The latest entrepreneur to feature on my business blog is Fiona Bradley from Fiona Bradley Training and Consultancy Ltd in Coleraine. I first met Fiona not long after I set up my own business. She was also in the early stages of her self-employed adventure and we met for a coffee and connected online via social media.
Over the past year or so, I started seeing posts popping up on Facebook from Fiona. There she was in New York; here she was in Asia; there she was back in Northern Ireland; here she was in South America… It all looked incredibly exciting, so I decided to catch up with her again and find out more about her business journey since last we met…
Although she’s technically a trainer, Fiona prefers to describe herself as a “facilitator of learning.” She works with clients to change the culture of organisations, using everything from Lego to quizzes to engage her audience and get results.
It may sound like fun – and clients do enjoy the process says Fiona – but rest assured, there’s a lot of hard work involved in devising and delivering such sessions. Indeed, when your training programmes incorporate activities like this, perhaps the biggest challenge and the thing you need to work hardest at initially, is convincing people that it works. Fiona, who’s currently working with a large banking client and delivering multiple training session like this for them, couldn’t agree more.
“The challenge, initially, was getting the senior stakeholders in the bank to trust us, because of some of the activities we were proposing,” she says. “They were trying to see what the connection was, so that was definitely the biggest challenge. Once the senior sponsor understood what we were trying to achieve though, he turned into our biggest advocate.”
Having previously worked at PwC, Fiona left her position as a consultant delivering training and development for large public and private sector companies, to go it alone. She’d been in that particular role for five-and-a-half years but had grown tired of the three away days she was required to do every week.
“At PwC I focused on leadership and management work,” she says. “Ironically I left them because I didn’t want to travel as much and now my favourite thing about being in business is the travel, which I’m loving! But it’s a different type of travel from my previous job. I’ve been to 13 or 14 different large global capital cities – north and South America, Asia, Europe… I’ve seen some wonderful sights and met fabulous people.”
All of this travel is for her banking client, who has a global footprint and is keen to change the culture of working within their organisation for the better, says Fiona. As her first foray into the banking sector, she says the work is fascinating and it has given her the opportunity to not only see the world, but also, to train thousands of employees.
“My client has about 28,000 staff and we’re delivering training to change the culture within that organisation,” she says. “I created a set of competencies and behaviours which look at what they should be doing in their jobs. They have all these metrics about what they do but not how they do it. The company had been doing lots of IT and tech training and then they reached out to me and all of a sudden, I was on board doing the programme.”
As part of her remit, Fiona designed a training programme for the company’s middle managers, looking at how they should behave in their day-to-day activities. With 1,700 middle managers within the company, however, she ultimately had to bring more trainers on board to ensure that everyone would benefit.
“I’ve trained 900 people already this year, globally,” she says. “But I’ve got three other trainers now on the team and we’re looking at upskilling the managers internally. We’ve now certified 73 internal facilitators for our investment banking client to spread the story of operations excellence.
“It’s a very interesting sector because they’re very risk-averse. We look at client-centricity, but also, continued improvement, optimal efficiency, risk and control, global communication and teamwork. The challenge for me is to change that culture where regulation and risk-averse thinking can stifle creativity. We’re constantly challenging their mind-set. It’s fascinating.”
Part of Fiona’s approach to culture change is encouraging employees to look at what they can do rather than what they can’t. Her two-day sessions subsequently incorporate roleplaying, along with Lego, quizzes and more, which she says is great at engaging people.
“There’s generally around 24 people in the room, with combined experience of 250-380 years in banking,” she adds.
“Some will come in and are a bit jaded and cynical but thankfully I’ve had very little resistance! I’ve delivered this programme 30 times now and while the core content and activities are the same, the dialogue and the behaviour is different every time.”
While Fiona will be working with her banking client throughout 2017 and into 2018, she’s also going to be spending the summer scoping out work for a large insurance company. Indeed, her aim is to extend the business beyond the financial sector, although she admits that it’s a bit of a niche market for her.
“There certainly seems to be a niche in the financial services market, so I think we’ll expand across that,” she says. “That’s a big challenge for me because it’s a sector I’d never worked in before. I’ve also kept my relationship with PWC – they’re still one of my main clients and I work locally with various training companies here, all in a freelance capacity.
“I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved and I’m enjoying being my own boss!”
What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs?
Listening is more important than talking. My motto is, ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’, which comes from Stephen Covey. Also, you’ve just got to be flexible. If you become too rigid in what you want to offer, then you limit yourself. And … know your worth.
What’s your biggest challenge in business right now?
Being away so much with the family at home is a challenge. But I’m blessed to have a strong husband and solid family and friends who allow me to drop in and out, and we’ve had the opportunity on occasion to take family on some of my business trips.
Where would you like to take the business next?
Next year we might go to Australia…
Any final parting words?
Network, network, network. And don’t only network because of what you can get. Network genuinely. I find that strong relationships always pay back, though not necessarily financially. Network strategically and understand its value.
As a woman in business I think we’re still a minority and we don’t like to share our success – we’re almost too humble. There’s nothing wrong with being positive and proactive in sharing success!