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Category: People life

Penfold: moving great people around since 2001.

Connecting with brilliant people rocks my world. And to that end, I have the best job on the planet; I am tasked with finding the best possible people to join our brilliant (and growing) business here at Shazam.

I have taken great delight in helping great businesses find great people (and brilliant people to find brilliant businesses) over the years and now lead a team of fantastic Recruiters in the UK, dedicated to building Shazam the best possible team.

That time when I learnt the power of receiving feedback authentically

When I said I made it my mission to get better at giving authentic feedback in my last post, what I didn’t tell you was that I ended up with a two for one deal; by learning how to give feedback well it made me consider how well I was receiving feedback, which honestly had some room for improvement. Wowch.

This was quite some revelation and one I became determined to work on. Receiving feedback well is an essential piece of the self awareness puzzle; if we aren’t open to receiving it, even when it hurts a little, we are essentially living in an echo chamber.

How you receive feedback can vary wildly according what kind of person you are, and quite honestly, the degree to which you care what other people think.

There are different kinds of innate reactions to feedback and these are often reactions that we can’t help. What we can do however, is to get better at creating the space in the moment to control what our response is. That doesn’t mean the reaction goes, it just means that we are able to rationalise it and behave a little more graciously (hopefully) when it really counts.

For the purposes of looking at how we evolve the way we receive this kind of data, I’ve created some personas by way of illustration. It’s worth noting that we can also be at different ends of that spectrum on different days depending on what is going on for us.

Let’s start with the zero f’s operator.

One of life’s lucky devils who gets to live by their own rules, at least in the main. They feel comfortable being just who they are and expressing their opinions – great right? Yes. A lot of the time it’s wonderful, but there’s also a flip side to that level of sureness. It can be at the expense of genuine learning. They can feel so content with their view that they dismiss the views of others without introspection.

Whilst I 100% salute the sureness and champion living by your whole body intelligence first and foremost (all the wisdom you need is all within you; FACT), it’s worth approaching feedback conversations a little differently.

If we think we know best and let ourselves be completely closed to the views of others, we create a myriad of different (and potentially deadly) blind spots. It’s crucial to learn the art of openness, the joy to be found in hearing someone else’s perspective, and then allowing the new data to marinate.

Let’s now consider the other end of the spectrum; the worry wort.

By total reverse this person cares so deeply what people think that they allow themselves to be derailed by even the slightest murmur of critique. They feel it tangibly within their bodies, as they ping into fight or flight response and try to find a way out – or even more insidiously, they take that new data as fact.

Fear and perfectionism can leave this person paralysed in the moment, either sounding super defensive as they try to deal with their emotional reaction to the thing or just glibly nodding and agreeing and quietly questioning internally how on earth the world had allowed them to do this job in the first place, given that they are such a bad person.

This has been me at times. Even if I managed to hold it together outwardly, inside I was mortified. The conversations we have with ourselves are deadly my friends, so you have to put in the work to make sure that your inner dialogue is a good one.

The happy medium lies somewhere in the middle.

Our happy place is somewhere between those two extremes; where we care enough to learn and grow but we don’t default to taking things personally. When people give us feedback we are able to hear it, control our actions and break it down into actionable learning.

Whilst I was never 100% at one of the extremes, I’ve suffered like most people by the very human characteristics of wanting to do good things, wanting people to think good things about me, wanting to feel like I’m doing my best and wanting to be liked.

Whilst this is a very normal state of affairs, it’s fundamentally flawed as you are eternally seeking external validation. We are all born whole, magnificent beings that have an inner compass that could steer them through anything, yet all too often we have our focus elsewhere.

But we are where we are, so it’s important that we learn how to get back to our essence, whilst being open to learning at the same time.

My advice for taking feedback well – even if you fake it until you make it – would be to:

  • Teach your heart to smile when presented with new data, approach conversations positively – meditating just beforehand is a great leveller for me.
  • Learn to rationalise your emotional responses and choose better ones. Getting to know your emotional spectrum intimately will help you to evolve and grow your EQ. This has to start with self. Meditation has allowed me the connection I needed to create the space to do this.
  • Keep your body in an open dynamic by sitting in an open posture. Sounds crazy I know, but crossed legs and crossed arms sends messages of defensiveness not only around your own body, but also to the person giving you feedback. I have forcefully made myself do this in difficult interactions so I can tell you first hand, it really works.
  • Be warm, friendly and supportive to the person who is giving you the feedback, where possible thanking them. Even if you come back later to say thank you; no one is perfect. Respect the challenge of the person in front of you and the energy and care it has taken them to do so, it’s hopefully coming from a place of love after all.
  • It’s okay to ask questions and clarify your understanding, but be careful that you aren’t using your questions as a form of defence. Remember: feedback doesn’t have to be fully accurate to be useful, but even 5% could be something game changing for you.
  • Make life easier for yourself by telling your closest team mates how you like to receive feedback, and ask them the same question. Taking control of how you like people to give feedback to you will allow you to create the support you might need to get better at taking it. As a leader, it’s even more important that you make bi-directional feedback a ‘thing’ and that you set the platform for honesty with your team. The very definition of leading by example.

I’d love to hear from those of you who have had to put the work in to get better, and if there are any other tricks that have worked for you, whichever part of the spectrum you are sitting on.

In the meantime, if you have any feedback for me on my blog, or anything else, I invite you to approach me with your whole heart and let’s have a feedback conversation.

That time when I learnt the power of giving authentic feedback

Giving feedback can be a bit of a nemesis for a lot of people.

There’s a feeling of awkwardness when you know you have something to share but would rather run away from it. There were so many times in my life when I kept schtum and then later wished I’d said something. The times where you ‘learn’ six months later what you already could have called out at the beginning by simply being a little braver.

On realising this fact a couple of years ago I made a pact with myself to level up my ability to give feedback.

It’s just a skill like all the others; invest some time into learning it and practicing it and you get really really good at it. Promise. I can’t say its always easy, but I can say the dynamics of my relationships have improved immeasurably with the level of honesty I am able to bring to them.

So here’s my take on how I managed to get those awkward conversations right, whether personal or professional.

Good feedback starts from the place that should be the foundation of everything: LOVE.

In a recent blog, I shared a definition of love according to Scott Peck as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

If extending yourself outside of your comfort zone to give important feedback to someone isn’t love in action, I don’t know what is.

Right attitude

To give feedback effectively you have to care deeply about the person you are giving the feedback to.

That doesn’t mean that you have to know them super well, it could actually be your first meeting, the key is about caring enough to understand (and take responsibility) for the imprint that you leave on the humans you interact with day to day.

Even the smallest things that you present and project onto another can have huge ramifications. Becoming aware of this will hopefully bring a sense of responsibility with the nature of your interactions all of the time, not just in feedback conversations. Every moment counts.

Right energy

When you are considering giving feedback to someone, it’s worth checking in on your own energy and intention. Is the thing that you feel you need to share honest? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Is it a desire to support the other person or is it actually a patronising, condescending ‘I want to make myself feel bigger that you’ space. I’m sure most of us have experienced being on the receiving end of feedback given in the wrong energy; where you can come away feeling chastised and belittled. It’s completely avoidable.

What we are looking for here is an authentic drive to enable the growth of the other person; only you can be the judge of when and where that occurs.

Trust is the foundation of all good relationships, whether professional or personal. Will your feedback support the development and continuation of trust, or will it break it?

Right people

Once we have established that we deem the feedback is being presented in the right energy, it’s important to check it’s happening between the right people; is it your place to give this particular feedback?

In a work context, folks can sometimes be a little overzealous with feedback, and it’s common for people a couple of layers up to get embroiled in conversations that should be happening a couple of layers down. My general rule of thumb, is that the person or people closest to the thing (whatever the thing is) should be the ones discussing it.

Right place

I’m probably trying to teach grandma how to suck eggs here, but for the avoidance of any doubt, the right time and place for feedback is critical.

Feedback should almost always be given 1:1 and ideally in a timely manner so that the feedback conversation is close enough to the actual event itself. It should also be given in a place that the person receiving the feedback is comfortable with. That can obviously vary dramatically from person to person.

I was once given some rather challenging feedback by a former boss in a glass meeting room where I was facing out to an open office; I literally had nowhere to hide. It made an already tough conversation much much harder.

Right time

As I mentioned above, timing of feedback is everything. Some feedback becomes irrelevant if it isn’t given in real time. Other times it is more important to make sure that you are in the right environment to give it.

When it comes to timing though, it is perhaps most important that it occurs at the right time for both the giver and the receiver. If you are giving feedback; are you in your best energy? If you are even slightly out of sorts, the feedback could come out completely wrong and be misinterpreted. Meditation is hugely supportive for me here.

As the giver, it is you that is driving when the conversation happens in the main, so you have to dial up on your emotional intelligence to make sure that the timing works for the receiver also. If they are clearly having a challenging day, perhaps a kinder thing might be to wait and have the conversation later.

I remember a time when I gave some feedback on the fly, after being asked for it. My answer should have been; let me reflect and we can discuss this later. Instead I broke all of my own rules, and gave clumsy feedback that not only didn’t land well, it actually got completely lost in translation. I had to work much harder to reset that relationship to rebuild the trust than the effort it would have taken to get the conversation right.

If you work with someone quite closely, it’s worth asking them how they like to receive feedback and take the time to understand what does and doesn’t work for them.

Putting in that kind of effort to understand someone has love at its core, and when things start from there, you have a much better chance of ending up in a good place.

That time when I learnt about the magic of Founders

“They are sane enough to know that every day is a survival against daunting odds and crazy enough to think they can do it anyway.” – Eric Schmidt

Amen to that Eric.

By the time I had landed at Shazam there was just one Founder still left as an employee of the company; Avery Wang. Internally we viewed him as somewhat of a god-like figure – he was the person who invented the algorithm after all. He himself was incredibly humble, and continued to work towards new horizons for the business.

I can remember the day I met Chris Barton; the guy that came up with the original idea for Shazam and who remained very much involved, though not day-to-day. When he was in the building you could sense it, and his energy and enthusiasm was infectious.

At Onfido we are lucky to have our Founders in much closer quarters, which has meant that I’ve had a lot more time to observe the special energy of Husayn Kassai, Eamon Jubbawy and Ruhul Amin.

As unique as they might be as people, as Founders they mirror a blueprint that I’ve been lucky enough to witness before, in the Shazam Founders. The traits and characteristics that enable them to operate as mavericks, as crusaders, as folks who give zero f’s about what the world thinks about their bold idea and do it anyway.

They don’t just do it anyway. They convince folks like me, with all my years of experience, to hop on board and start building alongside them.

That, my friends, is magic in the truest sense.

There are many who have the spirit of Founders, but who never harness the power of that magic to make their ideas turn into real things. The rebel hearts, the free thinkers, the challengers; I likely fall into that camp.

That’s what makes a little rebel like me the perfect ally to a Founder, because I’m already asking the big questions and have the desire to challenge the status quo; I just haven’t yet summoned up enough magic to turn my ideas into real things.   An innate maverick mindset means that it’s never going to take much persuading to get you to hop on the bus.

But back to the magic of Founders, and some of my observations of what makes them so special.

Heart and realness

To be someone that people want to invest in, we have to be able to see and feel your heart. We have to be able to connect to the energy within you, and feel an authenticity behind your mission. People may still get on your bus without it, but they won’t stay there for very long.

Love is the foundation of everything. Starting your business from a genuine platform of love will provide the bedrock that your business needs to grow.

Spirit and passion

You must have something that’s infectious about your spirit, something that lifts us up with you and helps us to do and deliver things that we never dreamed of doing before.

We will tell you ‘it’s not possible’, and you will keep telling us it is, until we find a way to make it work. That’s the spirit that made Shazam the magical app it became; Chris Barton badgering Avery Wang to invent the clever algorithm that made musical discovery dreams come true for millions of users.

Investment and commitment

I mean investment of self here. Of your whole life in a lot of cases, and certainly most of your time and energy. When we see you invest yourself fully, we are inspired to invest in you right back. It’s important to note, however, that we need to feel like you are invested in us too. We need to feel like we are important and valued, and that we have a voice in what we are joining you to achieve. Investment in the product is awesome, but you need to keep those that have hopped on your bus, on the bus.

Influence and persuasion

You have to be able to be the most persuasive person in the room. You have to be able to connect with people in a real way in order to influence them to adopt your way of thinking, or at least see hope in what you say. You will be smart enough to map out your argument and will have enough data so that we become inspired by your words.

You ideally will be charming. Or you will be great at recruiting charming people who can pick up the slack around you when you can’t be!

Flexibility and fluidity

To survive in startups, the ability to pivot is a must. If you get too hung up on the original thing that you thought you’d be, you’ll quickly become irrelevant. One thing that Onfido has done so well is the evolution of the product offering over the years to become the de facto identity provider to global businesses, and now making inroads with where we go next in the drive towards consumer owned identities.

Humility and groundedness

At Onfido our Founders are at the heart of most change initiatives. They are constantly striving for excellence and to “find a better way” of doing things; which is one of our core values.

Long term Founder-ship will inevitably mean hiring smarter people around you to keep developing the even bigger dreams that you are cooking up. That means you’ve got to be great at asking the right questions and really listening to the answers. Hire ambitiously and act humble. Another thing that the Founders at Onfido get so right; hiring phenomenal talent to come in and see the gaps that we might be missing and defer to their expertise when it comes to making some of the decisions.

Bravery and boldness

Last but not least, you just have to be brave and bold. Brave enough to commit to it, over and over again. Brave enough to stand out from the crowd, live on nothing and keep stepping one foot in front of the other in the direction of your dreams.

Bold enough to ask the cheeky questions, invite yourself to the right meetings and own your presence in the room when you do. Bold enough to make the decisions when one needs to be made, even when you have no real way of establishing likelihood of success.

So you see my friends, there’s a whole lot that comes together to create that magic dust that fuels Founders to create the perfect storm to successfully launch and sustain a startup.

Magic personified.

That time when I got to really understand my infrastructure

The human body is a magical thing. I feel phenomenally blessed by the fact that each and every year I am able to deepen my connection to self a little further, by learning something new.

The most recent ‘something new’ (though it might count as a ‘something old, since re-learned’) has been in the form of the chemicals we have in our bodies and the experiences we have as a result of those chemicals, aided by the Simon Sinek book, Leaders Eat Last.

As I have forged a path towards whole body intelligence (living from the whole of my body, not just my overthinking brain), I have become aware of the feelings that are created in my body when different things occur; the way my heart starts to bubble when I feel anxiety, the intense elation when I get excited, the flip in my stomach when I feel worried (and so on). I’ve learnt to map my reactions to things, what they mean, and for the most part at least, choose a better experience.

What I hadn’t really considered, was the ‘science bit’ that went behind it all, the physiological reasons that are behind the way our body reacts. In learning a bit more about that ‘science bit’ I feel like I have taken on an even deeper level of understanding of myself and my reactions, from that one of the most important F words; forgiveness.

So, now for the ‘science bit’, pay attention:

Why I get super excited by the discovery of new things

I’ve always been someone driven by the thirst of discovery; the latest thing, an awesome book, a new song. I put it down to my instinctive curiosity alone, without considering the chemicals in the body that were driving some of my behaviour.

We have chemicals within us that can conspire to make us feel good when we achieve something like a goal or in my case, a discovery. Dopamine is one of those chemicals: a neurotransmitter that can impact lots of things in the body that relate to well being, providing a little boost when we do something that makes us feel good.

It has helped to fuel some of my addictive personality behaviours (and there have been many over the years; whether sneaker obsession, art collecting obsession, music obsession, food obsession – the list is endless). I tended to climb to a peak of obsession on each one, realise what I am doing, pull back, and then find a new obsession to take its place. With my developing understanding of these behaviours, it’s become easier for me to call them out and act upon them, before reaching critical mass (or a ridiculous sneaker collection of 50+ pairs!).

The trouble with dopamine fuelled behaviour is that it is often insatiable. You will never be satisfied by landing the object of your desire, you will just start thinking about what the next thing might be. Learning to choose a more holistic, longer term kind of happiness has therefore been really significant for me.

Why I have strong willpower and drive towards achieving a goal

Endorphins are another kind of feel good chemical released during things like exercise. They can also be part of the reward the body provides when you achieve something, and are likely a big part of why my willpower has been so strong in the delivery of things against all odds, whether a course or a work based project. Achievement makes us feel good.

When I did Weight Watchers in 2008, it was like the waves parted, and suddenly I had a framework that provided the bedrock for a total re-education around my relationship with food. Both of those chemicals supported me in losing over 3 stone (22kg). Dopamine provides the big rush that we can easily become addicted to, but endorphins help us to stay on course and weather the physical and emotional storm of achieving something.

Why I have been so led by obsessions at times of my life

Whilst for the most part I now live in a world where I have successfully nurtured love inside and outside of me, that hasn’t always been the case. When I have been lacking in love, the void has been filled by the kind of obsessions I mentioned above. The dopamine hit of a social media like, or a new pair of sneakers was what I used to sustain me.

The more I have been able to develop love within myself and for myself, the less my obsessions have been able to take hold. I believe oxytocin has played a big part in that. Oxytocin is often called the love hormone, as it is something that can create a feeling of connection to others and help reinforce trust. Love is something that makes us feel whole, and in doing so, the urges for instant gratification can be allowed to ebb further away.

Why I like doing stuff for other people

As human beings, we are driven to form connections with other people by oxytocin, but also by serotonin. Serotonin is often called the happy chemical, it makes us feel good. It also helps the body find a rhythm with things like your body clock.

These are the chemicals that drive us to do things for other people, because it feels good. Serotonin also enables us to feel the weight of responsibility on things; we don’t want to let people down, we want to make people proud. This is also why we care what other people think of us; I am no different in that sense.

Why I work hard to create community around me

Wherever I go I have this urge to connect with the people around me, whether in a shop or in a class. It’s not a consciously calculated thing, so I’d previously just put it down to me creating the kind of experience I want to have in the world, one that is founded in love.

I feel good when people are happy to see me, I feel good when I can see a person feels seen. I would suggest this drive may be down to something a little more primitive, I am serving the needs of my chemical brothers; serotonin and oxytocin, my need to feel like I am part of something.

Why I have had such a physical experience of stress in my body

This is down to the stress hormones our body produces, with the primary one being cortisol. It actually also plays a super important role in the body, managing how we process food, our sleep rhythm, our blood pressure. When we wake up in the morning it tends to be a little higher, then decreases throughout the day.

For our body to function correctly, it has to be in balance. When we experience stress, our cortisol levels spike. This can provide important messages to us to get out of the way of harm, but a prolonged increase is horrible for our body.

The only way to circumvent this is by either removing the stressful situations from your life, or by finding a way to better control your responses to stress. My approach has been a blend of both. I completely reinvented the stressful life I chose in my 20s, built a new one and learnt how to develop stillness in my body through things like meditation.

Now I have a much better read on when something has been triggered within me, and I can choose what my response is, most of the time at least!

Why I have stayed in situations that are bad for my health

Whether personal or professional; I have been great at holding fast to situations that don’t serve me. I can now see that I was in the hold of my chemical reactions. Looking specifically at my unhappy marriage in my 20s; my stress levels would be triggered daily, and then smallest good thing would happen, and it would calm me back down. I was a whirlwind of dopamine and cortisol, never in balance.

I managed to fool myself that the tiny dopamine hits were enough, that that was what love felt like. I can’t tell you how thankful I have been to discover the heady effects of oxytocin in my 30s. I have been lucky enough to find the right configuration of things to forge a path towards true joyfulness.

Why I feel able to be fully me in some situations and not in others

Have you ever noticed how in some situations you can speak eloquently and freely and in others you can stumble over your words? How you can sing like a rockstar in the shower but your voice falters around others? This can largely be down to a stress response. In situations where we don’t feel safe, our stress response is triggered and that impacts our ability to belt out that Broadway number: our bodies are simply too busy dealing with/processing cortisol to reach those notes. This is also why we can feel a little off with some people and not with others.

In my 20s, I spent a lot of my time triggered; at work and at home, and didn’t feel safe in either. I wasn’t living in anything remotely close to balance. I wasn’t taking care of myself in any sense, or giving my body the chance to produce the chemicals it needed to thrive, serotonin to boost self confidence, oxytocin to relieve stress or lessen cravings. I was all cortisol errrythang.

How I have been able to choose something different

Chemical balance on all counts is supported and maintained by that good old fashioned toolkit of:

  • REST: Making sure you develop a steady and enriching approach to sleep and recovery. Your bedtime routine is everything. Read more about that here.
  • NOURISHMENT: Eating foods that are in accordance with what your body truly wants, at a time it really wants it.
  • QUENCH: Drinking water, and other non chemical altering beverages. I avoid caffeine and alcohol altogether.
  • MOVEMENT: Moving your body in a way that feels right for you. Some days that is a walk for me, others that might be barre, others that might be yoga.
  • LOVE: Creating fulfilling relationships with others that truly serve you, and that build and reinforce the psychological safety you need to thrive.

“This is what work-life balance means. It has nothing to do with the hours we work or the stress we suffer. It has to do with where we feel safe. If we feel safe at home, but we don’t feel safe at work, then we will suffer what we perceive to be a work-life imbalance. If we have strong relationships at home and at work, if we feel like we belong, if we feel protected in both, then the powerful forces of a magical chemical like oxytocin can diminish the effect of stress and cortisol. With trust, we do things for each other, look out for each other and sacrifice for each other. All of which adds up to our sense of security inside a Circle of Safety. We have a feeling of comfort and confidence at work that reduces the overall stress we feel because we do not feel our well-being is threatened.” – Simon Sinek

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 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 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.