An intro to WiseAmigo founder, Paul.

So why create WiseAmigo?

Often I’m asked about my drivers for creating WiseAmigo. So here’s a little on me and how I see things.

Starting out as an OP.

I trained as an occupational psychologist. What’s one of those? Well, often-termed OP for short, we’re the psychologist that you might come across in your workplace. We study the science of human behaviour and apply it to the world of work. Interesting stuff I can assure you 😉

A lot of my early career centred on supporting people also at the start of their own careers. I loved what I did. I got to work with talented people, helping them settle and grow into their roles. I got to help companies to understand the strengths of their new hires. And I got to work on some cool solutions that mixed psychology and tech. It was a lot of fun. I learned a lot and I could see I was having a positive impact.

Grey hair. And an uneven playing field.

As I got more experience my work changed a lot. I started working at higher levels in businesses, with more senior leaders. I also grew a partly grey beard and got married during this time, though I’m not sure any of this is related… I was getting involved in more strategic tasks like talent management and running things like leadership development centres. Very quickly I was seeing how some of the best companies helped their leading employees to grow. But 9/10 times, this simply meant helping them to build self-awareness and psychological (soft) skills.

But over time some things became apparent about how people develop at work which frustrated me… Inequalities which would sow the seeds that eventually led me to create WiseAmigo.

First, it struck me how vast the gaps were between people in terms of their level of self-awareness and understanding of soft skills. You might say that’s obvious. Everyone’s different, right. We’d expect to see differences in how people think, interact, adapt, etc. We’re human and that’s what makes being a psychologist so interesting. But it was the scale and consistency of differences that really struck me. I’d find some people were acutely self-aware while others behaved without any real sense of their impact. Some were tuned in and streetwise, while others had not the faintest idea of what or why soft skills mattered. And this was always unconnected to age or experience.

What really frustrated me was that the differences would hold people back. The differences would influence whether a person survived or thrived at work. The differences would always be the factor in determining promotions, new hires or whether people were let go. Soft skills mattered but many people didn’t realise it.

The help on offer for people varied, both in education and inside organisations. Unfortunately, as with most things in society the more affluent had a head-start. I’d been involved in graduate recruitment at the time too, so I got to see first-hand how those with time and resources had an advantage. While I was enjoying my own career, I was also seeing the real failure of our formal education system – the complete inequality in ensuring our true ‘readiness’ for work.

Haves and have-nots. The same old story.

Secondly, I started to see how the programmes and initiatives of many HR departments actually compounded differences between groups of people. Effectively creating the haves and the have-nots of development at work.

Some groups, usually in bigger businesses, could draw on a lot more support from their employers. Many managers, high potential cohorts (like graduates) and senior leaders had targeted training programmes, ongoing 360-degree feedback and coaches to assist them. Then there would be the 90-95%, who likely didn’t have such resources. There was maybe a one-to-one conversation with a manager each month, but that might have been it.

It wasn’t all HR’s fault. They’d been used to tight budgets in a context where people development was seen as a nice to have. They also wrestled with managers about who should lead in helping others develop – HR, the manager, or the employees themselves. As a result many HR departments opted to hedge their bets on a small groups of leaders. They’d spend the majority of their time and money on them, and hope that the learning would be cascaded down throughout the organisation – a very big ask.

On the contrary, imagine working in a smaller business or start-up, where things are a little more frantic… Maybe there’s no time for development. Managers might be too busy for 121s. Maybe there’s no HR. The point is there are massive differences in opportunities to grow according to where we’re working.

Bring this all up to date and the consequences are simple. Failings in our education system and a haves and have-not approach at work means differences between people are amplified and society’s inequalities are reinforced. I hate that. Today, large numbers of people, the majority, struggle to find their way at work while others kick-on. It prevents social mobility and stands as a barrier to increased diversity.

Beyond tick boxes and distrust.

The third thing I found, which I won’t go into here, regards the strange relationship that a lot of people have with their HR departments (if they have a department, that is). In my experience, a lot of people – both managers and staff – all too often mocked people development processes at work, labeling them as tick box, short term or just irrelevant. That’s HR’s thing – it’s not about me.

And too many were openly sceptical about HR processes. One of the most frequent questions I was asked when working one-to-one was who else knows what we’re talking about?… People really doubted the motives of their employers in wanting to help them grow. You had to work very hard to build trust and openness. More on that in a future post.

In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.

Sun Tzu

The foundations for something.

Anyway, after about ten years doing this, this frustration became passion. Why can’t we do something – make development accessible to all? Especially in this digital age. Can we not try and level the playing field?

Everyone should be able find ideas on how to develop quickly. Or to fire a few questions to people to get some feedback. Building habits and setting time aside for development is certainly more difficult, but simple tools to reflect and journal our learning might help with this surely?

Looking around, there wasn’t really anything out there that went beyond showing videos or providing some good reading (the kind of online university thing). But development is much more than reading or watching videos. It’s about doing things. It’s about building a portfolio of experiences so that, occasionally, we can look back and see and feel development.

And so we got to work on what would become WiseAmigo. A simple idea of a place for people to think about how they can develop. With tools to help them see how they can grow, regardless of their situation or employer. And find like-minded people interested in doing the same. I’ll share more on the story and what’s important for us soon but that’s essentially what WiseAmigo is all about.

Development is a journey. The WiseAmigo app and community are here to help you along the way. Join the WiseAmigo community, create a Spotlight, discover more insightful content and reflect on your development journey today!