As part of my True Strength project, I’m featuring interviews that dig deep into how people succeed and I was delighted to interview Gemma Reucroft. The interview has lots of insights into how we succeed, about strengths, mindset, resilience, how to help people be their best, and how (and why) Gemma makes time to blog and write books! To listen to the interview, simply click ‘play’ on the audio player or you can read the transcript below.
Gemma’s Dominant StrengthsFinder Talent Themes:
1. Input – People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more.
2. Strategic – People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
3. Learner – People who are especially talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve.
4. Arranger – People who are especially talented in the Arranger theme can organise, but they also have a flexibility that complements this ability.
5. Woo – People who are especially talented in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person.
6. Communication – People who are especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.
7. Activator – People who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.
8. Maximiser – People who are especially talented in the Maximiser theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.
9. Positivity – People who are especially talented in the Positivity theme have an enthusiasm that is contagious. They are upbeat and can get others excited about what they are going to do.
10. Individualisation – People who are especially talented in the Individualisation theme are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively.
Hi, this is Ian Pettigrew of Kingfisher Coaching and welcome to the True Strength podcast. Today featuring Gemma Reucroft – known to many as @HR_Gem. So Gemma, thanks for joining us and thank you.
No problem and thanks for asking me.
So, can you tell us a bit more about what you do – what do you get paid to do?
Officially I am HR Director for a Health Care company so a small team of 6 based over in Yorkshire. What I don’t get paid to do and what you say people will most know me for who will be listening to this is tweet and blog.
And what else? I’m thinking about what I see appearing on Amazon.
Yes, so earlier this year I published a book about Social Media and its practical us and a couple of ebooks earlier this year as well. One on ‘The future of work’ and one just about to come out called ‘Human Resources – a practical guide’. All written with Tim Scott also known to many as @TimScottHR.
So I want to dig under the skin to who you are and what you are about and want to start by talking about your strengths and weaknesses. What comes naturally to you? What do you find so incredibly easy that you don’t even have to think about it?
You know that’s a really hard question and when you gave me a bit of an indication of the kinds of things you were going to talk to me about, I probably, for the first time ever, was completely lost for words! Which will be a big surprise to some of the people who listen to this podcast! It genuinely took a lot of thinking about so what does come easy to me? I think blogging comes easy to me, you know sometimes you just have that little thought and it turns into a big thought and I think also what comes easy to me is seeing what doesn’t add value and being able to strip things back. I think it’s something I’ve done a lot of and if I reflect on my career, most of my career has been about sorting stuff out, so like working in departments or taking on roles where a lot needed to be done in a very short period of time. So those are probably the top things that spring to mind.
What do you find easy about blogging because blogging actually I find one of the hardest things that I do? It’s interesting so what makes blogging easy for you?
I think it’s because it’s an outlet for me. These thoughts run through your head and it’s a way of capturing them. And I think for me, and this applies to many things in my life, if you enjoy something then it’s easy. What are the things that I look at that I find hugely hard, are those things that are difficult and don’t come hugely naturally. I fall into that hideous cliché of HR people who are dreadful with numbers so that’s always a thing where budget time is always bottom of my to do list because I find it hard but if you enjoy something, it’s so much easier.
So let’s talk about those things then – what are the things, apart from numbers, that you find more difficult?
I suffer hugely with temporal distance so I’m constantly saying Yes to things that all sound like a fabulous idea and then realising that I have no time and am putting myself under ridiculous amounts of pressure to get them done. That is probably one of things that I am hugely hugely bad at. I am over-committing and the further away they are the more perfectly acceptable they seem to do. As my team know, if I’m putting something off, they will know that I’m putting something off as I will go out and tidy the stationery cupboard or I’ll be tidying the office or suggesting things like, should we clean the filing cabinets or things like that. And someone will turn around to me and say “Gemma are you trying to avoid something? Go back to your office as you’re being really annoying”.
So procrastination, if I can label it for a second, is really common. Once you’ve noticed yourself procrastinating, what do you do then to avoid?
Sometimes it’s not me that notices it, sometimes it’s my team and sometimes I will actually go out there and say I’m actively trying to avoid something, I’m just off for a little tidy up. And probably sometimes there is that thing which is not my natural style with anything that I enjoy, which is the looming deadline forces action.
And how, looking at your strengths and weaknesses, if we were writing a hand guide, a handbook to Gemma for your boss, what would it say about how to get the best out of Gemma?
It would say don’t micromanage me. It would say give me a brief and leave me alone to get on with it and you will never have to chase me. And let me use social media – a lot!
I’m taking that as an absolute given!
Without question, I have been known to check that at a job application stage, I did ask the question when I arrived here “What is their position on social media?”
So, I want to talk about social media just briefly. You are somebody I would describe as prolific. I regularly see blog posts from you. You’ve got a really busy job and a busy life and you’re fitting in loads of exercise, which I want to talk to you about that in a minute, and all these blog posts appear and you’re writing a book. How do you manage to do that? What is it about you that helps you do all that?
It’s the same answer that I’ve already given you – I’m a firm believer that if you want to do something, if it’s on your priority list, then you will find the time, you will make the time. There is no such thing as you don’t have enough time, it’s all a matter of priorities. You touched on exercise – lots and lots of people say to me, “I don’t know how you fit it all in”? And I fit it in because I want to and most people don’t. That’s why the pub always has more people in than the gym. And it’s simply that, what you love and have a passion about you can easily slot into your life.
Absolutely, the path of least resistance at all times. So I want to talk for a minute about your intent, what you want out of life. What is the really big picture? By the time you’ve retired, what dint do you want to have made on the universe?
Wow that’s a really big question! Thanks for that! I think for me, one of the reasons I love to blog is because I hope it can be useful to other people. The book that Tim and I have just written is probably very much for people who are maybe early in an HR role or maybe a standalone HR role and haven’t got anybody to bounce off and perhaps they need somebody or a place for thoughts or ideas and I would like to think that I have been helpful to people. I would love to write more and that’s probably an ambition and how I would do that in a more in depth way would be fantastic as long as I feel that I have helped other people grow and learn and achieve, that’s enough of a ticket I think.
And what does your job well done look like here?
My job well done here looks like, and I know it’s a phrase I use all the time on my blog, but it’s true, is that I’ve done good people stuff. That we are constantly providing an environment for our people that is challenging them and is helping them grow and learn, that is rewarding them, that is motivating them, that is the kind of physical location that they want to sit it, that they feel it’s a place that they can express themselves. All of those things that make up people activity. We’re sitting in my office now and there is list of things on my wall that I look at. And those are the things that we think about which is how does what we do make people feel? Our own particular version of ‘Does it make the boat go faster?’, is ‘Does it make things more awesome around here?’ and is what we are doing making people’s lives easier? So those are the sort of things for me that are really important about what we do here.
So it’s really clear in fact so clear that it’s written in red on the white board in your office! I want to ask you more about your mindset as I’m always fascinated by when I’m coaching people behind closed doors, I get to hear how people really think and feel and I’d love to see us talk more openly about that so what’s it like to be Gem, what’s it like to be in Gem’s head?
What’s it like to be in Gem’s head? Gem’s head is constantly like a hamster wheel I think. I’m usually doing one thing and thinking about doing something else, writing to do lists in my head, I write blog posts in my head when I’m driving. It is a place of constant activity I would suggest. I try and do a bit of mindfulness but I have a big problem in taming the talk.
I’m with you on that one I have a busy head so mindfulness always seems like counter intuitive to me because I want to think more rather than less in some ways.
And in some ways for me, I could spend 10 minutes doing mindfulness or I could be reading a book or a blogpost for 10 minutes or I could be on Twitter!
So what do you do to help have a really healthy mindset for you?
I think the place for me is probably the gym and I don’t think I had a name for that until earlier this year when I saw Sukh Pabial talk at the CIPD Northern Area Partnership Conference when he talked about a 3rd place and I think that gave me a name for something that I already knew which is: that’s the place I go where it’s just me. It’s probably the only time when I don’t have a phone by my side at any point in my week, working week or otherwise. Yeah, that’s the place I go to really relax.
I really want to talk about the gym and your fitness journey as you’ve been on quite a journey haven’t you? Can you tell us a bit about the journey that you’ve been on?
OK – so about 3 ½ years ago I decided I wanted to make some changes in my life, so at the time I was quite seriously over-weight and had been for about 5 years I suppose progressing and all I knew at the start of it was I didn’t want to be over-weight any more. So I made a start of tackling that very very slowly and over that period of time it shifted from not necessarily wanting to lose a load of weight to being fitter so there was a point at which my level of fitness was one flight of stairs but definitely not two. And that has progressed. It has been a very incremental thing, so it started off with could I do Race for Life? There is a local Sainsbury’s about half a mile from my house so I started off with could I run to Sainsbury’s? And I found that I could run there but I couldn’t run back and that was my training regime and when I started training to do Race for Life, I didn’t know how to run without something orange in the distance! Of course then you do that and it’s well what can I do next and what can I do next? So then I start thinking about half marathons and triathlons and other scary things which I never started off aiming to do but as I say that 3 ½ years ago was the start of a long path that I am still walking.
So Gemma your fitness journey seemed to have a really big adventure recently when you were in Scandinavia, tell us a bit more about what you were doing.
Yes, the business that I work for in the UK is part of the North European territory so we took a team of runners out and took part with some of our colleagues from the Nordics in an annual corporate challenge that they do which is a 25K relay. So there were about 60 of us from UK, Finland, Denmark and Sweden all making up teams in this relay race.
So you ran, was it 5K?
Yes. It was all 5K legs.
So how did you feel about yourself when you were running that 5K?
It was a great experience as it was a great thing to do as part of a team but I think whenever I run, and I’ve done various different challenges, and some more coming up soon, I think I am always just acutely aware that 3 years ago, those things would have been completely impossible for me. As I said earlier, I wasn’t even fit enough to do 2 flights of stairs in one go and I think for me whenever I run, whenever I finish a run particularly, that feeling of achievement, that real recognition, never leaves me very far that I simply could not have done this before.
You might not like the question but how proud are you of yourself for doing this?
You’re right I probably don’t naturally like the question because I think most people find it really hard and difficult to sit here and say really positive things about themselves but Yes, I think deep down I am proud because it’s something that requires constant effort and constant dedication and the 5.30 am starts to get things in before I come to work and fit in around all sorts of other busy things, so yes I think secretly I am proud.
Well good because I’m really proud of you because to be in a situation in which you can blame circumstances or loads of other things to be able to have the hope and the vision and set your eyes on something and day in day out take the actions you need to get there, I think is admirable and I think is inspirational.
I think with lots of things it is really easy to look at other things around you, look at other people around and come up with reasons and to a large extent excuses about why you’re in the situation that you’re in, but if there is one thing the last 3 ½ years has taught me, is that you are 100% responsible and that’s for, in my case, for what you eat, for how fit you are. It is all down to you and it is very very much a mental mindset and a choice.
It is really interesting because sport and fitness I think can be a real metaphor and a good powerful one for how we succeed. So if we look at your 25K the relay, what pushes you to succeed there, how do you get the best out of yourself and how can you apply that to the rest of your life?
I think for a lot of people, particularly when they run, you have this constant personal best thing going on which is the first time you run, it’s can I get all the way round and finish it and then in a heartbeat, it’s can I do that faster. I think that’s something that a lot of people experience and a big part of it is having other people around you who support you and understand you. They make walk by the side of you, they may not do it with you but they give you the space or they give you the support and I’m lucky to have people around me who help me do that. I’m lucky to have an amazing personal trainer as well who is a constant support.
And what does your personal trainer do well?
He lets me complain sometimes! I am excessively mean to him on occasion but it’s that constant slight push to go a little bit further than you thought you could, to go that little bit further outside your comfort zone and I know I’ve talked about this on my blog as well, I think that is what a good coach does and what a good boss does, is take what people think their limits are and just push you to a place you didn’t know you could go and he does that to me every week.
Excellent! So how different is Gemma now than Gemma 3 ½ years ago?
Very different I think. I’m very physically different and I think with weight loss and with fitness comes other things. Exercise brings with it I think confidence so I am probably a lot more confident than I was then. But also there are some practical elements to that which is when you are carrying around a lot of weight you’re pretty tired as well so my life was pretty much get up, go to work, come home and lie on the sofa until it was time to go to bed because it was so physically exhausting. So I would say exercise has really changed my life and has become both a strength and something I draw strength from.
You talked a lot about the impact that physical exercise has on you mentally. So what would you say the main benefits are? If someone is reluctant about exercise, and thinking I’m sure it will make me feel better, how would you describe the main benefits to them?
Do you know there are so many it is really hard to put that into any concise answer. It’s built confidence in me and my own abilities and what I can achieve. It’s also that place of calm so for 60 minutes at a time several times a week, no emails are coming in, no notifications, nothing to respond to, other than just do what I want to do. But I also think it comes back to that maybe being a little bit surprised and amazed and secretly giddy about what you can achieve if you do put your mind to it and both weight loss and exercise is significantly more mental than it is physical in my own personal experience.
And it’s interesting the point you just made about how it’s hugely motivating isn’t it to achieve and succeed and success always does seem to breed success because you have the confidence then that you draw from that achievement.
Absolutely and I think secretly as well, in the early days when I first set off on this path, most people had heard it all before from me as well many many many times and I think there is that little bit secretly as well of also defying people’s expectations.
And a real chance to succeed. I want to talk about productivity for a minute and how you get things done. What are you like, how organised are you, how productive are you, how do you succeed?
I am organised. I am one of those people who keep lists, I keep notes, I have a 3 top things I need to do today everyday in my head when I come through the door and quite traditionally, you can see around my office I like to have everything nice and organised and tidy and I know where everything is and I can put my hands on it. I’m a bit traditional like that!
Yes, and I can see a very well organised office with lots of One Direction clocks and posters around it must be said!
You’re not supposed to tell people that! I’m a big believer in bringing yourself to work and being authentic because I think it’s just far too exhausting to try and do anything else so that’s my excuse anyway.
And it’s a real perfect one as well.
And the One Direction poster was a gift from our FD anyway so that’s my excuse.
Excellent! What about resilience? It’s really important to make sure everything is sustainable and you’ve already mentioned the gym that can play a major part in that but what other things do you do to make sure that you keep your resilience?
I think part of it is about saying No and it’s not something I’m always very good at and something I have to watch and something I should do more of. I get asked a lot of things; will I come and be part of things or will I blog or will I do all sorts of things and I do have this tendency to say Yes, and I am trying a lot harder particularly in recent months because obviously I do other things outside of work I am Vice Chair of the local CIPD branch and things like that as well so it is prioritising and in recent months I’ve probably been doing much more saying No than I have in a long time and that’s been a lot better for me.
So what else do you do to keep yourself resilient? So saying No so that there’s less stuff coming in, keeping fit, going to the gym, anything else?
You know I think those are the main things. You know we all have those days where it just seems like a thousand and one things are happening and a thousand and one people want to talk to us or need something from us or anything else and when you reach that point you think, actually my brain is now completely full, then there is nothing better for me than just putting my trainers on and just shuffling – as essentially I’m not a fast runner and I never will be – and just going off on my own and having that space. I think that is my version of mindfulness.
And I love what you say about saying No. There is a quote I love by David Allen, an American productivity guru, and he says “You can do anything but not everything” and I love that because it puts the onus on us to choose what we do and what we don’t do.
And sometimes we owe it to people to do that as the more you say Yes to things, the more you spread yourself, perhaps the less time you can give to your friends and family or equally you are doing everything to a certain level but not the best level.
A question that you might find really hard – What’s the best thing about being Gemma?
Oohh yes that’s a really hard question and I think it might depend on the day or might depend on what role. I think professionally the best thing about me at the moment is that I’m in a really really lucky position that I’m able right now to help people learn and grow and to do some really good stuff for the people around me and my immediate team and professionally that would be the best thing about me at the minute.
I guess that’s not entirely lucky though, I’d say probably more fortunate because a lot of that position is a consequence of the things that you do and who you are so I’d probably describe that, from where I’m sat, I’d say that looks more like fortune than luck because you work really hard to make it all happen.
Yes, I suppose so, you’re probably right but that feels a bit like taking credit for something. I don’t know if that’s true or not, I shall think on that!
You probably know that I’m not a great believer in success secrets because we know that one size doesn’t fit all but I do believe that each of us have our own success secrets so I’m really interested in what have been your big discoveries, how do you be more Gemma? What have been the revelations for you that help you succeed?
That’s really interesting. I think one thing for me is about always being positive – there is always some good in situations most of the time, if you try to find them. I do believe very clearly that you can choose the attitude you have when you get out of bed in the morning. That’s the real big one for me. And I know it’s a really hideous cliché but that thing around treating everyone as you would want to be treated. Those are a couple of things that I guess spring to mind initially.
There’s probably a bit of parental conditioning there about work hard – that was always my family background so Dad left home at 15, no qualifications, went down the pit on apprenticeship, left several years later after seeing a bad accident, went to be an engineer at a company, worked there 45 years and left as their MD. Was presented with a watch when he left with his name on it and the year he started with the company which I think was 1968, and the date from 1968 to infinity, which is some legacy. So from 14 years old, was in his office on Saturdays, in his office on school holidays, so I suppose my conditioning was always you have to work hard, you say Yes to things that comes along, a bit like the Richard Branson quote which I’ve seen many many times, which is if somebody offers you something at work, even if you don’t know how to do it, say Yes and you’ll figure it out and I’ve done that consistently through my career if someone says “Do you want to be a Pension Trustee or anything?” I’ve said “Yes, that’s fine” even if I didn’t know what I was doing. So my conditioning has always been work hard, work hard, work hard and some of my success stories come from that and probably from the learning as well. I think a lot of people you know, you do CIPD and that’s done but I think always for me I think well if that’s the standard I need to go one better so I’ll do a Masters Degree etc so just that constant striving for new qualifications and new things I can learn and bring back to an organisation. Other than that, I’m not sure what that is.
And it’s interesting when I look at that final comment that you made, when I look at your top 5 strengths on StrengthsFinder and I see Learner at No. 3 and Learner is No. 3 for me as well and I know that I’m always studying, always learning. I’ll do another degree in my spare time or something and then I’ll think oh brilliant, I’ve got my life back, and then I’ll start studying something again.
And I’m the same, whatever it is so like I say now I’m learning to be a fitness instructor. Whether I’ll ever do anything with that, I don’t know if I want to make it my career but I’m doing all this exercise and changing my life so I want to know as much about it as I possibly can.
And that’s just you being you! How would you like to be remembered by other people? I know we talked about the dint you would want to make on the universe but what would you want to be remembered for?
I would want to be remembered for somebody who genuinely wanted to help other people. At work I’d like to be remembered for someone who is willing to share with other people, has got ideas and puts them out there I suppose. I’m probably more likely to be remembered as a One Direction fan, sadly!
No, I think it’s all part of the authentic mix which is great. Where can people find you online? I know there are going to be a few places but if people want to look you up and connect with you or follow you, where can they find you?
Probably the simplest place to find me is Twitter because that’s where I spend most of my time. So that’s @HR_Gem or if I’m not there then I’m on the blog and you can find that from the Twitter feed.
So Gemma Reucroft, thank you so much for sharing those insights with us today – it’s really appreciated.
Thank you for making me think!