E30 – Inclusion with Derek Bruce – Expert Interview

 
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E30 – Inclusion: Interview with Derek Bruce

Derek has a great background in leadership and people development, consultancy, and business communication. Which he gets from working with market-leading global organizations in the Financial Services, Media, Retail, and Engineering industries. He knows the business culture and well as world culture. Born in the UK, and living between Amsterdam and Milan right now he also hosts large scale digital and physical events for industry-leading organisations as well as speaking at global seminars and conferences. He also prides himself on building trust and long-term relationships to help people to accomplish their goals. These are also the principles of his own organisation, Derek Bruce Associates.

Derek Bruce

You Can Read the Transcript of Our Interview Below:

Nathan Simmonds:

Welcome to Sticky Interviews. I’m Nathan Simmonds, senior leadership coach and trainer for MBM, Making Business Matter, the home of Sticky Learning. We are the provider of leadership development and soft skills training to the grocery and manufacturing industry. The idea of these interviews is to share great ideas, great concepts, and great ways these skills are being used to help you be the best version of you in the work that you do. Welcome to the show.

Nathan Simmonds:

Welcome to this Sticky Interview with me, Nathan Simmonds, senior leadership coach and trainer for MBM, Making Business Matter. I’ve got the great pleasure of interviewing and having a conversation with Derek Bruce. We’ve already had one connection conversation and I got to dig into a little bit about his history, his experience. A phenomenal buy and I love reading some of this stuff.

Nathan Simmonds:

Background in leadership and people development, consultancy and business communication, which he gets from working with market leading global organizations in the financial services, media, retail, engineering industries. But not only that, he knows business culture as well as world culture. Born originally in the UK, in Brixton, he’s living between Amsterdam and Milan right now, hosting large scale digital and physical events for industry leading organizations, as well as speaking at global seminars and conferences. That in itself, Derek, is pretty phenomenal. It’s, I guess, some of the life that we all wish and aspire to get to, being able to do some of that stuff.

Nathan Simmonds:

The best bit about him is this bit, I love it, and I know this because I feel this in the conversation we have, he prides himself on building trust and long-term relationships to help people accomplish their goals. We’re going to dig into some more of that later on in this conversation, because there’s some really critical, vital pieces of work that you’re bringing your attention to, which I definitely want you to put the lens on today. And it says, these are also the principles of his own organization, Derek Bruce Associates. Absolutely 100%, Derek, welcome to here, welcome to the show. Thank you very much for being here.

Derek Bruce:

Cheers for the invite.

Nathan Simmonds:

Always. First question for me, for anyone that I’m interviewing, why do you do what you do?

Derek Bruce:

It’s kind of a funny story. I kind of fell into it. So years and years and years ago I was working for Prudential, and applied for many jobs, got into there and started working, believe it or not, on an IT help desk. I was helping people do computer thing, turn it off, turn it on again, worked wonders.

Derek Bruce:

But I kind of then fell into learning and development because we as a team were helping people with IT systems, and through my career at Prudential, and they gave some awesome development, it’s a great environment to work in, they really supported their staff. In my almost 13 years there I kind of moved from IT, presenting IT, into presenting solutions for sales, and then into learning development, and then into leadership development and change. So I do what I do because I like it but I kind of fell into it. It wasn’t a plan to get to this point, unfortunately.

Nathan Simmonds:

For me, that’s strange in itself because most people end up going into IT because okay, There’s a stereotype of people that go and work at IT help desks, I can’t get away from that. And most people go there. I’m a nerd, I’m a geek, I’m a reformed geek, I used to play Dungeons & Dragons and those sorts of things. It tends to be those sort of people that go to work for IT help desks, and it’s very rare for my view of the world that you see people coming out of that space to go into more learning and development and people spaces. But the part you highlighted there, which was phenomenal, was it’s kind of about that Prudential creating that right environment for you.

Derek Bruce:

Yeah. It’s a company which, if I now look back at where I’ve worked, and I’ve worked at some great companies, but it was probably slightly ahead of its time in terms of the way they cared about staff, the inclusion of making people being able to be the best they can be.

Derek Bruce:

They invested, for example, in my CIPD qualification. They paid me to actually be qualified to do learning and development while I was working there. They then helped my career move from learning and development to get experience with doing sales stuff as well, experience with doing project management, and this was all part of how almost the DNA of the organization was, which was to get the most out of people, by creating the right environment where they could do the best. And quickly we realized that I could tell people to do the IT stuff, but it wasn’t really what my skillset was. So that’s why I moved into the L&D role.

Nathan Simmonds:

That’s phenomenal. Especially when you look at the financial sector, and I don’t know if it’s a historic thing or it’s more a recent thing, is a lot of the financial industry is purely about the numbers, not necessarily about the culture. I certainly didn’t feel a lot of that when I was in the financial sector. It’s about how many sales, how many numbers, because that’s what they’re selling at the table, money, which is a number. Whereas Prudential created this right kind of incubator to support understanding actually where your best skills are, where to develop you, and how to support you making that journey as well.

Derek Bruce:

Yeah. It’s funny because if I look back at some of the experiences which were provided to me and the fact that they would develop people, it was… The development was key, they wanted you to actually be the best you could be, as I mentioned, and the environment and inclusion piece was really important. But also the engagement of the employees was important. So everything from… I worked in 142 Holborn Bars, which is this beautiful old building in the center of London and it’s one of those places you walk into, kind of like your Harry Potter building, and you feel the history, you feel what’s happened there before. My first day I remember vividly, I was only like 18, 19, I was taking a tour around the building and it had an underground theater, it had a gym, it had all this stuff from god knows where and when, financial services had all been started.

Derek Bruce:

And on my first Friday a lady came around with a drinks trolley, with alcohol as well, and was kind of like every floor people could just have a drink, Friday afternoon, just kind of stop and talk to your colleagues, unwind together. And for me as an 18 year old going into an organization and that environment, it was kind of like okay, this is kind of surreal but it’s awesome.

Derek Bruce:

And it kind of gained also, because people who worked for Pru, we used to call it Pru, would also go above and beyond because the environment was so good because you felt you were part of a huge team and huge organization which cared about you. We kind of made sure you did more to make sure we were channeling success as well. So yeah, it was an amazing experience.

Nathan Simmonds:

It’s interesting hearing you say that. A Friday afternoon, everything kind of winds down, people get together and actually have a conversation. And it’s not that you’ve wound down and you want to go to the bar and you want to do happy hour just to kind of drink your problems and your frustrations of the week. You stop and you have a social interaction with people.

Nathan Simmonds:

I know at Holland or certain areas in the Netherlands when I was living there, they were very big on this kind of four day work week and finishing at a very specific time and you don’t take your work home with you. And there is a big focus on business is going to four day weeks, in some places three day weeks, and we’re experiencing this with COVID-19, people are getting more work done because they’re at home and they’re getting it done in shorter amounts of time, they’re getting more attention to it.

Nathan Simmonds:

And like you say, you’re willing to give more because you know when you get to Friday afternoon, “I’ve done my work, I’ve contributed, I’ve added value, now I can actually have a moment and enjoy this social interaction.” Which you just don’t have.

Derek Bruce:

I think one of the things which you just reminded me, it also was the first company I worked for but it also didn’t have presenteeism mindset. So lots of organizations, and I’ve got lots of friends across London, Italy, Amsterdam, suffer from organizations which feel people have to be there to make sure they’re doing the work. This was back, as I said, in the later ’80s, early ’90s, and still the focus was on what you did, what you produced, how you contributed, and it wasn’t measured by you being sat on a seat with a screen in front of you doing stuff, it was measuring the contribution to the work, to the experience of our customers, to the project, to the team. And again, that environment, that kind of mindset, really, really important I think in terms of especially in this day and age as well.

Nathan Simmonds:

Amazing. And you’re talking about that from 30 years ago, and there are more organizations now focusing on that. Whether Pru is doing that now, I have no idea.

Derek Bruce:

I have no idea.

Nathan Simmonds:

But as organizations are moving to that idea, and one of my predictions for the workspace is certain businesses will fail when they continue to go down that how many hours do you spend at your desk and stop people from home working and bringing them into the office to force them to do that, because actually those people are only 60-70% engaged in their work anyway. And they’re only filling potentially five days of work with stuff because actually they’re ending up having a negative conversation at the printer or they’re going for a cup of coffee or they’re doing this or whatever. They’re not 100% attentive all the time.

Nathan Simmonds:

Whereas actually they could be at home, and some of them are, doing the same amount of work in three days, getting it done, but actually creating another two days where they can focus on personal development, where they can focus on being with family, and they will be more productive in those three days getting, what you say, what needs to be done.

Derek Bruce:

Yeah. And I think that kind of, that model of having the space to work and actually collaborate and be with your colleagues and interact but also having the space where you can do what you need to do, you could do it from home, you could do it from anywhere, because we have laptops, we have WiFi, you’re pretty much sorted. I think that is the way forward.

Derek Bruce:

I’ve read, especially over the last couple of weeks, lots of organizations who are now heading to an environment where head office concept is kind of being wiped away. To me, that’s kind of one extreme too much. I think we still need the space for people to interact, to collaborate, even just to socialize and have that kind of bond because you work with the same company. But definitely a hybrid model where you can benefit from being flexible, you know everybody who has a child over the last three months may not have liked working from home and homeschooling, it might be a bit of a nightmare trying to homeschool, but when the kids go back to school the ability to work from home with the head space, that will still be appealing. But also then being in the office and seeing your colleagues, that’s also appealing. So to me it’s kind of, it’s the best of both we need to be moving towards.

Nathan Simmonds:

Exactly that, need to be a fit of… And for some people it’s great, and for some people it doesn’t work. Some people need to be in the office four, five days a week because that’s what they need, and some people don’t, but like you say it’s on certain projects for certain people actually I would rather be at home this week for four days because I can do this, this, this and this, I can get more done. And maintaining that results focus, rather than being present and at the desk and feeling like you’re shackled to that, and you’re making excuses to go and create spaces, actually pay for results. You pay on a results service.

Nathan Simmonds:

I think, and again it’s another prediction that I think certain businesses will also fail when they go down that route, oh, you can do the same amount of work in three days, here’s an extra two days worth of work, and in fact here have some more responsibilities and see how many hats you can switch between so we can squeeze an extra ounce out of you, and I can foresee certain businesses doing that and again that will be the number two thing that will cause that engagement to drop and people will go elsewhere looking for that [inaudible 00:12:38] to re-equalize that balance in their lives.

Derek Bruce:

Yeah. And I have to agree because I think with the… And the Netherlands where I’m based as well, it’s kind of… It’s a model where people are able to work from home really well, they have a great model, because as you mentioned the four day week, but there’s also the balance between people not having too much, what’s the word? Or too little of a gap between work and home and integration between the two, where sometimes it becomes one which it should never do, and actually doing too much from home as well.

Derek Bruce:

I think from what I’ve seen over the last few years, there’s always a risk of taking the stuff over, because you haven’t got the mechanisms which make you stop work, you just carry on and carry on and carry on. So I there’s also with the work from home, in where that leaders also kind of need to know how to educate their teams to make sure they know when to stop as well, and also role model when to stop, you know, the whole days of emails at eight o’clock at night or on a Sunday morning, that kind of behavior doesn’t also then support working from home or having a hybrid model because it kind of entices your teams to then go oh, okay, well darn it, I need to respond. So there’s also that balance as well from a wellbeing perspective, I think.

Nathan Simmonds:

Yeah. There’s a couple of roads down here. One, and I didn’t tweak this, I had challenges with the model of schooling as it is, it is a very archaic system, it’s very slow moving, and more often than not it’s responding to the external world rather than actually creating the foundation for the real world.

Nathan Simmonds:

And actually, they’re doing homework. We all know, I didn’t tweak this, the two words, home, work, oh. Now I get what they’re doing. All they’re doing is part of that indoctrination process, to build you up, that oh when you do your nine to five, fantastic, oh by the way there’s a little bit extra that you need to do to make sure you fill in your quota.

Nathan Simmonds:

But like you say it’s that role modeling behaviors, we need to go back and shift the behavior in ourselves and stop working from home because that’s home, and I’m not saying that the two things are uniquely separate. You are the same individual, you are Derek Bruce when you go to work, you are Derek Bruce when you’re with your family, it’s the same person, there is no divide.

Nathan Simmonds:

It’s the separation, now having time to clear your head, be with family, be with friends, be creative, do work, whatever that looks like. But not disassociate yourself from your family because we understand the challenges that go with that. Just because you’re doing some extra hours every night or work to make things… No.

Nathan Simmonds:

But leaders feel that when they get to a certain level that the phone has to stay on, that they have to be on call all the time, it has to look like this and they’re being reactive and they’re putting out fires and then they wonder why, and over the course of time they either burn out or they’re just abjectly miserable because there isn’t a switching off point.

Derek Bruce:

Yeah, and I remember I had a real good conversation in one of my old leaders, he made a point of… He made a couple of points, one of the point was within his diary he only schedules three meetings a day maximum, and if there’s a fourth meeting one of the three has to go, or the fourth [inaudible 00:15:50] to make sure he has the head space to do some work as well.

Derek Bruce:

That’s something, which I think over the last year, I’ve kind of really taken to, and even with the COVID it’s been a challenge because every meeting is obviously Zoom or Skype or Teams, but I think that kind of behavior where he was actively saying, “As leader I make sure I balance what I do so I am not overwhelmed, because if I’m overwhelmed I can’t perform. If I can’t perform, it impacts you, as my team, it impacts you as my company, and impacts me as a human being.”

Derek Bruce:

So that was a really interesting take on just balancing the work life balance as well, but the other thing he was saying was he actively tells his team to kind of just be honest and transparent with each other and when they feel someone kind of cross a line, they have the mandate to be able to say, “Look, are you okay? Because you should be not doing this. Or are you aware that you’re kind of putting pressure on us by doing this?”

Derek Bruce:

And he said just by giving people the responsibly but autonomy to have that discussion, and have like a self-managed team, meant that the environment at work was better. If they were more balanced. And he didn’t then have the concern of the wellbeing being a big issue, but it is. He did say that it was a struggle because it’s not instinctive to do that kind of [inaudible 00:17:10].

Nathan Simmonds:

No, and that’s the thing is we don’t get taught how to do time management or set a diary up. That takes it up another level for me, because I know full well that if I’ve got back to back meetings, if I’m working in one end of the building and have to get to the other, well if my meetings are back to back I’m going to be late anyway, guaranteed nine times out of 10 that meeting’s going to overrun because people like to chat and dah dah dah, so I’m already late then I’m even later. And you have no time to decompress before you get to the next meeting.

Nathan Simmonds:

So I tell people to kind of book your meetings at odd times, at five to and to finish at 10 to, so you’ve got room to play with. But at the same time if you’ve got seven meetings in your diary, regardless of whether they’re 50 minutes or 60 minutes, all you’re having is meetings and you’re not actually getting anything done, which is why you then end up working from home and then doing all the actions that you needed to catch up on because you haven’t…

Derek Bruce:

Yeah. It is a modern kind of challenge. I must admit, the whole COVID thing has kind of presented a different challenge in terms of, because people were at home and still are in some cases, and then the assumption is oh you’re at home, you’re not doing anything, so we can have a meeting. So it’s kind of… I remember for myself for the first couple of months it was kind of pushing back, saying, “Yes, we can talk, yes we can have a meeting, but you do realize I still have all the same work I had beforehand and so do you. So let’s make sure we don’t have seven meetings because there is no need sometimes.” So yeah. It was also that kind of, the virtual experience of working over the last few months has also been a challenge and some of the people just working and trying to blend a new working environment as well and how that worked with [inaudible 00:18:53] and other colleagues as well.

Nathan Simmonds:

As you’re saying that I’m coming up with an idea, it might even exist already, that makes your Outlook calendar even more robust, where rather than just having those slots and just say whether you’re out of office or busy, it actually across a network forces people not to book it, so if you try and book a meeting in my diary at a certain time, it just says no. Rather than you sending it to me and then me having to propose a new time and you having to go and check it and dah dah dah, no, it just says no.

Derek Bruce:

I think I’ve kind of done that, by actually just blocking time every week across each day random times. Literally if anybody sees it it’s kind of like okay that two and a half hour slot, I can’t do anything. And I must admit it’s kind of, after a few months of people going, “Yeah, but can we still?” Like nope. It’s kind of stuck there. Occasionally if it’s something that’s ever so urgent, business critical, okay, fine, I can allow that, but again, it’s kind of giving yourself permission to do that, because if I look back on before I did it, the quality of what I do, the quality of how I interact with my team, my colleagues, our customers, stakeholders, hasn’t changed. It just means I can get stuff done, basically, as opposed to doing [inaudible 00:20:13]

Nathan Simmonds:

Yeah, but it probably means actually you give them a better quality of experience because you’re saying in this time slot I’m going to do this. Okay, okay, get my information out, get creative, do my thing, okay, and I know this is going to happen rather than I’m doing thing I’m rushing to get this thing done because I’m not going to have this meeting and I haven’t got any other time. Actually, you can be present in that space.

Derek Bruce:

Definitely.

Nathan Simmonds:

Vital. Oh, crikey, time is flying. Okay, we could do this all day, have a funny [inaudible 00:20:41].

Derek Bruce:

Sorry.

Nathan Simmonds:

No, no, nothing to be sorry about, this is what it’s all about. So look, we’ve already started covering some of these boxes. I want you to get focused on this, though. In your opinion, when you’re looking at a work environment, what does a work environment include?

Derek Bruce:

For me I think one of… an experience I’ve had, and this is, I don’t know if it’s… Because I’m a very visual person as well, but one of the things is it has to kind of feel somewhere where you’re inspired to go to. And it may sound really, really, really hard, but everybody has that wake up on a Tuesday morning, it’s foggy outside, it’s traffic or the metro or the tram is busy or you’ve got to… Whatever, and it’s kind of like, I just don’t want to go in. Everybody has that every now and again.

Derek Bruce:

The environment in terms of physically before we get into the mental piece of it, to me, has to be kind of inviting. It has to be the kind of place where you think okay, regardless of all this I want to go in because actually it’s a great place to work, it’s a physically great place to work. I understand when I walk in, what my organization’s about, I see the brand, I see the people, I see the values, I kind of associate with this. So from that perspective from me, the environment is really important, because if we’re talking about having a hybrid where people can work from home, it has to be more enticing than working from home. If I’m perfectly honest. If you can think I can work from home and it’s beautiful but I have to go into the office, oh… It has to be more enticing, so from a physical perspective.

Derek Bruce:

From a mental perspective, I think it also has to be kind of psychologically safe. It has to be a space where people have the feeling, they have the ability to be the best they can be, and that’s from people who all understand what the goal of the organization’s about. We all understand why the values are important, and live with values. And it aligns to their purpose to being because if you can rationalize what you do in terms of why you exist and then what that means for you working for that company, it then means you’re really brought into why you work at that company and that particular job at that time as well.

Derek Bruce:

So I think it’s kind of, people make the environment and working with the right people, with the same kind of goals, and attributes and values and vision, but the physical space has to also be enticing because if you think about… You mentioned family and kids, we spend more time, currently, if you think about non-flexible working, in an office than we do at home. We spend more of our thinking time there, and so it has to be a place where it works, where people work, where everything just kind of ensures that you can be the best you can be. And also you can come to work being who you are. I think the exclusivity in terms of if… I remember years when I started working we had the dress codes. It would have been a suit, a shirt, the ties, and over my career through banks, media, fashion, different industries, it’s kind of evolved in terms of what people wear to work.

Derek Bruce:

But I remember early on in my career, people thinking, “I’ve got to go and buy a suit because that’s how we work here, but I don’t feel comfortable in a suit and I don’t see customers while I’m wearing a suit.” And you can see there’s like a two, three percent of a person just like okay, I’m not comfortable. As even the simple things like dress codes loosened and people became more comfortable in terms of how they came to work, obviously not the extreme of the IT T-shirt, shorts, flip flops kind of stuff, but they’re still business professional.

Derek Bruce:

You could see some people flourish because they were themselves and they weren’t putting on a façade as well. So for me, the environment of people working, the space of the working, the people that are working, has got to be one where it sets people up to be a success in the jobs they’re doing and the companies they’re working with. And I think that’s why in terms of retail spaces and design and how organizations have evolved at head offices, that’s why that’s been such a big investment over the last few years because people think when they’re here they need to actually want to be here and stay here and enjoy being here to get the best out of [inaudible 00:24:51].

Nathan Simmonds:

That’s a nice take. I like it. I think about the offices I’ve worked in, it’s shit board desks with the laminate on it, it’s the same desk for miles and miles, it’s the same chairs, it’s very little personalization, you go in, you might as well be in a cubicle. There is very little creativity. Now I’m thinking about my office here, I’ve got stuff up here from my family, I’ve got inspirational quotes that I’ve picked up over the years, I’ve got a cuddly octopus up there from my daughter for Father’s Day, you can see there’s a scorpion I was given you know [crosstalk 00:25:32].

Nathan Simmonds:

But there’s all this stuff going on, and okay I’ve got my crazy messy desk, but it’s big for me to create on, which is why it’s a bit of a mess, that’s over there. But if you think of how many organizations have… individuals in organizations have that potential, not many. And it doesn’t matter what department you’re in, you need to be creative, actually. As a leader you need to be creative. As a customer service representative, you often need to be creative with your solutions. And whether you work in commercial, marketing, IT, actually you’re creating. And everyone, we’re human beings, we’re creative beings by nature, whether you believe it or not. But actually, does your space inspire you to create something better, to create a better opportunity, to a better experience for someone? Or are you just going in to be a robot? And is that really creating that psychological safety for you or are you just turning up and barely being present?

Derek Bruce:

Doing the minimum. I must admit, there’s been a couple of places where I’ve worked in the last couple of years, I’ve been in an office for Signify in Germany, which is… They’ve kind of really tried to make employees feel the brand. So there’s actually an office, there’s a room which shows all the stuff we do at Signify. The same in the UK, it’s kind of just really making you feel it.

Derek Bruce:

And as you walk in you can see and feel the difference people feel with regards to brand. I had the same when I worked for ABN AMRO they had a concept called Yellow, which involved coffee areas, sofas, huge rooms with huge boards, people going around the office on scooters, which was at ABN AMRO, it was a bank, and it’s like wow this is kind of unusual.

Derek Bruce:

But again, it kind of, you could see the difference when the space was changed in terms of people’s creativity, their enthusiasm and engagement as well. I remember a friend of mine used to work for [inaudible 00:27:23], and one of the things they did around environment was around people didn’t have departments, they just plopped people to sit in different places randomly. So everyone kind of knew what happened in the organization. So you didn’t have marketing here, sales here, it was kind of a sales person, a finance person, an HR person, all sitting together. If you needed a functional department meeting you then got up and you collaborated. But you sat and you positioned and you rotated around your organization so everybody met other parts of the organization so you knew the bigger picture as well.

Derek Bruce:

I think [inaudible 00:27:57] kind of had a DNA which made it easier, it wouldn’t work across all companies, but from an environmental perspective and an engagement, it was interesting to hear my friend talk about how cool it was for them [inaudible 00:28:09] as well as have that time.

Nathan Simmonds:

There’s two ways that I’m going there. One is I’ve been talking to some of our clients and some of my coachees about this and encouraging them to do that. So, even if you’re doing it once a month, having the coffee conversation [inaudible 00:28:24] what’s going on in your side of the business, that way you get to see what their challenges are, you also get to see maybe you have some solutions that you can offer, or you can give to them that they can then go and implement themselves. You also find out about potential problems that may be coming downstream to you in the next three, six, nine months, which makes life easier because you’re not then being surprised by it because no one likes being surprised.

Nathan Simmonds:

So it’s just like that cross fertilization, pollination cliché business thing. But just speaking to people and connecting, and then the other side of it, you talk about creativity and I might say something and you can correct me if I’m wrong on this. So when I lived in Holland, I thought that the bank card, the bank security that they used to use in Holland, so you put your card in, your chip and pin. Mind blowing. This is 2002, 2003, we’ve moved there, we’ve got bank accounts with ABN, amazing. Then we moved back to the UK and then I think Barclays bought into ABN or bought ABN, something like this?

Derek Bruce:

[inaudible 00:29:28] at the time, yeah, maybe.

Nathan Simmonds:

And then Barclays bank brought over the chip and pin system to the UK and then they started winning awards for these huge innovations in IT security and I’m just like hold on, the Dutch have been doing this for about 10 years. So I’m not surprised people saying this, this creativity piece. That’s what it’s about. If you’re creative, if you can come up with new ideas before A, your competition, or B before you make yourself obsolete, you’re constantly developing your thinking to do the next thing, you know?

Derek Bruce:

Yeah. And I think it’s also meant… And the environment, the question you asked, is also important because if we do, and I think as you said before, a lot of organizations will kind of move more towards a flexible hybrid model, where people can work from home, people can work from an office. So the space which will be office space kind of has to also adapt, it kind of has to, as I said, kind of be branded to make sure you understand this is company ABC, but also allow innovation, creativity to happen, and also the cross [inaudible 00:30:33] of people when they do meet physically as well. So I think there’s also going to be kind of like a tipping point for retail space, especially for offices, in terms of how they look in the next five, 10 years as well.

Nathan Simmonds:

And it might be that, okay, if more people are working from home, they’re able to get more work done in a smaller amount of time that maybe you have one day a month or two day a month where you have this hackathon kind of idea where people just get together and just throw ideas at a wall, because you’ve got more space to do that in your workspaces.

Derek Bruce:

Yeah. Which would be amazing, if you think about it, because everything else can be done online, which is kind of the irony.

Nathan Simmonds:

Yeah. But then it’s important that you don’t lose, and we can talk about a healthy work environment, we don’t lose that connection with each other, and we purposefully create times and spaces for people to come together to do that, to work on their individual project’s great, but also to collaborate and come up with new ideas and come up with new projects and do it on a regular basis to keep the thinking developing.

Derek Bruce:

And I think that that’s the bits of feedback from just colleagues and friends in terms of we’re now, whatever we are now, June, and then said like I love the working from home but I have missed colleagues, I have missed coffee, I have missed just the lunch, and I don’t want to do the whole five day a week because I don’t think I need to but I do also miss that. Just the interaction, the comradery, the random conversations, the anything at all. Because we’re human beings. So that inclusivity piece in the environment is also really important as well.

Nathan Simmonds:

And I think as you’re saying that, so looking at, for me, the pessimistic view of office life, I look at the statistics and I know what the statistics are saying, there’s huge swathes of people that aren’t happy in their work, there’s huge swathes of people that don’t actually believe in their company values. And a large portion of these conversations that people are having when they’re in the work space often are negative because they feel trapped in that space and they’re doing it.

Nathan Simmonds:

Whereas if you go into this model where people can get their work done, get really focused, and then come to the office and have productive, wholesome, creative conversations, actually you create a space over here to get work done and then you create a space over here to have productive, creative conversations, and you find something in my head, some of that negativity starts to disappear because we haven’t got time to be negative because we’re too busy being creative.

Derek Bruce:

Yeah. And the stuff which you’ll be negative around, you can kind of resolve when you’re trying to do stuff because you’ve then just interacted with people you need to to fix it. And I think that’s a really valuable point. There’s a lot of research which kind of shows, as you said before, a lot of percentages of people who aren’t engaged in the office and percentage of time which isn’t spent being productive.

Derek Bruce:

And if you can twist it around where it’s ultimately going to be where I am now, I’m going to be doing something which I want to be doing, it’s engaging, it’s creative. And again, we are kind of still being aware that there are some roles which have to be office space, just some roles where you need to be physically in the office because it is what it is. I think that is what it is as well. But I’m still thinking around the roles where you have that flexibility to do both.

Nathan Simmonds:

But even then those people that are office based, potentially, because people don’t need 1600 seater offices anymore, these things start to kind of… Actually, you reduce some of your overheads on a huge building that looks like this, you intensify the space that you do need based on your reductions of rents and what you can put into office furnitures and inspiring spaces and things that make people… All of a sudden, me being at work is fun because you channel all of this budget into doing that and it suddenly becomes interesting.

Derek Bruce:

Yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:

So purely from how you see the world, what is a healthy work environment then? We’ve already started touching, what would you say is a healthy work environment?

Derek Bruce:

I think for me, healthy is basically one where people can be honest, one where people feel trusted, one where people are transparent and as I said before, one where you all kind of have the same ultimate goal. I think, you mentioned there, with the discussions and negative conversations. For me, a great work environment is kind of where you have the challenging conversation, the courageous conversations because you want to improve stuff. You have the ability to have those because you feel safe to do that and have those conversations. You have the ability to be open, you have the ability to make mistakes and not feel that’s it, I’m out.

Derek Bruce:

So healthy working environment for me is kind of creating this space where that mindset is kind of a baseline. Because then everything flourishes from that point onwards. And if you haven’t got that kind of the trust piece, the psychological safe piece, you haven’t got the transparency or the openness, but also the ability to feel like if you make a mistake it’s one of those things I learn from because we’re going to be better and we’re all going in the same direction. That’s kind of where you then get the unhealthy kind of environments.

Derek Bruce:

I’ve been lucky enough not to have worked anywhere near that in terms of my career, but I’ve spoken to people who kind of dread going into the office or dread going into an environment because they know if they say something, if they do something, if somebody makes a suggestion, then you’ve got to agree. And nim kind of like oh wow, that must be awful. And you can see the person I’m speaking to kind of like, physically talking through it and their body physically going oh my goodness, so hard.

Derek Bruce:

So for me it’s a lot around putting in place mechanisms where, as I said before, people can be the best, people can perform, and that is also through the people around them having the same kind of mindset and what all that means as well.

Nathan Simmonds:

One of my values is challenge. Everything I do is about challenge, and I’ve done it all my life, ever since I can remember it’s always been about causing challenge and being challenging. And through coaching and through leadership development training, it enables me to focus that value and that energy in the most productivity, positive way possible. And to have an environment where it is not only challenging and courageous, I couldn’t think of a better place to work. Because even now, sometimes I have difficulty articulating myself in certain situations because it’s frustrating or my mind’s gone somewhere.

Nathan Simmonds:

But to have a place where actually I would feel safe just to kind of, even rant that out or thrash an idea around with someone, it would be liberating and I would be able to move through that so much faster in comparison to previous jobs I’ve worked in, environments I’ve worked in. I could move through that quicker and actually come out with some ideas and solutions on the other side, which are beneficial to me and the business as a whole, rather than me just sitting there frustrated. I can’t say anything because I’ll be deemed as the problem child, and if I’m the problem child…

Derek Bruce:

That’s me too.

Nathan Simmonds:

Yeah. You’re sitting there kind of trying to keep quiet and you feel like the problem and you can’t come up with a solution because you’re too busy feeling like… You can’t feel both of those things at the same time, I mean of course not. So yeah. I like that idea, I like that idea a lot. I think if I end up with my own office for my own business one day, this will be the environment I’m building.

Derek Bruce:

[inaudible 00:38:18]

Nathan Simmonds:

So how do you create that sort of space?

Derek Bruce:

Well for me, in my role with Signify, it’s typically around the leaders and the development of leaders and kind of how first and foremost, the DNA which comes from our values, and the values are applicable to everybody but it kind of gives us a baseline which says if you work with us, these are the kind of things we expect.

Derek Bruce:

And they’re not groundbreaking, it’s kind of just common decency, really great basic human value type stuff we want to do. But it’s also having leaders who encourage that, who support that, and the development we do for our leaders definitely focuses not as much on the strategic [inaudible 00:39:07] on the process KPI driven stuff because our people come in with a lot of that stuff anyway, and we can support them.

Derek Bruce:

It’s very much around how our leaders support the people… As I said, back to Prudential, to be the best they can be. Focusing on being authentic, focusing on having the right kind of emotional intelligence, focusing on being able to have those open conversations. And even simple things like as a leader being able to say, “Look, I don’t know, but I’ve got a great team around me, what do you guys think?”

Derek Bruce:

And even that kind of transparency and that openness kind of then radiates in the environment where people think okay, well if they say they’re not quite sure but they tap into us, if we don’t know it’s okay and we can make sure we find that as a team as well. So there’s elements around that which help us, within Signify at least, create the right kind of space.

Derek Bruce:

And it’s also around identifying and recognizing when people do the right things. I think we, as human beings, are very good to kind of… I went to a really bad restaurant, it was awful, 50 people know. I went to an awesome restaurant, maybe three or four people know. So it’s kind of also twisting that around to say when also we have people who do live the values, leaders who do the right things, people who make sure the environment is the best it can be because we’ve kind of given the tools, the skills, the support mechanisms to do that. Let’s also recognize, let’s praise it, let’s reinforce it. So it keeps on happening, as opposed to assuming that it’s going to happen and taking it for granted because it still needs to be worked out. It doesn’t happen on its own, it still needs people to come in to do the right kind of things.

Derek Bruce:

So for me, it’s giving the leaders capability to lead, it’s giving people understanding in what their expectations are, and ability to be themselves, but it’s also around kind of saying it, making it obvious, because again a lot of the things around how you work, what you do, what we do as an organization aren’t that explicit. So [inaudible 00:41:14] and it’s kind of like okay, well I read some values and I’ve done a bit of onboarding, I think this is what we do, off I go. As opposed to okay, this is the kind of things we really want you to do, we think it’s important to us, how do we want to support you, if you’re not quite there to get there. And having those conversations.

Nathan Simmonds:

But even… Yeah. And for me, even if it was looking at your personal development, and this is the way I see, looking at your own personal development plan. Here’s the core five values or expectations of the business. Okay, great, I know what they are, I know what that looks like, there’s almost like a bars process where this is your one, two, three, four, five, and you know what…

Nathan Simmonds:

Here’s my role as a leader, this is what’s expected of me. It’s not like we know we’ve met many managers or leaders, it’s great you’re good at this, here, have a job as a leader, we’ll see you in 12 months time for your end of year appraisal, let us know how you get on. No, this is the expectation of your role, you need to be doing this, you need to be doing this, these are the people that are going to help you do that, and this is how we’re going to remove the obstacles.

Nathan Simmonds:

But then also having sight of where you want to get to as a leader or where you want to get to [inaudible 00:42:24], and having a second block of skills, knowledges, and things you want to be focusing on. So you’re doing all three of those things, you’re not losing sight of what the company expectation of what you [inaudible 00:42:36], you’re not losing sight of who you are in your role, and you’re also not losing sight of where you’re going to get to inside that role or as part of your future progression as well.

Derek Bruce:

And I think just, it’s kind of what worked and most of the companies have also kind of had, like the moonshot kind of leadership principles or competencies, which kind of also, like if you had a persona of the ideal person, these are the five or six things you’d actually want them to be doing every single day with descriptions of how you can get them and what we kind of do. And we’ve realized, having that also just helps people go, “Okay, yeah, this is where I can improve.” Because if we don’t give people a direction, if you think about going from point A to point B, if there’s no point B then how do you know you’re going to get a point B?

Derek Bruce:

So for us it’s also the principles, but also the fact that they’re also aspirational to a point because they need to be something which we need to keep aiming towards because otherwise you think, “Oh, I can do that now, I’m done.” Basically.

Nathan Simmonds:

I think there’s two elements in that, you need to know where you are in relation to the top of the mountain, because if you don’t know where you’re going, what you’re actually climbing, is it your mountain and where are you when the fog comes down, where are you in relation to that? Do I know which way I’m going when the cloud line’s come down and I’ve got no idea what’s going on.

Nathan Simmonds:

The other side of that is leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all. So like you say, you have these aspirational role models, maybe four or five different people. Need to get a bit of that, I’m going to get a bit of that, I’m going to get a bit of that. And I’m going to then wrap that up in a version that is Derek Bruce, and away you go. But you’re still moving in the right direction for the business based on values and behaviors, et cetera.

Derek Bruce:

Definitely.

Nathan Simmonds:

For you and your experiences, then, why is this important to you?

Derek Bruce:

I think it’s important for three reasons. I think the whole environment, inclusion, leadership, people being at work, it’s important because one, it’s where you spend a bucket load of your time. It’s kind of where you’re going to be focused on for a lot of time, and you only have one life. So for me it’s kind of make the best of it, and if I can make sure that somebody in the organization that’s working comes in and has the most engaged time they can have while in the workplace.

Derek Bruce:

I remember, before I answer the second point, there was a great leader from Adidas made a point which was a question, which was if you asked anybody where’s the best place they ever worked, they don’t always say where you’re currently working. And she was saying what you want is people to say Adidas. And I’m thinking that’s a great kind of thing. It’s kind of like I want people who come to work where I work to say, “Okay, where’s the best place you worked?” “Actually where I am now because it’s bloody awesome.” So I think the engagement thing I think is really important in terms of making sure people, because we did a lot of it as well.

Derek Bruce:

I think the other thing is kind of, people need to have a purpose, and if you have a purpose which is aligned to a great place to work, it kind of makes everything also valuable from their perspective as well. I think for me, the third thing from just a personal perspective, I love what I do. I love the whole leadership stuff, I love working with people, developing people, seeing people move from A to B, and being able to help create that kind of space to be successful, very engaged, people enjoy what they do, they want to come back on a crappy Tuesday when it’s foggy and it’s raining and nothing’s working. That’s also the third reason, I would say.

Nathan Simmonds:

And for me, purpose is a huge thing, I’ve done huge amounts of research into purpose and I understand, as a 42 year old man, how important it is. And it’s not the word that many people use, especially younger generation. Everybody has a purpose. Whether you realize it or not, you have a very specific reason for existing, for being on this planet. It’s a biological thing, it’s built into your DNA.

Nathan Simmonds:

What I find and what I have found, is a lot of people aren’t able to express their purpose or are using their work to express their purpose, and they feel because they can’t express that, there’s almost this divide between them and their work, and as a result of that unreleased potential, that unreleased expression, actually that’s where the things like mental health come in where you were talking about anxiety and depression, because I can’t be me. Now I have to put this lid on what I’m bringing to it in case someone else thinks wrong of me, in case I do challenge the status quo. I can’t be courageous. So I bottle all this emotion up and I don’t know what to do with it and eventually that stuff just eats me from the inside out, and actually it is about creating a psychologically safe environment where someone can go, “This is what I’m bringing to this company based on who I am.” And it’s not that they should be separate, it’s that’s those two things should actually run concurrently. Concurrently I think is the right word, is parallel.

Derek Bruce:

It should be aligned, yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:

Yeah, completely aligned. Where I’m going gets me here, and it means that the business gets here as the same result, and at some point maybe we divide because we outgrow each other at some point, that’s also okay. Rather than thinking there is a massive divider, I can’t be me in order to make sure I fit in. And actually, we’re worried about whether you’re meeting the grade, because you’re going the HR yearly assessments and all that.

Nathan Simmonds:

But like I said it’s having that purpose. Knowing what your purpose is, knowing the best possible place to express that purpose. And it might be where you are in your life whatever, it might be that you’re the cleaner, it might be that you’re serving burgers, it might be working in an… Whatever it is that allows you to express you at the highest possible level in the best possible way, do that. And enjoy it, crikey. It makes me angry because there’s so few people talking about it.

Nathan Simmonds:

What’s next on your agenda? Because we’ve talked about environments, we’ve talked about inclusion, we’ve talked about psychological safety and creating work environments. What is next on your agenda for your work?

Derek Bruce:

If I think from a work perspective it’s making sure the leaders kind of embed it from a Signify perspective, so we’re still doing as I said, all the stuff you just said, making sure that happens every single day till we grow as an organization. From a Derek Bruce Associates perspective, which is kind of my other day job, it’s very much around raising or continuing to raise the importance of a balance between race in organizations. It’s very much around making sure we learn a lot of what’s happened over the last few weeks in the US and the UK. We bring in opportunities for black leaders, black professionals, what I want to do for my own company is create an informal free networking mechanism, where black professionals can finally find out how do I do this, how do I get into this? Because I had that as a young black professional from a great mentor. What I see was a huge gap wherever black professionals can’t kind of make that step up as well. So for me, it’s kind of just really pushing that agenda, asking the difficult questions in terms of why is it such a difficult question. And then just pushing this whole equality piece as well.

Nathan Simmonds:

So what’s your plan in that space, then? What does that look like for the future?

Derek Bruce:

One of the things is, as I said, the mentoring at work. The great thing I did, amazing article on LinkedIn, got some great feedback and some great people have actually reached out and said, “Can we help do this?” So that’s one of the things [inaudible 00:50:17] was basically just to set up that mentor network properly, engage the mentors, make sure mentees know they can access this for free as well. So it’s not a paid thing, we want to make sure people support it.

Derek Bruce:

But also then sharing my voice within different organizations and saying this is why are we not considering, for example why do we not have a black board anywhere? A complete board for black professionals? And if we did, why would it feel strange to see? And yet every board we go into is kind of a white board with a sprinkling of color.

Derek Bruce:

So it’s kind of, to me, it was looking like also continuing to help educate my colleagues and professionals in the industry who aren’t aware of some of the challenges which black professionals have, looking at of course opportunities for supporting black professionals, as I said, not just mentoring but also recruitment when it comes to that, development when it comes to that. Understanding also the challenges around mental health in black professionals as well because there’s a lot of stuff where you mentioned not having a purpose, not being yourself. But where as a professional who’s a black person, there’s lots of things you’re kind of maybe not saying because the environment isn’t your environment, it’s kind of the environment where you think oh, should I be saying that, should hire that, should I let it go?

Derek Bruce:

So it’s very much also just kind of bringing these things to the fore through articles, through conversations, through seminars, through the website, through speaking to people so we can move this kind of… this topic forward. Because I think now is kind of the tipping point to moving forward as well.

Nathan Simmonds:

I think it’s a huge point. It’s learning that communication piece, because of… And like you say, what’s been happening over the last few weeks, this has been an intensification, I talked about that before, that intensity of proximity actually certain things are coming to the forefront, people’s mental health is coming to the forefront, why? Because they’ve got nowhere to hide. Certain conversations are coming to the forefront because everything’s being pushed in front of us at certain points.

Nathan Simmonds:

And the stigmatization and the stereotyping, et cetera, that’s gone on with the systemic racism that is prevalent in multiple western cultures and all over the place, I think from a mental health point of view, I’m frustrated, I’m angry, I don’t say anything because I’ll be seen as a problem, when actually you can multiply that into certain environments for young black professionals actually because they’re looked at for just being black because they are being stereotyped because there is… Even the black on black crime, there is this, that, and the other. We’ve talked about that before.

Nathan Simmonds:

So I’ve got even more worry, I’ve got even more pressure, where I just want to be me and say what I need to be said. But if I say it, will that be deemed as oh there’s so-and-so type person with so-and-so type skin color.

Derek Bruce:

With an agenda, for example.

Nathan Simmonds:

With an agenda. It almost doesn’t matter if it’s black, Asian, Indian, gay, whatever. It’s having that additional mental health challenge of I cannot say what I want to say for fear that it will be stigmatized or labeled accordingly. And then going into that mentoring piece and actually just teaching people how to communicate to remove their own labels, or not even their own labels, to remove the labels that they think someone else thinks they put on them, to take them off, to express themselves clearly, articulately, professionally, and to be able to move that conversation forward. And just remove… I had this taught to me a few years ago, labels are Velcroed, not super glued.

Derek Bruce:

Exactly, yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:

But we stigmatize ourselves based on history or other people, whatever. When we all know it’s BS.

Derek Bruce:

And it’s funny because there’s something, I posted an amazing, I think it was like a three, four minute clip from Muhammad Ali, which was why is everything white? It’s from 1971 and he was being interviewed by Michael Parkinson, but it was kind of just… He’s beautifully articulate, he’s kind of the most amazing speaker, but he was just talking about the language we use and how that sticks. And I think if I now go to 2020, there’s language we use in an organization, there’s the kind of mindsets, there’s perceptions, and I think for me being able to push against that and have a conversation is important, and I think one of the phrases you used was black on black crime, which has kind of been prevalent since I was a teenager. And one of the things I was facing was kind of why is there to a white on white crime report, then why is it only black and black, why is it not white on white, and it’s kind of like-

Nathan Simmonds:

Or even white on black or… It’s just like…

Derek Bruce:

It’s one of those, again, it’s creating this kind of whatever, I don’t even know what the word is, but image which is negative, which doesn’t even actually when you think about it make any kind of sense. So I think for me, you say what’s next, it is very much… I’m in kind of a good position where I’m a very senior person in a great organization with a great network, with a great ability to have an audience, and I want to use it, I want to make sure that in 5, 10, 15 years, there’s a succession of other great black professionals who have been able to actually do things without some of the crap, and I say crap, me and other colleagues who are… or network of black professionals have gone through as well. Because some of the time you think, how much talent hasn’t got to somewhere purely because they were the wrong color? How much could an organization, if you want to be really black and white, how much could they have made if they’d brought in this person? How much different innovation would they have had if we had a better mix? So it’s kind of just trying to push away the barriers over as well.

Nathan Simmonds:

It only takes one person to cure cancer. It only takes one person to solve world poverty, whatever it is. And actually, where is that thinking? Where is that person? Where is that intelligence lying? And actually if you go into an organization or a group, ethnic group or whatever it is and repress them in such a way, you’re failing to tap into that level of intelligence.

Nathan Simmonds:

It’s like computers, if you want a… I’ve got my computer here and it’s running a certain amount of… If you put three of them together, that processing speed suddenly jumps up and sometimes it doesn’t just jump up by the number of laptops you get, it goes exponentially because it makes it easier.

Nathan Simmonds:

So if you’ve got a group of individuals that are enthusiastic, determined to make a difference, then the world becomes a better place. It makes me emotional when I think about that. If you just… But it is true, though. Even I’ve sat in offices, I’ve looked around, I’ve seen all these people that aren’t engaged, that are frustrated, that are feeling anxious or feeling depressed or whatever, I just think what if we could mobilize just 10 of them? And all of a sudden the world changes just by one degree, but we all know what happens if you change course by one degree over a long distance, the world becomes phenomenal.

Derek Bruce:

And for me it’s kind of making that ripple. For me the next step is making that ripple into a wave as well.

Nathan Simmonds:

I’m with you. Yeah. I’m there. Look, where can people find you? I’m going to find the link for this article, I’m going to put that in the show notes as well. Where can people find you to start and continue this conversation?

Derek Bruce:

Obviously on LinkedIn under Derek Bruce, there’s Derek Bruce Associates, which is my personal website, so you can reach out via there as well. And all my details on Twitter as well, so I think it’s derekbruce, Instagram, basically all the social platforms you want to join. But yeah, LinkedIn is probably the easiest place to reach out and I promise I will respond to every single contact.

Nathan Simmonds:

Amazing. Look, if people were not paying attention to where this man’s thinking is, you need to hit rewind, go back, get your pen and paper on and you need to be taking notes, and I don’t… I have no false expectations that your paper will catch fire from some of the nuggets of wisdom from the speed you’ll be taking some notes, please go and find Derek, please have a conversation, please if you are a young black professional in need of guidance or that extra foot up that ladder, just go to Derek Bruce now.

Derek Bruce:

Definitely [inaudible 00:58:57].

Nathan Simmonds:

Right. Done. Derek, thank you, I love you, I love what you’re doing, I’m so very appreciative, thank you everyone, thank you very much for being on this Sticky Interview, and I look forward to sharing the next one with you all soon. Thanks a lot.

Derek Bruce:

Cheers.

Nathan Simmonds:

Firstly, massive thank you from the MBM team for tuning into this Sticky Interview, if you haven’t already done so, now is the time to click subscribe and stay up to date with our new training videos and great interviews. And secondly, if you want to learn more about the skills we’ve been talking about in this episode, click the link and take a look at the MBM virtual classrooms. They’re there to help you be the best version of you in the work that you do. Until next time, see you soon.


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