Scaling culture and attracting diverse talent

August 30, 2023

Exploring the significance of embracing the unknown, fostering diversity in workplace culture, and the value of curiosity in tech and leadership.

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Scaling culture and attracting diverse talent

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In this episode, Ash Rama, the VP of People at Mention Me, shares his varied career journey, starting in sales and eventually transitioning into leadership development and coaching. Ash discusses his passion for helping others unlock their potential and how they found themselves in the people space. Mention Me is a mindset company that helps brands acquire more customers through referrals.  Tune in to hear Ash's insights on the intersection of tech and people.

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The key moments in this podcast are:

00:02:39 Mental barriers in sales.

00:03:21 Mental barriers and potential.

00:07:01 Niche advertising for diversity.

00:11:19 Embracing cultural change.

00:14:15 Values and organisational identity.

00:17:47 Asking questions for powerful discussions.

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Read the transcript

00:00 Charles Brecque Welcome to the Tech Story Podcast, the place where we interview interesting people in tech. Today, I'm very excited to welcome Ash Rammer on the show. Ash, does the VP of People at Mention Me, a mindset company which helps brands acquire more customers through referrals. Thank you very much,

00:20 Ash Rammer Ash, for being on the show. Thanks for having me. Introduce yourself and share a bit of background. Yeah, perfect. So yeah, I'm Ash and I'm a VP People that Mention Me at the moment. And my background's quite varied. It's typical in some ways and then in other ways, it was a bit of a mess. But it's obviously turned out okay, so not too bad. But my career started out in a pretty typical way for most people or some people, which is after uni, not really quite sure what to do. So I got into a sales role and I really enjoyed sales and that was sort of property sales and recruitment and tech sales. And tech sales is where I found the tech space and instantly loved it. And then I was enjoying the sales world, but quite quickly the passion came away from it. And I was thinking, I've got to find something else here. Do I need to sell something else or maybe move into management? Or I wasn't quite sure. And came across a sales training opportunity at the company I was at, Reach Local at the time. And so I took the sales training opportunity and had this very, very quick realisation that I really loved helping other people to achieve. And I really loved helping people to unlock potential that they wanted to unlock. And that led to leadership development and coaching. And I was very used to working in the commercial space. But then one day woke up and I was in the people space and it was a really happy accident. And that's just where my work in the people space has sort of expanded and grown from there.

01:41 Charles Brecque And here we are in the people that Mention Me. Yeah, that's a really fascinating story. And that desire to help people grow, did that also then lead you to hypnotherapy and becoming a professional

01:56 Ash Rammer in the therapist? Yeah, that was an interesting one, actually. So sales training actually led me into that in a bit of an odd way. So as a sales trainer, I got really interested in the psychology of selling, which is then led down the road of sort of the psychology of decision making and how people think and what motivates them and that kind of thing. So I started studying psychology outside of work. And then that led me down the road of psychotherapy to help people and to sort of add more to my coaching toolbox. And that then led to hypnotherapy as an alternative way to help people overcome obstacles. And so one thing led to another and all of that now just

02:34 Charles Brecque sort of sits in my sort of coaching toolbox. Yeah, that's great. And in regards to the obstacles, I guess there's sort of mental barriers that salespeople or anyone would encounter. What are those sort of the key mental barriers that you've had in to apply and that you sort of

02:50 Ash Rammer can help? Yeah, really, that's a really, really interesting question, actually, because the mental barriers are because they're mental, they're invisible. And so many of them are talked about, as in, you know, the pressure we put on ourselves and the work from the office, work from home balance, and, you know, more recent times. And then there's that pressure to always be progressing in your career, and that pressure to earn more money. And there's all of those things there that are talked about. But a lot of the time, they really weigh on people. And while they're striving for something, the thing they're striving for is sometimes also holding them back. And that can make for really interesting coaching conversations and also psychotherapy conversations to help people to tell people to realise that the things that they're striving for might also be blocking them and blocking their potential in one way or another. And so yeah, those are the sort of mental barriers that I find myself talking to people about quite a lot and experience myself as well.

03:47 Charles Brecque I mean, now you've said it, it makes sense. And, you know, I think I'm a founder and I see private, you know, create a little successful company, our team and investors, but sometimes those goals can create pressure. And, but on the other hand, the investors and, and I guess the general consensus is you need to be ambitious, because, um, otherwise you, you weren't even hit. And you always hit up maybe 10% of what you aim for. So you've got to have those big goals. Yeah. Yeah. And sure. That's a challenge that I, you know, find myself, you know, fighting a little bit.

04:24 Ash Rammer As a founder, it's interesting you say that, as I spoke to a couple of founders who, when I, when I sort of talked to them about this, this idea of, you know, the pressure that comes from comparing yourself to others, I was, I was quite surprised that the founders were the first people who say I experienced that constantly. And interestingly, some of that pressure comes from the board or investors who reference other companies who are doing things in certain ways, which can, can, you know, sometimes put this unintentional pressure to do things that way as well. And then it becomes a comparison and maybe I'm not good enough. And it's, it's, um, surprising how often that came up with founders. Yeah. Yeah. I can definitely relate. Yeah. And since being in the world of people and now it Mention Me, what's been your favorite moment so far? That's a big question. I think my favorite moment to Mention Me has been quite a long moment last year, let's say, because we grew quite, quite significantly. And one of the, one of the things I was really ambitious about was growing in a diverse way. A lot of the time, especially pre COVID, a lot of the time diversity would be sacrificed for scale. And that was excused. And that was okay at the time, or, you know, okay for some at the time. And I was determined to scale in a diverse way. And it meant over indexing on how we attract diverse talent. So I'm really, really proud of the way we scaled and grew our diversity in the right way and have retained a really diverse workforce. And it's paid dividends in all sorts of ways. And obviously diverse thinking is the best outcome you can have there. And one of the most interesting things in that was when we looked at, if we're going to hire in a diverse way, what is it we have to analyse upfront and understand to get to know what else we need to do. And one of the realizations was, you know, there's this, there's obviously a heavy reliance on some of the bigger job boards out there for candidate applications whenever you post a job. And have really impressive numbers and of applications that can come your way and really impressive visibility figures. But what many of them were unable to answer was how diverse is the, the pool of people that see your ads? And they, a lot of the time they were either unable to answer that question or the answer was really vague. So it always told us by definition, some of the biggest places to advertise are the most popular places to advertise with the reasons why diversity was so low. So we then decided to become, to go as niche as we could in the places we advertised for, for advertisers that are open roles. And that's where we started seeing some really impressive results of diversity.

07:11 Charles Brecque Very interesting. And I guess, does that mean, you know, doing Facebook ads or, you know, more where you can maybe target specific communities? How do you sort of make sure that you are targeting

07:21 Ash Rammer the right communities that are underrepresented? Yeah, so it's, it's going into those communities and an understanding where, where to be able to get in front of those communities in an effective way. So a few of the, a few of the places we, we grew our visibility. One was by advertising through, you know, smaller communities. One was called UK Black Tech, who we advertised through. Another one was just a little bit bigger, but Shekin Code. And, and then the BYP network. And, you know, all of these places are there and they're very visible and the communities have such deep talent. And yet they, and they're much more diverse than some of the bigger job boards. And so, but it takes a bit of effort to decide to do it, because you can easily rely on the

08:11 Charles Brecque bigger job boards. It's very easy to say. Do you rely on the job boards? You don't necessarily appreciate, you just expect them to sort of create a diverse and cool talent or to have

08:20 Ash Rammer times to diverse pool of talent. Yeah. And it's that assumption I think we all have, which is, everyone's on LinkedIn and everyone uses that job board and everyone probably uses that job board. But the, the, the assumption, you know, probably isn't the reality. Yeah.

08:35 Charles Brecque Fair point. And what you wish you'd known before, you know, being a VP of people?

08:41 Ash Rammer Yeah, it's a good, good question. I was, I was about to give you a very coachy answer, which was, you know, it's better, you know, that it's good that, you know, what I didn't know was good and all that kind of thing. But I think what I would have, what I wish I knew was how powerful the unknown is. And I think, you know, at earlier stages of my career, I would have done more with that. And I think I did, you know, made the most of it and Mention Me of knowing that there's so many things I don't know in this, about this business, about the dynamics, about the culture, about the way things work, about the future is going to hold, there's no predictability in my mind, all that kind of thing. And I tried to, and I definitely could have done more, but I tried to embrace it as much as possible. And I tried to make it last for as long as possible. And tried to be a person in the room or in the conversation who was not necessarily there to have the answer, but was there to, you know, ask more questions, to be able to understand a bigger picture than, you know, than just the standard. So, yeah, I think my answer is to, I wish I knew how powerful

09:50 Charles Brecque that phase is in a career. So basically embracing the unknown and, you know, being able to absorb is sort of the key. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. And you mentioned also, scaling Mention Me, and you wanted to sort of make sure that you were attracting diverse talent. So what was the impact on culture? What were some of the things that you were thinking of when you were looking to scale

10:17 Ash Rammer the team and scale culture? Yeah, it meant the impact was obviously positive, but it just meant the culture grew. I mean, it broadened really visibly and quite organically as well. So, you know, by having a more diverse group of people, you have more diverse thinking, and therefore you have more ideas. It's just a really simple sort of equation. And so we had more suggestions coming through for things like, so we do cultural showcases, and more suggestions for the types of cultural showcases we could do. We had a high, high levels of participation for internal panel discussions about whether it's pride or mental health and wellbeing, and, or International Women's Day was one of the big ones we did this year as well. And so bigger groups of people wanting to be involved meant more events, which meant more impact, which meant that we made more change. And that then impacted things like our own policies and then changes we decided to make to how we go about doing what we do. So the impact was huge and the knock-on effect was really

11:15 Charles Brecque impressive, bigger than I thought it would be, to be honest. So I guess the key takeaway is that, you know, having your scale in the business, you should expect your culture to change. And

11:23 Ash Rammer is that something that, you know, Fowry should embrace? Definitely. I think it's beginning this idea of holding on to culture, I think, is beginning to fizzle away a little bit, which is a good thing, because I think holding on to culture is not a bad thing, but it depends on which component of your culture you're looking to hold onto. So then culture is made up of a whole bunch of components, and things like your visible symbols and rituals and things that you do that only you do as a company and that, you know, people associate that with you as a business. Then there's the makeup of your key people or whether it's your values or, you know, all these components that come together that define value and the DNA, the identity of the business, all those things. And if you're trying to hold on to the way they were, then you're probably not going to reflect the kind of workforce that you want to attract and the kind of talent you want to attract. And you're probably not going to reflect the kind of society you want to contribute to and the kind of society you want to positively impact either. And so, yeah, I think holding on to culture can be a way to potentially pause in the wrong way. But thinking about culture as a way to reflect the people in your organization and as a way to reflect how you want to positively impact society and positively impact your people's

12:48 Charles Brecque lifestyles will help you to evolve the way you need to. And then it's a great answer, and I guess culture is something which, as a founder, you don't generally think of until it becomes a key point. And, you know, even for me, you know, putting down what our values are is something which, you know, I don't necessarily think of straight away on a day-to-day basis because there's so much doing that. And, you know, sometimes you need to take a step back. But I guess culture is something which needs to evolve because you want to build a diverse workforce and you can only do that if you have a diverse team to start with. Yeah, exactly. So, yeah. Great. And in terms of, you know, values and setting them, is the approach for the clinical leadership, the founders, just define them or would you sort of advocate more for a collaborative approach? And how do you

13:50 Ash Rammer find a balance between what the employees might want and what the leadership? I think there's always going to be a healthy level of difference in the thinking between certain groups and people within the business, and that's okay. And I think that shows that there's always appetite for change and evolution. I think the values should start as a group exercise because I think they should reflect the people who are in the organisation and what it is you're striving to achieve as a group of people. So the values end up bringing together who you are as a group and as a team. And you will feel that those values reflect, you know, how you work, how you want to be seen, and your identity as a business and what you stand for. But I think an important factor is for everybody to be aware that they're not set in stone forever. And these are the values that reflect who we are, where we are and what we need to do today. And in six months time, we probably need to change them. And so not even we'll change them if they need to change in the future. It's in six months time, we probably will need to. So that door is wide open to change. So that helps people to get on board with today. It helps everyone to think about the fact that these things should move and they're living and they're not there to be set in stone and just, you know, constantly thought there's something we have to abide to. It should be more of a reflection of what we're all striving

15:18 Charles Brecque for. So yeah, I hope that answered the question. Yeah. Yeah. You gave me lots of ideas. But on the back of that, I know, you know, you mentioned part of the team is in Boston, and then the rest in London, so how do you sort of, how does it they have the, they're teams have the same values or

15:35 Ash Rammer why do you sort of bring it all together? Yeah, so we're at a size, and Mention Me, where our values, and in fact, we're looking to make a change to one of our values at the moment. And that's to sort of, that's the reflect the, the environment we're working in at the moment and the environment that, you know, that sort of faces us as a, as a SaaS business. And the international side of things is coming into play. So, you know, our Boston office has been open for a few months, and we're thinking of and working on ways to ensure that there's a culture, cultural transfer, and that feeling of being in a Mention Me office and being around to Mention Me people, we call ourselves call ourselves mention is being around Mention is as well. When you're whether you're in Boston or in London, that takes a bit of time. And the values are the only way for that to happen. But the input of values from the Boston team is going to be really important. And we haven't done that bit yet. But that's going to be really important so that it's not just a now that you're on board, here are the values go and live by them. It's are these the values as a as a US team? Are they going to help you in what you need to achieve? Are they going to help you become the team that you need to be? And if they're not, let's walk, let's talk about it and work on them because they're not set in stone. And if they are great, let's let's then work out the US way of activating them. It probably won't be the same as the way the same way we activate them in London.

16:55 Charles Brecque Yeah, I am. I went to the disaster conference couple weeks ago. And I didn't realise how, how many US companies were there. But coming out of that, you saw that squeak more, more of the US or more of the bright, you know, American way of doing sass or in in London, or any similar London texting. Yeah. So yeah, I'm very jealous that you're already in the US. We can share that.

17:18 Ash Rammer Yeah, great. And piece of advice would you give to prospective founder or pupil leader? I think it probably relates to my what I wish I knew answer, which is sort of lean into that curiosity, lean into the unknown, and not just to not just to be curious, but even sometimes play up to it. And so I think there's certain situations where all of us feel that we need to have the answer because of the position that we're in or because of our title, because of who we're surrounded by, and fighting that urge and not having an answer, but instead asking a question and creating curiosity in a group can be so powerful for the discussion and bringing people on board and sharing ideas, that the answer ends up being even richer than what you would have initially offered. So I think being able to learn from a group, even if you have the answer, and is it is, yeah, probably that piece of advice I'd give for you less than something that I don't do enough for. Okay. Me either. It's always very advisable. I don't do it enough either. Yeah. Well, I think, you know, at the time, you know, I don't know the answer and, but sometimes I'll just know the stays quiet and think when actually I should engage in terms. Yeah. Okay. Well, yeah. If you're trying to ask a question. Yeah. Yeah. And I guess closing question for you as a guest for the Tech String Podcast was your favorite tech product. Yeah. I thought about this one and I'm quite basic with my tech and I realised that it was a really complementary piece of tech that I rely on really heavily, but it has such a big impact on me. And I'm also an absolute sucker for headphones. So for me, my other piece of tech is, well, pieces of tech are my headphones. So, you know, I've got a set of earbuds for when I'm on the move and I'm commuting out exercising, walking, whatever it is. And then a pair of, you know, a pair of headphones I love for when I'm focusing, coming out the outside world, they really helped me to focus. And without them, you know, I really struggled to focus. So for me, those two sets of headphones really help to define

19:26 Charles Brecque the state of work I'm in, which I really enjoy. Yeah. That's a great answer. And yeah, I love my AirPods and they survived the washing machine. I did that. But the quality of the audio didn't or cheap. I mean, that's impressive. They are pretty robust and they can take a bit of the beating. Well, thanks very much for being on the show. And thanks for having me. Yeah. Great. Thanks, Sean. Yeah.

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