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WGT: Prioritising people development, creating feedback culture...with Oliver Beach [transcript]

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

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Hello, ladies and gentlemen, this week's guest is Oliver Beach, who is the UK general manager and VP for growth at Jolt. I will let Oliver introduce himself properly and tell you a lot more about his background and his experience. Now we were meant to be talking about how startups succeed or fail in prioritizing developing their people, but our conversation has gone so beautifully sideways, it was actually rude to interrupt its flow. We ended up talking a little bit about and why people's development gets deprioritized in organizations, but we also covered how to create feedback culture. What does being a good leader mean to all of that. And how does he understand and perceive what company culture is? Enjoy.

Lech: [00:00:45] Hello, Oliver. . Great to have you your, the general manager of Jolt in the UK. If someone doesn't know much about Jolt can you tell us a little bit more about the company what it doesn't , what your role is?

Oliver Beach: [00:01:16] Sure. So Jolt is an online business go we developed and transform people's careers. A business education at different stages in their careers. So for example, we partnered with the UK government on their kickstart scheme to help young people or the earliest point of their career you know, trained to work in the tech sector.

We help people who have worked for years, switch into tech, into commercial roles into business roles. Through switch our camp when we started in the market with numba, which was us or challenger to the MBA to disrupt the MBA, to make it more accessible fit the needs of the ever growing startup ecosystem.

And my role is general manager and VP of growth is I'm responsible for the overall commercial success outside of Televiv so where our company is. Headquarters in Tel Aviv. We have a nine person team in the UK. We have we're registered in America as well. We have some partners in the us too. So my, my role is success. Commercial success outside of Israel.

Lech: [00:02:24] Well I'm lucky enough to be part of Jolts and that have been for, for a while. And I have to say he's one of the coolest organizations I've worked for, not just because of the product and what yeah. What you do or what we do. But most of all, kind of the atmosphere that's created, although we're remote.

Although I have never met anyone in real life. I do feel like I do know very well. Especially the boys and girls and Tel Aviv. They, they are absolute stars when it comes to managing all of this. So it's an absolute joy working with them. So have you been in education all your career or have you moved around from place to place different roles to experiences?

Oliver Beach: [00:02:58] Yeah. So I've been in education since I graduated university, actually, that's, that's a small lie. I worked for Warner music group when I graduated and an internship and I worked for ed Sheeran and Skrillex and red hot chili peppers doing their digital strategy, which was an interesting experience.

And I remember it was really fun. And then I went to the Bristol wards and I sell scrolling set and the Oh, to Brixton. And it was like, you know, Stench, essentially standing next to the speaker. I was like, what are they doing here? Like what, like, what am I adding to the world? By helping ed Sheeran, you know, get more fans.

And so I spoke to a bunch of friends who also graduated and I said, you know where you're doing, what, you know, banking, law, finance, et cetera. And I was like, Oh, it kind of feels like the same thing as what I'm currently experiencing. And I had a bunch of friends who were applying for teach first, which is a graduate scheme.

The places teacher ed graduates, or they said high-flying graduates. And to, into really difficult educational circumstances really challenging skills with incredibly high And some poverty or you know, low socioeconomic groups and low attainment. And so I talked, ended up teaching and out some for two years and old street for two years.

And I've kind of stayed in the kind of an education sense whether that's I went, yeah, I left teaching. I sat about as sort of an education charity that helped teachers raise money for. Just opportunities for disadvantaged kids, which was incubated by Mesta. And I worked for Canno, which is a really cool EdTech startup that makes DIY computers for kids.

And then I worked for Flatiron school and it was kind of their first UK GM and helped launch their campus in the UK and took it to. You know, seven figure revenue built the team of 35 people fill in part-time staff, which was probably one of the biggest challenges in my career. At one point I was direct managing 19 people which is I'd say impossible to do well and most organizations and even more impossible to do well at a startup where.

You know, you're living with that consistent conflicting priority of developing people and still having cash. So that was, that was really, really challenging. I found that extraordinarily difficult and I left latter and to set up my own boot camp, which I exited last year and joined Jolts about a moment before the pandemic struck.

Lech: [00:05:31] Wow. Wow. So you've, you've, you've been around. You've done a fair bit.

Oliver Beach: [00:05:36] And I'm only 25. I'm just kidding.

Lech: [00:05:41] We're not going to reveal your true age. I'm actually quite interested because you said 19 direct reports in that startup. Is that right?

Oliver Beach: [00:05:49] yeah. .

Lech: [00:05:50] That is that, that is a lot. That is a lot. Cause I, I do meet a lot of leaders, a lot of managers who do have quite a few reports. And I'm always surprised when I hear somebody say.

12, 15, 20 I've I've recently heard 28. And this is for a director in a, in a, in a SAS company that is, and that's not temporary. I understand that if companies are in transition, that's fine, but this is a permanent structure that just doesn't make sense. Now I always wonder how can you be able, how, how can you lead these people, develop these people and also do your job because obviously.

As, as the modern world requires us to do, we're not only leading in developing people. We are also doing other strategic jobs and actually day-to-day stuff as well with the knit within the roles. How did you, how did you manage that?

Oliver Beach: [00:06:41] I guess badly. And I think that I really subscribed to the mantra that you work for your team. And I was, I lived in kind of two stress zones one which was. How you do, we launch this business and you know, capture the hearts and minds of the, of the market and, and grow. And I do, I do that for my career as well.

Cause that'd be, that's an, a really, really difficult thing to achieve. And at the same time growing the business, we need more people as a skills. We need lots of teachers. We had I think 18 teachers we had, and then. My team was also cross-functional. So sales, marketing, operations, community you know, head of education.

And I was kind of writing two positions at once. I was head of education and managing all of our teaching staff, as well as managing all of our commercial. So the type of manager you have to be was completely different for all the teachers. And I didn't have a manager in the UK, my manager was in New York, so I didn't have side soundboards.

In my time zone and my culture and my geography. So I was direct managing completely different types of people with different functions on my own and a global company, very remote from the HQ. And on top of that, a lot of it was, it was kind of me and then a very flat. A hierarchy where essentially all the people I was managing were on a one level.

Right. They didn't have a direct report. They were just the rest of the team. And there's that difficulty when you're a startup? No matter whether a flat term was owned by we work is still very much a startup mentality and what we need to and what we ended up bringing in about eight months after this period was.

You know, another layer and the hierarchy where all of the teachers were then managed by one person. And my direct reports became four which was much, much, much easier. To be a good manager, right? No teaser to do my job, but just easier to go home and be like, am I actually serving these people in the way that they deserve or, and the way that I have the capacity to deliver.

And that was, I think my biggest frustration was I really want to be a good manager. I think selfishly my view on management is. However long you stay at a company is your choice, but when you leave, I want you to look back at the experience of me managing you and say, He believed in me, he gave me radical candor.

He helped me grow as a, person. And look back at that experience in a positive light. And if I feel that I'm not going to be able to deliver on that goal for my team, that's where it really hits me probably more so than hitting commercial targets because you know, in forty years time that people will still exist.

And the goals will be forgotten

Lech: [00:09:44] Yeah, that is a great attitude to have. And one that is so often missing from, from leadership. I was actually going to ask you one of the questions about what leadership means to you, but I think you've just answered that and, and that is a really, really good answer. To 'to that question, that, to have a definition of what good leadership is, what being a good leader means.

Cause there's a difference between a leader and a manager. We tend to promote people within organizations from one post to the next and often get putting them in charge of leading people, but actually not giving them any training of what they need to do. They've been promoted because they can do their job very well.

So they've been pronounced, promoted up. And somebody comes in to do their previous job. They have to still input on the, still manage the people and self-awareness self-reflection and SEF self-leadership is actually I think, a massive part of being a good leader. And you in a way touched upon upon that, when you were talking about the, the situation to start in the startup, we had 19 direct reports and the UK were kind of building that structure.

That is, is so common in so many startups. That's, that's the reality of it. It's often bootstrapped a few people. You need generalists, you need people who. Basically all hands on deck. That's normal because obviously money is a little bit tight, but then when money starts coming in, you you've mentioned that you've started building a structure, you introduced them to the level.

So that made it a lot easier for you to give you the capacity, the mental and emotional space to, to be that good leader. But what happens. Within you, when the lot of startups, they forget that they're the enemy as they grow, they don't scale. Why, why do you think that happens? What that professional development of the people within organization is deprioritized

Oliver Beach: [00:11:33] I think it's the same reason as why people and. governments And companies don't invest in education in the way they should It's because there's no immediate results, right? You don't see the outcome of an investment in education until years after a young person has graduated and started adding to the world.

So when I think back to the kids that I taught a GCC and 2012, no. They're university. Right. And now that I can see the impact of the hopefully of me and the other amazing teachers that spend time with these young people. And I have to say I did Alyssa stock the other day on like 10 of some of the young people that used to teach her and I in their twenties.

And Some someone's working at Harris and one's working at Conde Nast and one's an architect. And so you get to see that you know, young people have had, you know, difficult you know, circumstance of have created opportunity. My point is that the same thing happens with, with management and with investment entertainment in startups.

Yes. You know, that you should invest time and energy and effort in being a good leader and investing time in conversations, around goals and OKRs and having really incredible efficient processes to be able to track progress over time, have conversations about feedback and you know, managing tasks and difficult conversations and conflicts and culture.

But you know that if you spend. 20 minutes more doing sales calls, you'll achieve more for the business so that it keeps running so that the wheels keep moving. And, you know, in the back of your mind that investing in culture and investing in team growth will make a difference in the long run, but finding the time to not do you deprioritize the commercial part But finding a time to marry them both together is so difficult. And when you have those moments where yesterday I spoke to someone in my team, who's just amazing. And we talked about and they've just. Goats direct report and actually they go direct to part three. And so again, you're taking on more.

And so we talked for 45 minutes just about management stones. I know it's such a great conversation. And so, Oh, it's probably my favorite conversation that happened this week, but, and I said to my assistant, and I'm really lucky to have an assistant who is incredible. And I said, you know, please find more time for for You know this person and I to have this conversation because it was so valuable, but only until you have the conversation, it's like exercise right.

Only after, after the class, do you feel the endorphin and the cortisol the excitement of, of of. But of the, of the ride or the run, but before it you're like, Oh, this is such a time effort SAP, but actually once you experienced it once you see them in university, once you feel their engagement and their attitude to their teams, you actually realize let's focus on the Mo that moment that we experience and make sure that we keep doing more of it.

Lech: [00:14:48] Yes, the impatience that we have, that we need to see the results driven by the, the commercial situation that we need to deliver sales. Because obviously let's, let's, let's face it. We need money. That's not the point that we deprioritize money because we don't need it. No, we do, because that's what makes the organization run and grow and create more jobs.

And so on. But he's also important to give people that space. And I like your analogy about exercising and in comparing that to, and actually that's one of my favorite ones as well, that if you, if you go to the gym for eight hours, one day in a month, that's not going to make a difference. However, you go eight days for an hour within that month and month after that month, after that in six months.

12 months you'll start getting into shape. And that's how I see a company culture. How is the leadership policy? Pete, you have people's development within organizations. You need to invest those little chunks. And the fascinating thing is. Exactly it is habits. It's the little things, the things that we don't plan.

It's great to have OKR KPIs one-on-ones and also conversation. But actually the real thing that matters, I think, are the little interactions that we don't even think of. Like giving somebody a tiny bits of feedback, radical candor. You've mentioned, have you read the book by don't remember Kim Scott?


Oliver Beach: [00:16:13] right about 600 times scrape.

Lech: [00:16:15] you I've been meaning to reread it. He's a great, he's a great the book. I remember. I think I've got my copy still, which is absolutely all written over and highlighted all sorts of stuff. I need to come back to it, but she stresses the point of giving feedback as it happens. And when it happens, because it's so much easier, then it's a 32nd conversation. And it's fresh in everybody's mind rather than letting things grow and snowball. It does have that 10 tend to have that snowball effect that we leave with to grow into more difficult, more good, to be able to say something. And when we do the person that we're talking to struggles to recall what actually happened, but when you do it on the spot tonight,

Oliver Beach: [00:16:52] I know it's the same thing with same thing with you learn that in teaching, right? If I could make some mistake in their, their homework or or behavior feedback must be actionable and timely. Right. It needs to happen immediately after otherwise it's forgettable, otherwise the moment has passed.

But you, but you have to, but But You also have to make time for a consistent time for the important conversations. And not just the kind of Sort of kind direct feedback, which is what, you know, radical candor and emphasizes. I think that the, the reason why I mentioned habits is if you floss and James clear talks about this and atomic habits really well.

And I just, I subscribed to his newsletter, which is a really great read. And if you floss one tooth, A day and then two, teeth and then three teeth that's how you build the habit. And then it's the same thing with difficult conversations, the same thing with you know, management and. Culture and developing teams.

It's a habbit you start small No one starts with running saying to their assistant. Okay. I need you to put in 12 workshops around feedback, culture, candor. You start small, you start with micro conversations. And you do that frequently and you build up and that's absolutely fine because starting there, if you're not doing anything is the best start you can make for your team.

And if you ask yourself a year later, why they are leaving ask yourself whether you gave to them, right. Cause they get so much to the company. How much are you giving to them? And I think actually a Jolt. We do it really well. After three months in the company everyone gets a coach to help them with their professional and personal development.

I've had mine. For eight months, he's a Jolter, Jolters, what we call our teachers. And I've benefited so much from it. I think I've grown so much as a leader since I started that. So we, as a school, we invest in our, in our talent and as a manager, I, you know, I, I start whenever I bring in a new recruit the first thing I say to the person joining is what can I do for you?

And that usually takes people by surprise. Because they're like for the first day that I want my going to do what my goal is, why am I going to, you know, what do I need to achieve? And my first thought is, how can I help you get there? Right? Like, it should be we're balanced from the beginning.

Lech: [00:19:26] And how we'll react to that question, because I often talk to people about this situation and encourage managers to ask that same question, to have that same attitude, but often their reports are not used to it. And also the culture of the organization is not used to providing that feedback upwards. And how do you create answer? How do you encourage them to speak up? Do you ask more pointed and direct questions or do you keep them broad and just give them the space and create the environment for them to come forward when they are ready?

Oliver Beach: [00:20:02] That's a really good question. I think the benefit of asking it at the very beginning is there's no preconception. And so you can start by wiping the slate. Clean and I ask very open questions. You know, what were you working on with your last manager? Do you want to continue working on with me?

What are some of the main challenges you think you might experience and how can I support you? Do you have any professional or personal goals? Is there anything that worries you, you know, Try to keep the questions as open as possible. But at the same time, I'm incredibly transparent. And I share when I'm sad, I share when things are going badly for me, for personally, professionally.

There's no, There's no ambiguity about how we're doing as a team or as a business. There's nothing the leadership know that my team doesn't know.

The only thing I won't share is what is happening to other people, of course. Right. But anything that affects the team, they know, they know the product strategy, they know the revenue goals, they know. There's just, they know my worries about each too, because if I, if, if I was concerned about. A product, our channel, our revenue stream, or a market or how we were dealing with students and I didn't bring it up.

And then three months later, it boils over the pen. And I hadn't mentioned it when I had such incredible talent on the team that I've hired because they're brilliant. And I didn't mention it. That would be such a rookie error. So if I'm transparent, then. I think you said you have to say that example and the same thing for, we have a, a 2:00 PM every day, we have a optional coffee break which is really important in our remote working world.

And I go to all of them and the reason why I go to all of them as I went to normalize taking a break, right? Like I'm an executive in the company, but. Everyone should attend these coffee breaks. They're designed to give you a break. I think a lot of people are reticent to go because they don't want it to be seen to not be working as a test during the day.

But no, like take a break, go take a break. And I have a dance party in your kitchen, which is mostly what I do. Because we're all human and we should all be transparent with each other.

Lech: [00:22:32] It's it's I guess it's practicing leading by example one of a very good example that you've just given here as you were talking about transparency, I could not. Help, but think of managers and leaders from kind of previous generations from 15, 20, 30 years ago, who believe that transparency is the, the worst thing you can have with an organization full transparency.

Like the one that you're describing. Because they believe that people should be on the needs to know basis.

And the, one of the big roles of leaders is to kind of create that environment where whatever happens. Yes, it's the leader who makes the decision, but the message he wants to send to the team is you, we will do what you suggest and that's my decision. And if anything goes wrong, it's on me.

But because we're in it together, it creates that environment of trust and ownership amongst people. And, and that straight away completely creates a completely different dynamic and different environment for people to work on. And then they feel safer. Cause we often have these nice, easy to like behaviors like transparency and a lack of hierarchy or willingness to experiment.

But if they're not backed up by some serious, it tough. Decisions and tough attitudes that counterbalanced those. They're not, it's not going to work. And I find that very, very interesting that that's what we have in organizations. You mentioned obviously a Jolt that you're working remotely as a lot of people are at the moment.

It's difficult to avoid the topic. And I wonder, what's your take on maintaining this type of, and building this type of environment and investing in people, developing people while everybody's working remotely, or at least when we're not. Able to work together because sooner or later we'll go back to offices.

I think it will be more of a hybrid model rather than a, either fully remote or fully back in the office. It depends on the organization of course, but what, what's your take? How can we, how can we manage that?

Oliver Beach: [00:24:36] Yes, we did so well to not talk about remote. So, no I thought we got, we got away with it. I think that I definitely miss people. I really, really do. I. I think I've learned the Imperial measurements of my living room. No and how many different things I can add to it and to make it feel like office living room experience I think we will probably move into, into hybrid.

I think right now this is. I very, I kind of lived by the mantra. I mean, don't, I'll be upset by things you can't control and we can't control the the situation. So, but we can choose how we respond to it. Which is a quote from one of my favorite books by Edith Eger as a Holocaust survivor. And her big, the choice we should talks about, you know, everyone is going to suffer.

Everyone's going to have difficulty, but one thing you do have a choice in is how you respond. No, You know, not comparing the Holocaust to just sort of course about how we respond to difficulty is within our control. I think most of the time, and so what we're doing is we definitely over zoom.

And I have like just during the day, will this, this zoom room or my zoom room will be Well then, and people just come in and hang out and chat and, you know, there's that moment in an office where you would swivel your chair, right. And say, Hey, what do you think of this idea? We just don't have any anymore.

So I try to create those moments virtually. And we have a two one, two, two, one, two ones every week with everyone in my team. One one-to-one is about goals and their priorities. Next steps and the second is free for your fro. What do you want to talk about? Do you want to talk about lady Gaga's super bowl for farming's few years ago?

Let's talk about that. You want to talk about the French vaccination approach. We can talk about that. So I really just total free reign and as a team, we have tone holes at the start of the week. We have an activity every Friday, the end of the week. So last week we went for a walk together virtually on zoom and we had to each find a monument in our neighborhood where we lived.

That was interesting. I think this week we're playing Fibbage and a few weeks ago we did desert Island discs together. And everyone shared three songs. They would say. To energize Ireland disk and a book and luxury item. I sent the grenades to everyone's houses, you know, there's things we can do to bring people together.

But I think what's really important is, you know, my diary is built so that people can say, Hey, I have a question. At different points in the day, I'll prioritize internal time with my team over Echo chamber external music to make sure that people have a platform to share and vent and ideate and strategize.

Lech: [00:27:25] To be perfectly dead, wanted to leave out the remote aspect of in, from the conversation because we talk about it so much. You know, I'm glad I didn't, because the examples that you've just given are really, really cool. I've never thought of it. It's as simple as it is just to have an open zoom room that people can cause that does imitate.

That's what we miss. Turn it around, turning around to somebody and just chatting with them. What do you think about this? Or just, just. You know, if you do want a five minute break from, from whatever, if you're coding, you're writing, you're creating whatever you're producing and just having that mental break off and then being able to chat to somebody.

And I think that's a really cool, yeah.

Oliver Beach: [00:28:03] do you know, what's really fun is a fifth fund. Might be a fun is interesting, but you all join a zoom and you just work. You're not on a call, but you're doing like deep work or busy work or sending emails to someone is just quite nice about hearing the sound of another keyboard. Or somebody going, Hmm.

Are coming back and putting a coffee cup on the table. There's just quite, it feels like you're in an office. But you're not, you're not talking to each other or something happens and you laugh and you go, Oh, I just, sorry. I just saw this thing and everyone's microphone is on. And you just hear the sound of work.

And you feel closer. And you can just step out if you're you make a call, but sometimes it's nice to just, it's actually something I used to do when in like 2008 on Skype with my best friend, Molly, who was in Pennsylvania, I was in Birmingham university. And we would just, she would just be reading.

I would be reading. She would come to the camera, be like, Oh, do you like my new shoes? And I tried to kind of replicate that reality with my team because there's so many just quite homely about it.

Lech: [00:29:11] Again, so simple, but so, so cool. And it brings the idea, the, the, the example and the concept of the fake commute that people are introducing as well. It's just trying to replicate those little things and little elements to our environments to make it feel like. Again, the we're still part of a team rather than everybody sitting and facing the wall, or if you're lucky a window with a decent view.

But most of the time it is a computer screen. Just wanting to wrap up a question that I like to ask. Everyone, because I haven't actually found yet a very good and concise definition of what company culture is. Cause I think it's. So individual to a lot of people, and I've got a couple of ideas.

One of my favorite ones is that it's people like us do things like this, which I think is I've stolen from Seth Godin. But also another one that is quite funny that I found somewhere. I don't remember now, but the company culture is what people do when the manager's not looking which often, often makes me chuckle.

But I do wonder what that, what company culture means to you.

Oliver Beach: [00:30:14] I think it's, it's, it's really, it's just cause it's, it's, it's like defining a melting pot. So I mean, A company culture is one of where there is, you know, honesty, transparency, leadership, and care. Where people are themselves they don't feel they have to be anybody else. They can bring their whole self, their best self, their worst self to, to work.

And you know, it probably is a bit of a you know what happens at the pub. After the bosses laughed after 15 minutes and actually secretly I think people want that boss, a great boss to be there because they steer the ship through difficult waters. And so I think it's a, it's a hybrid of both.

It's a hybrid of. A comfortable reality where people can share and be open and be honest and be kind and be direct. And also you know, someone has to someone has to steer and people want someone to steer anyone that says that they don't want leadership is lying. Everyone, every company needs a leader to have a vision and set the course without it.

There's no course.

Lech: [00:31:31] What have you got coming up in the next few months? Any exciting projects? Anything that you really looking forward to?

Oliver Beach: [00:31:36] I don't want to sell something that hasn't been developed. But we're, we're growing the kickstart scheme. We've had over 150 companies create rules. We've created over 400 placements as some of the most exciting companies we want to continue to we want to continue to support companies and grazing talent, the government and creating opportunity.

And young people in their careers we're excited to be working with a number of businesses to help develop first-time managers. Because again, as we've talked about today, it's one of the easiest to overlook areas of your business is to develop your earliest managers. Who've been given perhaps more direct reports because they're functionally great.

But again, that doesn't mean they're a good manager. So we have developed a curriculum to support. Companies in supporting managers in their businesses to grow as leaders and managers and their teams. So that's something that we started to work on with a few companies this month and they're going to continue to do so over the next quarter.

Lech: [00:32:36] And if people want to follow what you're up to, and kind of know more about the kickstart program, about what you do or maybe engaged with you, ask you some questions get some tips, where can they find you? What, where where's the best way

Oliver Beach: [00:32:49] Sure. So you can reach me at If you're interested in kickstarts you can email. are just visit our website, which is We also have switched, which is our transformative bootcamp to help people who are looking to move into commercial opportunities.

And and the tech sector are running monthly so people can apply to join one of those cohorts. 30 recommends. But otherwise and Oliver.Beach is quite easy to find.

Lech: [00:33:28] ladies and gentlemen,Oliver Beach for you, Oliver. Thank you very much. It's been an absolute pleasure.

Oliver Beach: [00:33:34] Thanks so much for having me.


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