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.

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.

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

Interview: Michael Walker

As the former Head of People & Operations at Mastered, and advisor to multiple start-ups, Michael Walker has a fascinating perspective on L&D. Mastered is itself a talent development business, focusing on the skills creative talent needs in the fashion industry, so they are always looking for ways to develop people in new and improved ways. Here are the main takeaways from our conversation:


Management training is an obvious place to start in an organisation, as the impact here will be felt throughout the organisation. You could start by creating an offering here with a series of themed workshops for managers of different experience levels. “Every business has a lot of knowledge internally. It’s just a case of sharing that knowledge in a way that will stick”. This approach has multiple benefits. First, it allows attendees to learn from each other directly. Second, it establishes a baseline for culture and gets everyone on the same page. Third it’s an opportunity to capture content and best practices for future training sessions.


Another approach, which Mastered uses in its own courses, is to interview thought leaders in a particular field and then edit these down to short videos. These are broadly characterised as either inspirational or technical, and form the backbone of Mastered’s programme. Live events are another key component, with the centre piece being Mastered Live. Here students fly to a stunning global location such as Iceland, Croatia or Canada for a weekend of learning and creativity. This incorporates workshops, portfolio reviews and fashion shoots all running concurrently, creating an unforgettable experience.


Whilst every organisation has a lot of hidden expertise that can be unlocked, Michael likes to get inspiration from thought leaders externally as well. Sports coaches, athletes and experts are a rich seam of ideas and he keeps a close eye on the likes of Alex Ferguson, Clive Woodward, Martin Johnson and James Kerr (whose book “Legacy” comes particularly recommended!). All deal with world class performance under high pressure, whilst the Netflix culture deck has popularised the metaphor of a business as a sports team, rather than a family.


“All too often, assessment is based on whether someone has had training in a certain area, not whether they’ve actually picked up new skills”. Assignments and follow up actions give people the impetus to practice skills they’ve been trained on. This works best when it’s tied to something they would do anyway, and time-limited to prevent it getting pushed back indefinitely. One example might be to get attendees of a workshop on performance management to report back on a feedback conversation they’ve held within the next week. A small practical step to make sure they quickly put the things they have learnt into action to help turn this knowledge into experience.


At Mastered they value coaching and mentoring both internally and as a key component of the courses they run for creative talent. Whilst 1-2-1 sessions can feel inefficient in terms of time, Michael believes they more than make up for this with their increased impact – and the feedback from students certainly supports this. The key difference between the two is that mentoring is more directive, with experienced professionals giving guidance to students on what to do next. Coaching on the other hand involves asking students the right questions to unlock their potential and empower them on their development journey.


“Training and performance management should be focused on the same outcome” says Michael – both give people a ladder from where they are currently to where they/you want them to be. He’s also a fan of discussing people’s career plans outside the opportunities they have inside the company. Being realistic that an employee has a life after your company allows you to develop them in a way that they will find most engaging, and means they will likely spend more time at your company. Examples might be creating side projects for people that aren’t business critical, but make a big different to their engagement.


Michael works with scale ups to ensure their growth, providing talented individuals on a search basis, as well as advising on talent attraction, development, retention and employer branding. You can find out more here.

Interview: Kirsten Dellis @ Trainline

the trainline logo

This week I caught up with Kirsten Dellis, who heads up L&D at The Trainline. It was a great peek under the hood at how L&D looks in a high growth tech company.


One of the reasons I was so interested to speak to Kirsten was that she had worked not only at The Trainline, but also Badoo and She says each had their own distinct identity and challenges. was a small company which rapidly expanded from 50 to 120 employees over the 3 years that she was there. In contrast, Badoo is the world’s largest dating site, with a lean HR team (just 2 people for an office of 250), and a complex product where it’s not always clear what people want(!)


Kirsten’s now at The Trainline, and the company continues to go from strength to strength. The company was acquired by private equity firm KKR two and a half years ago, and Kirsten clearly enjoys the professionalism and focus on the bottom line that this brings. Two years ago the service only covered the UK, but they now operate in 28 countries and just launched in China. With 570 employees across three main offices (London, Edinburgh and Paris), there’s never a dull moment!


As you might expect at a company the size of the Trainline, there are a number of learning initiatives ongoing. Some training is offered on an optional basis, such as their “Manage Your Career” course for junior and mid-level employees. The team has also used external vendors to build specific capabilities such as negotiation on an ad hoc basis. However, the main emphasis is on customising training specifically to The Trainline, and delivering it internally.

Their programme for new team leads is typical of this, itself a comprehensive course of 6 days spread over 6 months. This is delivered internally by the HR team working in pairs to maximise energy and engagement in each session. The course is compulsory across all functions for new managers and external hires, and covers everything from employment law and agile working, to managing teams and dealing with performance issues.


As in many companies at the moment, the Apprenticeship Levy is a hot topic at The Trainline, and something that they are starting to experiment with. As well as trialling one apprentice this year, they are also sending existing employees on approved courses to upskill them. With a minimum commitment of 12 months, it’s not as fast moving as many other projects, but one Kirsten is keen to see develop.

Another new initiative that Kirsten is running is their mentoring programme. Launched just 3 weeks ago, more than 90 people have signed up and roughly split between prospective mentors and mentees. Kirsten is now matching the two together, using information from an onboarding survey about what each is interested in, and her own understanding of the individuals. It’s early days, but with such a strong start she’s understandably enthusiastic about the potential!

Interview: Adam Harwood @ ASOS

This week we had a super interesting chat with Adam Harwood who develops the digital learning programme at ASOS. We’ve summarised the key points from our discussion here:


“We’re used to information on demand” says Adam, “people want to choose how and when they engage”. When he started at ASOS, development was heavily classroom based, but he noticed that some people just asked for the notes, rather than attending the sessions themselves. He realised that learning needed to suit the learner, not the L&D team.


Now ASOS focuses on having all the materials that people need in a searchable platform (they use Looop). People are used to the internet being their source of knowledge. If it’s easier to Google something then people will, so learning materials need to offer higher quality and increased convenience. Looop is mobile friendly so people can access content when and where they want. Adam says they have people reading up on things as they walk into meetings, or even in the middle of the night.


Events are still an important part of what ASOS does, but the focus is more on discussion, collaboration and sharing experiences peer-to-peer – activities that can’t be replicated online. This has made events more engaging and better attended. Trainers can assume that participants know the the basics of any given topic, and devote more time to practice and advanced concepts.


To decide what should be on their learning platform, Adam organised a focus group with top performing team leads. He picked people that were new enough to remember the transition from their previous role, but who had enough experience to have a feel for what the role entailed. During the session everyone noted the things they wish they had been taught when they started, and then everyone voted on which topics were most important. This determined the topics that they built content on, and the priority they built it in.


“Speed to competence is our key target”. Adam constantly seeks out feedback from both more experienced and newer employees to check in on how the training is performing. Asking the right questions is key. Instead of asking people for advice to share, he asks them what they actually did themselves. Google’s advice to “put your best people under the microscope” has been a strong influence.


“L&D is in crisis. It’s not about learning, it’s about DOING”. The business cares about what people can deliver, and knowing things is a means to that ends. According to Adam, the best way to get buy in from the rest of the organisation is to speak in their terms and help them achieve their goals. It’s vital to spend time in the business and understand what their goals are.