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 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 😉

Much 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 recruits. 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…

People have completely different starting points when it comes to their self-awareness and understanding of soft skills. Of course, we expect differences between individuals – we’re human! But I believe it’s more a case of an uneven playing field to begin with. In my earlier career, I’d find some people were 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 frustrated me was that the differences would hold people back. The differences would often be the factor in determining promotions or new hires.

I’d also encounter many who thought working hard for a degree or qualification meant they’d flourish at work, only for them to be shocked at how difficult the work environment actually was. They’d say things like, I’m good at what I do, but can’t get anybody to listen to me. I’m struggling. People needed help before entering the workplace and certainly needed it once inside.

But the help on offer varied, both from 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 flying in 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 saw how the approach of many HR departments to workplace development actually compounded group differences. Creating the haves and the have-nots.

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

It wasn’t HR’s fault entirely – they’d been used to tight budgets in a context where people development was seen as a nice to have. So they’d often choose, incorrectly in my opinion, to hedge their bets on a small group of people that they believe might be leaders of the future. And they’d hope that indirectly this small group will be able to cascade the learning down throughout the organisation – a very big ask. Thankfully, advances in tech is changing this.

But then imagine too what it can be like working in a smaller business or start-up, where things are a little more frantic! Maybe there’s no time for development. Maybe there’s no HR. The point is there are massive differences in opportunities to grow according to where we’re working.

All of this reinforces inequalities in society. A large number of people, the majority, struggle to find their way at work. At the same time, those with the support and opportunities kick-on or are helped up the ladder. So an everlasting cycle continues, which prevents social mobility. It’s not hard to see either. When you consider the sometimes exclusive and cliquey networks afforded to groups like leaders and work backwards to consider how they got there, you can see how organisations perpetually limit the diversity of their future stars to these relatively small groups of the same kinds of people.

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 sees my development report?… 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!