As part of my True Strength project, I’m featuring interviews that dig deep into how people succeed and I was delighted to interview Jennifer Hulme. The interview has lots of insights into how Jenn succeeds, about strengths, weaknesses, mindset, and resilience. To listen to the interview, simply click ‘play’ on the audio player above or you can read the transcript below. You can find previous podcasts and details of how to subscribe on our podcast page.
CliftonStrengths (TM) Dominant Talent Themes: Strategic Significance Self-Assurance Futuristic Relator Ideation Focus Achiever Competition Command Belief Activator
Hi – this is Ian Pettigrew and welcome to the Kingfisher Coaching True Strength podcast today featuring Jennifer Hulme of Mid Communications. So, I am going to say two things, I’m going to say a big welcome to Jenn and I’m going to say Happy Birthday Jenn!
Ahh thank you very much. Yes, birthday today, I can’t believe it, 24 – it’s no age is it?
We might have to edit that bit out and do some fact checking but moving swiftly on…
So, first couple of questions, so one, what do Mid Communications do and secondly what do you do here?
Mid Communications is an O2 franchise. O2 franchise off about half their estate, so their shops, you will walk in, you won’t know any different between company owned and a franchise store, but to us at Mid Communications, our family is 16 stores across the North West based in Cleveleys, that was our first store, but we are across Manchester, Middleton, Stretford, so a real Mancunion-based family business. Within that, I am the HR Director, so I look after the HR team, L&D, I also look after Payroll and Finance for my sins.
And how did you end up doing that? What’s been your potted career history to get you to this stage?
I actually started off post Uni. For HR professionals out there, you will know that we can cross industries and different businesses and things, we can move our business across different industries. So I went to an FE college in Macclesfield, tried further education, no don’t want to do that! Then I went into Manchester, I wanted the Manchester life, the central Manchester working experience. I did that for a couple of years, that was in a small publishing company – nope didn’t want to do that. Then I came across retail. I went to work for American Golf and spent 4 years there, then I went to Hobbycraft, 5 years there, and just fell in love with retailing and HR within retail, so that’s what led me to come to work for a franchise. I’d worked in national big companies like Hobbycraft and American Golf and I wanted to get back to the North West.
So why do you think retail HR is such a good training ground because I’ve heard people like Neil Morrison and Ryan Cheyne talk in glowing terms about retail HR and what it does for you – so why is it so good?
I think it’s just, for me it’s the pace. I’m a pacey person, I like to work at pace and I like how you have to be so on the ball with HR practice and forward-thinking HR practices and make them real very quickly and implement them very very quickly. So for me, retail and HR, it’s a great marriage really and I just really enjoy the cut and thrust and the pace to which you have to implement HR.
In terms of career development, sometimes we can be really focussed on our ideal path, the ideal course, the ideal training, the companies we want to tick off as we get there. What’s your view on how that works out and how it’s worked out for you?
Yeah, because there was a lot of expectation. I went to a good school in Bolton where I grew up and there was a lot of expectation about what was the socially acceptable place to go to University, getting onto graduate schemes.
Can I interrupt? Did you go to school with @HRTinker? With Alastair Swindlehurst – I’ve just remembered that connection, so there’s a Twitter school connection. I remember when you met at Connecting HR Manchester and sort of looked and went ‘Hello, I know you!’, so Hello Tinks in that case, so sorry, carry on.
No it’s fine, it’s absolutely fine. I think he of all people, he will understand what that mentality was like at Canon Slade which was an amazing school but very very focussed on the top layer of skin and actually I went to a very normal, brilliant University, fabulous University, Salford University and I went to nightschool and did my CIPD qualifications and for me, I didn’t have a graduate scheme opportunity post University. I didn’t go to a top 10 University, I wasn’t gifted these amazing opportunities, but yeah, I’ve still had an amazing career from it, for me I feel like I’ve had an amazing career. It was just about aligning myself with good people and being incredibly driven about where you wanted to go so I always, I mean it sounds bizarre, but I would get into a job, I remember going to Graduate Prospects which was the publishing company in Manchester, and within a couple of months I knew what I wanted to get out of the opportunity, I pretty much knew how long I was going to spend in the company and I knew what skills I needed to pick up. So I felt my career trajectory was like going along the way, picking up what I needed, picking up what I needed, picking up what I needed. My boss at Graduate Prospects, Zoe, was fabulous because she also saw that vision. ‘I don’t think you’re going to be with us a long time but what you could hopefully bring is a lot of experience’ and I did my first training courses there, delivered training there, petrified, oh my gosh, petrified! I also learned payroll and then I went to the next company and I took, ‘what do I need to learn from here?’, I learned to coach at American Golf. I learned a lot about ER at Hobbycraft, so all along the way I’ve picked up skills as I’ve gone and almost put them in my career bag that’s got me to a state of play where I was comfortable to know, ‘right, I’m ready to lead my own team now, I’ve done enough’. That was what mattered, it’s experience you pick up. So you can go and work in any organisation, small, medium, large and still have a great career, it doesn’t matter about these gifted experiences of University and that.
And as an HR professional, where does CIPD fit into that for you?
Oh immense, immense. I think they are an incredible organisation. I think they have got a genuine purpose of wanting to do the right thing by its professionals within the Institute. We were at a Professional Standards brainstorm session weren’t we, where they are literally turning round going ‘how can we be better?’ and it’s like, what organisation does that? Opens itself up to debate and feedback to say this is what the future of the CIPD looks like. To such an extent, I took myself on a Fellowship, I got my Fellowship status this year (Congratulations!), Thank you. I’ve been charted for 10 and I felt it was time, I was ready. That’s one of the hardest interviews I’ve ever been to in my life but was worth so much. I got a bit teary when I got the outcome that I’d done it! But I’m very very passionate about the CIPD, I want to speak on behalf of and as part of the CIPD. I always go to the conference every year, it’s amazing! I got lucky enough to attend the Student conference this year.
Sorry, you did more than attend, you spoke at the Student conference!
Yes, I did. Well I’m actually speaking at another CIPD event so they’ve got a Volunteers conference coming up and I’m actually speaking at that as well so that’s quite exciting too. I’m doing a session on Mentoring in London in a week or so actually , it’s coming up quite soon. So it’s all about the furtherance of the CIPD within the HR community. I don’t think you can be a part of HR and not be involved in the CIPD. That’s so close and not many Institutes are like that but I think the CIPD gets it spot on, they really do.
You’ve had a really exciting change to your role here. Tell me more about that.
Well the aspiration, probably anyone that’s been to University has this aspiration, to do something to drive forward their career relentlessly and I think for me that never went. I was still working towards really driving the career aspirations. So working within Hobbycraft in the last position before I came to Mid Comms, I was in a senior role doing really well, having a great impact, but really just felt that the career opportunities were stopped for me because their Head Office was Bournemouth and I’m a Manchester girl and I’m not moving! So I thought the best thing to do was to come back to the North West and find a company that I could really grow within and thrive that is Manchester based and so the travel isn’t as crazy. So coming to Mid Comms, started out as HR Manager, really proud of the fact that it was going to be my department, but it was just me – I was a team of one – and over the course of the first 12-18 months I realised the relationship, or the friendship I would call it now, with the CEO, Danny, and the driving force we were together is a great partnership, a work partnership, was so strong that he was bringing out the best in me, because I was jaded. It was tough in Hobbycraft at times, a very awesome organisation but it was just time for me to leave, and he brought out the best in me and saw the opportunities and perhaps the strengths I could bring to the table that was missing from Mid Comms. So then became Head of HR and brought in a team and started to have line management responsibilities again because I’d had a gap in managing people. The last year, I pitched that I wanted to spend the rest of my working career in an organisation, wanting to feel some significance with that, and Danny said I think this is a great place for you and I said I really want to make a mark here and stay long term and I put myself forward for a Directorship and that was embraced. So I went on a year long development plan they called it, I called it an interview! At the end of 2017 I was formally offered HR Directorship and a place on the Board.
Fantastic! And that’s quite a big deal in the company’s history as well isn’t it?
Yes, well because it was a purely male dominated environment, not consciously, it’s just the way that it’s grown and evolved as a family business. So first female in the management team and first female on the board really so I think they are embracing it well. though they know what they’re getting with me now!
How’s it going and what do you bring to the board?
It’s going really well. I think that’s an interesting question, I think purely from an HR perspective, it’s having a lobbyist on the board from an HR perspective. Danny’s an awesome individual but he is a pure salesman at heart and he wants to be in that world, but what he was doing was having to think from his perspective as CEO and a salesman and then bringing the people element and be a specialist in that world, so he was spreading himself very thin. He wanted somebody that he works very well with and who would work well with the rest of the board, to lobby the HR perspective, drive it really, so a lot of the time I’m telling him things that they wouldn’t even have been aware of, wouldn’t have even entered their mindset. Not because they are not great engaging people managers or people focussed, it’s just not in their mindset, not in their parameters, so I’m trying to stretch things like benefits packages and rights and what is the art of the possible and ‘we can do that’, ‘yes, it’s not going to cost us too much money’ and ‘that’s going to be great engagement’ – so that’s what I think I bring to the table anyway!
How would you describe the culture of the organisation? It’s interesting for me because we are at your Head Office today and it’s like the minute I’ve walked in you kind of get a feel for the place and it’s a really positive one, so how would you describe the culture of Mid Communications?
It’s incredibly fun. I think the easiest way to describe it is Work Hard, Play Hard mentality. I think we all have a sense of purpose. It’s nice to have that, there’s a real care for the business’s success. We are 12 years in, it was our birthday on 17thMay, we turned 12 as a business, and in that time we’ve still got people who’ve been with us since the start and we’ve got people that joined us more recently, but both feel that sense of engagement that is a really exciting business to be part of. We get together socially, so just yesterday we had a little picnic in our break area just because we could, because it was nice to come together. I think we were talking about this off the podcast about the sense of bringing us together as a little community in the Head Office. What can be a challenge for us sometimes, because there are a further 16 sites, is that engagement and making sure that they all feel like part of the big comms community, which can be hard. So one of the biggest challenges I’ve got in my Directorship in the HR world, is that sense of communication and it’s a constant challenge for us, constantly.
How do you do it?
Well we have the power of social media and text. We are a digital and device led organisation which is brilliant and that helps, so everyone is savvy on the texts. So we use Whatsapp, we use Yammer. We did look at Workplace actually but we’ve stuck with Yammer for now. We constantly reach out and ask people to send photographs, we share a lot of what is going on in the stores, even if you are just doing your morning brief or you’re having a fun lunch or you’ve had a visitor in store, so we use Twitter and social media. If I’m out in a store, I will always say I’ve been in X store today, we’ve done this together today. But actually 4 times a year we do have an event. We have our annual awards which most companies do, which is a formal black tie event. We are just forming our summer ball, so we come together in the summer, a lot more informal but we have a giggle and drinks, team building, just a laugh and the joy of spending time with each other. But then outside of that we also do roadshows so we come together in a cinema and we will just do an all staff comms, but to then build around that we have a meal together, we have drinks together, there’s always alcohol involved I think, but we do try to make such an effort. We have an employee forum that is constantly looking at how can we make work fun, but we understand that there’s a job to be done as well, so Work Hard, Play Hard I think is probably the best mentality.
And that comes across loud and clear as well, and in what’s written on all the walls as well and what did you say a minute ago, ‘we have a giggle’. I’d be surprised if that’s not in there somewhere, that should be one of your formal values!
I like it yeah, have a giggle, yeah.
So you talk about you and Danny get on really well so how does Danny get the best out of you? How’s he created the conditions where you really thrive?
I think for any CEO, the biggest strength of a CEO for me is somebody who has that general leadership skill to take time to get to know an individual and things where you can profile somebody’s best assets in terms of their management skills or their leadership skills. So he takes time to understand, he took time to understand me and that took a good six months. We met regularly, he would ask me about my family, where my values are, he spent a lot on that. He wants to know my purpose, what am I trying to achieve. So I think a great CEO does that and he also knows from asking questions and understanding me, that sometimes the best way to get the best out of me is to push me just a little bit too much, push me out of my boundaries, stretch me a little bit out of my boundaries of comfort. I like being pushed out of my comfort zone, so he knows that of me and can often put me under pressure. He can be quite directive, I’m not one for waffle, just tell me, but ‘I want that from you by the end of the week’. That can sometimes be thriving for me, but maybe another colleague that I work alongside wouldn’t value that at all and he does differentiate the way he approaches that. That gentleman needs more time and more reflection before he drives forward whereas I don’t need necessarily a lot of reflecting time, for my sins. So that’s the best thing, he got to know me and we have a lot of shared personal values as well. Family is a massive part of both our lives really, we do this for our families.
So let’s come on to talk just about you. What are you brilliant at? What are you naturally talented and gifted at and we’ve actually got your Clifton Strengths profile in front of us that we might use, but just big picture.
Well, you know what, funnily enough you say that, because it’s Big Picture! So I come into a room, I thrive in having quite a complicated or difficult or challenging problem and trying to rationalise it, organise it, structure it so that there’s clear themes or opportunities or points or actions we need to work out, and then I’m directing a team, so I think honestly, when I walk into a room and we’re working as a group, it tends to be a natural position for me to start leading that and organising people. That is one of my key strengths so I think seeing the big picture and being able to organise it and make it clear for others so then leading them down that path. We had it just yesterday. We have a weekly trade meeting where the leadership comes together and looks at just the week, which is not something I do naturally very well, and we had a problem yesterday and there was quite a lot of concern about how we were going to fix that problem, and in the course of 40 minutes, diagnostic, understood, plan, went away happy and it was ‘ah thanks Jenn, that’s great, you bring such a clarity to the room in that respect’. I think the other thing is seeing long term. I can see and build a picture and begin to build a structure to that, so doing quite a lot of OD work and stuff around what is the business going to look like from an organisation chart perspective in the next 2 to 3 to 5 to 10 years and where do we want the business to be, so I enjoy the rigour of that quite a lot.
I’m glancing at your talent themes as we talk because your No. 1 talent is Strategic. So that ability to just intuitively spot the patterns and see the themes and then your No. 4 is Futuristic. So that natural ability to look at the future, so in some respects your Clifton Strengths profile is very much you.
Very much so. I think when I read it I very much felt in line with that, yes absolutely.
There’s a load of influencing talent themes there, Significance, Self-Assurance, Competiton, Command and Activator. So can I just ask a quick question, when you use them well, what are they like?
In terms of how I’m coming across in a room?
Yes, how do they combine as a real sort of super power for you?
Haha! Yeah, do you know what, I’m pausing a little bit because if you asked me three years ago, I don’t think these would have even shone through. This is what Danny’s done, this is Danny’s power and influence to say, be brilliant, go forth and spread the word kind of thing. I think clarity of thought of what direction I want to go in and having that sense of purpose, that’s the self-assurance piece which is about wanting to give back and wanting to take people with me on the journey as we go forth and share what we’re talking about, is massively exciting for me and I love it. I can be in a roomful of people and talk very passionately about what I believe, strong beliefs, strong sense of purpose about sharing and wanting others to do well, yes is incredibly powerful for me so I enjoy very much. I do a lot of speaking at schools, I do a lot of career mapping for individuals on a one-to-one, I get approached quite a lot and I get asked to do a lot of mentoring. I think one of the things, I’ve had such a clarity of thought about where I’m going, the direction, and people see that. One person said, ‘I’ve never met anyone Jenn who is as hungry as you are’ and I was quite taken aback from it before, but because I think it’s because I know what I want and it’s just a case of looking for the opportunities, meeting brilliant people, such as yourself and Danny, and being able to network and create those opportunities for me to share that influencing with people has been the biggest challenge I’ve had.
So you mentioned about 3 years ago these would have been suppressed (Oh yes). So what was it like when you had these but didn’t get the opportunity to actually use them?
I can only look back now with hindsight, you know what, a shiver has just gone through me because I think to be successful you have to have your share of failure and bad times, you do, you have to, and I think that it gives you even more strength to know that you came through it. I get a lot of value and I get a lot of pleasure of knowing that I came through quite a tough time actually. So it wasn’t that Hobbycraft is a bad company, it was just Hobbycraft wasn’t for me. It wasn’t bringing out the best in me and a lot of times, I’ve talked about this, when I’ve been speaking, I was told to ‘shut up’, I was told ‘you’re gobbing off’ and ‘shhh, you’re relentless, you’re too much in a room, you’re too much in a meeting, you’re over-powering, just calm down, when it’s your turn we’ll listen’. You know that kind of mentality, so I got a lot of push back that I was too much, so I actually believed that and I still battle that a little bit, that self-confidence. I think you’ve seen it a little bit when I’ve turned up in a room and thought ‘what can I bring to the table?’ and it just takes me a minute to re-set and go ‘I have got something to talk about, but talk about everybody and not everybody is going to like you, but actually I’ve got something to share’. So 3 years ago I was in quite an insecure place of knowing and having this frustration of knowing I’ve got so much to say but nobody was listening or nobody wanted to listen because I hadn’t found my right people.
And it’s interesting, we’ve talked about these, we call them Talent Themes, not strengths, because it depends on how you use them and some of things at the top of your list, your strongest things, can become weaknesses as well. But what is more common is that people look at what you’ve got and can judge it because it doesn’t match them. So if I look at all your dominant talent themes in the influencing domain, we’ve got what we call barrier labels for each talent theme, so for Significance, if I was having a pop at you, I’d call you needy. (Yeah). You always need to be making a difference and being seen. For Self-Assurance I’d probably call you cocky or bossy if I was using that barrier label. For Competition, people sometimes who are competitive are accused of being selfish. For Command, and particularly, it drives me potty, we seem to tolerate it with blokes but with women we will sometimes label it bossy won’t we, which is dreadful. And then Activator, if someone was trying to have a pop at you, they’d probably call you impatient. (Yes). So there’s barrier labels, there’s ways that we can take all these and say it says this, but actually these combined is a real super-power. You know, Significance, you’re driven by the impact that you’re going to make in the world and you want to see that difference. You’ve got that deep-seated Self-assurance, that confidence in your own ability to make stuff happen. You are Competitive which your drive comes across and Command is interesting to see in somebody who is now on the board, and Activator, so I can see how frustrating it is when those things get suppressed and it looks like Danny has done a brilliant job of just helping you and empowering you to unleash them and just be more you and that’s why I’ve called the podcast True Strength, it’s about we just need to be who we are and be more of us.
Yes, absolutely and I think Danny, particularly, because he always talks about the fact that he’s not an HR specialist and he always worries about that and you know what, I said ‘do you know what, I’m not looking for that’ because I’m self-driven, I think in terms of developing my own HR knowledge and specialisms and things like that and I’ve been surrounded by a lot of HR people in my previous career, reporting always to an HR Director or Manager. I’ve got to the stage now where I’m ready to be on my own in that respect but actually what I needed was almost that coaching to bring out the best of myself really which was sorely lacking at the beginning and has took some time really.
You mentioned a minute ago about needing to find your tribe and other cool people and we were talking beforehand about Relator being one of your dominant talent themes so this sort of drive and this need to have your tribe around you of people that you trust, can you just talk to me a little bit about your need for tribe and talk about how we met as well because I want to explore that as well because that’s interesting.
I think with me I don’t necessarily need a lot of people. It’s not about that kind of need to always be in a crowd, I get a lot of value being around people that I can relate to, I have a lot of pleasure of talking to people in a close environment where we can share. Trust is a big word for me, those of you in an HR community will know that the role can sometimes be quite isolating. So often you are one or two, quite lean departments, as they should be, so there’s often not many people that you can talk to. In this organisation I have a lot of acquaintances in the company, a lot of people I like spending time with but they are not people that I could share anything with because in HR you can’t talk about what you do. So I find a lot of value with finding people outside of my company in a network of close community friends that I can trust, that I can go to with a genuine heart and say ‘I’m struggling’ and that would be ok. It’s about being there for each other quite on a personal level almost, so when you say deep-seated, it is for me. It’s a lot for me to open up, I can be quite, because of the nature of the job I do I hold back a lot, so for those I do open up to, it’s my whole heart! I’m a Christian of faith and stuff like that so I do talk a lot among my Christian community of friends. I have a close knit Christian community of friends, so that is a similar sort of thing as well really but I have a really small group. I don’t necessarily need to be in a big crowd, it’s small groups for me and it’s people that I am very much closely connected with. And how we met…
Yes, well we were introduced to each other by the very amazing and very fabulous Sandy Lindsay, so we could term this podcast, the Sandy Lindsay fan club! So Sandy introduced us and you were looking to get more connected to some more people so can you just say a little more about that?
Yes, it was a real happenchance conversation, I think it was Danny that had made the connection with Sandy through Forever Manchester I think it was, wasn’t it? (Yes) So really this line of how we got to meet each other, thank goodness, was through Sandy. Sandy is amazing, we had had a meeting to talk about apprenticeships actually. We were looking for Jamie our Social Media apprentice through the Juice Academy and we were so excited about this concept that she’s created, it’s an amazing concept she’s created, (absolutely) to find really genuine talented people on a really intense assessment centre, so we went on the premise of talking about that. I think Danny was looking to make connections with Sandy because she is obviously an incredibly fantastic business person within the Manchester community and Danny is always gravitating towards amazing people and he said, ‘Come along, it will be a great conversation, we can talk about the apprenticeship scheme while we’re there’. In that room, I think chatting for a few minutes, I talked a little bit about coming away from Hobbycraft, had been national, very thinly spread, so a lot of my connections were Bournemouth, Scotland. I had nobody in Manchester and I missed my network, my CIPD network, so I was looking to get connected but I was tired of going to networking events and meeting people that saw HR in a very different way to I did, let’s leave it at that! And I was getting a bit like, ‘really, where have all the good HR people gone, where are they, I need to find them?’ and Sandy’s like, ‘I need to get you to meet Ian because he is amazing’, which of course you are, ‘he will help you and take you on this journey’. And of course we met and had a strategic latte for 3 hours!
We did and now I feel like I’ve known you for ages despite the fact we’ve only met about 5 or 6 times you know, even though you feel like a long-standing life-long friend, we’ve only met a few times.
I know it’s mad isn’t it?
So as somebody who is very high on Relator, it’s my number 1 talent, I really value that tribe where I can be me and be totally open and be totally honest and it’s nice to have a tribe that crosses organisations as well and is really mixed and you are fabulous, no seriously, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to interview you. I think you are inspirational (ah thank you!) and I think what you are doing is amazing and you are very open and very honest and I just wanted a way to share that story and get it out there a bit more widely. So having been so positive, let’s now turn on to weaknesses!
Right, good, why are we always better at that, I don’t know why we are?
OK, I’ll timebox this, I’m not going to spend too long on it but what do you struggle with a bit more?
I think if I’m honest, because sometimes I’m focussed on the future, I can sometimes forget about the here and now, the day to day still needs doing so I have an amazing team that helps with that and I’m very conscious in my behaviours about making me focus on what needs to be achieved now to get to the future or it won’t happen and also giving myself some reflection time. I’m rubbish at reflecting, oh my goodness, I can get to a point where I’m so busy and I have a nice full diary, meeting brilliant people, ‘oh I got to meet this person, it’s so exciting’ and I can have a great conversation about that and driving that forward but actually if I don’t stop to think about that meeting afterwards and what I need to achieve out of it, set actions from it, make sure I do what I’ve gone away and said we can do that, we can do that, then yes, I struggle and sometimes I end up giving away my free time, my personal time, which is very small anyway because we give a lot of time to the company, that I’m suffering in the evenings and the weekends where I suddenly have to pick up my laptop on a Sunday evening because I’ve got to get ready for next week’s meetings because I didn’t do that Friday afternoon, because I was too busy having this conversation, or that conversation. So that’s my weaknesses, that’s the two I can think of, there’s many more but yes.
I’ll come back in a bit to talk about resilience, about how you sort of look after your own wellbeing as well to build on the Sunday evening laptop time that I’m just as guilty of and is easy to do. We talked about Significance, about wanting to make an impact. What does drive you big picture? What is it that gets you out of bed every morning? What dint do you want to make on the world?
Oh gosh, so many things! I think first things first, the youth, up and coming generations getting into the world of work. So one of my biggest passions is about helping young people to understand what they need to do to get good work. I think that good work is a big on trend topic at the moment isn’t it, about creating a good work. Well actually I want to get started with 14-15-16 year olds and say to them, ‘this is what works looks like, did you know that? Did you know you’re meant to do these things? Did you know this is what an interview looks like?’ Real practical tips and I spend a lot of time doing that. I start off a talk, and I think I’ve interviewed thousands of people but I put a number on it, just as a guestimate, about 2,500 people I’ve interviewed in my career, it could be way wrong but it’s just a number I’ve roughly worked out, and in that time, the proportion of young people I’ve met that could be brilliant but can’t string a sentence together, put a nice outfit together and can’t shake my damn hand! It’s got to a point where I thought I’ve just got to do something, I felt really passionate and I thought I’ve got to do something about this. These people just don’t know. It’s not that they’re being purposefully difficult, they just don’t understand what’s expected of them and HR practitioners spend a lot of time creating nice environments, giving great benefits, but actually they’ve got to come some and the generation we’re living at the moment, I’m putting broad strokes on this, but can sometimes be a bit expectant, saying ‘what can you do for me?’. I’m still trying to build that desire for them to understand ‘what can you do for the company?’ You’ve got to come some and then we’ll meet you in the middle and it’s that mutual appreciation, so finding young people that are tenacious, energetic in a conversation, really passionate and have researched a company, puts you 10 yards above anyone else when you come for a job interview because it’s actually becoming the exception rather than the norm. So I’m very passionate about young people understanding the world of work and career and how they map out their careers. I’m also very passionate about HR practice, furtherance of showing how much HR, if you do it well, can have a massive impact on the board at board level, so that’s something I campaign on. And the final thing for me, because I have 3 clear delineations of what I’m passionate about, is a furtherance of gender parity. I talk very exacting about that. It’s not about empowerment and pushing women beyond more favourably, it’s about parity, that’s all I want. I want to be able to walk into a room and my gender isn’t a factor, it’s what I say and how I speak and my skillset. It’s all I’m interested in, and as such I’ve got an exciting opportunity to work with a lady called Marilyn who I met through Forever Manchester, who we both were very very lucky to listen to Helen Pankhurst at Forever Manchester’s celebration of the centenary of the Women’s Rights to Vote who said, ‘actually guys, ladies and gents, the next 10 years is what it’s all about’. 1918 was the start of a 10-year journey to create absolute parity for women to vote so she put a challenge out there to say ‘you’ve got 10 years guys, what are you going to do with that time?’ And Marilyn felt very excited about that and I met her and we’ve formed an alliance and we’re going to put a working party together to see what we can do to create actual genuine parity for women and what does that look like. So work in progress!
What’s the biggest thing people can do at the moment? You know people just sat there listening thinking ‘yeah, I get that’, what can people do? I know I’m putting you on the spot here.
No, I know, I’m thinking about it now. I’ve thought about so many different things, I think it starts with the younger generation understanding that natural gender bias. Have we ever thought about where gender bias sits and starting with the young and influencing them. We talked a lot about STEM, careers in STEM subjects, and how little women are involved in engineering and tech, why is that? So we need to start young in the schools saying that actually opportunities are equal, there’s no gender led jobs. You know HR is very female dominated, why is that? There is absolutely no reason why that is the case. I don’t know so let’s work on that. But actually you know my message is out there to women, ‘be kind to each other’ is my biggest thing you can do. Let’s promote each other equally. I think women can sometimes by harsh on each other, expectations about parenting, how you parent, how you fit work around parenting. So mine is kindness to women and let’s celebrate each other and recognise that it comes in different ways but we’re all doing a great job. I work full time, that’s judged, it shouldn’t be, it’s your choice.
Do you know we could do an entire separate podcast on gender parity couldn’t we which would keep us busy for a few hours! (Absolutely). So you’ve got a very clear focus then, you talked about delineating the areas of focus for you. You talked about youth, you talked about HR practices and you talked about gender parity. Taking a step back, how do you feel you’re getting on in terms of progress you’re making, the impact you’re making in those areas?
Oh gosh, about 10%, which is exciting. I like the fact that there is still a big chunk of work to do so I’m at a very early stage with it. I think because I had to take a time when I came to work for Mid Comms, because my priority is this place, this is my community, this is my work, that it took me time to get off the road in terms of let’s get the job up and running, working well, then I can spend time out. Me and Danny have a really great philosophy, We’re in, We’re on, We’re out. When we’re working in the business, we are purely focussed on the business, when we’re on the business, we’re talking about the business, either networking or building the business up, or we’re out, which is this. Well I can’t do the out if the in’s not working so that was the first priority and now I’m getting more opportunity to be out and the in is still functioning. I’m starting to build actions plans and stuff, which is not something that I’m naturally great at because I just want to power on and get started, it is to stop, reflect and build a plan of how I’m going to deliver this rather than just scattergun because that’s the thing I get challenged from Danny. ‘Where’s your organisation with this Jenn? Come on you’re going to exhaust yourself!’. So sometimes it’s the power of saying No to some events and saying No to some things, you’ve got to say No haven’t you?
Yes, it’s those wise words from David Allen that ‘you can do anything but you can’t do everything’, you just have to say no to some stuff. So let’s move on. I want to talk about your mindset a little bit, I’m not going to dig too deep but just broadly, what’s it like to be you? What goes on up in your head?
It’s a very busy brain so I probably sleep for about 5 hours, that’s all I need. I tend to function, as you can probably tell, in very linear ways so when I focus on the children and I have set things that I do with the children, I will make sure that is all my work, so the phone goes off, they’re my priority, because I’m doing this for my family, my family is my absolute priority. And I build time around that with my husband who is just amazing and incredibly supportive without judgement of ‘oh look at me, aren’t I a great husband to let my wife do this?’ – it’s not like that either. It’s genuine equality in our relationship which is something we’ve worked very hard to build together in our 10 year marriage and a 20 year relationship. But my brain is constantly going, ideas, ideas, so I can walk into a room, listen to something and be passive in that conversation, my brain is always thinking, ‘what’s the best opportunity, what can I get from this, how can this work?’ And sometimes as a leader now, I have to step back and allow others to shine, so where I’m thinking I’m helping, I’m not letting somebody else breathe and speak, so whilst I’m thinking a lot of things, I make a lot of notes. I know you were laughing at me the other day, I’ve still got a notebook!
Yeah but you’ve got your ipad now and your Apple pencil so…
I know, I know I feel so like I’ve come into the 21stcentury but it’s because I’m constantly filtering out my brain because your short-term memory can only cope with so much in a day and I always describe myself as quite forgetful, I’m not actually, my brain is just full, so I write stuff down and from that then you can organise your brain but I have to be quite conscious of it because sometimes I can take over a conversation and I don’t want to do that. So very busy brain.
So, you’ve got a very busy brain, you’ve got a full head, a family, a busy job and you’re very driven and motivated. How do you look after your resilience, your well-being, your mental health?
Haha – yes I can be frivolous here and just say wine because that is a big factor, I do love a good glass of red! I think when you’re busy like this, it’s savouring. So I have the great pleasure of having a life coach. It is something I would recommend to anybody in the world that has a busy life, and the purpose of that life coaching – she’s actually a friend, Leanne and I’ve got a great deal from her – is allowing me the opportunity to say this is helping me to manage the day to day really. It’s not like a great need for or difficulty. There was no challenge when I went to see her, it was just ‘help me to get the best out of my life’ because that’s what I’m very excited about, I want to live a full life. I want to be really spent when I get to my 90’s, late 90’s, 100 years old, I want to have lived a full life and it to have been worth something, for it to have had purpose, so that’s what drives me. But I also just need to savour and enjoy the here and now and understand what you’ve achieved, I can sometimes drift away. My well-being comes from savouring the end of the week. So I’m very passionate and very protective of my Friday evenings. Friday evenings I take the kids swimming, so I finish at 3pm, so that’s my thing with the company, I wanted to finish at 3pm one day. I pick the kids up from school, I take them swimming because I love watching the kids swim, it’s when I see all the girls as well, my mates, they’re all taking their kids swimming because it’s all in the same world. But I get home from that and we’ll put the kids to bed and that’s my time with Richard. The telly doesn’t go on and I’m very protective of that time at home because we’re in and out all over the place. Any working parent will know, it’s swimming lessons, it’s cricket, it’s football, it’s rugby, it’s dancing, gymnastics, it’s work, it’s work events, but Fridays, I never commit to anything on a Friday, you won’t ever see me on a Friday, it’s my time. I eat with the kids, spend some time with Richard and a glass of wine. The rest of the weekend, yes I can give to other people but Friday night is precious.
For people that know me well they would probably think that the only thing that’s missing on that is beans on toast with cheese on top which is my way of celebrating a Friday as we sit down!
You have to take a picture of it and put it on social media as well!
I keep it to Facebook though and Instagram so it’s stayed off Twitter generally but yeah! So what else, you talked about your desire to get your laptop out on a Sunday and work. Come on talk to me. I’m going to ask you some questions from a complete position of hypocrisy now and talk about the perils of working too hard!
Yes, so it’s the grind. You know, you start thinking Sunday afternoon don’t you, the working week is coming again. I’ve never had a day when I’ve got up and not wanted to go to work, it’s just never happened for me and I’m lucky and I appreciate that not everybody feels like that but I do get to Sunday afternoons and I think that if I’m going to get through next week I’m going to need to read a report, I’m going to need to prep. I don’t ever like going into a room and not being one of the most informed in the room, it panics me. So like preparing for today, I had to read my notes again yesterday because it just makes me feel really uncomfortable, so that is my sacrifice because I end up then putting the kids to bed on a Sunday night and I’ll go upstairs instead of spending time with Richard and that for me is something where I’ll go ‘ok I need to not do that’. I don’t want to do that, it’s an exception, a very rare exception, maybe it’s finance budgeting time of the year or we’re setting the board reports or we’re doing the annual review of our business performance, I will give some time but yes, I’m cross with myself when I have to give up a Sunday evening I must admit, it’s not great.
It’s funny for me, I can be similar, but on a Friday afternoon I try to do a weekly review and get ahead of the week to come but I don’t always manage it on Friday because it’s busy so if I don’t do it on a Friday, I’ll do it on a Sunday afternoon or evening, and the reason I do it is because once I’ve done it I actually feel more relaxed rather than less because I feel on top of the week ahead and I’ve looked a bit longer term and I know that everything is ok.
Yes absolutely, so you sort of think to yourself, ‘actually I’m going to get a better night’s sleep’. I sleep small chunks although I sleep quite little, I need to sleep and if I don’t sleep I’m going to struggle so it’s robbing Peter to pay Paul really.
Let’s explore coaching for a minute. How often do you see Leanne?
I see Leanne once a month, that’s my personal coaching but that’s more about my personal life. One of the things I am thinking about at the moment is a mentor for work and whether the life coaching with Leanne can lessen off a little bit now because the things that I needed to sort, it’s been two years, I’ve got good routines going now, good structure at home and actually the focus needs to be on me being a better HR director for the company because if I was to say to myself, ‘how good an HR director are you?’, I’m probably about 20% of what I could be. But I’ve got a long time working so I’m alright with that journey!. I just need to find someone to work with on it.
I’m going to start to bring things to a close because we’ve been talking for a while, even though we could happily talk all day! I hope this isn’t a corny question but either what do you wish you knew a few years ago, or what would you say to your younger self? Because you seem pretty sorted, you’ve figured a lot of things about yourself, I think you’re incredibly impressive, you’re incredibly impactful, and I’m not going to ask you to give advice to other people because everybody’s different, but there will be patterns that work for other people. So what advice would you give to your younger self? There’s the world’s most rambly question!
Oh no it’s fine, I completely get where you’re coming from. The biggest one for me, if I could look at my 22 year-old self coming out of Uni with my HR degree and a bundle of excitement and demand is ‘be kind to yourself Jenn, forgive yourself because you’ll make mistakes and you’ll get things wrong. Don’t be so hard on yourself’. One of the things I talk about is, had I celebrated some successes well and not just seen the negative in myself, I probably would have enjoyed the experience a little bit! I look back and I’ve had a cracking career but have I been kind to myself in that process, not really, because what I was very good at is that I’m very self-critical, very very critical. So I can look at something, you’d look at it and go ‘Jenn that’s amazing, well done’, and I’d be like ‘oh no because that didn’t work and that doesn’t look right and I wasn’t happy I ran a deadline on that and that didn’t quite happen’. I look for all the aspects of it that are wrong and I still do it now but I’m really conscious of my behaviours to go, ‘no, has it done the job, did it do the job well, is everybody happy with it, does it do what it says on the tin – the Ronseal test’? ‘Yes, does it look like a professional piece of work, yes. Right stop it then.’ But I didn’t do that when I was younger and because of that I stayed too much in the negative and it affected my confidence because I was just so critical and people would say ‘well done Jenn’ and it would genuinely just flitter like a skimming stone, you know when you skim a stones?
So what do you do now when people say ‘Well Done Jenn’?
I pause, which is unlike me, I pause and I go ‘thank you’ and I actually think about what they’ve said. Somebody’s taken the time to say ‘well done ‘or ‘that’s great’ or ‘you look amazing’ or whatever it is in whatever context, I will stop and I will really digest the fact that someone’s took the time to say well done and it wasn’t a frivolous statement, somebody’s took the time to say it, so absorb it, because I could really be quite dismissive and it’s disrespectful to someone who’s took the time out to speak to you, it’s quite dismissive on them, so that’s what I do now.
That’s wise words, it just takes some of us a while to learn some of those things and it can be easier to tell other people to do it than it can to actually apply that to ourselves as well. That’s where the magic lies I think when we can actually do that.
We’ve covered so much we could talk all day about this, so just to say, Jennifer Hulme, to give you your full title, Jenn, of Mid Communications, Happy Birthday again and thank you so much for taking the time to do this. Where can people find you online?
Gosh, where am I online? So I love Twitter so @JennH_HR on Twitter. I do tend to talk about HR, that’s a very work-focussed social media. I’m also on LinkedIn, Jennifer Hulme on LinkedIn. Yes, and I’m trying to do blogs which are found on Midcommunications.com
Excellent, Jenn, thank you so much!
Thank you Ian.
(Music licensed from the very talented Isaac Indiana)