Next up in the Passle content marketing heroes series is Richard Thompson of Byrne Dean. We recorded a podcast last week, which you can listen to here, or watch the video version. A selected transcript of our recording can be found below:

1. Do your past experiences give you a unique insight when it comes to helping organisations create a “kinder, fairer, more productive workplace”?

I think the simple answer is yes. Listening to you say the question, it makes me sound like a workplace nomad. Having worked in lots of different types of environments does give me a unique insight into the sort of issues that can arise in the workplaces, the people problems that you often see. My key experience is my time as an employment lawyer, I was in private practice for 10 years, and I saw lots of things, I had lots of complaints that I was dealing with. And, helping clients or individuals manage those complaints was a very helpful experience to understand how and why problems develop. It’s quite an interesting dynamic when you think about it: how does someone get to the point where they’re prepared to sue their employer? They’re that unhappy that they’re prepared to take the step to litigate against them. So having an understanding of the how and why really does help to put into context how we, as an organization at Byrne Dean can help other businesses to create fairer and more productive workplaces.

Having worked in different sectors, I have also experienced, and witnessed first hand some tricky workplace situations: personality clashes, difficult decisions having to be made by management, and so forth. So I’ve got a very good understanding of workplace problems, it’s what I love working around, it’s what I live and breathe.

When I step back, the thing that I really take away from my experience and place into my work at Byrne Dean, is that it’s all about human interaction. If we take away targets, processes and policies, the workplace is ultimately about human interaction. That is something that can resonate with everybody. We all come to work wanting to do a good job, but we can only do that if we feel comfortable in our working environment, which is created by human interaction. So the how and why of problems that arise? It’s all about people, and that’s what keeps it interesting also of course.

2. What do you enjoy the most about your work at Byrne Dean?

Of course I would say it, but I think it comes back to our motto of helping businesses create a “kinder, fairer, more productive workplaces”. As I said, work is really important to us, we live in a society that is still quite status driven, work is a big part of the status-symbol, and when we come to work, we do want to do well, we want to thrive! We need that environment that is conducive to us being able to do that. When I take that thought, this golden thread if you like, of helping organizations create the best possible working environment for people, and then I contrast that to my experience, I feel that as a practicing lawyer, I was involved too late. I always think of it as the old Acme cartoons where the bomb with the big fuse has been lit. Well by the time the problem had got to me, the bomb had gone off! And what I really enjoy about working for Byrne Dean is that the people we are engaging with: managers, HR people, leadership in businesses, are getting involved at a really early stage, often very proactively, there’s no issue at hand, but we are engaging people in interesting conversations and provoking ideas. It’s just to get them to think about workplace culture slightly differently, and not just as an HR topic, because it’s much more pervasive than that, it’s about getting the best out of your people.

So, because I’m having those conversations at the right stage, at the right time, with key people within those organisations, I really feel I can make a difference. Also, it comes down to the engagement, the interactions – I consider myself a bit of a people person I like talking to people, I like meeting new people so it is a great way to do that, and spread the joy!  

3. Where do you find your content inspiration?

I think for me it’s quite easy to find inspiration and things to talk about. The work we do is about people, and as human beings we are quite unpredictable beasts – we do things, we say things, often unintentionally, that create problems! People talk to me all the time during the sessions that I facilitate, or just in the meetings that I have, about the sort of challenges they face, about the people problems, relationships, disputes, all the really common things that happen in a workplace, but can be actually quite tricky to manage on a day-to-day basis.

So, all I have to do is look around: look at the conversations I have with people, look at the sort of tribunal cases that come out, … It’s a fairly constant cycle, so it’s very easy to find inspiration for our Passle posts. What we do try to look for is how to take those sorts of problems and challenges that people face and turn them into practical guidance. How can people think about this in a realistic day-to-day context? A lot of managers worry about employment law – they see it as a procedural thing, a tick box exercise. What we want people to see is that employment law is important, but it’s the context, the backdrop and the day-to-day interactions that are important.

4. In your recent post “We must connect more at work” you talk about the challenges of communication in the workplace when smartphones dominate. Do you have a favourite tip for getting colleagues to communicate better offline?

Yes, it’s a bit of a bugbear of mine! The origin and inspiration of that article was that I was sitting in a coffee shop in Central London, looking out of the window, and noticing how many people were walking past, heads down. Even groups of people, instead of engaging in conversation with one another, they were all staring at their smartphones. I’ve noticed the trend in sessions that I run as well that when I have a break, instead of talking to each other and making connections inside an organisation, people instantly reach for their smartphones.

So of course there are lots of benefits, smartphones are an amazing piece of kit, great technology. It’s about knowing when to use that technology to its advantage, but having the emotional intelligence to understand when the phone, the tablet, the laptop, are just not necessary.

Simplest tip, which I know sounds so obvious: out of sight, out of mind. If you are having a one-to-one meeting with someone, or you are catching up with a colleague who you haven’t had a good conversation with for a while, those kind of moments don’t need a smartphone! We don’t need any technology.

It’s understanding that there are times when it does add value, but if you don’t need it: put it away!

5. Do you have a favourite social media network, and why?

I think what’s interesting for me is that prior to using Passle, I didn’t really use much in the way of social media, particularly not for work. I had a personal Facebook profile, I didn’t use Twitter, LinkedIn was very sporadic. Since having Passle, my firm favourite is definitely Twitter. I love the fact you have to be so succinct. 140 characters forces you to really craft your message very carefully. The process of doing that helps me to think about ‘what am I trying to say?’ There is so much noise on Twitter that you have to make sure what you put out there is good. So I love it for that, and I think it works brilliantly with Passle in terms of forwarding on the Passle posts, and spreading the news that way.