We’re Work.Life, the workplace wellbeing experts. Over the last 5 years, we’ve been finding out the secrets to what makes people happy at work, creating our very own Work Happy podcast, and trying to measure happiness in our workspaces. In light of Covid and a very strange 2020, we’re finding out how people leaders at some of our favourite businesses have been navigating the pandemic, and keeping people happy and engaged at work.
In this installment, we talk all things professional development with an L&D expert; Oliver Beach, General Manager at Jolt. We hear from Oliver on the value of Learning & Development, how it can be used to engage teams, and some of the challenges of remote working.
Hi Oliver! First of all, we’d love to hear a bit about you personally – where you were before Jolt, when you joined the company, and your role.
I’ve worked in education since 2012, starting my career as a teacher with Teach First and completing their leadership development program. I left teaching to work for Kano, an EdTech company which taught kids to code using DIY computers, while at the same time I helped set up a crowdfunding platform for teachers called Rocket Fund. After that, I became the first Campus Director for Flatiron School in the UK and scaled the team to around 30 people. I left to set up my own coding bootcamp which was free for students and exited in February. That’s when I joined Jolt, just as the pandemic started!
At Jolt, I’m the General Manager for the UK – my role is primarily focussed on our commercial success in the region.
Say I knew nothing about Jolt, what can you tell us about what the company does, and your mission?
Jolt is an online business school. Our core focus is commercial and business skills in tech. In the midst of the pandemic we launched a bootcamp called Switch, where we help people repurpose their skills, and transform their career, into the tech sector. So, for example, we might have a student who’s been working in marketing for an airline, we’d help them transfer their existing skill set into the world of tech. Our ultimate goal is to transform student’s careers through education.
Broadly speaking, what do you think are the most important aspects of professional development?
There’s a couple of things to recognise here. The first is that professional development needs to be tailored to the individual and to their goals. And the second is that there has to be buy-in from the individual, because we want people to complete their learning and get to the end goal.
It’s important to really set out the plan for the individual and really think about it from an A to B perspective. They should answer: what do I really want to achieve? What does my manager and the company want me to achieve? How do we make sure that the journey is mapped for success?
Unfortunately professional development is often de-prioritised or ad-hoc. Good L&D has a multiple stakeholder approach that supports people in achieving a particular professional goal. It’s crucial for businesses, because their team will be more productive, more motivated and ultimately happier.
To avoid falling into the trap of L&D getting de-prioritised there must be accountability from the individual, from the manager, and from the company. It must not be seen as a token activity, but something that is built into the role. Just like you have KPIs for the business’ growth, there should also be KPIs for your team’s professional development.
“There’s so many incredible resources out there to help people grow, and an organisation really has to think about how they pull that together to make sure that their teams are aware of what’s available for them to help them achieve these goals.”
How do you view L&D?
I approach L&D in teams similarly to teaching. Every young person in a school has a plan set out for how they’ll develop in different subjects, and it’s the same thing with employees. Everyone should be aware of their plan. They should be aware of the stakeholders that will help them achieve their goals and their development plan, and they should also have access to resources and a budget to be able to expand their knowledge. The tools that you can use to grow aren’t always known to the individual.
There’s so many incredible resources out there to help people grow, and an organisation really has to think about how they pull that together to make sure that their teams are aware of what’s available for them to help them achieve these goals.
At Jolt, we support businesses like Work.Life and other organisations in helping their employees grow within their careers, aligned to specific learning goals that they have.
In our business, after 3 months you get a professional coach who helps you grow within your role. This is completely confidential, and it’s delivered in a way that we can support our teams in growing personally and professionally, especially during these hectic times.
Are your team still working remotely?
Yes, everyone in the UK team is currently remote. I think we’ve been really productive from home, but maintain that it’s still so important for people to have moments with their colleagues. I call everyone in my team every morning, as if I was saying ‘hi’ to them in the office, we have weekly 1:1s and we end the week with a team get-together. People really do miss the social side of work and I don’t want my team to lose out on not having close relationships with their teammates.
What do you think have been the main challenges of L&D management while your team are remote / not all working together?
I think one of the biggest challenges is going to be engagement. It’s really hard to know whether your employees are truly happy. You have 1 to 1’s on Zoom once, maybe twice a week, but you can’t really tell everyone’s mood, attitude and behaviour like you can when you see them in person.
Managers need to make sure they are engaging with their teams, and really understanding what they can do to keep them happy, motivated and listened to.
Many companies will have been hit hard during this time – and unfortunately that often means a reduced people/culture budget. What do you think businesses can be doing regardless of their budget?
There’s so much free content out there – newsletters, blogs, books. I subscribe to an American newsletter called Morning Brew, which is great and has tech trends, news, insights, ideas; it’s really a great way to stay connected with the world of tech. You can learn about things within your remit, that will help you grow as an individual without needing to spend a lot.
Utilising online content helps build a new way of thinking about problems without needing to spend anything at all.
And finally, what makes you happy at work?
Leadership, I think. When you have a team, you no longer work for yourself, you work for your team! I know how hard they work and I know how much pressure we’re all under to deliver, especially with what’s going on in the world. So genuinely, what makes me happiest is when my team is happiest.