Stuart's goal is to create a culture and environment for every member of his team to thrive giving each of them the opportunities he had in his career.
A seasoned CIO with experience in many of the UK hot start-ups and dot.coms, Stuart refers to himself as an “ex developer frustrated by management not creating the conditions for innovation and success” so he decided to try for himself. He believes in creating a culture with purpose built on mastery, autonomy, bravery, and play. He leads Technology teams that solve complex problems at large scale and achieve great results together.
Stuart has a proven track record of using Agile/Lean/DevOps software development practices to shorten time to market, deliver value faster and to increase project quality and architectural excellence.
Most importantly Stuart enjoys leading teams to achieve their goals and coaching people to achieve their ambitions.
For me, it’s all about improving employee engagement. From engagement surveys we’ve run, we’re getting increasingly honest answers about how engaged our staff actually are within the company - and this information couldn’t be more important.
As a result, I believe building a better world of work should involve optimising your processes to get the best out of your employees. This will, in turn, increase levels of engagement and heighten productivity. It’s a win-win. Greater engagement will also help retain employees for longer, as they’ll likely feel more connected with your company's purpose.
Another major factor is diversity, as bringing people from different backgrounds together provides huge value for any team. I've been able to built culturally-diverse teams in places where diversity was originally low - so I've seen first-hand how beneficial diversity is for company success and productivity. Differences in thought are also important to consider as, if everyone in a team is all thinking in the same way, it can block development and prevent innovative ways to fix problems.
Whether through overall attitude, background or lived experiences, diversity is crucial when it comes to overall team success and creativity.
I’m personally really focusing on recognition, and tailoring my processes to suit different preferences. Sure, calling someone out in front of everyone for doing a great job might work for some - but if you do the same thing each time, surely it will start to feel stale and lose impact after a while?
Plus, some people don’t want to be recognised in this way. Some will prefer a more personal one-on-one form of recognition. The only way to truly understand how your people want to be recognised for their achievements is to ask, as there isn’t a concrete answer. Simply putting a bit of time aside each month to publicly recognise hard work isn’t enough anymore.
I also think, as leaders, it’s hugely important to understand the individual wants and needs of those who work for you. Not everyone will aspire to be a more senior version of their current job role - and it’s crucial to alter your mentoring style to adapt to the individual goals of your people. Developing and maintaining a personal connection is what the future of work is about for me.
It’s clear we’re moving into a world where power is shifting back to the employee - and my generation generally has very different expectations to the younger generation who are early in their careers.
Working in a modern company shouldn’t feel like a coalmine i.e. working solely to earn money and just having to grin and bear it when obstacles come along. People now want to work for a company they genuinely connect with. They want their company to help them develop and achieve their career goals - rather than just “working because I have to make a living”.
People are looking for companies that will engage with them on a personal level, with greater flexibility and work-life balance. Some call this ‘hybrid working’, but I like to refer to it as a ‘borderless office’. If you have a framework that’s very rigid i.e. you have to be in the office two days a week, specifically Tuesdays and Wednesdays, you’re just restricting your teams’ behaviour. Is that really the best way?
People lead their own lives and need to be seen as individuals. And, if you get your approach right, your teams will be motivated to do the right thing anyway - and will do their job to the best of their ability without question. Achieving this mindset within your employees is far more important than creating rules and borders just for the sake of it.
Over recent years, I’ve universally found that people just want to be treated as individuals at work - they want to be seen as more than just their job title. They want their line manager to make the effort to truly understand them. Say on Wednesdays they need to be free to take their children to football after school, but on Thursdays they’re 100% up for taking earlier calls. Taking these everyday life aspects into account will go a long way in boosting engagement and creating a better company culture.
I think the first major challenge is for senior leaders to truly understand the new generation of people coming into the world of work. What do they expect? What is going to engage them?
A lot of young people coming into the job market have come from a very positive reinforcement-based learning style via school/university. If they then arrive at a business that uses negative measures as a correction mechanism, it will inevitably cause a bad reaction. Young people simply won’t want to work there - and will probably tell everyone they know not to work there either! Senior leaders really need to understand the types of young people coming through, and what their expectations are (despite them potentially being different to older generations).
I also firmly believe we are only as good as our junior leaders; this is a somewhat challenging concept to get your head around. There’s no way for me to personally know every single person who works for me (as much as I would like to). I simply don’t have the hours in the day. I know their names, but it would be impossible for me to memorise everyone’s patterns both in and outside of work. This is why I believe we are only as good as our junior managers, because they are the ones who will be driving the personal connections I’m looking for across the company - as well as adapting their leadership style to most effectively manage how their team will individually work.
And finally, in the past, many businesses have focused too much on asking ‘how can we do this most efficiently?’. Instead, we should be asking ‘how can we do this most effectively?’.
So what if it takes an hour longer? If everyone involved has been able to work in a more positive way, that’s much better in my opinion as you’ll have your team on board 100%.
It’s all about ‘leadership by walking around’. It’s a bit old-school, but it’s very true. Lead by talking to people!
This concept is more difficult to achieve these days when working from home a lot more, as you don’t get as many natural ‘bumping into people’ moments with those you don’t talk to regularly. Sure, you can schedule an hour with your team every week - but these are the people you already know. Walking around and naturally engaging with others is a fast track to truly discovering what’s going on - and to identify if there’s a problem that needs fixing.
I’ve found that bad news travels upwards very, very slowly. Even in the best companies. So, your channels of communication and trust need to be open and accessible as a leader, giving your people the confidence to talk and open up if something’s bothering them.
I don’t have a specific individual that comes to mind, but when I think about the companies I work with - the change in culture at Microsoft has been dramatic. But hugely positive!
I feel like their culture is now much more purpose-driven, with a longer-term strategy in everything they’re doing. They truly invest to help people adopt new technologies, and their account teams actually partner up and put the work in to understand how they can solve your problems - they come to you with proposals rather than sitting back and waiting for you to ask. It’s a much more proactive and effective way of working, in my opinion.
There’s also a huge amount of diversity within their leadership team, across a variety of elements. We do a lot of work with them on sustainability too, as their ESG is at the heart of everything they’re trying to do. Microsoft really does feel like a company for this decade, and the next decade. Whereas many other companies are still about 20 years behind, still in a negative ‘combative sell’ mindset.
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