Home » People life

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 reflected on my inner space

We find ourselves in the middle of a moment that none of us thought would ever land in. There’s something so incredible and awe inspiring in the way that the whole world has suddenly become joined together, joined together in the fight against something very real indeed.

I am blessed to be able to work from home, to have loved ones checking in on me and to have ways of living that keep me grounded. For my circumstances and my blessings at this moment, I am truly thankful.

Current events are turning our attention to our inner space, that of our homes, that of our bodies and that of our minds. All of those elements will be important over the coming weeks and months, but our mind and the relationship we have with ourselves will be most important of all.

Over the past few years I have done a lot of work on my inner environment, my mental wellbeing. A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about that very thing, and in remembering it this week, I decided to re-write it with a 2020 lens.

Many of us spent a large portion of our lives focusing on building physical homes for the people around us, when in actual fact, we needed to first focus our energies on a different kind of ‘home’ making; that of the home that we build inside ourselves, now more than ever.

Our internal environment has to come first because our sense of belonging, our sense of safety, our ability to love deeply and our truest sense of self has to start there. 

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, even in isolation? To create a life that’s fulfilling and truly joyFULL; one that celebrates and allows space for all spectrum of emotion, whilst holding steady and feeling well in the midst of it.

Here are some of the things that have worked for me.

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 defences.

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. Even though life right now has become more sedentary, are you simply finding new ways to do too much?

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. At the moment, our cycles will be hugely important, especially for those of us working from home.

With the information overload that is available to you now, anxiety could start to impact your sleep. Having done a lot of work sleeping in general (quality, duration) I overcome that by holding my bedtimes and wakeup times sacred, and by allowing myself time to switch off from the world as I make a path towards bed. As much as possible, try to sleep and work in separate spaces.

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.

Many of us will now have an open fridge in arm’s reach all day long, so it’s important to be honest and accountable about your relationship with food. In the moments where you feel inclined to overeat and eat something you know doesn’t serve you, stop for a moment and consider what is underneath it, and see whether you might like to choose a different way.

What you consume isn’t just about food, it’s also about energy. It would be very easy to look upon the next bit of time bleakly, and dive into every last scrap of news. Consider what you choose to take into your body super carefully, now more than ever.

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 those early bedtimes.

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.

Given the lines may be blurring between home and work more than normal, consider having something that you do just before work, or just after, that draws a line in the sand. Perhaps it is singing to your favourite song at the top of your lungs, perhaps it’s star jumps on your balcony, perhaps it is just a cup of your favourite kind of tea.

My evenings are generally about rest, as I mentioned before, as someone who has a predisposition towards anxiety and overthinking, I have to work hard on my sleep. I aim to disconnect from the internet in good time and set myself up for the next day by doing my ‘love me later’ chores – the tiny little bits of effort that make my home feel like someone loves me in it. As someone who lives alone, loving me later has long become my operating model.

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. Right now I have stepped that up a little; ‘you are safe, you are well, you are doing great, I love you and I’ve got you’.

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. Right now, that might mean cooking your favourite dinner or listening to your favourite album. Where possible, try to inject those things into your world.

Once you allow your natural curiosity to unfurl, its very easy to start to follow the trail of breadcrumbs (perhaps just online for now) 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 spiritual house you live within day to day.

I accept this moment with complete gratitude. Gratitude for my safety and gratitude for the love of those near and far. I also take this moment of time as a chance to learn and perhaps do a little remodelling, and work on the next build phase of my inner space.

That time when I learnt the real meaning of respect

Late Middle English: from Latin respectus, from the verb respicere ‘look back at, regard’, from re- ‘back’ + specere ‘look at’.

Aren’t word origins a little bit awesome sometimes? I guess most of us feel like we know what the word respect means, but when you break it down to the origins something even more fabulous appears. Respect quite literally means to see again, as if to see as the first time. So re-spect really is about seeing people afresh, each and every day, letting going of whatever baggage you might have with them and what things you might feel you know about them.

That surely has to be the essence of actual respect right? How different might our relationships be if we were able to see one another afresh each and every day? I can’t lay claim to unearthing this little gem personally, this was something shared with me by Atif Sheikh at the Businessfourzero offices this week.

When we meet new people, whether personally or professionally, we have an opportunity to see them truly afresh. I wonder if it’s possible to create that opportunity as a relationship evolves; to meet one another time and time again without judgment and with total re-spect.

Relationship building is a bit like walking on thin ice: one wrong step and you lose your foot, perhaps even a whole leg, into an icy pool. When that happens, it can take quite a lot to thaw out and bring things back on track. It takes love, it takes care, it takes patience and a whole lot of re-spect.

When we find ourselves in a new role in a new organisation, or joining a new team, with the smorgasbord of triggers, emotions and reactions that come with relationship-building, it’s super easy to become a shadow of who we really are in the process.

When both sides of the equation are forming all kinds of assessments and judgements about one another it is more important than ever to be bringing your whole self to work. People need to have the chance to meet and connect with the truest version of you.

“I don’t like new people”

Human beings are a funny old bunch and we really don’t differ that greatly to one another. The spectrum of emotions we experience when we meet new people usually falls within a fairly safe spectrum of sameness. Things like:

The dark art of putting someone up on a pedestal, supported and enabled by that old foe, imposter syndrome. It’s not equal and it’s not cool. Plot reveal: we are ALL equal but it’s up to us to give ourselves the permission to be.

We can find ourselves tripping over our words and preening for the attention and affection of a new person. When we put ourselves at a lower status level to other people, we step away from ourselves and start making choices from something outside of ourselves.

Another might be ego driven fear. We go into protection mode and feel like the world is out to get us. We try to keep ourselves and our work separate so we don’t risk attack. Truth is, that energy only works to ostracise us further from the place that we really want to be; part of the community of humans we want to spend time with.

Whilst all these reactions are completely normal. They definitely get in the way of us being who we really are and can cause reactions to one another both physically and mentally. Perhaps there’s another path, and one that means we get to establish our rhythms a little sooner.

Building trust

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; good relationships are born (and borne) in love. Yep. All of them. Even the workish ones.

The fastest way to establish trust between two humans is to allow the space for you to see one another as you really are. Because what you really are is incredibly similar creatures, likely with a lot of the same worries and concerns, even if they manifest in your behaviours slightly differently.

When people don’t know you yet, you have to make sure you give them a chance to do so. Find the opportunity to see and be seen.

Perhaps it’s a walk to get lunch, perhaps it’s a commitment to a coffee break. Perhaps it’s just living there in the middle of the day to day melee; a five minute hello that says “how are you really?”.

As quickly as possible I try to find a way to look deep into a person’s eyes and allow them to do the same with me. The quicker we can really see one another, the quicker we can see each other as human.

Let’s also not forget re-spect here. Try as often as possible to start afresh with each person each day, forgive quickly and keep your focus on relationship building.

Dial up on your sense of self

As a newbie, this is the time to double down on your commitment to you. How can you make sure that you are giving yourself your absolute best during that crucial bedding-in period? What are the things you need to feel truly whole?

If you can spend as much time as possible operating from your truest sense of self, you give the people around you the best opportunity to get to know the real you.

We have total responsibility for our part in the interactions that populate our lives. If you aren’t having a great experience in a relationship, the simplest thing of all is to consult the person in question and see whether you can co-create a better one with them.

I find a straightforward feedback or relationship reset conversation works wonders here. It helps to be as straightforward as you can about what your intentions are when arranging it and be as honest as you can whilst in the moment. Openness begets openness. Love begets love.

Before you know it, who knows, you may just find yourself in a joyful workplace, surrounded by friends who are all rooting for each other. That doesn’t mean that things don’t go wrong, but when they do, we love and re-spect one another enough to fix them.

That time when I found out that I’m a terrible judge of character

Okay so that title might be a little misleading: I’m afraid it isn’t just me on this one folks. We’re all a terrible judge of character. Sad but true. We’re laden with bias and most of the time when we meet people, we judge and make assumptions based on what we want to see and what we want them to be. We judge people that we really don’t know by our own fixed lens.

On the flip side of that, the funny thing is we likely also care too much what that other person thinks of us. So we oscillate between charm offensive and judgement in an alarming manner.

Whilst I’m happy to say it happens to me less frequently, I can still taste the horrible feeling you get when a first encounter with a new person goes awry. You see it often in public, when a couple of strangers misread one another, start to quarrel and neither feels like they can back down.

One of them says something that is either taken the wrong way, or perhaps said in the wrong way, and it starts off a chain reaction which deteriorates rapidly. It’s often not even about the person they are faced with, they’ve allowed the emotions they are experiencing to colour their interaction with another person.

It’s a horrible feeling to feel misunderstood, and I’ve always been someone who tries to get both parties to a place of understanding as fast as possible. I’ve always been hell bent on winning people over (winning others over has kept showing up as one of my top five strengths according to Gallup these past few years). The challenge is that you can’t always do that. Sometimes, no matter what you say, the other person is already too far gone and the damage irreversible.

In the context of day to day life, these interactions, whilst energetically damaging are seemingly harmless. There are other times, though, when they quite literally mean a case of life and death.

I recently finished ‘Talking with Strangers’ by the rather brilliant Malcolm Gladwell. I love the way he manages to dig deep into the world to attempt to provide data and explanations of this kind of human behaviour. He gives a thoughtful view on recent tragedies like that of the death of Sandra Bland, on why it happened in the first place and how it might have been avoided.

The premise around ‘Talking with Strangers’ was around bias and conditioning, and our ability to get one another so so wrong. We think we are able to judge one another clearly, when in truth, we just aren’t very good at it. We think that when we see a human being we can read their behaviour, when we actually can’t.

Early on in the book he references a study by a group in New York City, where they quite literally pitched judges against AI. Of 554,689 defendants for arraignment hearings, the judges chose to release  just over 400,000. They fed the AI systems the same data as the judges and asked it to make recommendations of the 400,000 it would release.

They then assessed the list and the computer system hands down was able to predict the likelihood of repeat offences. The folks on the AI list were 25% less likely to commit a crime whilst awaiting trial.

The machine flagged 1% of the defendants as high risk, stating that well over half would offend if released. The judges had released 48.5% of them. The only data that the humans had over the machines was having seen the defendants in person; and that was where the judgements were made. They saw people and thought they knew them. They made decisions based in bias.

My paraphrasing won’t do his book justice, so I absolutely recommend you hit the source and read the whole thing for yourselves.

Moving this conversation to the professional world I inhabit, I’d like to consider for a moment how this applies in the workplace, where frankly this kind if thing shows up all the time. People may not be total strangers, yet they fail to read each other, fail to really see each other and most definitely fail to hear each other. They make judgements based on bias and that can leave us in a very dangerous place indeed.

A misfire on comms at work can have reverberating repercussions for a long while. It can impact not just the individuals concerned, but also have a bearing on the work an entire team is able to produce.

I am no different, and have definitely had those moments. To work towards having less and less of them, we have to take responsibility for our role in creating them. Often we play the victim of the story, when in actual fact we always have our part to play in their total creation. The hunter and the deer both have their roles to play” if the deer wasn’t there the hunter wouldn’t be hunting.

I remember one particular work relationship where I felt this the most. For a long time I allowed myself the indulgence of feeling like the victim of the piece. Until one day I decided to shift my lens from one of defence to one of love and understanding and the dialogue with my ‘hunter’ shifted. The whole dynamics of our relationship then changed.

The other place we need to be careful of this dynamic is in the workplace is, of course, with hiring. Making the wrong, bias laden, judgement about someone in an interview process can kill the very thing that would make our business thrive; diversity.

The nuances of how a question is asked in an interview and what the non verbal communication signals are  can make the difference as to whether the person being interviewed feels safe to answer fluently or feels not safe and therefore potentially stifled.

Once someone feels unsafe in this kind of interaction, whether consciously or unconsciously,  we’re really never going to see who that person really is. They won’t feel comfortable, they will feel judged and they will likely have a horrible experience.

As I’ve written and said many times, there is no magic pill to fix this stuff, there is only awareness:

  • Awareness of who we really are in the world.
  • Awareness of the part we play in the daily interactions in our lives.
  • Awareness of our triggers and conditioning.
  • Awareness of when we are at odds with someone, and whether we have stopped being impartial.
  • Awareness of the toolkit you need to build inside yourself to give yourself a chance of choosing a better response.
  • Commitment to lovingly create awareness in others when you see the need.

Whilst the argument from Gladwell is palpable around a computer being able to make better decisions than us, until we can be sure that even they are coded in a way that is free from bias, human beings simply need to do a better job at levelling up on this stuff.

That’s the only way we will ever build inclusive businesses where we get to hear every voice we need to hear to grow in a way that supports the communities and businesses that we serve.

How about we all make a pact to create the right amount of awareness amongst ourselves to be able to do our jobs properly, and  by doing so allow the best people to have a fair shot at doing theirs?

That time when I came to the end of a decade

The end of a decade is significant moment in time that makes a lot of us reflect over the past one. As I look back over the past 10 stretch, it’s funny for me to think sometimes that my life hasn’t always been this way. For those who stumble across me for the first time, you might make the same assumption also.

The truth is that in 2010 something magical happened: I ejected myself out of the life that I had created and built a whole new one, a new one with love at its core.

The journey hasn’t been an easy one, but my goodness it has been entirely worth it. Each and every year I feel like I get a little closer to my truer sense of self. Each and every year, whatever the headlines might have read in my life at the time (we all have dramatic headlines right!?), I have felt truly blessed and thankful to be right where I am, living and learning.

The question that I have kept asking myself along the way is: How do I keep bringing more and more love to each and every thing thing I do?

Indulge me for a moment whilst I track back through those years for a hot minute, and share with you the various stages of development. Like the evolution of Penfold. My path to wellness. My path to whole body livingness.

I’ve also punctuated each year with a song that captured my heart that year just for funsies… you can take the girl out of Shazam but you can’t take Shazam out of the girl after all.

2010: Swim Good, Frank Ocean. The year that I forced myself to accept the reality that I had been fighting against; that I had chosen to place myself in the middle of an abusive relationship for the past 12 years and I needed to leave. With the help of coaching I finally left in the November of that year, filed for divorce and left the home that I had built behind. In writing this post, I realised this is a whole post of it’s own, so my next blog post will go into a little more detail on domestic abuse.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse or have someone close to you whom you are worried about, please reach out to me. I am not an expert on this matter beyond my lived experience. There are a myriad of wonderful support groups who can offer more practical support like Refuge, who have a 24 hour helpline on 0808 2000 247.

2011: Heartbeat, Nneka. This was the year when I managed to crawl back into life. I landed into this year completely shell shocked, and set about trying to establish some semblance of normality. I was afraid both of my past and of my future so I spent a lot of that time drinking too much alcohol. Somewhere within that I also allowed space for the friendships that became like family to grow. The possibilities that lay in front of me felt overwhelming, so I tried to stay safe with a small core group of people. After six months of turbulence I settled into a new flat and started to find my feet, but the struggle was real.

2012: Get Free, Major Lazer. With growing confidence, I started to make decisions that served me. This started with stopping drinking alcohol and caffeine completely, and was the beginning of my commitment to food choices that truly support my body (which I’ve later iterated on). I’d suffered from stress and food induced IBS throughout my 20’s, and I had pretty much fixed it by this point. I was still searching in earnest for an identity. I thought I’d found it in the art world. I started to let people call me Ruthie; a move that I now see was borne of fear, I felt it made me smaller and easier for the world to stomach somehow. I started to meet people, lots of people, and allowed my instinctive curiosity to flourish.

2013: Change, Natty. I came to the realisation that I wasn’t going to find what I was looking for outside of myself, but I struggled to find my way in. With the help of coaching, I managed to make some choices that supported me better, but I still lived to support others rather than myself. I’d thrown myself into the art world fully, and was doing that work alongside a busy day job. I joined Shazam at the end of that year and found a new obsession. Shazam captivated my imagination and I gave everything I had to build out the right foundation for that business. Where I grew at this time was mainly in professional confidence and competence. I arrived awash with imposter syndrome, but I was able to produce great work there that meant I was able to let some of that go.

2014: Live Your Life, Yuna. First new love. I started dating and started to try to find a way to share my world with others. It was pretty gnarly. The protection and independence I’d created to leave the relationship of my 20’s made it super hard to let love in. Honestly, at this time I simply wasn’t able to. I’d just started to show myself signs of love (baby steps), and the idea of another person truly loving me was more than I could fathom. So I guess you could say that this year I could see/smell/taste the delights that life truly had to offer, but I was still falling short of experiencing them fully. The song truly punctuates that for me, I can remember walking along listening to it, joy rising inside me, but very much living vicariously through the joyful experiences of others.

2015: Florasia, Taylor McFerrin. This was the moment I started to heal from the troubles I had experienced in earlier life. I started to see Sara Williams and began to connect to myself though sessions with her. That work was the beginning of the path towards gentleness and a deeper audit of the smaller details about how I was living. I got a taste of meditation here, and learnt what it felt like to connect to myself fully. I started to exercise and feel the strength grow within my body. I rented my first flat solo that year, which was a big bold step at the time, for someone who had up until that time been in a tiny box room feeling like that was all I needed (and deserved actually). The song captivated my imagination, and sparked a greater curiosity for the love that might be available to me.

2016: Lite Weight, Anderson Paak. The path towards gentleness continued with a sharp segway into some fairly aggressive yoga. It took me a while on this path to find the ability to slow down and breathe and find more of a balanced practice. I learnt how to meditate alongside this with Sara at her then clinic, being part of that group I learnt so much about rest and recovery, and though a well established early riser by this point, became much more committed to rhythms and schedules for my body. This was where my meditation practice truly began, and I started to learn myself and my reactions to things from the inside. The song captured my heart with its effervescence of spirit but with the deeper message of ‘there’s no reason to be afraid’.

2017: Tawo, Jordan Rakei. I took the meditation work a little further by getting involved in the ‘Just Breathe Project’ with Michael James Wong. I also did a little more speaking therapy at this time, as I began to wonder whether the walls I had built around my heart were going to allow the right kind of love in. My goal at this time was to embrace vulnerability, and learn to live less in my alpha driving mode. My world felt joyful though, and I got better at making quick decisions on things that weren’t serving me. I was in the groove at Shazam and seeing the impact I was able to create. The song captivated me and my feeling of being blessed by my experiences.

2018: Morning After, dsvn. I continued to work to try and find the space to enjoy the path of walking alongside another person. I joined Onfido, and could see the aching need for some of the work I was doing personally from a business standpoint – meditation, connection, care. It was like the stars were aligning for me again professionally speaking and like all the learnings were coming together in a brilliant way. My side note is that I’d also thrown myself into my work here in a fairly unhealthy way, which my obsessive streak is a little prone to. I was able to draw upon the toolkit I had created and dial up on meditation and other work to support myself at this time.

2019: Told You So, Miguel. I started this year with the goal of ‘being’ over ‘doing’ and I failed miserably. I am one of life’s do-ers and that’s hard to change. This whole time, even when it was detrimental to me, I’ve ridiculously overachieved at the thing I’ve set my mind to. So I finish the year with renewed intent. To live, to love, to breathe. To go deeper. To find more space. To slow down. I’ll let you know how I get on with that. The song is fabulous, but also carries the message for me that we actually always know what’s right for us, I knew it at the start of the year, but still carried on diving into the waves of doing. There’s a great question we can ask ourselves most of the time when we embark on a new project: ‘What are we going to ‘learn’ six months from now that we already know today?’.

I continue my work on the spectrum of love, sorting through myself and my ways of working to configure myself in the optimum way to truly thrive. I also carry that quest into the businesses that we are supporting within the Launchpad, to help them build the right experience for themselves and their people.

My intention is to fill the next decade with even more LOVE. Love is, after all, the most precious thing that we have my friends; love for ourselves and love for each other (and boy does our world need more of that now).

Happy new decade beautiful people.

That time when I realised I’d unwittingly started to develop a growth mindset

I recently finally finished reading Carol Dweck’s book on Growth Mindset. It’s one that has sat on my Kindle for the longest while, yet like so many things, seems to have popped up again just at the moment when I was most likely to need it. Thank you Universe.
To have a growth mindset is to develop the view of ourselves that we are capable of anything, that we are worthy of doing so and that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Done well, a growth mindset really is the key to unlocking a life lived to its expansive potential.
The opposite of a growth mindset is to have a fixed mindset; something entirely inflexible and completely limiting. The average person has a blend of both. Where we have a growth mindset in some areas of our lives we might be fixed in others.
I was never aware of what kind of mindset I had up until recently, when I started to consider more about what makes people thrive within startups and in particular, as Founders. To build and sustain businesses in quite the way they do means a growth mindset is essential; they have to believe that anything is possible.

This leads to the question; is a growth mindset something that we can learn?

I am pleased to say that the answer is a resounding yes.
Whilst I am definitely still the average person here, with different mindset approaches in different areas of my life, I’m delighted to say that in the past few years I’ve unwittingly developed a growth mindset across many spectrums of my life that previously were blocked. Though let’s also be clear it was a little more by accident rather than by design. Thank you again Universe.
Up until about 7 years ago my mindset was very much fixed when it came to myself and my own capability.
As a young child I was confident, sassy and felt I could do anything. The shutdown came for me at around 10 or 11 years old. I can remember a series of disappointments, often linked to creative expression, that led me to shrink myself smaller and become less confident in sharing my ideas.
Even though I have always been one of the smallest people in the room, I have also often been one of the loudest. That meant I often had the attention of teachers for the wrong reasons, and that I caused a reaction in some of those teachers and their perception of me as a threat to their authority. I asked a lot of questions. Rather than work with the spirited child they were faced with to yield excellent results, instead they generally formed a negative view around my capability to learn.
Granted, my ideas were often a little outside of the norm, but rather than cherish them and help me work them into something that fit the bill for what they were looking for, the teachers around me tended to squash them.
The views they held on me academically felt absolute, so I took them at their word and decided quite unconsciously that traditional learning wasn’t for me. Sure, I continued to learn from the ‘school of life’, but even simple things like reading became sidelined as I focused on my street savvy as my sole means of survival. I created a hard belief about myself and my ability that mirrored theirs.
Instead I applied my creative energies into a full scale teenage rebellion and perpetuated the labels that they had given me.
At around that time I also started the ugly pursuit of seeking validation from the world around me and look for its approval, and in doing so, curbed my tongue on almost everything. I was constantly seeking a new tribe to belong to, one that I could feel safe in, so metamorphosised through many different identities throughout my teens. My apparent confidence was merely a smokescreen for a deep sadness and a very low self esteem.
I then let the views of others dictate my reality for a very long time indeed.
The key to unlocking it was love. Love for myself and love in the form of the belief of others. The key to that love was to develop a real connection with myself. Thank you (yet again) Universe.
I’d been taking tiny steps in the direction of self, inspired largely by others that crossed my path. The big shift in my early 30s, when those little steps culminated into a big loud voice inside myself that told me I needed to tear everything up and start over. I needed to build a new life from the inside out. So that’s exactly what I did.
I had finally found (and started to pay attention to) my own voice.
Since then, I have continued taking those little tiny steps to make positive choices in alignment with what truly serves me. Bit by bit those choices have helped me to learn to love myself, respect myself and see my value in the world.
One of those choices was to learn how to learn again. I did that by quietly giving myself the safe space to do so, by creating a learning commitment to myself that started small with just 10 minutes of reading a day. That has gradually developed over time and I have now become someone who is basically always learning something; whether teaching yoga, how to do the people stuff better or whatever else.
This has only been possible as a by product of the love and admiration I was developing for myself. I now know (and truly believe) that I am capable of anything I put my mind to, I just have to be brave enough to do it. I am now committed to life long learning.

Whatever we apply ourselves to, we can get better at.

As I said at the beginning, we generally have a mix of mindsets; we can still be abundant in some areas and closed off in others.  A fixed mindset is insidious, and will creep around you in a myriad of different ways if you allow it.
Sometimes you can be exposed to people who trigger old patterns within you and the fears can resurface, I have experience that in the workplace with a former boss. You have to protect your mindset when this kind of challenge occurs and become aware of when you are retreating back to something that feels safer. Be bold, be brave and hold your course.
My work here is by no means done. Now that I’m aware of just how important my mindset is, I am careful to look at the areas where I am still fixed and holding myself back. From that place of awareness I can work to create the right dialogue with myself to continue to set myself free, to be bold, be brave and to hold my course.
Living expansively can be our only real goal in life. Success shouldn’t be the position we hold or our social status. Real success comes in the day to day relationship with have with ourselves and the way we regard our abilities. When making choices now, I ask myself the simple question; which one will afford me the greatest opportunity for expansion?
My lived experience helps me to guide and coach others in the same direction, whether within my immediate team or across the wider business I am operating in.
If we can be successful in creating a safe space for this mindset shift to occur within the people who work within the businesses we watch over as People people, I’ll be a very happy Penfold indeed. Then we can sit back and watch as their respective rocket ships shoot for the stars, and take our brilliant businesses with them.

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.