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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 I embraced my inner child

We all feel fulfilment from having a sense of purpose in life, a sense of feeling useful, and like what we do in the world has value. As employers, it’s important for us to tell our story of what our purpose is, who we are and what we stand for, but to allow the openness for that story to evolve with the people that work within our businesses.

This was very much the theme of the Changeboard Future Talent conference at the end of March. Honestly, its one of the best conferences I attend each year.

Alain de Botton is an exceptional philosopher and I am lucky enough to have heard him speak twice now. He’s also hilariously funny. The humour will be lost in translation here I’m sure, but I felt like I should share some his brilliant musings with you good people.

Building on the theme of openness, how do we then create that in our own lives and that of our businesses?

The workplace is a place where a lot of our immaturities show up the most in terms of the way we react and interact with others. Ask someone to speak about what annoys them about their work, and you will almost invariably see them light up and launch into a tirade of some sort, perhaps along the lines of; this person said this, they did that on purpose and so on. Sound familiar?

The truth is; emotional intelligence is just as important as all the other knowledge systems, if not even more so, but we often aren’t taught about it as children. We progress through our school systems focused on learning other skills, and only generally learn this stuff by innate ability, by chance, or by having some kind of life altering epiphany and making a choice to put in the ‘work’ to learn it.

When we learn to see our fellow humans as their inner children expressing from a place of vulnerability, it becomes much easier to view interactions lovingly and prevent their escalation from your own childish reactions (essentially the reaction of your own inner child to theirs, then press repeat, and so it goes on).

An act of love therefore, is the willingness to look beneath the tricky exterior and love and forgive anyway, whatever the interaction. To look at the person through a forgiving lens as if they were your beloved three year old, who didn’t mean to cause the harm they had with whatever they had done.

What we need as leaders and organisations therefore is a blanket admission of our collective deficiencies more along the lines of:

  • We are all a little crazy.
  • We are all hurt.
  • We are all anxious.
  • We are all vulnerable.

From that platform of openness, we can learn to take pride in our emotional milestones, share more, forgive more and generally create better working environments and more space for growth. For all of us.

The trouble is, in our modern world, we have created the perfect platform for a ton of distraction. We spend so much time not in tune with ourselves, it becomes near impossible to create that honesty with others.

So what we need first is to create better relationships with ourselves. I have found a number of ways of creating that environment for growth for myself, the most significant have been:

  • Daily meditation and space for connection to myself, space for thought, space for reflection.
  • Turning off distractions when travelling around the world, just be you with your breath and the humans you live amongst. Take a break from your screen, your music, your newspaper.
  • Stopping anaesthetising against feeling ‘stuff’ with food and other mind altering substances.
  • Sharing my challenges with others, and creating the space for people to do that with me in return.
  • More recently, taking the time to read and be inspired by others.

Once we create the foundation of knowledge of self to build upon, we are better equipped to teach, learn and grow. Alain speaks of the importance of teaching, from all of us, to the world around us, and that essence of love is to teach someone something – and learning is just as beautiful.

If as leaders, rather than our people seeing us as strict or severe and feeling wary of us, we were able to say; ‘I’m not evil, I’m just worried’, we would create a much stronger bond with our people, and a platform for mutual support and forgiveness. We would also have far greater opportunity to learn from one another.

We are all emotional creatures and we must not try deny our fragility. Especially as leaders. We just need to work on our self knowledge first to be able to share ourselves with our organisations.

As for me; I continue work on my knowledge of self and my own child-like reactions every day (and I will always remain a work in progress). I take pride in bringing my real self to my team at work. That person is honest, vulnerable, silly and a little eclectic but also strong, passionate, brave and supportive. They get the lot, and that’s a whole lot of Penfold haha.

If you are reading this and considering where you might be able to bring a little more realness, a little more ‘you’ to your day to day interactions, then why not take the opportunity to try doing so. For you and for the people around you.

And if you ever get the chance to see/hear Alain speak in real life, I highly recommend you do that too.