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

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:

// RUN WORKSHOPS TO CAPTURE INTERNAL KNOWLEDGE

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.

// MAKE CONTENT ENGAGING

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.

// KEEP HUNTING FOR BEST PRACTICES

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.

// USE ASSIGNMENTS TO EMBED LEARNING AFTER WORKSHOPS

“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.

// FOSTER MENTOR RELATIONSHIPS WHEREVER POSSIBLE

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.

// RECOGNISE AND SUPPORT THE CAREER JOURNEY PEOPLE ARE ON

“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.

// FURTHER INFORMATION

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.

How to Retain Top Performers

whiteboard notes

This week we hosted a breakfast roundtable with MoveMeOn. Attendees from SuperAwesome, Salesforce, HelloFresh, BIMA, Quiqup, Seedrs and Yoyo Wallet shared their thoughts on retaining their best people.

// THE BUSINESS CASE FOR INVESTING IN YOUR BEST

Investing into retaining your best employees is a smart business decision:

  • Top performers are 4x more productive than average performs. This increased productivity holds true for process-heavy work and the effect is even stronger for creative and innovation areas.
  • 38% of employees are more likely to leave if they feel that there are no development opportunities
  • 24% increased likelihood of employees being retained if they feel they have access to L&D

// 3 PILLARS TO MOTIVATE YOUR TOP TALENT

Research shows that there are 3 pillars to motivating your top talent:

  • Recognition and reward
  • Autonomy and freedom
  • Learning and progression

Examples:

  • Netflix offers unlimited vacation, a one-line expense policy and transparency around paying best in class salaries. All this empowers their employees to act in the best interests of the company without too much bureaucracy
  • Supercell allows employees to work on whichever games they preferred – resulting in both games that did amazingly well, but also some failures
  • Pixar ensures there are communal spaces for people to meet spontaneously and Pixar University provides chances for employees to try new things (and fail in a safe environment

// PRACTICAL IDEAS FOR YOUR TOP TALENT

  • Assign all employees in a Nine-Box Grid that ranks them high / medium / low on both Performance and Potential. As well as identifying the future leaders of your organisation to invest in (High Potential-High Performance), it also identifies employees that are functional experts, and need recognition even if they are not being promoted (Low Potential-High Performance). Low Potential-Low Performance employees should be managed out as soon as possible. Consider being transparent to each employee about where they sit in the grid and how they can move around it, though be prepared that this can take time and effort.
  • If you can afford great maternity and paternity benefits then communicate these both internally and externally, to make sure that people appreciate them.
  • Dedicate and protect innovation time such as hackathons. These can vary from Hack Days in house, to week long Swarm Weeks, where developers to co-work in an out-of-office location and use that time on innovation only rather than bug fixing.
  • Make sure you process for determining salary is fair and transparent. People are at risk of leaving even if they are well paid when they perceive the system is unfair.
  • Adopt a holistic approach to development by investing in well-being (physical and mental) for employees
  • Assign executive mentors to your superstars. Support mentors and mentees with training for both parties to get the most out of the mentorship

How to Give Effective Feedback

feedback

Giving sincere and thoughtful feedback is one of the most powerful ways to continuously improve your team. Here are our notes on giving feedback effectively.

// BENEFITS OF FEEDBACK

Feedback is a gift! Don’t be afraid to give it out, and welcome it when you receive it. Feedback:

  • Helps people grow and develop
  • Builds trust within teams
  • Strengthens team culture
  • Increases team productivity and happiness

// GROUNDWORK FOR FEEDBACK

  • It’s your responsibility to request feedback from those around you
  • You should aim to give out as much positive feedback as constructive feedback
  • The best feedback often comes when you both genuinely care for someone as well as challenge them directly to improve

// HOW TO GIVE FEEDBACK

Use this framework for giving feedback: C.O.I.N.

  • Context: Describe the specific situation you want to discuss
  • Observations: State what happened. Keep to the facts
  • Impact: Explain the impact that this behaviour had on you, those around you, and the situation. Let the receiver ask questions to clarify things if necessary.
  • Next steps: Discuss ways to improve things, and come prepared with a suggested solution
    C.O.I.N.​ … because feedback is valuable! 😉

// FEEDBACK TIPS

  • When: Real-time is best. 20-30 min every 3 weeks is a good place to start.
  • How: Keep updated notes on positive things and things to improve. Spend 15 mins preparing for the chat before it happens.
  • Where: Make sure you have your feedback conversation at the right place and time: go for a walk or find a cafe. If the situation gets too emotional, take a break and revisit the conversation the next day

Nurturing Your Super Powers: The Importance of Edge

superhero

I was introduced to the concept of Edge about 6 months ago when I got a place on Entrepreneur First. EF have helped 350 individuals build 100 companies worth over $500m, and Edge is one of their key predictors of founder success. But I’d argue that it’s important for whatever you plan on doing in life, whether that’s founding a company, scaling the corporate ladder, or following a non-commercial career path.

// WHAT IS EDGE?

Your Edge is the skills and knowledge you have that are particular to you, and make you stand out against the other people you are competing against. EF like to call it your super powers. It’s something that can be developed over time through practice and study, and expressed as fulfilling your true potential, it’s the key to a rich and rewarding life according to everyone from Aristotle to Maslow.

Edge gives you credibility to approach otherwise daunting challenges. If you can’t articulate why you are the right person to take on a challenge, then you will have difficulty finding allies, investors and followers. When you can articulate why you are the best person in the world to tackle a problem, these flow in abundance.

// THE MYTH OF EDGELESS SUCCESS

It can be tempting to think that if you’re smart enough and driven enough then your natural talent is more important than a developed Edge. After all, didn’t Mark Zuckerberg start Facebook when he was 19? But look a little closer and success almost always grows from some form of head start or advantage.

Zuckerberg took private tuition in software development as a young teenager, and had built a number of social apps for both his father’s dental practice and fellow Harvard students before Facebook. Neither software, nor social dynamics were new to him. Of course, not everyone would have had the success that Zuckerberg had given the same starting point, but Facebook’s inception was no accident – rather the culmination of years of accumulated knowledge in related areas.

// FINDING YOUR EDGE

Deciding what to develop as your Edge comes more easily to some people than others. Some people have their calling and need look no further. For others, variety is the spice of life, and choosing where to feast from the world’s smorgasbord of experiences is difficult.

There’s no need to make a hasty decision. Our careers look set to span 40-50 years, and progress is often very fast once you are fully committed to a direction. But it’s worth bearing in mind “the jack of all trades is the master of none”, and at some point, hopping from job to job will start to impede your ability to play at the same level as more dedicated peers.

There are a number of questions that are useful to ask yourself to figure out where you want to focus:

  • Who are your role models? Who do you really respect? Why?
  • Imagine you are 70 and have had a long and successful career. What have you achieved?
  • Imagine writing your obituary or Wikipedia entry. What does it say?

// DIRECTION OVER GOALS

Once you’ve decided what your Edge is and started nurturing it, it helps to remember that life is an ongoing journey of discovery. Thinking about the ongoing direction you want to build your Edge in is a much better frame for your career than setting yourself a goal to use your Edge for.

  • GOAL: Run a marathon
  • DIRECTION: Become the best runner I can be

There are three main reasons why. Firstly, failing to reach goals is depressing and leaves you with nothing in return for your effort. You can always be pushing yourself in your chosen direction, however incrementally. If your goal is running a marathon and you don’t finish, then your training can feel like a waste of time. But if your direction is to make yourself a better runner, then every step counts.

Secondly, succeeding in your goals removes your sense of purpose in life. It’s not uncommon for your sense of accomplishment to give way to anti-climax after reaching a big goal. Once you’ve run your marathon, what do you do next? A direction always has more to give though. Completing the marathon is just assessing your progress in the journey to becoming a faster runner.

Finally, goals are often binary, whilst directions can be constantly redefined. You either run your marathon or you don’t. But your direction can change from being a great runner, to being a great athlete, or a coach or a sports blogger and the experience you’ve accumulated will still count towards your new Edge.

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.

// KIRSTEN’S BACKGROUND

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 Made.com. She says each had their own distinct identity and challenges. Made.com 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(!)

// THE TRAINLINE

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!

// TRAINING PROGRAMME

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.

// FUTURE TRENDS

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!

Network Like a Champion

People networking

// PREPARE BEFORE THE EVENT

  • Know what you want out of it. Not every event is worth attending, and you’ll get most out of events if you can tell people concisely what you are looking for.
  • Research who will be there. Targeting 1-2 people provides you with some focus and helps you make the most of your time.

// ACTIVELY SEEK THE PEOPLE YOU WANT TO SPEAK TO

  • Find one of the organisers and ask them who is there and who they think you should speak to. It’s an easy way to get started and often leads to the best conversation of the evening.
  • To open a conversation yourself approach a group and ask: “Do you mind if I join you?” Everyone is there to network, so they will be glad to meet another person.
  • If you’re looking for someone specific, ask: “Are you X?” As long as you are polite there’s no reason for them to be offended if it’s not them.
  • Don’t creep up on people from behind. If they have their back to you, go around them so you can approach from the front.

// BE INTERESTED AND HELPFUL

  • Find out everyone’s name, and ask them who they are hoping to meet. Be attentive and ask questions if necessary to really understand them.
  • If you work out two people would be interested to talk to each other, make the introduction. It makes you look friendly and well-connected, and is excellent at generating a little karma for yourself.
  • Once you’ve listened to them, it will be natural for them to ask about you. If they don’t it’s fine to just tell them at this point, as you’ve already been polite enough to listen to them!
  • Be concise about what you are after. Offer just enough informative to pique their interested if they are the sort of contact you are looking for.

// KEEP MOVING

  • Once you’ve agreed to follow up, or decided that someone isn’t interesting at this point, move on. The opportunity cost of staying talking to the same person too long is missing out on meeting someone else more interesting.
  • Remember everyone is there to network. Gracefully exit a conversation by saying something like: “Well, I don’t want to take up any more of your time – I’m sure there are lots of other people here you want to talk to.”

// FOLLOW UP

  • After a particularly interesting conversation, step to one side and make some notes on your phone. It’s unnatural to do it whilst you’re actually talking to them, but easy to forget details, so jot down anything essential.
  • After the event, add people you want to stay in touch with on Linkedin, or send them a quick email to say you enjoyed speaking to them. Another touch point will make you stick in their mind.
  • Finally, set a reminder in your calendar to follow up with people if there aren’t immediate to dos. Either your or their circumstances might have changed in a few months.

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:

// TRAINING MUST BE LEARNER-CENTRIC

“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.

// KNOWLEDGE SHOULD BE ACCESSIBLE EVERYWHERE

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.

// FOCUS CLASSROOM TIME ON INTERACTIVE ELEMENTS

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.

// USE LEAN METHODOLOGY TO DESIGN CURRICULUM

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.

// TRACK USER FEEDBACK TO CONTINUOUSLY IMPROVE

“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.

// GET AS CLOSE TO THE BUSINESS AS POSSIBLE

“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.