3 years, 15 clients and 5,500 people later – The ten most crucial things I’ve learnt through Let’s Talk Talent

“Always remember…you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”
Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh.

After enjoying several years of success at TalkTalk, Channel Four and the BBC it was a big decision to step into the role of running my own HR consultancy.

When I left TalkTalk in 2015 I had no intention of starting a business. I was not sure what I wanted to do but I knew that my main interest was in improving the HR world and I was not convinced I could do this by taking another corporate job even though this would have been the much easier and financially secure thing to do.

My “light bulb moment” actually came from my coach at the time who replayed to me my body language when I talked about my career how the subtle changes of my eyes, voice tone etc  was that my primary motivator was to improve others experience of their working lives and by default make organisations better places to find meaning, innovate and thrive.  

So, with no exit plan, how was I going to do this? Well… with not much interest in traditional KPIs and I spending no time creating a sales and marketing strategy, I was just following my passion for finding creative solutions to the challenges my first clients were facing.   I was lucky as the HRD’s of HarperCollins UK and Christie’s gave me a chance and I haven’t looked back since. So a huge thank you has to go out to them!

I’ve learnt so much and have tweaked words, refined and changed some of the things that I do.  However, the essence is the same – making a difference to those working within my clients’ organisations.

“Jo was an important contributor to many of our key projects. As a pragmatic leader and a realist, she can grasp ideas in a holistic manner and still pay attention to minor details”

Balázs Horváth, Global Director of HR Effectiveness at Dentsu Aegis Networks

I’m currently preparing to celebrate three years of Let’s Talk Talent.  It’s been an amazing journey so far and also seems like the perfect time to reflect on some of the key things I’ve learnt. So, here are the most important things I’ve learnt during that time.  I hope it’s useful and, as ever, feel free to comment and share your insights too.

One: Know Where The Magic Comes From

Really, it’s all down to how I approach each project.  What works best for me is remaining open to learn, saying YES to everything while being confident at every stage of the process even if you are not quite sure what the outcome will be. It’s this approach that ultimately means I can work with any client.  

I always want to add the ‘cherry on the top’ – and that means understanding what the client wants from the start and working backwards to create the right solutions. This is where the magic really comes from.  

The combination of this approach and how we understand the client means that change can become a positive and more effortless process. I’m a big believer in creating safety, through integrity and empathy.  It’s what Amy Edmondson (Professor at Harvard Business School) describes as ‘psychological safety’ and like me, believes is a key component of success and adds the ‘X-factor’.

Two: You’re Only As Good As Your Last Gig

As I reflect on the last three years there are many lessons that feature high on my list.  One of those is to remember you’re only as good as the last programme you produced. This is my mantra and keeps me focused and clear.  It also enables me to be brave in how I approach each project.

There’s no getting away from the fact that staying present is the best insurer of quality.  As soon as I take my eye off the ball I’m under-delivering. It’s humbling to realise what I’m doing right now can make a difference. I can’t imagine doing anything else, I’m hooked on the challenge.

“Highly creative in her approach to problems and tenacious when seeking for solutions. All done with humour and tact. I would highly recommend Jo.”

Jill Berry, HR Director, at Christie’s.

Three: Teams are More Than The Sum of Their Parts

In my experience, what really impacts performance more than anything else is a team working well together. It’s always the case that we’re greater than the sum of our parts.

This is where I really walk the talk.  Having a great team of people within Let’s Talk Talent means we can bounce ideas off each other and benefit from a diversity of insight that really challenges, supports and helps us create an ultimate wholeness within. This means we can also help our clients more effectively and powerfully. When I started on my own, I really missed the team aspect of being in-house, so pulling together the best people for my own company has been an integral way of putting my values truly into practice.

Four: Great Organisations and Teams Make Mistakes

Everyone I’ve ever worked with has made mistakes.  The most successful people I know make mistakes all the time. All the organisations I work with make mistakes – they get things wrong and sometimes just don’t know what to do.  The key here is not so much about me going in and telling them how to right every wrong and stop making mistakes. It’s much more about re-assuring leaders that mistakes are normal, natural and part of the learning process. In fact, in being open to learning from mistakes and seeing everything as a big experiment anyway they can improve performance – as long as time is taken to reflect and integrate what has been learnt. I’m heartened to see that research from Google backs this up (see my article ‘Why You Don’t Need The Best People’).

Five: Impact is Down To Culture

In recent years the world of work has continued to change and the challenges are different.  The efficiency or effectiveness focus of traditional HR departments with their preoccupation with policies and procedures has, in the main, given way to co-creative methods of business development and this is now very embedded within the majority of market-leading organisations.

The most recent cultural shift is all about ‘colleague experience’ and means that leaders need to find new skills to keep talent with them so companies can offer autonomy, trust and purpose.  

There’s a big movement with some organisations offering a much more personalized experience of work – free from clunky performance reviews and emphasising purpose and meaning – not just reward and status.

Six: We Need to Recognise the Role of Technology

The workplace is undergoing major changes in response to new technology.  Whether it’s enabling collaboration, automating processes or augmenting systems with AI every organisation needs to allow tech-led change to happen in line with its own unique purpose and according to its own values system.  Many tasks can now be effectively managed by tech and AI enabling teams to ultimately become more agile and solution-focused.

We’re still working out how best to do this and the rate of change is very swift so we need to be light on our feet, and open to learning about how best to implement tech.

Seven: Follow Your Gut

With some clients I have to admit sometimes I think ‘what am I doing in the room with these hugely successful people?’ but that’s also a reminder for me to be mindful that we’re all the same and that we’re all human – doing our best to find solutions to everyday problems.

Seeing where the issues lie within any company is partly why people hire me.  I’ve become more adept at identifying their issues faster and with more accuracy.  A lot of this is borne from many years experience but it’s also about following your gut instinct.  Normally this means saying yes to projects I don’t necessarily have all the answers too initially but working it out afterwards.  As I’m primarily a collaborative person, this hasn’t ever been an issue. When it’s a genuine partnership it’s hugely enjoyable too.  

The more I follow my gut instinct the more projects flow and insights come more readily to me and importantly to my clients.  I think it’s easy to get lost in complexity and overthinking. Following my instincts allows me to bypass a lot of the ‘noise’ and get to the crux of any client’s issues.

Eight: Value Your Time

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that I value my time more than I used to.  Time is precious so I always try to maximise it – even when it means moving things around. It’s important to take command and to recognise how important this is.

As part of this and my overall commitment to my clients, I regularly give myself a break, take a step back, celebrate the successes and appreciate what’s happening right now. I want to learn and develop all the time – so reflection is important.  Being able to manage my time carefully – including time for reflection, allows me to nurture fresh thinking and bring new insights to the table.

Nine: Offering a Bespoke Service Let’s You Go Deeper

With Let’s Talk Talent, I’ve been lucky enough to work with 15 clients, spread over 105 projects, impacting nearly 5,500 people.  With a relatively small amount of clients and an agile business model, I have been able to work more deeply with clients than larger consultancies perhaps can.  

This suits me down to the ground as I’ve always viewed longer term impact as more important than anything that seemed to offer a ‘quick fix’.  

Some organisations may be looking for an ‘off the shelf’ solution in an attempt to veneer over deeper issues – that’s definitely not me!  Change needs to be passionate and have energy behind it. Without that, nothing lasting will ever happen.

“Let’s Talk Talent’s approach works wonders and Jo’s ability to get to the heart of the issue is refreshing and ultimately saves us time and money.”

John Athanasiou, People Director at HCUK.

Ten: Find a Way To Measure Success That Works For You

Building Let’s Talk Talent from the ground up, I’ve based my success on the relationships I have with my clients and seeing firsthand how my work has impacted.  With a high % of returning customers, I’m seeing that I must be on the right track, but finding the right measures of success has taken time. Right now though, the metrics that really matter to me are:

  • What my clients actually tell me
  • % of returning customers
  • How many of my clients would recommend me to others?  
  • What’s my NPS (Net Promoter Score)
  • What other people in the industry are finding – in other words, what insights are other people in this space coming up with and how can I learn from them too? (see below!)

Your Thoughts, Please

I’m really looking forward to what the rest of the year will bring and how we can help our clients create incredible places to work.  This is what we are here for, and I’m really excited about the next stages of our adventure.

In the meantime, I’m keen to hear from you and what your ideas and insights are.  What are the most important things within the culture of your organisation? What’s working within your own HR ecosystem?  How do you measure success?  

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