James joined the People Puzzles family in July 2019 and works in the Thames Valley and West of England region. He was previously senior vice president of HR for Canada, Western Europe and Australia at a large US corporation.
What attracted you to working with People Puzzles?
Working flexibly and maintaining a good work-life balance was, without doubt, the biggest motivation for me. It was especially important during lockdown when I had to balance home-schooling with work. I simply wouldn’t have been able to do that before. Now, I can organise my work around being able to pick my kids up from school.
I had already made the decision to go freelance before joining People Puzzles and had clients who I continue to work with today. But when you’re self-employed you have to spend four days a week doing your job and one day looking for more work. At People Puzzles there are Regional Directors doing business development on your behalf.
Working with People Puzzles means being surrounded by a peer group of like-minded individuals. I can discuss things with other People Directors – which is reassuring for me and good for my clients, as they get access to our collective expertise.
How does working with small businesses differ from your previous role in a large multinational?
Working with smaller businesses is more hands on, creative and faster-paced, as decisions are made quicker. You see the real-time impact of interventions, which can be harder to discern in a bigger corporation. I’m much more emotionally connected as many of my clients either work for a cause or for something they passionately believe in.
What is the freelance aspect of it like?
I find I’m incredibly productive when I’m working with a client; all of my time is given to them, there is no ‘dead time’ that might occasionally happen if I were an employee. I don’t get sucked into office or company politics, which is often where people lose efficiency.
Because you bring an outside perspective to the business you can be more objective while still building relationships on a personal level. It can be a fine line to walk – you’re not like a consultant delivering on a short-term brief before leaving. But you’re not an employee either – you’re somewhere in between.
What does a typical day look like?
It depends whether we’re talking pre-Covid or not! Pre-Covid, I would have a 90-day plan for each client, with objectives and agreed days when I would go into the office and work with them all day.
Covid has splintered that work, as my clients are finding their work increasingly fractured. At the moment, I plan my work 2-3 weeks in advance. Half of every day per week is pre-planned, while the other half is time built in to deal with reactive work.
How else has the pandemic affected your work?
As my time has become more fractured I’ve had to become more organised and innovative to manage the needs of my clients. Not just in terms of time – I’ve also had to adapt to use all of the tech systems my clients use. I currently have Teams, Hangouts, Slack and Cisco Webex all on my phone! Luckily, I am a tech nerd – but People Puzzles does provide tech support for its People Directors.
Are there any downsides to working with People Puzzles?
Obviously, the question, ‘Where is my next pay-check coming from?’ can be a concern at first. But it does depend on where you’re coming from. If you want to work for a small number of clients, then you might be more vulnerable to a gap between clients. With more clients, the risk is spread, but you’re juggling more.
The knack is to plan financially (for yourself) and with your clients (for their needs) on a long-term and a short-term basis in order to help keep an eye on when you might need to look for more work and to be ready for any ebb and flow.
Could you have done this at any stage in your career?
I would say this kind of work would be hard to step into at an early stage in your career. But now I’ve got a lot of experience to draw on. For example, my background in working across different countries has been very useful for clients with an international remit. Many are wrestling with strategic stuff which I can help to untangle and put back together.
In terms of professional development, I’m working in a wider variety of clients in a wider range of industries. I genuinely feel that I’m learning more now than when I was leading a multinational team.
What advice would you give to anyone considering becoming part of People Puzzles?
Talk to others already doing the work to get a feel for what it’s about and plan your financials as well. This helps minimise any surprises. Personally, I’ve learnt a lot from it all and I don’t regret the choice for a moment.
You do need to plan and be organised, as well as being strategic and tactical. Then all you have to do is get stuck in, embrace the new lifestyle and enjoy it!
James Lloyd, People Director