Breakfast Roundtable notes: People Ops & Goal Setting

Breakfast discussion

Learnitect and Ignite recently hosted a breakfast roundtable with People Ops representatives from over 30 fast growth tech companies including Treatwell, Google, Box, Lovecrafts, iwoca, Makers Academy and many more. We’ve written up our notes below for anyone that didn’t make it, and if you’d like to come to the next one, please email us.


  • There should be transparency across organization on organization, team and individual-level goals
  • Important that everyone in the business has a shared understanding of not only what the goals are, but also how the goal setting process works and expectations around them.
  • Good goal setting processes:
    • Team offsites are a great way to come up with team goals that support the organization goals
    • Process should iterate down the organisation (e.g. C-suite first, then each department)
    • Process should be short (2 weeks end to end at Lovecrafts), with the focus on doing
    • Use quarterly organization-wide meetings for each team to share progress on goals with each other
    • Link major team initiatives (and subsequent updates) to OKRs
  • Lots of companies are using OKRs, but there are a few caveats
    • These should be major points of alignment, not an attempt to cover everything
    • They should be understood as a framework for setting expectations
    • More suited to transactional roles (e.g. product), less suited to business as usual  (e.g. payroll)
    • In larger organisations (e.g. Box has >1000 people) then it can be difficult to link individual performance to company OKRs
  • Platforms for sharing goals:


  • Perks for your superstar performers:
    • Increased development support from managers (e.g., biweekly 1-1s)
    • Coaching with external coach (e.g., discussion of individual’s strengths and weaknesses)
    • Rigorous development plan with stretch assignments
  • Manage underperformers with an objective of improving their workplace experience.  If this is not possible within the organization, provide support (e.g., career coaching, networking and introductions) to help the underperformer find the right role outside of your organization


  • Expected behaviour is more important than “values” per se
  • Values can be tacit as long as expected behaviour is clear
  • There should be boundaries (e.g. respect / diversity), but also a range within those boundaries
  • “Micro interactions” make culture work – constant reinforcement of what everyone expects
  • “Moments of truth” such as hiring and promotion form the backbone of culture, and are most important to get right



We develop outstanding leadership at the world’s fastest growing digital businesses. We organise programmes that pull together high potential team leads from different companies and teach them the skills they need to be excellent managers, as well as provide them with a network of peers for continued development. We make rising stars more productive, more professional and feel more valued. More information on our website.

Interview: Phil Blaydes @ Talentful

How did Talentful get started?

We started in mid 2015. Chris and I had both worked in agencies as well as in house (Phil at Mind Candy, Forward 3D and Thought Machine; Chris at Shazam and Audible). We were both contractors on day rates, but still delivering value compared to agencies working on placement fees. We asked ourselves: why is no one doing this as a business?

It wasn’t long before we started a relationship with Balderton Capital, who introduced us to our first deep learning client, and started a twelve month engagement with Zopa. Now we’re only two and a half years in, but we’ve served 102 clients and grown to a team of 40.

How did you grow headcount so fast?

We’ve hired almost everyone directly – we practice what we preach. We hired our own internal recruiter when we got to 15 people, and have been very lucky to attract so many people from personal networks. Now that Sophie Amato has joined as Senior People and Culture Manager, we’re increasingly values led in our own hiring. That said, we look for values add, not values fit, so personality wise there’s a lot of variety.

What are your values?

Focus, Grit, Partner, Action and Candour. We worked with Kim Stringer to do pulse sessions and tried to include as many people as possible, as we were very conscious not to have a top down approach. We wanted to codify the values we already had, rather than come up with something new. There were differences in opinion, but it wasn’t too hard to boil down to these five values. We’ve tried to stay humble as founders, and we work with a number of external advisors to support us – in addition to Kim, we have an executive coach – Viv Taylor, and Kevin Blair (VP Global Talent at IBM) as a mentor/non-exec.

Who gets coached?

Everyone that has a management role has a coach. Most recruitment companies just give their top biller a management role, without giving people the training and support. We want to make sure that we support people as they take on more responsibility, so managers get a two hour coaching session each month.

We’re actually spending 2-3% of revenue on coaching and developing people. It’s a significant investment, of course, but we’ve doubled productivity – in terms of number of hires made, per person, for clients – over the past 12 months. So there’s huge value to clients as well as our employees.

What else are you doing to develop people?

We have the Talentful Academy, which every new joiner goes through to ensure complete standardisation of knowledge across the business. This is predominantly delivered by Sophie, but lots of people across the business share their specialist knowledge. This helps to form networks across the company and is great for the tutors’ personal development.

Everyone thinking about a management role in the business goes through the Talentful Management Academy. There are nine modules in total, covering everything from difficult conversations to understanding and motivating their team. So people get a mix of classroom training and coaching as they move up the organisation.

We also do a lot of “micro training” – individuals take responsibility for putting together modules on a fairly informal basis. They’ll just send out a message on Slack about the session they are running, and anyone interested can join.

Finally, we have weekly lunch and learns, which everyone is obligated to do at some point. These could be on anything: a challenge overcome, an issue with a client, or something we’ve learned from our clients – recently we had one on the anti-capitalist culture of the multi-billion dollar, Riot Games.

What are the main talent issues you see startups having? 

We’re starting to see a trend away from people valuing share options highly. People are starting to recognise the chance of a big payout is small, and don’t want to take the risk and a lower salary for that. Larger companies are also starting to catch up – they are working on interesting tech stacks and big problems.

You need to have a very good interview process as a startup to counteract that, and really sell the opportunity. This has to be a 50:50 process where the candidate is sold as much as assessed – the interview process itself is the best way for candidates to assess what the company is like and whether it’s well run. All too often we see startups with unrealistic expectations about how much people are willing to work, and how devoted they are to someone else’s vision.

Ultimately, if you’re growing fast then you need someone senior who is championing the recruiting process. It’s very, very simple. There’s a massive variation in time to hiring across the industry, and whilst employer branding makes a slight difference, it’s no substitute for someone at the top making sure recruitment gets the attention it needs. This has to be the focus of the whole company – making time in people’s diaries, ensuring there’s good feedback, and generally running a tight process.

In the absence of inclusion at the office, women and other minorities are less productive than they could be. This must change.

Abadesi Osunsade

– by Abadesi Osunsade

At the beginning of my career the word ‘underrepresented’ wasn’t in my vocabulary. I was a fresh London School of Economics graduate rushing around the Financial Times offices excited to be an editorial intern. Sure, there were hardly any people that looked like me around. Almost everyone was a middle aged posh white guy, but I was used to that. All my experiences of London’s corporate world, from interviews to internships, were dominated by this one type of person.

So, like all my prior work experiences, I sought out the people with whom I shared some similarities. I hung out with the other young folks, people on the grad scheme. I hung out with the other people of colour, many of whom were involved in the diversity scheme that helped me secure the internship. In the company of diverse people, I felt less like the outsider and more like part of the odd bunch. In a good way. I felt safer and more relaxed. I felt like I could be myself, ask questions without fear of embarrassment, and learn and blossom.

When I transitioned into the tech world, the word ‘underrepresented’ still didn’t register. My first tech job was a role in Groupon’s burgeoning London office a year before the record breaking IPO. Forbes had just named us the fastest growing company ever. Promoted to a team leadership role after my first eight months I was managing a team of 4, then 5, then 10. I was 24 years old. As a London-based tech startup with lots of international managers, and hiring more and more people each week, we had an amazing diversity of nationality, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, religion and sexual orientation.

But the leadership was mostly male. I noticed male colleagues getting away with behaviour that many of us women found unprofessional. I noticed male team leaders in my department adopting aggressive management tactics with their teams to great effect. When I copied them with my team, I was labelled “scary”. Literally. A direct quote from the company’s first round of 360 feedback. When I questioned my team later at the pub, one of my direct reports said that he used to find me scary, but then he started thinking of me as a guy and that made it OK. The rest of the team nodded in agreement.

I started to wish there were other women in the room, as leaders and as individual contributors, to help me fight against these ridiculous beliefs and misconceptions. Most of my headspace that week was spent digesting this information and stoking the frustration burning inside me. It was valuable mental and physical energy that could have been far better spent helping my clients, solving problems, and making the company money. I started to realise what it meant to be ‘underrepresented’ and the real opportunity cost a lack of diversity and inclusion creates.

When you have an office environment where minority groups are not treated as equals by every employee, you create an additional burden for them. The time and energy they should be spending on their job is instead consumed by the annoyance and discontent of being treated differently. Instead of having the liberty to just get on with it, they are fighting battles.  They may be answering questions about their culture or identity when they should be doing value-adding work. They may be thinking about the offhand discriminatory comment a colleague made in jest when they should be doing their work. They may be thinking about which of your competitors would offer a more inclusive working environment when they should be doing their work. This is why diversity and inclusion is so important to me, there is no level playing field until it is achieved.

Abadesi Osunsade is the founder of Hustle Crew, a career advancement community for the underrepresented in tech, and the author of new careers advice book, Dream Big Hustle Hard: A Millennial Woman’s Guide to Success in Tech, available on Amazon now. She has worked at Amazon, Groupon and is currently a part of the community team at Product Hunt / AngelList.

2017 Year in Review

2017 Year in Review Infographic

Learnitect trains new managers at London’s fastest growing companies. Our 3 month programmes teach team leads from across the tech community the leadership and business skills they need to succeed, as well as giving participants an excellent opportunity to network with peers from across the start up ecosystem. For more information drop us an email.

Interview: Amy Gilman at La Fosse

Amy Gilman

This week I spoke to Amy Gilman – Director of HR and L&D at La Fosse. La Fosse has an incredible track record, having been in the Top 20 Best Small Companies to Work For in the Sunday Times for the past 5 years and in the Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies in the Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 2011, 2013 & 2014, so I was keen to hear what they were up to behind the scenes.

As a recruitment company does La Fosse have special HR pressures or advantages?

There’s certainly a lot of pressure to deliver results in the recruitment industry. 80% of our new hires are at the graduate level, and we’ve got a clear career path for people to be earning life changing money and managing people within a few years. That combination can create a lot of stress for someone who is still relatively young and inexperienced. We’re starting to realise that we need to give the team the right tools to manage their mental health and emotional wellbeing better in this environment. For example, we offer hypnotherapy to help people stop smoking, sleep better, manage their energy at work better and so on. Very recently, we’ve also started a trial with Sanctus, who aim to help drive positive mental health in the workplace, using qualified coaches.

What does training look like for someone as they move up the business?

We’ve got 4 people in L&D for a company of 100 recruiters: myself, a L&D Sales Consultant, a Systems Training Consultant and an L&D Coordinator.

Our Career Roadmap itself took 8 months to build. Typically, people start out as Associate Consultant for 12 months, experiencing a comprehensive Induction programme to help them get promoted to a Consultant. For Consultants we have a blended, modular programme that is roughly 60% skills and 40% mentality. For each module there’s an in-person workshop, with a forum 4-6 weeks later and coaching on a 1:1 – 1:3 ratio to embed the content.

After the Consultant level, the career path splits and people can either move up the management route or become a Head of Practice. Not everyone is suited to management (at least not straightaway) so we want to support their continued progression as an expert, but that means fighting social norms were success means people management.

What are the key metrics that you’re watching in L&D, and what insights have they driven?

We report target promotions vs. actual promotions and retention at our monthly board meeting. Retention is important because we want to ensure people having long and fulfilling careers at the company. Target vs actual promotions data prompts a useful conversation about whether we are providing the right training and whether we are we trying to promote people too fast. We look to see if gaps are localised in a particular team or role. Other metrics we track in L&D are utilisation of the team actually delivering training on an “hours per month” basis. This suggests the business is getting the right level of support from the function. Additionally, quality of training content and delivery and the impact of the learning on performance is all rated by participants.

What has changed to your approach since you started at La Fosse?

La Fosse is the smallest, nimblest company I’ve worked for. I’ve had to adapt to working at two different paces: a faster, more reactive pace, and a slower, more planned pace. For example, we’re currently developing our Consultant Programme, and have already delivered 3 out of 6 planned modules. I would have preferred to work out the details for all the content before launching it, but we needed to start ASAP because of the pace at which we’re growing. That meant we started delivering initial workshops before the later workshops were finalised. This has worked really well and has helped me understand the real need for adaptability in a scale up environment.

Where should someone just starting to think about L&D start?

You need to work out what the career roadmap looks like for your employees. That means defining each role, and the skills and behaviours required for success. Then you can compare that to where people actually are, and you have a basic gap analysis that spells out your training needs. You should also be able to spot where more experienced people have specific expertise, and then you can work with them to transfer knowledge across the business. This is easiest when there are groups of people doing similar roles, as there are at La Fosse. The fundamental principle has to be that you identify a problem and then work to solve that via the right learning methodology – if you don’t have a rationale for why people are learning what, then the culture of learning can start off badly and people become resistant to it.

What does best in class L&D looks like?

Whatever is required to deliver commercial benefits to the business. You need to be able to show a positive return on investment, which is why data is so important. In practice that probably means some sort of tech to support L&D efforts, and a learning management system when the business is ready for it. Of course the biggest challenge is always determining how much direct impact you can show from a learning intervention. Blended learning that mixes formal and informal learning, including coaching, is likely going to give you the best results.

You can connect to Amy Gilman here and find out more about La Fosse here.

Learnitect develops outstanding leadership at the world’s fastest growing companies. We make high potential individuals more effective and more engaged. Our 3 month programmes teach new team leads from across the tech community the leadership and business skills they need to succeed.

Interview: Matt Bradburn @ Peakon

This week I spoke with Matt Bradburn, VP People and Talent at Peakon. Peakon provides software to run real-time employee engagement surveys, and in doing so creates a wealth of data to drive people operations more effectively than ever before.

Matt Bradburn

You’ve recently joined Peakon – what drew you to the company?

Most people want to work for an organisation that fits their values, so for me, finding somewhere that truly believes that it can be the best place to work in the world is the dream. It helps that the product is super interesting, and has a lot of benefits from retention through to the bottom line of clients. I can’t deny that the team were very persuasive in interview as well – it would be impossible to fake the obvious enthusiasm people have for working there.

Tell us a bit more about the benefits of Peakon?

You can get continuous, real time feedback, combined with internal NPS scoring how engaged your employees are. Compare this with an annual survey – by the time you’ve collected the results, passed it by managers, related the results back to employees… it’s too long as a feedback loop to make a difference. Peakon directs management focus to fix problems incredibly fast. For example, a manager who was micromanaging would surface in about 2 weeks, allowing someone to intervene.

Is there some particular science behind the question design?

Indeed – most people don’t ask good questions. They add so much bias that the results are meaningless and lead to confirmation bias reinforcing the existing views of the person asking the questions. We have psychologists design custom questions for clients, as well as a standard set of questions that product can roll out to customers. We’re not just looking for whether someone is happy, but whether they are really engaged, which is slightly different. It’s about digging deeper into how someone feels as a member of your team and company.

Does Peakon herald a wider change in the way that companies think about managing people?

Very much so – I recently gave a talk at Peakon on just this subject. In the 20th century HR was policy based – employment contracts, holiday allowances and so on. But by 2008 larger companies started questioning whether anyone could sit on the board as an executive if they couldn’t support their decisions with data. Since then a lot more people are trying to bring data to bear on their roles, and Laszlo Bock (former SVP of People Operations at Google) reframed this shift as People Operations. It’s not just engagement surveys – you’ve also got other systems, and of course you still need the traditional policy stuff as well. All in all it allows you to take a more holistic view of people in the business.

Do you have a favourite case study about the impact Peakon has had?

Well, we use Peakon internally. Just before we moved offices over the summer, the working environment was getting more and more cramped. It was no surprise that our environment score (one of key drivers for engagement) started dropping off. But what was unexpected was that the collaboration score was also dropping off in sync. After the office move, the environment score recovered, but again the gains to the collaboration score were even more impressive. I never expected the physical environment to have such a dramatic impact on people.

What is the company vision going forwards?

We want everyone to come to work with their best self and deliver great work. What does that mean in terms of product? We’re quite flexible. We know the main drivers of engagement, as well as the sub drivers, and we know some of the potential actions to address problems. We can suggest these actions to managers, as they are the ones drive change, not senior management. We’ve just launched True Benchmark, which allows companies to see how they compare to each other, and we’ve several features in the pipeline that could be really exciting.

You’ve worked at several different startups (Lyst, Qubit, Peakon). What were the common challenges you faced, and what differed between them?

I think the same challenges exist in most organisations. Communication is a massive issue – in particular vertical communication is where it falls down the most – trying to maintain transparency and honesty is difficult. If founders take their eye off the ball it causes big problems, and emotional intelligence isn’t always founders’ strong suits! If I had one piece of advice for companies, it would be that when your employees give feedback, you can’t afford to dismiss it. If the same topic gets brought up time and again, it’s a problem, and you need to address it.

How has your role changed since you first starting working?

The move to using data to drive everything. I originally used a spreadsheet for recruitment, but at Qubit I was working with a team of ex-Googlers, and it became plain that using data was essential. I remember one period when I was trying to hire a dev-ops candidate. The funnel was showing a drop off after 2nd interview (with the CTO). I brought it up with him and he told me not to bring him anecdotal data. After that I started taking NPS-like scores for each interviewer asking: “Were the interviewers communicative and well informed?”. That showed the CTO scoring a 2 compared to other interviewers getting 8 and meant he changed his demeanour pretty quickly. By collecting this data we could ensure our interviewers were asking good questions and were being nice, and we hired two people very quickly.

What are the up and coming trends in HR at the moment?

Retention is a really big area, and what’s becoming clear is that training and development are key to this as they have so much impact on employee experience. Another is employee performance – some companies have got rid of performance reviews, others have done that and then U-turned to bring them back. There doesn’t seem to be a trend or process that consistently works, and even big companies are doing very different things.

Links here for more information on Peakon and to connect with Matt Bradburn.

People & Culture Breakfast Roundtable Notes

Breakfast Roundtable

Learnitect and Ignite recently hosted a breakfast roundtable with People Ops representatives from over 30 fast growth tech companies including Iwoca, Gousto, GoCardless, Bulb, Farfetch, Appear Here, Yieldify, Makers Academy and many more. We’ve written up our notes below for anyone that didn’t make it, and if you’d like to come to the next one, please email us.


Employer Branding

  • Recognise that recruitment is a selling process.
  • Clarify the employee value proposition with help from the founders. Ensure you include long term upside potential. Actively communicate this.
  • Employee videos get a great response. You can feature:
    • What people are doing day to day
    • What attracted existing employees to your company
    • BUT, team must be engaged and willing to help(!)
  • Talks and meetups are great way to develop awareness for your company as an employer:
    • Making it clear that the company supports this can encourage more people to think about it
    • Providing an opportunity for people to give their talks internally allows them to practice
  • Blog posts can work well, and can also be written by people throughout the business
  • Making sure that candidates have a good experience whether or not they are made an offer is super important as this affects employer brand:
    • Assign them a buddy to keep them engaged and give them feedback
    • Get feedback from them on the quality of interviews
    • Give them feedback on what went well and not so well
    • Have clear timelines for the process and stick to them
    • Treat them with respect
  • Canva is a good resource to create graphics


  • Assign a cost to recruitment process i.e. opportunity cost of each hire going through the pipeline. This allows you to trade off internal vs. external resources
  • Codify your values early and recruit against them to develop the company culture and avoid bad hires
    • Define your culture and what this means during recruitment process
    • Provide guidance on how to test for it, and make sure this is followed
    • Bulb provided examples here
  • Standardise and centralise recruitment to scale and enforce consistent quality
    • Provide interview training for all your managers
    • Make it clear who has the decision to hire. You might want to use Bain’s RAPID framework
    • Assign objectives for each stage of the interview
  • Consider creating trial days for the candidate to work at your office

Graduates & Apprentices

  • A few people had tried apprentices and placement students; impressed with Whitehat but didn’t hire due to lack of resources to train and attitude and culture fit of apprentices.
  • Soft skills are more important in hires than hard skills. i.e. look for ability to take feedback, compassion and willingness to learn.
  • People don’t know what they don’t know if learning on the job, so you need to have a clear learning pathway for people to follow
  • Graduates will also need to be coached on what the culture means for them so that they grow into it
  • Client facing jobs tend not to suit graduates as they need experience to be credible, and in contrast clearly defined functional roles tend to work well


  • Defining values has to be a collective process:
    • Use small groups to brainstorm words that people associate with the company.
    • Group these into a small number of themes
    • Convert these themes into expected behaviours within the company
    • Pass all communications and people processes (especially recruiting) through values
  • Aim is to codify existing behaviour, not create new behaviours
  • Values cannot be generic but must be unique to the business
  • Much easier to codify values early:
    • Fewer people to input into them
    • Becomes self perpetuating
    • Fewer process to update afterwards, and less marketing collateral will need updating
  • Really important to make sure the leadership team are connected to the team
  • Values need to be connected to performance management process too
  • Good resources:
    • Netflix culture deck
    • Airbnb podcast


  • Rewriting job specs to avoid gendered language
    • Example words that increase proportion of men applying: “smashing it”, “ninja”, “competitive”
    • Example words that increase proportion of women applying: “collaborative”, “supportive”
    • More examples here
    • Bulb say applications from females jumped from 24-30% doing this
  • Increasing number of minority applicants makes it easier to prevent positive discrimination
  • Clarifying and communicating your company’s vision often helps attract female candidates
  • Diversity also includes diversity of background. Look outside tech for candidates with the right mindset rather than just for technical skills alone.


  • Performance management needs to fit overall people strategy:
    • Match company values and culture
    • Fit with company goals or OKRs
    • Provide development plan for individuals
    • Happen on a regular basis
  • Important to communicate the goals and process for performance management well, and ensure managers get sufficient training in how to apply it
  • Radical candor is a popular framework for honest, caring feedback
  • 360s are a good way to get feedback from across organisation
  • Ad hoc informal feedback can have the most impact at changing people’s behaviours
  • Encouraging regular informal coffee chats among team members enables better information flow
  • Need to think about how you calibrate feedback across different departments
  • Consider getting coaches for top performers (recommendation: ‘Coach in a Box’)
  • Exit people the right way if they are no longer a good fit with the business



We develop outstanding leadership at the world’s fastest growing digital businesses. We organise programmes that pull together high potential team leads from different companies and teach them the skills they need to be excellent managers, as well as provide them with a network of peers for continued development. We make rising stars more productive, more professional and feel more valued. More information on our website.


Interview: Zoe Jervier @ Entrepreneur First

This week I spoke to Zoe Jervier, Director of Global Talent Acquisition at Entrepreneur First. Entrepreneur First takes individuals and over a 6 month period turns them into VC backed businesses. Although Learnitect is not backed by EF, I was on their programme 6 months ago, and a lot of the thinking that culminated in Learnitect happened in the creative environment they nurture.

Zoe Jervier

Where do you find people with the potential to build a world changing business?

EF looks for unconventional talent in unconventional ways, but has some conventional talent challenges. We invest heavily in scouting high potential people both online and offline, and 80% of team’s time is spent identifying. Founding a business is not a normal or default career path for the most ambitious people, so we need to go to them, rather than wait for them to come to us.

We’ve realised that timing is very important, so the first step is to work out whether someone should be joining EF now or later when they are more skilled and committed to the idea. We select up to 100 potential founders every six months, but some people won’t be ready to found a business for 2-3 years, and we’re investing more and more in our long term prospects.

Referrals from previous cohort members tend to be our highest quality prospects. Ambitious, highly talented people tend to hang out with other like minded people, and our alumni community is pretty good at referring people. Increasingly we’re shifting from asking “who do you know who wants to build a company?” to “who are the smartest, most ambitious people you know?”. We invest pretty heavily in generating referrals from our community through making it an important part of our culture. Companies like Stripe have done this pretty well, over half of their hires come from employee referrals

How do you screen for potential? What are the qualities that you’re looking for and how do you test for them?

We screen for potential over experience, and know from analysing the success of previous cohorts that some characteristics are essential:

  • Raw ambition: how big does the person think?
  • Resilience: do they persevere in the face of setbacks?
  • Commitment: are they ready to start a company now?

We also look for Edge – a distinct knowledge or skillset spike. This is something we help candidates articulate throughout the recruiting process and into the programme, and is helpful in guiding them on what they should be working on. All of these qualities we test through multiple rounds of interviews, as well as tracking their overall engagement in the process.

What has changed since EF started out? How do you measure and improve on your recruiting and development of potential entrepreneurs?

One of the best things we did was invest in building an in-house tech team – we now have one of the largest and most comprehensive datasets on founders before they’re founders. This supercharged the insights and hunches that the team had, and we’re now data obsessed as a talent team. We like to think we’re more data-driven than most recruiting teams – we apply lots analytical practices used by the best sales teams. We’re obsessed with tracking data points which improve our funnel and it’s lead to improvements across the board: better recruiting channels, better questions during screening, better team formation frameworks… Rigorous analysis of the data can lead to surprising results. One US company has optimised its recruiting funnel by doing 3 reference calls before even contacting candidates. It seems crazy, but it works for them.

Another big shift has been expanding our search, from targeting solely undergraduates to technologists and domain specialists in industry. Building the EF brand amongst our target audience was hugely important in the first couple of years. The connection with McKinsey gave EF credibility in the first years, but from year 3 we realised that we wanted to appeal to a more technical audience. McKinsey didn’t have as much sway with this group, and when we talked about entrepreneurship they had associations with Dragon’s Den and Alan Sugar, that weren’t appealing to them. We switched to talking about being a “founder”, and making an impact by working on really hard problems, and then things started to change.

Getting in front of people was still a challenge. We’d often get referred to business departments and had to sneak into hackathons to speak to people about their careers. We were running a lot of large scale events, but they didn’t seem as effective as some of our higher touch events. Most of the time this involved going bottom up through student societies. We now have a Student Partner programme in place to engage even more future founders on campus. Our Student Partners are key members of the EF community and we offer them career coaching, access to our portfolio companies and invitations to internal EF events like Demo Day.

What support do you give to businesses coming out of EF on the talent / people side?

Most companies need to hire aggressively as soon as they are funded, so the most important thing I do is help them adopt the recruiting mindset from Day 1. Attracting high-quality talent is the most important business activity for them at this stage – they always need to be building pipelines of talent to hire. Most of our founders haven’t recruited teams before EF, so I run a workshop on building your first pipeline and making your first hire. Referrals are generally the best way to get going, but we’re always careful to mention the effect this can have on the diversity of your team later down the line, as otherwise it can become a problem. It’s very easy to find yourself sitting in a team with ten other people who look just like you if you hire unconsciously.

You were just in the US at a talent conference. What are the big trends that you see happening at the moment?

I think a lot of recruiting teams have realised the power of investing in long term talent pipelining. Large companies have been doing this for a while, but it’s starting to filter through to startups now as well – the competition for talent is so difficult that you’ve got to do this. Just as we are cultivating relationships for years with some of our founders before they join EF, startups are building relationships a long way ahead of hiring people.

Executive-level coaching looks very likely to become a more mainstream perk for employees. This is distinctive from mentorship, which is where I transfer my knowledge to you, so you can do your job better, and can be set up internally. Coaching is around personal development, and is about helping the individual get better where they want to. This doesn’t need to be someone as senior as the person being coached, but usually it does need to be external, and it’s typically more valuable to individuals.

Finally, there’s an ongoing discussion about how to retain talent. More and more people have entrepreneurial desires, and no one has worked out how to retain those people. Companies like Google have experimented with things like “20% time”, and this helped create a more entrepreneurial environment, but companies seem to be cracking down time allowances such as this, as well as on IP ownership. To give people autonomy you can put them on the right projects internally, but to give them true emotional and financial ownership you may need to carve out a path for them to part ways with the company on good terms. If done right it can be a great thing – we’ve had many founders at EF who build business relationships with their former employers.

More information on Entrepreneur First and connect with Zoe Jervier.

Interview: David James @ Looop

This week I spoke to David James, who was at Disney 8 years, leading first the UK L&D department before becoming Director for L&D across EMEA, and now is a Digital Learning Strategist for Looop (we’ve mentioned them a couple of times before, as they supply the platform for ASOS and Learnitect’s digital content).

David James

You spent 8 years at Disney in various L&D roles. How does Disney handle L&D? What can other companies learn from it?

I loved my time at Disney. Although, there’s a misconception that Disney is a fun place to work. It’s challenging. Disney attracts smart, driven people and expectations are high. But it was incredible. Most noticeable is the complexity of the business. You’ve got the parks, stores, films, TV, consumer products, media distribution… it’s an incredibly broad portfolio of products and therefore challenges. From a L&D perspective you need to think about the corporate functions (sales, marketing, etc.), industry divisions (retail, entertainment, and leisure), and geographies [in his final role David covered 27]. Take all that into account and you still haven’t covered how dynamic the industry is. An example of this is, when I first started in 2006, we thought we’d won the format wars with Blue-ray, but within 2 years streaming was beginning to disrupt the physical home entertainment market..

As in most organisations, the L&D department is small, so you need to plan where you can have most impact – it’s an enormous remit to cover with limited resources. It was in my role as Director for the EMEA region that I realised that my role was not accountable for delivery, of training or programmes, but about really enhancing performance and building organisational capability.That means affecting the work in a way that the business cares about, rather than focusing on the traditional L&D metrics of attendance, completion and satisfaction.

There are lots of learning platforms on the market, what was it about Looop that made you get involved?

Ben [Muzzell, Looop co-founder] demoed it to me at the CIPD exhibition. I realised then that it was the first piece of corporate learning tech that I would use myself. And that was after years of pushing elearning out to people and it being largely rejected or ignored. Google has changed the way people think about learning at work. If they can’t find the content they are looking for they can search the whole internet. Looop performs a similar function in organisations, quickly and easily turning local expertise into actionable resources that affect the way the actual work is done. For this reason, you can develop content that people really want to engage with.

What is a “Digital Learning Strategist” anyway?!

Josh Bersin said “digital doesn’t mean learning on your phone, it means being where your workers are”. Digital doesn’t mean putting content on computers, it means really helping people with the work they are doing and preparing them for future roles. People research and learn things through Google everyday, it’s ridiculous to expect that they won’t take similar ownership of their learning in a corporate environment.

I work with learning teams to understand what they are really trying to achieve, who is affected, and work with them to design resources that meet those needs. In this regard, our work means making workers better and faster at their current role, as well as preparing them for future challenges. The new approach we facilitate is like building bridges between people and their collective know-how – opening up the organisation, and helping people get to where they want to go. Workplace learning isn’t about inputs and activities, it’s about outputs and results.

What are typically the quick wins for businesses in L&D?

The most important thing is to understand is the goal – what the business and its people are trying to achieve. For example, induction can increase speed to competence, so people are performing confidently and delivering results faster, as well as positively affect engagement and reduce churn, but all too often, this is all overlooked when it’s becomes an event that runs on Monday? L&D departments can get trapped in polishing content they already have. That’s no use unless that’s delivering the desired business results. Every organisation has its own journey. You need to understand the challenges that your people face, and then give them the resources they need to overcome those challenges and perform with more confidence and competence.

What are the top companies doing in terms of L&D?

Sanoma is a great example of how to do L&D today. They are laser-focused on what the organisation needs and they work with distinct departments and employee groups to understand what they need to do before equipping them with the digital tools (resources) to be able to do that. Face-to-face events then supplement everyday digital support to do what people do best: discuss, question, challenge, practice and relate it to their situation, whilst removing what people aren’t good at, which is absorbing huge swathes of content over the period of a few hours (or days). At first, Sanoma worked with one publishing brand to understood the work, their challenges and what digital would mean for them. By mapping individuals onto their scale of capability, it became clear what they needed to master next, and gave them an individual learning pathway. They captured what local experts knew, in relation to helping this distinct group of people do their jobs, and made these available in the form of resources – not to be learned, but to support them through doing the job differently. Once this approach was honed for this group of people, they scaled it out to rest of business, iterating along the way. Too often in L&D scaling means launching generic content or programmes to broad groups of people. What Sanoma are doing is integral to how the business performs and they are responsible for building the capability the business requires.

Further reading:

Looop blog on digital learning
David James on Twitter

How top startups in London approach Innovation and Culture

Forward Partners logo

Last week we attended a dinner hosted by Forward Partners for their portfolio companies and mentors. We facilitated the conversation on scaling people and operations, and captured as much of the ensuing conversation as we could here.

On maintaining innovation as your company grows…

  • Be conscious as to whether your team is innovating, or just iterating
  • Protect your MVP approach, even as the company becomes bigger
  • Clearly define KPIs for innovations (e.g., conversion)
  • Design incentives that encourage innovation – both reward and recognition
  • Build space and flexibility for innovation, e.g. create Hackathon days/weeks for employees from different functions to pitch and build innovations to improve the business
  • Assign funding for innovations based on employee votes
  • Encourage ruthless delegation of execution tasks to more junior levels of the organisation to free up experts’ times in developing innovation
  • Spark interesting ideas by constantly asking your team “What would we build if we are a new company, without any constraints?”
  • Invite customers to come in regularly and ask “What pain points do you have in your business today?” (rather than “What new product features do you want?”)

On building a solid culture…

  • Define your culture early and then iterate on it
  • Easiest to define it around values (though not the only way)
  • Important to make sure everyone has a say to get buy in
  • Values need to be translated into expected behaviours, so that everyone has tangible examples of what living a value means
  • Having values is meaningless if they don’t convert into visible actions

On the limits of transparency within companies…

  • You can push transparency much further than you might think… but it’s not always a good idea!
  • Sharing salaries, records of board meetings, and financial plans are all ok
  • However, individuals’ performance issues should not be shared as this can become very emotional
  • Transparency is easiest when it’s established very early on and then maintained