as if I really need to tell you!)?

  • The intoxicating feeling of being fully present and alert as often as possible.
  • The quality of mood that I am able to bring to each interaction.
  • The resilience to the stresses of day to day live that I’ve been able to build up.
  • The beauty of waking up naturally most days around the time of my alarm.

Everyone is different, and it can only be about figuring out what works best for you; what’s your optimum amount of sleep, how can you best support and allow for true rest etc.

As for these little tired eyes, just like the tide, I’ll just make sure they get to turn in a little earlier again this evening to build up those reserves.

That time when I realised that first impressions really count

One of the most critical moments of successful hiring comes not always in the hunt, but in the way a person is made to feel in the process that comes just afterwards.

That’s the time when employment battles can often be lost and won. What is the difference between it being done well and done badly…? One simple ingredient: LOVE.

Like all good love stories, it’s the simple gestures that matter the most. It’s not about adding in a tonne of expensive wooing, or crafting elaborate smoke and mirrors to win a person’s affection; it’s just about being authentic and making a real effort to make that person feel valued and important to you and your business. To feel loved.

I have recently had the pleasure of experiencing an awesome onboarding process at Onfido. No smoke and mirrors; just a genuine delight from the team at having a crew of new humans to come and help them solve their challenges. Their efforts meant that I spent my first week feeling immensely loved, valued and important.

So how did they do it? Here are some of the experiences that our clever team have crafted to ensure our new joiners get the best first impression of us.

1. Love letters straight from the heart

In the build up to the big day, you get a series of brilliant emails, that help prep you for what is going to happen on day one; the dress code, the tone of the day, what to bring, the expectation. Most of all, what you get from those emails is a genuine, heartfelt excitement that the team has that you are coming on board.

2. A tribe within a tribe

As much as possible, our global team begin their first week in London. Onfido consciously tries to only onboard people on the first Tuesday of each month, which means new joiners may wait a little longer than normal to start. The wait is entirely worth it.

In my case, there were 12 other humans from near and far, there with me to share in my day one nerves. It created a sense of immediate ease, as you have a crew of humans who you can share nerves, experiences and excitement with.

3. The wedding (slash first day) breakfast

The first thing that happens on day one, is that the whole business comes together for a team breakfast. The new crew are introduced one by one to the business by their manager, and honestly, being greeted by a warm group of smily happy people feels like the warmest welcome ever.

Abundant breakfast and an abundant sense of welcome. There’s something quite special about breaking bread with your new crew as quickly as possible.

4. Crew love

After getting set up with your tech and a talk from the Founders, lunch feels like it arrives very quickly. The idea for day one lunch, is the chance to go for some low key eats with your immediate team. So a chance to sit down with your own little unit.

5. Meet the family

The rest of the week is peppered by sessions where you and your fellow newbies get to really learn what the different departments do, and how the business operates. This includes the talk from our Founders, but also works its way through the whole team.

Think about how long it’s taken you to figure out what the different departments of your business does in the past. For me, that sometimes takes years.

At Onfido, you are given as much information as possible. If you want to then deep dive in specific areas, that’s up to you. It’s like you don’t just get to meet old Uncle George at the wedding, it’s getting to meet him and getting the skinny on his repertoire of ‘in jokes’ before you do so you know where to laugh.

What’s the outcome of this level of thought and care? You feel included, valued and important. You feel like you have everything you need to put your best foot forward in what could be a fairly challenging situation.

The genuinely people centric approach to the operation of Onfido was one of my main drivers for joining, and that people centricity starts at the very top of the organisation; within our team of Founders and Executives.

This doesn’t mean our work as a People team is done however, we are continuously looking for ways we can improve and keep iterating on the brilliant business we have built so far.

On that very note; I’d love to hear from you all about what you have found worked well in your own onboarding experiences; whether you were building it out as a People team, or whether you have experienced something awesome first hand.

That time when I learnt the art of good housekeeping

I was recently invited to speak on a panel called “Secrets of the Side Hustle” at the Marie Claire Future Shapers event in London, and sitting in that room full of insanely inspiring women I realised one thing:

Many of us had spent a large portion of our lives focusing building homes for the people around us (12 years in my case), when in actual fact, we needed to first focus our energies on a different kind of ‘home’ making; the home that we build inside ourselves.

We can achieve whatever we want to achieve when we get our house in order. Our internal environment has to come first because our sense of belonging and true sense of self has to start there. 

It took me a very long time to realise this, and, like many people, that realisation only came once I was almost entirely broken. I’d like us all to get to a place where that kind of breakdown isn’t necessary.

So to real home making; what does it take to really create the time, space and energy to maximise your hours in the day and live your best life? And I don’t mean to find new and intense ways to flog yourself and live on the brink of exhaustion, I mean; to create a life that’s fulfilling and truly joyFULL. One full of energy, light, love and laughter.

For me, I had to look at how I was living before I could get to what I was doing. Here is my recipe for successful home making:

1. Clear the way so you can hear the messages from your inner most; spiritually and physically.

We live in a world of distraction and disconnection. Before we can move forward in any kind of positive direction, we need to give ourselves the chance to truly listen to what is at play in any given situation. My emotions used to jump up and down and all over the place, with all kinds of different situations triggering my fight or flight defensives.

The thing that’s allowed me the space to really stabilise and walk in line with myself, is the work I have done (and continue to do) on stillness. That is, the art of just being. The art of connecting to yourself in such a way that you can determine what is for you, and what you need to let pass you by.

For me that has meant learning to meditate as the backbone, but that isn’t something that’s static and disconnecting me from the rest of the world. True meditation can happen every moment of your waking life if you let it, by simply living in a connected way. Start small, just a few minutes here and there, and see if you start to feel inspired to do a little more.

2. Honour your body and give it the space to rest.

Once you have cleared some space within yourself, you should start to tap into how you are feeling underneath everything. Life is amazing, and there is no end of what you might be able to fit in; but at what cost?

Learn to make choices that support you being at your best, and support that by choosing to say yes to the things that are truly enriching, but no to the things that aren’t.

I used to beast myself marching all over London, largely driven my overwhelming FOMO. Needing to be at the best gigs, the coolest art shows, the most awesome graffiti jams… when in truth, yes those things are great, but a good night’s sleep, one where I’ve managed to disconnect from the day and truly rest, is more enriching than anything else.

3. You aren’t just what you eat, you are how you eat it too.

The focus on health today is a beautiful thing, but much of that is tied up with an overwhelming drive to achieve something that isn’t what we truly are. The truth is; much of our actual life-enriching health comes from the inside out.

Our mental wellbeing is huge, but also what we are consuming in terms of produce. How much, when and in what energy. Many of the things that we feel are ‘healthy choices’ are still being made in the wrong energy. That energy is one of disconnection.

So by choosing to connect first, we are in a much better place to make the right choices for ourselves at the right time. I constantly evaluate and look at what I am consuming and why, and I continue making the changes I need to support my inner glow.

4. Finding a structure that works for you is everything.

People are at their best at different times of day. I truly believe that. For me; that time is at the beginning of the day. I wake early, and have a morning routine that supports my connection, my health and my growth.

That means a mixture of meditation, movement and learning. To support that, that means I need early bedtimes. Normal for me is 9-9.30pm.

It doesn’t matter how you are built or what works for you; the key is to find a way of being that works for you. Just you. Not me or anyone else. Craft a way of being that supports both your evolution and the brilliant human being that you are right now.

My evenings are all about rest. Sometimes there might be something that keeps me out a little later, but typically I use that time for relaxation (disconnecting from the internet in good time before bed) and to set myself up for the next day.

5. Flip the script; changing your inner dialogue. 

Flipping back to mental wellbeing here; in most cases we are the master of our own internal destruction. That is to say; we are our own worst critics and therefore usually the most negative person we have in our world.

If this sounds familiar, I’m afraid I don’t have a quick fix here, but what I can say is that with time, patience and love, you can at least become aware of how you address yourself internally, and catch yourself in time to change the conversation.

I literally say ‘no!’ to myself when I catch myself doing it, and force myself to change my attitude. Zero tolerance. We can choose better thoughts.

In time, I have become better overall and show myself much more forgiveness than I might have done before. I also tell myself ‘I love you’. Sounds crazy but it honestly works.

6. Embrace your inner child.

With true joy comes playfulness, you can’t even help it. Allowing yourself some time to play is key. Create a couple of hours in your week where you do something you really love. Doesn’t matter what it is. Take yourself on a date. Whatever takes your fancy.

Once you allow your natural curiosity to unfurl, its very easy to start to follow the trail of breadcrumbs to figure out what truly lights you up (if this is something you are still working on).

Another good compass is to observe where you can feel yourself feeling jealous of something. Jealousy; whilst not our favourite emotion, is a sign of frustration with ourselves. So what is your jealousy telling you that deep down you feel like you might like to do?

Ultimately what I am trying to say here, is that it’s wonderful to have desires to live your best life and to work towards that, but that I promise you, it will all start to fall into line once you keep a firm check on the house you live within day to day.

I am now the proud owner of a glorious home. She’s still a bit of a fixer-upper, but that’s half the fun. I can’t tell you it’s easy, but I can tell you it’s worth it.

That time when I discovered a new superpower

I read a great blog post from Kristian Bright recently about the myriad unhealthy ways we drive ourselves to a state of total exhaustion – to both physical and mental burnout.

He gives the analogy of being a runner, and being tired, keeping going anyway and picking up injuries easily, and draws the comparison between the way we drive ourselves professionally in a similar manner, where we pick up different kinds of ‘injuries’ along the way, and often don’t know where to stop. We switch to beast mode until something breaks.

This can be true across all areas of our lives. Nowhere is off limits.

I’ve always been someone with a high degree of positive momentum about me (some might call it type A haha). Whatever my current fixation is, I’ve gone at it full pelt. If I am into something, I am all in (people, jobs, hobbies, even trainers – I once had a ridiculous number of pairs). Something that’s been much harder for me to learn, is the art of being truly gentle.

One of the biggest hurdles to my gentleness, was my own perception of it. For the longest time, that perception was abundantly negative. I associated gentleness with weakness, and that was the opposite of what I strived to be with my ‘do, deliver, achieve’ mentality.

Such was my work ethic and level of determination (and commitment to being all in), that I would actually negatively (and largely silently) judge other people for taking time out, or perhaps choosing not to do something and skip it to rest. So giddy was my obsession with ‘living life to the full’, that I completely missed what ‘living life to the full’ should actually mean. That is to live all of it; light and dark, motion and stillness.

Shame on me.

The brilliant thing about life (and adulting in general) is that you get to change your mind and disagree with your former self all the time.

Just because a way of thinking was your blueprint at one time, there’s absolutely no reason for it to remain so. You can choose better thoughts (and whilst you are at it, ideally forgive yourself for whatever the previous thought process was).

The conversation that you have with yourself and the way you see the world should always remain fluid. I don’t have to agree with me five years ago, heck I don’t even need to agree with me yesterday, or even five minutes ago. I can simply realise that there is a better way and choose a different approach.

With gentleness, that’s exactly what I have started to do.

A full experience of life, is actually making a commitment to experience all facets of life in total connection. For me that meant embracing and living in my yin energy (the coolness, the stillness) as well as my yang (the fire, the drive). It’s all about balance.

Your body is your marker of truth. If you allow yourself space to listen, your body will tell you whether each and every decision is the right one. Whether you are pushing yourself too hard, and what the best thing to do at this time might be. The trouble is, for a lot of us, we have forgotten how to listen. We smother the dialogue that our body is having with us through an array of different distractions. I’ve written about this before here.

The biggest and most important step for me here has been creating the platform where I am able to listen. Something that’s supported by making life choices that truly support me. Meditation is a huge part of that.

Now I can feel when I am moving too fast, as well as when I am moving too slowly; which means I am left with the choice of whether to slow down, or whether to speed up.

Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t. But I am learning.

None of this means that my drive to ‘do, deliver and achieve’ has gone away, it just means that I am able to make choices that honour where I actually am. It means I am becoming much better at saying no, especially (and most importantly) to me.

I am now able to find my balance. When I choose to create the space to listen.

How can we help to celebrate a culture of gentleness so that we don’t need to wait for something to break to take things a little easier? Do we really have to beast ourselves before we learn a better way?

What are the ways that we can encourage a culture of gentleness, both inside our organisations and into the world beyond? Can we make gentleness a thing that is applauded rather than scoffed at?

At the very least, for those of us who have started to realise the power of this magnificent tool, I feel like our role is to share that with the world around us, and let our gentleness for ourselves awaken the gentleness in others.

Each choice we make sends a ripple around us that we cannot see, whether good or bad.

When I move gently, it might encourage the person behind me to do the same. When someone I know says no to an event, it might make me do the same (if that is what truly serves me at that time). When I close the door gently, the imprint of gentleness that I leave will greet the next person that opens the door, and that person could well be me.

When I am gentle with myself, I am centred and grounded and perfectly equipped to deal with whatever the world might throw at me. So after all that fighting and judging, it turns out gentleness is actually my new superpower.

That time when I learnt to harness the power of advocacy

A basic rule that all businesses should apply liberally is that their people are their biggest asset. They only exist because of those people, and will only grow as long as they harness the energy of those humans in the right way.

I’m happy to say that the business world seems to be realising this fact in growing numbers. People are everything.

At Shazam, this is absolutely how we view things. Our people are at the epicentre of everything that makes us good and great. My job coming in was simply to find a way to keep hiring more of those great people.

Easy right?

To share the essence of what makes your organisation truly brilliant with the rest of the world, you really have to take the time to work out what that is first. My first task therefore, was to really crystallise what it meant to be a Shazamer, and do some work to figure out what our value proposition truly was.

We did that with the help of an agency called Pink Squid around four years ago, whom we invited in as external partners to conduct discovery sessions with our teams around the world. From that data they were able to tell us what we did really well, but also what we didn’t do so well.

That’s the thing with self discovery, sometimes you might discover things about yourselves that you don’t like, and that can smart a little. We decided to use this whole project as a learning exercise, and saw it as an opportunity to try to improve the things that we weren’t so great at.

Employee experience has to be at the heart of the way an organisation runs. Without crafting a great experience for the humans that help to make you the amazing company that you are, your war for talent will be lost.

Create a business of happy thriving humans and your war for talent will be almost won.

Now to the business of actual attraction. There is little to be gained from pretending to be something that you are not; in life and in business. You need to let your ‘vibe attract your tribe’ across the whole gambit.

So once you have your vibe, and you’ve figured out who you really are as a business, it’s important that you take that honest messaging out into the world. Your people are far and away the best messengers for this.

My mission at Shazam therefore, was to not just to hire the very best people, but to hire the very best people who also resonated with our mission and values. Similar brief; waaaaay better end result.

Given that our people are our biggest asset, and by far the most honest and effective talent attraction tool we have, I learnt quickly that what we needed to do to was to start to build a culture of advocacy.

In some of the teams we had people who were already comfortable speaking on their respective conference circuit, but we had a gap in terms of what we were telling the world from a technical standpoint, which is arguably one of the key areas.

I started out by running a workshop on personal branding around 18 months ago. Working at a business like Shazam we are in incredibly fortunate as our business garners a huge degree of interest. What that means for our people, is that they each have a real opportunity to build their own brands based on that interest, give there is no shortage of invitations for speaking engagements or requests to work with us or feature us.

I asked the team to consider doing an audit of their online presence, and really framed the opportunity that they were presented with. I encouraged them to look at things like:

  • Their online profiles, how evolved and detailed they were.
  • What they share online, and to consider being more mindful over what that is.
  • To consider growing their online presence, whether in the form of a blog or just general usefulness.
  • To think about whether they are curious about public speaking, and whether they might like some support to help them get there.

We then looked at a few top tips around blogging and starting to get involved in public speaking. I happily was able to draw upon my own experiences to do this.

This session wasn’t an immediate success, but what it did was plant some very important seeds.

Within the following months we’d seen one person start to blog and a number starting to say yes to speaking engagements.

Last year we decided to step this up a gear by finally developing our ‘Inside Shazam’ blog. The key to success here came in the form of influential internal sponsors; finding people who could help corral a team of blog founders, led by me. The Blog Squad was born.

I ran weekly meet ups with the team, where we encouraged one another to write blogs, whilst also plotting for who could write the next ones and how that might happen.

By getting the right kind of investment from the team, we managed to get our blog off the ground.

When it comes to getting people invested in speaking at events, we’re learning we are most successful when my team acts as the conduit between the events organisers and the business, therefore we are constantly on the lookout for new opportunities to pitch to the wider team.

We’ve already seen some real results in terms of the feedback we get from the candidates we are meeting with. Many cite either our blog, or an event they attended that we took part in as things that made them feel compelled to speak with us.

So whilst I’m all for bigger branding campaigns when you have the opportunity and budget to do them, it’s super important not to overlook the brilliant marketing team you already have within your business: YOUR PEOPLE.

That time when I made peace with my weapon of mass distraction

I love technology, and I love many of the ways our world is evolving because of it’s presence.

I’ve taken pride in flying the flag for new technologies and often been in the ‘early adopter’ group when it came to the latest app, tool or fad. I’m all about optimisation, so am up for anything that makes things a little more efficient.

Shazam therefore was always a natural fit for me; at the forefront of emerging technology, but also providing an incredibly useful service to its users, one of discovery.

There has, however, been a darker side to my smart phone use; and that’s the use of apps as a means to disconnect, to switch off from the world around me. Apps as a tool are wonderful, but apps as a weapon of mass distraction? Not so much.

Rather than blame tech companies, I believe that the responsibility of how much time we spend on our smart phones lies in our own hands. Quite literally.

Over the past 12 months I have been looking at the ways in which I use the technology around me, and what the energy is behind that use. Am I actually making use of the amazing tools available to me, or am I simply using my phone as a means to check out? Am I taking every opportunity to be present, and therefore give my best to each interaction?

Am I using technology as a tool, or simply as a weapon of mass distraction?

First, I looked at how to optimise the way I operate at work.

It’s incredibly common to see people on smart phones and tapping away on laptops in meetings. Now if that’s just for note taking purposes and you’ve switched off the other functionality; all good. If not, you are bound to become distracted by something and are likely to just not be paying attention. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; multi-tasking really isn’t a thing.

Meetings should be a productive and efficient exchange of information, but can often end up being the opposite due to how engaged (or distracted) the attendees are.

As often as possible when I go to meetings at work, I leave my phone behind. I either have my Mac for taking notes, or a note pad with me (OMG yes, actual pen and paper). That way the person I am interacting with has a better chance (no one is perfect) of having my full attention.

I’ve heard of some companies implementing ‘phone baskets’ – where people hand their phone in at the beginning of a meeting – and seeing a upsurge in efficiency because of it. I’d love to hear from any of you who have seen this stuff in practice.

Then I took a look, with brutal honesty, at the way I was using my phone more generally.

I did this at first by doing an experiment where I was only allowed to check social media five times a day. I wrote about it at the time here. In doing so, I became aware that I was using my phone to ‘check out’ rather than ‘check in’ a whopping 75% of the time. Horrifying. That kind of data was enough to make me self regulate and remove a ton of mindless scrolling from my day.

I removed some apps from my phone and generally became more mindful about the time I was spending on my phone and what the purpose was.

Figuring out what kind of phone user you are is also important. For me notifications are the worst, and I have a ridiculous compulsion to get rid of them all. Simple things like turning off notifications therefore made a huge difference; I now actively check rather than re-actively check.

I also started switching to flight mode mid way through my evenings in the build up to going to bed and of course whilst I’m asleep. It’s made a big difference to give myself a screen break prior to sleeping, and I also delay turning it off again for the first hour of being awake.

I still use my phone as an alarm clock, but using flight mode means I’m not disturbed by activity on my screen if I wake in the night. Those changes have been really beneficial for me.

I’ve since taken that a bit further by installing an app called Moment. You can use it as a phone bootcamp, to train yourself to stop you using your phone so much, but it’s also great for parents to check in our how your family is utilising their smart phones.

I simply use it to record how much screen time I have on a daily basis. Normally it’s around one to two hours, but on the days when I am out a lot and using things like maps, it can go up above three. I average 42 pick ups a day.

That equates to an average of 14% of my waking life being spent on my phone (which is actually low in terms of the average Moment user – so they tell me). When I was at my peak of smart phone addiction, I hate to think what that percentage would have been.

When you think about it those terms (14% of my waking life looking at my phone!) it makes you a little more motivated to make every moment count.

I’m okay with my screen time going up when I know I am using my phone for a tangible benefit, but what I am not okay with is wasting my life away watching other peoples lives. Merely having the app and keeping an eye on the amount of time I spend on my phone has really made a difference to me.

As much as I love technology, I love humans a whole lot more. I value real interactions, real opportunities for connection and my ever evolving (and hopefully deepening) ability to stay truly present in the moment I am in.

For those of you that are reading this and thinking uh huh, yep, that’s me; let’s make a pact to commit to giving our full attention in our meetings and interactions. I’d like to think that the more of us that are choosing to exert discipline over this stuff, the more we can inspire others to do the same.

Leading by example in this case could really be as simple as leaving your phone behind.