Is kids mental health being left behind?

I sent a tweet last week that seemed to hit a chord. It started with a chat in the office about school homework with Sam Hicks and the pressure that builds around doing it, who does it, tuition etc. It is something that is a regular conversation with all parents of kids at a certain age. Parents will pretty much universally agree that as kids they did not have to do as much at a certain age, around 9ish. No one remembers the same level of activity, homework, after school activities, weekend stuff, it’s frenetic for a nine year old. The most important thing for me, it’s seven days a week.

The thing is, it coincides with the sea changes going on in society and in the work places. Just look at the ‘interruption’ to BGT the other night? At our work place and many others over the world companies are working hard to support people who may be suffering with mental health. There are very visible initiatives like Mediacom with Josh pushing the agenda very hard, at Spotify we have Heart and Soul at its core with lots of opportunities for support and to talk openly which some of our team have been doing. It’s all so important that these issues are discussed.

Beyond ‘corporate’ acknowledgement there are smaller initiatives. My leadership team have agreed that we should not be emailing the teams after working hours, at weekends and not have fifty emails waiting for them at 6am Monday. We have been really working on this over time, when my directs are on holiday I have a hard rule that says they go on holiday and switch off. It sends shivers when people say ‘yeah I am off but will be on email.’ Don’t do it, don’t do a poor job of your holiday and a poor job of working and at the end or it all, not properly relax. That’s no use to me. All my directs know how I feel on this and I encourage them to do the same. A break is vital.

So all good, we are on it as adults. We know however that education moves slower than industry, schools can get stuck in old fashioned ruts, they do not adapt fast enough. So here is the thing. Why is it good for us to switch off when the kids are getting homework on Fridays for the weekend, why is it ok for kids to come home and work when we get to take a break in the main, why is it ok for kids to have to work through holidays when we don’t. Have we forgotten that their minds are more fragile than ours, we are setting behaviours, we add to that stress with arguments about how hard they are trying or how well they are doing? Pressure, lack of rest, lack of relax, arguments and more. If we were to set this as our approach to the work environment we would not hold on to a single employee.

The worst of this is that it’s tough to say here is what we do about it..stop doing homework gets reprimand at school and depending on schools will leave kids behind. So it’s open ended but feel like we should keep talking about it and asking schools what they intend to do. Certainly my next parents evening, it will be my first question.

Recipe for a successful conference

Back after a few days at my Sales Academy in Evian and have been reflecting on what makes a great sales conference. My team and I had been working so hard to make a success of this event and I feel like we made amazing progress. Of course nothing it’s perfect but 2019 has been the best yet and I started to think about how and why that was the case.

1. The first thing for me is a purpose. Following our high performing teams training we settled on our purpose as a management team being ‘Setting The Stage for Success’ what did we mean by that? Simply put, our job is to be the roadies for the team. Put everything in place to help them to succeed. This is what we carried through to the Academy as the theme. Too often leaders are the front men, the ones on stage, our view is that our teams should be up there.

2. Inclusion. This year we really involved a whole range of teams, individual sales teams from every market and division to create ‘Adbreaks’ – 5 minute case studies through out the few days, amazing opp for teams to present best work to a big crowd. We involved speakers from diverse backgrounds, a long list of amazing female talent in the business and both internal and external. All briefed to talk Setting the Stage for Success.

3. Safe space. As the team has grown and collaborated over the years, we have created a very safe culture – led by my wonderful directs with all team members happy to ask questions even to the most senior of Execs who we asked to come over, including our Global CFO and Head of Free Business, as well as the founder of Gimlet. The level of trust in the group has been amazing.

4. Fun.  Not too much, not too little. This year we were in a relatively controlled environment and so bed times were not too late. Lots and lots of fun but not too late and that has a lot of benefits. People were sharper the next day which meant they added more and interacted more. Tiredness leads to stress which can build when you are pulled away from your day job, even for the best content. Hangovers are so 2018.

5.Environment. We chose a venue that was calm, beautiful views and partially isolated and it was wonderful. Our meeting space was light and airy with views over lakes. We had lots of space and we built in time to breathe. Longer breaks, longer lunch, time at end of day to unwind and catch up, all meant people could concentrate and put phones and laptops down. The engagement was amazing.

6. Time to think. Often the goal of these events is based on packing as much in as possible ‘since we have everyone here.’ We have tried this and it does not work. If you want to drive attention during the sessions then making sure people have time to work and relax is vital. So longer breaks, time to unwind at the end of the day before any evening activities are all vital to a good mindset through the week. I was blown away by the attention of the teams this year because we engineered better timings. We also made sure that we ended on a Thursday and not a Friday so there was a working day left.

7. Prepare to be gone. A small additional note to this, prepare for absence well in advance and give air cover. If a business can’t operate with out irate clients for two and half days then we have an issue. Warn clients that you are having a massively beneficial team / learning experience, you won’t be around as normal and anything else should be managed around the event. I would also hope our clients would show consideration, lets face it, everyone does it at some point during the year.

I could not be happier, it takes work, it takes a small army of people to pull it off but the results will show. Don’t start with revenue as the goal, start with behaviours and your people and the rest will follow. I am so proud of the leads we have across EMEA, they bond, they get on, they work independently and as teams. We are in such a good place and the people are everything.

Diversity is more than just Gender.

How can we adjust how we think about diversity? Diversity is currently dominated by gender, and there is so much going on in that space, which is fantastic, long may it continue, but there is a much wider issue we have to face together.  It has been some time that I have been going into schools and talking to students and seeing just how different our working environments are from all of these back grounds.

It is an area that for me is important we begin to focus on more, we pay lip service to it right now, so here are some thoughts about where we can all start to adjust and plan for the future. We should ask ourselves the difficult questions about what we all stand for and whether we really want to drive change.

As a group of companies we need to set some new rules of engagement for the industry if we are going to initiate change. Some of the scenarios that would be fantastic to see change are the following:

  1. Hiring has to come from outside of Grads, every business should be creating plans to hire a number of school leavers every year and from non white middle class backgrounds, and definitely not related to the boss.
  2. Every organisation should think about the make up of what they are doing, my latest observation of MediaWeek judges all being white middle class people is an example, I am certain that someone ticked the gender diversity box but nothing else.
  3. Think about the sub sets of organisations – if you are promoting female diversity and there is a room full of 500 white middle class people, we should not be content with that, we should be supporting diversity within gender.
  4. If you are creating a List of important people then it should not be the same old, same old, there are talented people out there, we have to find them and create inspiration.
  5. If we look at panels, events etc all you see is the gender discussion – we need to think outside of that, we need to think about how the panels are made up to represent the world outside.
  6. Kill two birds with one stone – if you focus on helping under privileged schools rather than the usual grad schemes, you will naturally drive diversity of thinking and people.

It is at the grass roots we are failing – we are not bringing in enough talent early on, when we do it is really fulfilling. Our work placement programme is in its infancy but it only pulls from state schools to make sure we are creating opportunities. It is something I am hopeful we can continue to grow, I would encourage everyone to start these opportunities if you have not already.

Whether it is mentoring, helping organisations that are trying to do this, the industry press, the Twitter commentators, can we all start asking our self the question of whether what we are doing is either bringing in diverse talent, or inspiring it through highlighting the talent we already have in the business. This is not a rant, it is not a preach, it is a gentle call to arms. After my last blog and twitter engagements on mentoring, I know there is so much appetite to do better on this, but it feels on the fringe, so hoping mainstream industry can lead the charge. I am excited to try and do more after engaging with some of the organisations that contacted me earlier in the month, hopefully we all can do our bit.

Mentoring: How can I help?

One really important factor that I have discovered since moving from agency to sales is the ability to do more, more easily at my level. The array of things that get categorised under ‘more’ is significant, but on the whole they all have one thing in common, a request for money. I am not exactly sure why, but generally speaking, sales companies find budget to support a whole range of causes. We are asked by charities, by clients, by industry bodies, by trade titles and so on. It is brilliant to be able to do so much to help out and at Spotify we really support a range of different organisations. I have enjoyed that so much for the last two years, it has been very fulfilling.

Thing is, I also feel like we jump around and try to do too much / everything and although that is admirable, it is also perhaps skin deep at times. As a company we can do this to a point, but as an individual it becomes even harder. One person, especially someone who is travelling a lot and has all the usual time pressures cant do everything so more recently I have been considering what is most important to me, and what have I really enjoyed.

A number of years ago I started Speakers4schools presentations, and I have consistently been doing them ever since. I am pleased to say that we then moved from just presenting to working with an extension of Speakers4schools, NextGen who encourage their speakers to create work placements in their businesses. I am hugely grateful to my HR team who have allowed me to do this, and all the band members across the business that supported with their time and expertise. More recently I have been thinking about how to focus my energies and try to do more with less time and what is it that I really enjoy and adds value. Mentoring has always been fun, not the deep, lets meet every two weeks for years type mentoring, but the shorter, more specifics advice that when given could make a difference to someone, and even get them a job, they would otherwise of not had the chance to get.

As I reflect on our industry with a real focus now on gender diversity and indeed wider diversity, I still feel as if we are talking to the same types of groups, we still have not truly  moved the agenda. My personal goal and where I can, hopefully with support of Spotify, is to try and help under privileged young adults who are not getting access to the expertise that some schools or areas do. Speakers4schools has introduced that to me, and I feel it is great in its own right, but would also serve to bring more diversity into our industry and so I wanted to explore how I could help. I need opportunities that can mould around a busy schedule so advice, mentoring, speed mentoring etc is interesting. Today I was amazed at the response to a simple tweet I sent this morning.

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The response was fantastic not a ‘likes’ count, but people passionately responding and making suggestions, and it served to highlight how many amazing things are happening, and so I thought it would be great to list out all those responses so everyone has a chance to identify opportunities that they may like to get involved in.

Female mentoring with BloomUK http://www.bloom.org/the-exchange

Brixton Finishing School for underprivileged young adults http://www.hoxtonunited.com/

Media Trust http://www.mediatrust.org

IAA Speed Mentoring sessions http://www.iaauk.london/events/iaa-mentoring

DevelopHer – Elevating women through community based opps http://www.eepurl.com/bJAKKL

Creative Mentor Network http://www.creativementornetwork.org

Mediatel Speed mentoring http://www.mediatel.co.uk/newsline/2019/05/02/sign-up-for-free-speed-mentoring-2/

There are others no doubt, so add in the comments if you want to keep it all in this article. Bottom line, there is the chance to give your time, and there are different routes you can take, but for me it is time to focus and I am excited to explore how I can help!