A path to job satisfaction

By George Hammond, Year Here fellow


Graduates tend not to expect autonomy in a first job. Considered to be the preserve of the self-employed, the freelancer, or the hallowed ‘entrepreneur’, autonomy is at odds to the ‘grunt work’ that makes up most young professional’s nine-to-five. So why do we regard autonomy as such a valuable commodity? Can we have it? And, ultimately, do we want it?

The emphasis on autonomy is there from an early age. The perennial carrot dangled in front of students is the idea that if you make it through all the lessons, the tests, the run-ins with Bunsen burners, you will emerge as the master of your own destiny.

And yet we wide eyed grads and school leavers find the reality to be quite different. More often than not a first job is stifling, boring, shit. We find that being master of your own destiny is a frivolous concept, unless your own destiny happens to the photocopier.

In education we are taught to value creativity, autonomy and independence. In the workplace we find that conformity, obedience and stricture are the new commandments.   For the employee the experience can be disheartening at best, and, in trying to manufacture ‘company men and woman’, the employer can risk losing the impetus and drive their young recruits may come with.

Autonomy can alleviate that burden. It infers a relationship of trust, it demonstrates respect, endows ownership and transcends typical workplace dynamics. Employees become stakeholders, with the ability to work to their strengths. Employers reap the rewards of a contented workforce able to express themselves.  

However, it is worth bearing in mind the truism that you can have too much of a good thing. Autonomy is desirable to a point, but total freedom can be disabling. Autonomy implies responsibility, and as such too much of it can be incredibly pressurising and counter-productive. This is not, then, a call to arms against all workplace conventions. Good management, hierarchy and structure are not totally defunct, but they may work more effectively when accompanied by greater autonomy.

Irrespective of the pros and cons, employers may soon be forced to inject greater autonomy into their organisations. The conventional paradigm of large, and particularly bureaucratic, organisations employing individuals to fill specific and rigid roles is under threat from the restlessness of Millenials and ‘generation y’. According to the Future Workplace, 91% of Millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years. If those expectations were realised that generation would occupy a staggering 15-20 roles through their working lives.

If employers desire employee retention they would do well to react by allowing more internal movement. Those same employees would in turn benefit from the ability to carve out their own paths, to bring their own values and skills to the organisation, and to place fingertips on that most fabled of all things: job satisfaction. 

A young person’s journey to success

In a presentation entitled ‘Powerful Online Tools’ three Nominet Trust funded projects were showcased at the UnLtd Living It festival last week.

The two-day festival held at Google Campus was an extravaganza of activities focused on sharing knowledge and experience of social entrepreneurship. UnLtd brought together and showcased knowledge, support and expertise from their partners and award winners, in addition to celebrating, promoting and showcasing the work of young social entrepreneurs and their partners.

Louise Kavanagh (Catch22), Sam Sparrow (vInspired) and Arfah Farooq (Spark and Mettle) presented Josie’s Journey to the audience, the story of one disadvantaged young person’s road to success.

Josie uses Plan.Do to take part in social action projects in her community and gains employability badges for her achievements. Josie uses then uses the language and experiences she developed using Plan.Do to apply for paid micro-work opportunities using Task Squad. After gaining paid work experience through Task Squad, Josie is able to gain full-time employment. Once in post she continues her development using Up – the outcomes tracker that enables young employees to match what they’re doing with their personal career goals and soft skills development.


The powerful online tools

Plan.Do, from Catch22, makes it easy for young people to run projects that benefit their community while also developing the skills needed to succeed in training or work. In addition it provides an administrative dashboard for professionals to manage and monitor projects and young people.

Task Squad is a new service from vInspired, which introduces young people with volunteering experience, eager to undertake paid work, to employers who are looking to fulfil short term staffing needs.

Spark and Mettle’s platform Up is an outcomes tracker that enables young employees to match what they’re doing with their personal career goals and soft skills development. It supports managers to communicate with them in a timely and effective way 

Find out more

Plan.Do is available now through an Early Adopter Programme, which means your staff and service users (up to 1,000 per programme) can access Plan.Do until the end of September in return for completing monthly customer questionnaires and providing case studies. Contact Louise Kavanagh to get involved in the Programme today.

Task Squad is now available to young volunteers and employers. If you are a young person with volunteering experience, you can register directly on the Task Squad platform. If you are an employer looking to fill short term roles with fantastic young people, you can register your interest, or contact Sam Sparrow for more information.

Up is currently in closed beta but are offering a free 30 day trial for companies to test and give feedback. To have a go email arfah@upupup.io

The power of autonomy at work

By Sarah Johnson, Year Here Fellow

Large businesses like Google and Facebook are famous for their new and creative workplaces which are supposed to inspire creativity in their workforce. It draws on the idea that a happy worker is a productive worker. But does this work in isolation? Are there other factors at play in companies such as these? As a recent grad my experience of the working world is quite limited. I have worked in a number of different businesses, all with a different ethos and attitude to their work force, some very positive and others less so. My favourite jobs were the ones where I was allowed to try new things and learn from my mistakes. I didn’t get paid any extra if I succeeded in my task, I only got the satisfaction of a job well done and that I learnt something.

In the 21st century people are willing to put extra time into their job and in many cases impart their skills for free, through the medium of volunteering or platforms such as Open IDEO. For economists, this doesn’t make sense, from this point of view, the key to a successful business with productive workers is incentives, more specifically financial incentives. We are profit maximisers, and so will work harder and produce better ‘stuff’ if a high enough financial reward is dangled in front of us. But in reality this is not the case. We focus so much on the ‘carrot’ that we forget to look at the bigger picture, we have tunnel vision. If you try to financially reward people for tasks that require conceptual and creative thinking, people will generally underperform. Check out this TED talk on what drives motivation.

There is no denying that environment is key in contributing to the ‘happiness of workers’, highly successful businesses like Google and Innocent are a testament to that. Even in my placement in a school, I have seen first-hand how the environment can affect the work ethic of both the teachers and the students. But a factor that has been proven to produce better results and happier employees, is autonomy. Autonomy taps into people’s intrinsic motivations, the desire to do something for its own sake, and once you’ve got hold of those you’re onto a winner. To borrow an example from Dan Pink, when people are given time just to be purely creative and follow their own passions, far more creative solutions and new ideas are produced. Many individuals thrive on this level of trust in their abilities.

Now, this idea of autonomy is great and in many situations would be applicable, but what about businesses where there has to be a level of supervision. Where can management and employee autonomy meet? One of my favourite and most rewarding jobs was where I had to redesign the archiving system for a company with very high standards and set operating procedures. This situation could have been very limiting because there were things that had to be included and the overall goal was already set. During this project I had autonomy over how I met the prescribed goal. I was allowed (and trusted) to use my discretion and experience. Looking back now, it was being trusted that really hit my intrinsic motivations. I felt a need to repay that trust by creating the best service I possibly could to prove that they were right to give me that autonomy. Autonomy to set my own path made me more willing to deliver to a high standard.

Autonomy, while at times rejected because people cannot see how it can fit within a structure, it is also the key to creative and conceptual thinking. By trusting in someone to find their own way towards solving an issue or even the freedom to identify a problem and find the fix can lead to improved levels of productivity, morale and in opens up an issues to higher realms of creativity.

Asking powerful questions

By Anouk van den Eijnde, co-founder and COO


How do we instil confidence and let people know they are supported?

Asking the right questions is the single most important tool to help others discover and grow themselves as leaders. It helps to inspire creativity, drive engagement and get greater productivity.  

We recently facilitated a coaching for managers session at digital agency UsTwo, and by far the most useful exercise for them was practicing asking powerful questions in small groups. We’re so used to asking questions with yes or no answers (Have you? Do you? Is that? Should I?) and offering our own perspective in situations (If it were me, I’d do this, maybe you should try this). It is very tempting to be a ‘fixer’ (I’m guilty as charged), but by asking open questions there is a far greater possibility for fresh perspective and positive action.


Here are some examples where you could try using them:

To inspire creativity & innovation

If we were to totally delight our clients, what would that look and feel like to them?

What does success look like in this situation?

If resources were not constrained what could be possible here?

To inspire growth & development

What does success look like in this project to you?

Which of your strengths will be critical to leverage?

How can we make sure this project helps you develop?

What support do you need from me?

When faced with a challenge

What do you think is best?

What other ideas/thoughts/feelings do you have about it?

What support do you need to accomplish it?

What seems to be the main obstacle?

What concerns you the most about…?

What action will you take?

How do you suppose it will all work out?

At Up, we believe in regular reflections on the working week to make one-to-ones with your manager as effective and engaging as possible. Check it out and register for our free 30 day trial here: http://upupup.io/

Mistakes of a first time manager

By Gillian Davis, author of First Time Leader 

I was fortunate to be given the unique experience of becoming a manager earlier than most. I was in my late twenties, and my family’s Executive Search business needed someone to step in, and since I knew it like the back of my hand, I dived into the challenge. I went from managing no one, to managing a team of 8, and most of them were a generation older than me.

I had no clue what to do, and as we were a small business I didn’t have a training department to turn to. I looked externally to find tools to help me become a leader. Not happy with what was out there, I used my own experiences to co-write the book First Time Leader: Foundational Tools For Inspiring and Enabling Your New Team along with George Bradt, who has a wealth of experience working with CEO’s.

When I reflect on my management experience, I can highlight what I did right and what I did wrong. I want to share them with you, because I wish I had read this before I had started managing.

Things I did right –

1)   Got a coach:

I was fortunate to become certified as a Business Coach early on in my career. It literally changed my life, as it has redefined how I communicate with people, and how I build relationships. I am a huge advocate for coaching, and can’t imagine living without one! My coach helps me find focus and clarity, and makes me feel 100% confident in the decisions I make.

2)   Removed barriers:

When I started, my closed office was on the second floor, and my team was on the first floor. I felt so out of touch, and at first it was great because I could hide. After getting my bearings, I moved my desk to the first floor and had an open plan office. This removed barriers, and allowed for flexible and face-to-face communication.

3)   Focused on development:

I am passionate about helping others reach their full potential, so this was my favorite part of being a manager. I sat with each team member and asked about his or her career goals, and ensured I did what I could to support them.

Things I did wrong –

1)   Delegate (lack of):

This was and remains my biggest challenge. I love being hands on, and it’s hard to move away, but it’s essential to leadership. When you’re too hands on, you don’t have the time or mental capacity to be doing what you’re supposed to be doing which is to innovate!

2)   Values?

Companies that get values right do so by tying them into their ways of working, from hiring, to firing, to what clients they work with, the values are the bedrock for their actions and essentially their culture. To this day, I couldn’t tell you what our values were, and not highlighting them at the time was a huge mistake on my part.

3)   Sat at my desk:

At the beginning, I spent a lot of time in behind my desk. I would work away tirelessly (obviously not delegating) and hardly spent anytime with my team. I recognize now that being behind my desk was comforting and safe as I was lacking confidence. Working with my coach helped me build my confidence to the point that when I moved my desk to open plan, I literally had nowhere to hide. Ensure that you’re not avoiding people or tasks because you’re unsure about yourself.

If you’re a first time manager, make sure you’re not falling into management traps like I did by avoiding difficult situations and by not delegating. Ensure you are fulfilling your purpose by leading your team through developing and enabling. 

Gillian Davis is Author of First Time Leader: Foundational Tools to Inspire and Enable Your New Team.  She is passionate about attracting, recruiting and attaining talent into hyper-growth companies. She runs First Time Leader, a coaching, training & development company that helps new managers avoid management traps by providing them with business strategies that enable them to be leaders.

Coaching skills for managers workshop

We recently held our first ‘coaching skills for managing young people’ workshop. 10 people from various industries and roles came together for a highly interactive session.

We kicked off with everyone posting their struggles with managing young people in the anonymous box of stress and coming up with ideas about what makes a great manager/young employee. We discussed some of the coaching principles of confidentiality, accountability and ‘failure is good’ (we even had fail stickers with stars). Our trained coach and facilitator Hannah Smith delved into a few of the coaching techniques that are specifically useful when managing young people, including metaphor, 3 levels of listening and powerful questions with some specific examples and practice exercises. We then had a longer coaching practice in groups of 3 where people used a personal example from their work or life. This proved to be really powerful for the group, especially being conscious of using the powerful questions (how/what questions instead of ‘why’, ‘do you’ or 'have you'). We finished off with some networking over drinks, nibbles and chats.

"I definitely found it useful, the size of the workshop and the opportunity to practice coaching with real problems in a conversation with real people was really helpful. I think that I need to think about it more in terms of how I can integrate it properly into how I manage but this has definitely started the thought process. I’ve always enjoyed asking questions (being nosy?!) and now I can do so in a professional manner!"
Gail, Clore Social Leadership

“It was great to be able to discuss the challenges of feedback with those in a very similar position to myself, and hopefully this will help in my day-to-day job.”
Tom, DSP (managing an apprentice through Just IT)

The 9 Up skills

There are a number of key skills that will set us up for success in both work and life. Some call them “soft” skills, others call them “personal attributes” or “attitudes”. We think it’s really important to have an easy way of noticing when we’ve been using them. If you can track and quantify these nebulous skills, you have a wonderful opportunity to see your own progress, or those of others.


Creative innovator


You are able to think and come up with unusual solutions, responses or ideas. You enjoy being able to think freely. One idea tends to lead to another and when you really get going your brain sometimes feels as though it’s on fire,in a good way.

Eg. You have helped someone who keeps facing the same problem to come up with a new solution that will resolve it once and for all.

Problem solver


You are good at assembling all the different elements of a problem, before analysing them and thinking up different possible solutions. You also like working through the possibilities efficiently so you can test out which will be the best for the situation in hand.

Eg. You might have enjoyed maths and sciences at school. But you also might be the sort of friend that helps other people revisit all the possible options when a decision has to be made, and figuring out which one would be best.

Critical thinker


You have the ability to assess, analyse and synthesise different types of information, and to use what you know to come up with well-reasoned and logical conclusions. You enjoy building solid arguments or proposals; you also have a knack for finding flaws in other people’s.

Eg. You often win arguments by listening to what the other person is saying and then pointing out where they are mistaken, and what the logical answer actually is.


Initiative taker


You relish working independently and you can get on with things without having someone reminded you what needs to be completed when. But you also know when to report back to other people to make sure you’re on the right track.

Eg. Set your own time to do your work and stick to it. Started a project of your own and kept going rather than abandoning it when it got hard or boring.

Details lover


You have an eye for the little things that make all the difference; you are a keen observer and love bringing your magnifying-glass approach to your work. You’re the one people come to to double-check everything is perfect.

Eg. You are infuriated by spelling mistakes, or if something isn’t level. You notice where the wallpaper isn’t lined up or if there’s a scratch on a car.

Organised planner


You don’t feel phased by having a lot of different things going on at once; in fact you really enjoy the process of managing your time. You are good at prioritising what needs to be done.

Eg. You are a dab hand at planning out your week so that you complete your work on time, and also have the time to see friends, help out at your home, and do your other hobbies and activities.


Effective communicator


Whether online or in the real world, you have the ability to connect to others in a real way. You have also have ability to understand, empathise with and influence people you encounter. You like opportunities to connect with other people, either by talking in public, or working in groups, or even via email. You value clear communication and you know how to engage people with very different views or ideas or positions.

Eg. You have made great, strong friendships with a range of people. You have examples of occasions you have been able to persuade someone to do something, or calmed someone down who was anxious. You make people feel at ease and you convey your points clearly and with energy.

Relationship builder


You find opportunities to meet new people and build lasting connections; you feel at ease speaking to those you don’t know and you like thinking of ways you can be helpful to those you encounter. You are also a great listener.

Eg. In new classes or groups you are often the one who started up conversations and began to make friends. You have a strong community of your own, and you may like connecting people to each other.

Team player


You are keen to work with others, and you have an awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses in a group situation. You really enjoy the process of collaboration.

Eg. You’ve been part of successful teams during school, university or on an outward bound trip or volunteer activity. You really enjoy working with other people towards a common goal.

How NOT to give feedback to a young employee

By Kazvare Knox, Programmes & Communications Director at Spark+Mettle

1. Be as vague as possible. Let your words take on a completely abstract form, so that your employee is left to decipher and interpret what your mouth has just uttered forth. If you really have to praise them, don’t give them any specifics. Just throw in an ‘awesome’ when you awkwardly pass them in the corridor and hope that it sticks (remember, your number one mission is to be V-A-G-U-E). They don’t need to know what they have done well so that they might be encouraged by their good work and continue in it. Neither do they need to know where they could improve. Where possible, let the steam rising from your head and that angry, throbbing vein on the left side of your neck do all the talking. Oh yeah.

2. Only track your employee’s progress and follow up on issues when you can squeeze it in. I mean, you are SO busy. As long as they’re not burning down the building or haven’t managed to destroy the company server in one fell swoop, then don’t bother checking in any more than every other month or so. What’s more, there just isn’t time to ascertain why your employee has taken to spending half of their lunch hour crying in the toilets. In any case, tears dry on their own—like the late, great Amy Winehouse said—but reports and presentations sadly don’t just appear on their own now, do they?

3. Don’t get your employee to reflect on their own performance. This only encourages delusions of grandeur. No, tell them what your thoughts are (remembering to be as vague as possible) on how they’re doing. Only let them talk for a couple of moments towards the end of your meeting and if they are saying more than ‘I agree with everything you’ve said’, then take a moment to check your phone to see what emails you might have missed because of this pesky meeting.

4. When your employee has made a mistake, you need to let them have it. Tell them that they aren’t being paid to be mediocre. Make sure that the whole office can hear too. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, but so as to not completely crush their soul, give them a winning smile at the end and tell them that they have your permission to think about their actions…whilst going to get you a skinny latte from the coffee shop next door.

5. Show no signs of weakness or empathy in your interactions with them. You are a total rock star and have been since you popped out of the womb; you certainly don’t make mistakes (what are those?). The only challenge you face is the pain of being sobadass, so your employee will just have to figure out their path to greatness by themselves.

6. Last but not least, make sure that you try to relate to your young employee by using as much youth speak as you can get your head around (you get me?). Let the Urban Dictionary be your go-to guide. That’s the only way to get through to this mysterious, homogeneous group. They’ll absolutely love your efforts. 

Brap brap brap!

The growing importance of soft skills

By Anouk Van Den Eijnde, Co-founder and COO

Applicants might have a degree, a technical qualification and a couple of internships on their CV but how do they fare on soft skills? 

There is increasing evidence that employers are looking for soft skills over technical skills. At Google, the number 1 thing they look for in their new recruits through structured behavioural interviews is learning ability. The second is leadership. And the least important attribute is expertise. 

Soft skills are the elements of your personality that benefit you professionally - things like problem solving, teamwork and adaptability to change. 

"Employers want to select, retain and promote individuals who are dependable, resourceful, ethical and good communicators who are willing to work. Soft skills help to increase this and employability per se, which assists employees in their efforts to face the many challenges of the current time and climate." (CIPD, 2012)

In a recent survey by Vanson-Bourne (Understanding why projects and programmes fail’ 2014) it was found that only one out of five (19%) organisations are developing their staff in soft skills whereas as many as 41 per cent are continuing to invest in process related qualifications. 

Through Up, you can track which skills you use in relation to your weekly workload. It allows you to see which ones you could improve on and which ones you’re mastering, which also helps you to see which role is most suitable for you. Personally I know one of my skills is organised planner and that is why I organise the events at Spark+Mettle and Up and get so much out of doing that. 


The 5 Principles of Up

By Eugenie Teasley, Co-founder and CEO


Our approach at Up is a little different to traditional talent development. Here’s a quick overview of how we work and why.

1: We set outcomes, not tasks

Outcomes are a bit like short term goals that are specific, measurable and time-sensitive. They’re more liberating than just setting tasks, which often make us feel like we are not in charge of what we are doing and therefore less engaged in our work.

In our case, we ask people to set outcomes on a weekly basis. Why? It’s a great way to plan out the next few days, align what you’re doing to the bigger picture, but not get bogged down in the tedium of writing a to-do list. When we set outcomes for ourselves, we get an opportunity to then decide how best to achieve them. It helps us think about how to plan, deliver and reflect on what we’ve done.

2: We focus on nine core skills

Nobody knows what the jobs of the future will be. But pretty much everyone is aware that there are a number of key skills that are needed both now, and in years to come, that will set us up for success in both work and life. We have done a HUGE amount of research into what these skills are, and after years of testing and refining, we’ve whittled them down to the core nine.


Some call them “soft” skills (although they are anything but), others call them “personal attributes” or “attitudes”. We think it’s really important to have an easy way of noticing when we’ve been using them. It’s not particularly impressive if someone tells you that they are a “team player”. But it is impressive if they can give evidence about how they have worked effectively in a team, with concrete examples and associated deliverables/outcomes. If you can track and quantify these nebulous skills, you have a wonderful opportunity to see your own progress, or those of others. And that feels good.

3: We love lots of little bits of feedback

The quarterly review is dead. This world is changing. We’re becoming more agile, faster, more responsive. It’s great to have conversations that get us to think ahead for the medium- to long-term, but if that’s all you get for professional development, as well as a weekly to-do list, it’s very easy to feel lost and disconnected to the work that you’re doing.

There’s an easy way to change this, that actually saves time, boosts motivation and develops strong professional relationships between managers and their direct reports: lots of little feedback. And when we say feedback, we don’t just mean saying “good job” or “nice work” or offering a flying high five as you head out of the office, but something that is informative and positive—but still quick. For example, “I really liked how you got back to the new client within an hour, it reinforces how responsive we are as a company.”

4: We believe in face-to-face conversations

We might be behind a web-based app, but we don’t think that tech is the solution to all management, learning and talent development issues. In fact, it’s the opposite. Face-to-face conversations are EVERYTHING. Tech can just help get you both on the same page, so that when you do meet to chat in person, it can be all the more constructive, productive and effective.

We believe that a well-informed five minute conversation each week, based on a solid understanding of outcomes achieved, issues faced and goals set, are far more impactful than occasional hour long reviews. And that’s what Up gets you set up to do.

5: We look backwards, forwards and far into the future.

Young people are twice as likely to leave a job as anyone else. Why? It’s often because they don’t feel well-supported, or that their long-term goals aren’t aligned to their current role. So how should companies handle this? Give employees a chance, regularly, to reflect on what they have achieved and what they haven’t. Give them a chance to plan out what they want to achieve in the short term. And give them a chance to be honest about what they want achieve in the long run.

The first two are fairly easy to implement as a manager or company director. But the third is a little more scary. What if they something that you don’t want to hear, or that you can’t actually help them achieve? It’s better to ask and to understand then to bury your head in the sand. People don’t often want to find a job for life. Sheryl Sandberg talks of the career “ladder” of old has been replaced by a career “jungle gym”. So let’s face up to the fact that we’re not going to keep people for ever, and just make sure that while they are with us, we’re supporting them to grow. It will certainly lead to greater productivity in the short term. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll want to stay a little longer too.