Sally Bibb, The Speaker Show

Episode 121

Sally Bibb, award-winning business author

Episode 121

Sally Bibb, award-winning business author

Ep. 121 – Fireside chat with Sally Bibb

Sean Pillot de Chenecey chats with Sally Bibb, Founding Director of Engaging Minds, a strengths consultancy and award-winning business author.

Included in the chat:

  • The effects of Brexit, the global economy and Coronavirus on talent management
  • The shift to the humanistic approach – people want to be recognised and appreciated
  • Sally’s books
  • Sally’s work and the impact it can make on organisations
  • Sally’s book recommendations

Episode audio & transcript

Connect with Speakers Associates

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (00:04): Hello, this podcast is care of Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau representing a select group of the world’s finest thinkers and thought leaders founded in 1999. Today Speakers Associates operate out of nine offices across seven countries covering the UK, Europe and Middle East. I’m Sean Pillot De Chenecey author of The Post-Truth Business and Influencers & Revolutionaries. In this series, I interview a range of fascinating individuals, proudly represented by the bureau. These change agents and industry experts give an update on their specialised areas of knowledge, and also on their motivations and viewpoints regarding the future of business. Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Sally Bibb. She’s an award-winning business author, keynote speaker and founding director of Engaging Minds, a strengths consultancy. She leads strengths based organizational change work in Europe, the USA and Asia, and has a track record of achieving transformational results for her clients.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (01:09): She’s one of the leaders of the global strengths revolution. That’s transforming both the cultures of organizations and people’s lives and her subject is relevant. And now, her career has taken her from the heady Heights of being a director at the economist, where she was challenged as a leader of two major organizational transformations, digital transformation, and creating a global collaborative sales force. Her groundbreaking work inspired by a pivotal light bulb moment in her twenties gives everyone the chance to discover play too and apply their innate strengths values, and motivators her definitive books, strength based recruitment and development for organizations and the strengths books for individuals have been hailed as evidence based practical and life changing. They generously put the power of strength approaches into the hands of everyone. And the final thing I’ll mention from her amazing CV is that her first degree was a BA honors in Psychology, Sociology and Economics. She’s also got an MSC in Organizational Change and this humanistic approach continues to inform her work and research methodologies. So Sally, welcome.

Sally Bibb (02:24): Thank you very much, Sean.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (02:26): So here we are at 2020 vast amount of change out there, huge issues in, in the news, an amazing amount of disruption and change and all the rest of it. So from the perspective of yourself and the sort of consulting work that you are doing, the thinking you, that you are doing, the advice you are giving, perhaps just take us through some of the key issue that you see impacting your clients at the moment.

Sally Bibb (02:53): Yeah. I mean, there are quite a few aren’t there right now. The main one is about talent and, you know, getting and attracting the right people for businesses. There’s quite a few organizations that we work with that have been heavily impacted by Brexit, the hospitality, construction, and healthcare, where there’s, there are already, there’s already a shortage of talent. And there’s a real worry because the reliance on EU workers and of course with the new immigration legislation coming forward. So there’s quite a lot of uncertainty and the, the best companies are really starting to look at talent differently. And I’m pleased to say, I think there’s always a we’re optimistic person, Sean. I think there’s always a silver lining. If you look hard enough. And I think the silver lining here is, is the current crisis really in you, you write about post-truth the current post-truth in trust in organizations, but also in the much more pragmatic impact of Brexit, the global economy.

Sally Bibb (04:00): And of course now coronavirus is that it’s calling on organizations to be much more genuinely appealing to really good people. And what does that mean? It means to see people for who they are value them, appreciate them, give them a sense of purpose look after them well and move away really from the sort of pseudoscientific approach to management and recruitment that so dominated the eighties and nineties. So I think it’s it’s a really difficult time, but for those organizations that got a genuine desire to treat people well and get the best outta them, it’s actually a huge opportunity.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (04:46): Hmm. How interesting at that point you made about, you know, moving away from the, as you put it, the sort of pseudo scientific approach that was perhaps the, all the rage while ago and doing something that is far more people based. I mean, do you see that sort of that if we say more sort of humanistic issue being a key point across society and culture as well?

Sally Bibb (05:10): I think you’re, you’re absolutely spot on with your question. I think it is. And I think people are hungry for connection. You know, of course we, we’ve never been more connected with the internet and social media, but I think there’s a, there’s an emptiness about that as well. And to just give you a little anecdote one of my best moments in the last few years in my work was when I spent a day with a, a lady who was a carer and her job was to look after people with severe learning disability, with severe disabilities in their own homes. And I spent the day with her. It was very poor part of the country in a Northern city. And I was, I really had my eyes open about how hard this work is and about the conditions that some people have to suffer really.

Sally Bibb (06:04): And my job, the reason I was with her was we were studying the great carers in this organization to help them to really understand what made somebody great at their job and how could they bring more people in like that and look after them. So they stayed. So it was a, it was a research piece of work. So I spent the day with this lady, it was clear. She was very nervous at the beginning of the day, even though she’d been told, you know, we’ve chosen you because you were really good at what you do. By the end of the day, we walked to the station together and said goodbye. And she said to me, this has been one of the best days of my life.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (06:39): Wow.

Sally Bibb (06:40): And I said, you know how common she said, nobody’s ever shown that interest, much interest in me before.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (06:46): Wow.

Sally Bibb (06:47): And I, and I think, you know, we know there’s a rise in loneliness and there’s a rise in mental health problems. Don’t we? And you know, obviously they’re multifactorial and complex, but what we see in our work is that when we do strength based development or selection work or anything really with organizations, the response is so overwhelmingly positive because simply people feel seen and appreciated for who they are and value that the emphasis is on what they’re doing. Right. And what they’re good at and encouraging them in that direction versus the kind of competency based, as I said, pseudoscientific, you know, it’s almost harking back to the industrial what was it called Sean when they used to do time emotion studies? Oh

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (07:44): Yeah, yeah, yeah. exactly,

Sally Bibb (07:46): It’s almost a version of that, you know, almost the kind of human as a machine idea.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (07:51): Which I think is interesting on that angle when you see, I think I was really only today in the Ft about you know, surveillance culture in businesses. And how, you know, famously, I think, I think it was bar is were nailed for this recently of just doing all those things about, so, you know, time in motion studies of people at their desks and, you know, being able to work out exactly what everyone was at any particular second. And if you took three seconds longer than the average person, you know, whatever, having a lunch break, you were called in, see horrendous, and it’s all been pushed back. So yeah. Kind of those, what about in terms of you know, your background? I know also, I mean, I mean the two books I mentioned, obviously you’ve done incredibly well, but I think I’m right. You’ve written seven books, haven’t you

Sally Bibb (08:36): Eight, actually eight

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (08:37): it’s just, how, how did you find the time to write eight books?

Sally Bibb (08:42): It somehow happened? Well, I all started cause I was having a conversation one day with a colleague back in the economist days about trust. And I was sort ranting on about how, you know, trust was a big issue and we needed to focus more on that and he said, why don’t you write a book on it? And I said, I could never write a book anyway. It’s cut a long story short. He showed me how to do a book proposal and he said, I’ll do it with you. Cause he was an experienced writer and we sent this proposal to a few to a few publishers and as look would have it one of them Paul Grave McMillan, who’d just been at the Frankfurt book fair. And people had been going up to masking them for books on trust and they didn’t have any . So it was a right idea at the right moment thing. And then I just got hooked. And I dunno about you with, with writing, it is a bit of a love, hate thing. I absolutely love the, to have the time to process my ideas. And now with my strengths work, it’s just a really great feeling to know that if I write books, people who wouldn’t have access to this kind of help can have access to it. So that’s a big motivator for me.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (09:58): Yeah. Yeah. And what about the one after that? The, the stone age company? What was that about

Sally Bibb (10:02): The stone age company? That’s one that was one of Mo my most popular and it’s the one that I cringe a bit, to be honest, because that was when I was in my slightly angry phase about, oh, you know, why are all these companies doing these bad things? It was when lot of corporate scandals were going on. And it was ironically given what I do now. It was all about what was wrong, not what was right. Okay. And then I realized that actually, if you wanna make change in the world, you really need to focus on what’s right. And boosting that cuz that’s much more productive and actually much better for your mental health.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (10:41): Yeah. Yeah. And is that what you really linked into then with, with one of your later books? The right thing?

Sally Bibb (10:48): Yes. I mean, I was actually approached to write that that’s about ethics in business, you know, and that co tackle some really crunchy issues again on the back of some of the corporate scandals. So what does it actually mean on a day to day basis? How can, you know, most people I believe are good and how can good people make sure that bad things don’t happen. So that was a very interesting book to research and write mm-hmm.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (11:11): And then what about your personal motivations in terms of, you know, what, what drove you really to, you know, move through your career? The way that you’ve the way that you’ve done?

Sally Bibb (11:21): I think two main themes. One is I’ve always been really interested in people. When I was a kid, my favorite program on the radio is in the psychiatrist chair. Mm-Hmm by, I think I was born age about 40 .

Sally Bibb (11:40): So I’ve always been interested in people and I’ve always cared about justice and, you know, got upset about injustice. And so I, I ended up with a career in organizational change. I did some HR type work and it, it seemed like a natural fit. So the idea of being able to work in a, my run, my own business, where I’m working with lots of different clients to make workplace is better for everybody concerned. When I look back and join the dots of my life, looking backwards, it’s obvious that I should have ended up here really mm-hmm

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (12:20): . And in terms of a, a real sort of catalytic moment, I know you mentioned earlier on that when you’re at the economist, you approached to write a book was that the catalytic moment or was there something else or a moment or a person that really, you know, boosted you on your way

Sally Bibb (12:39): To, towards doing what I’m doing now?

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (12:41): Yeah. I just wonder, and we look back at it and you think, right. That was actually as a lot of people do is either the most what may appear to be the most inconsequential thing or indeed an incredibly vital thing you think, wow. It was going well, but then it went really well because of that person or that event or whatever.

Sally Bibb (12:59): Yes. It was a conversation. I can you, where I was, it was a conversation with a guy who was one of my colleagues at the economist. He was at that time working as a publisher in the United States. And it was just before the.com boom. So kind of took about 2000 year, 2000. And we were talking about how we need to fundamentally changed how we worked as an organization and have people collaborating much more and, and really get to understand much more what was driving the success so that we could support that more. And he and I ended up pitching to the chief exec and saying, let you know, we want to leave our day jobs and work on creating a collaborative culture globally. In order that we can best address the challenges that were not only in the media world at the time, but in any business coping with what to do about digital.

Sally Bibb (14:00): So we did it and we had a pact with each other that when we weren’t needed anymore. In other words, when what we were doing became part of the lifeblood and DNA of the organization, then we would quit our jobs because we would have been successful at that point. And we measured that by, you know, some very hard measures, like pieces of work that came in that where customers were served by a number of different parts of the business, which proved that we were, you know, collaborating anyway, that that moment came, he said to me, well, I’m going. And I thought, well, I’ve gotta go as well then I didn’t really want to cause I loved working there to be honest. Yeah.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (14:41): Yeah.

Sally Bibb (14:42): But, but part of what we had been doing is studying what made our great sales people great around the world. And there was some real surprises, counterintuitive things that came outta that. And because I developed a methodology for doing that the economist over the several years I thought wouldn’t it be interesting and valuable to be able to take this to a much broader audience. So that’s when I left and started to try and get a business going in this area. And the first break came, it was hard. I mean, much harder than, than I could have possibly imagined. But the first break came when we got a piece of work with Starbucks and you know, that really helped us to open opened the door. It really opened the door to lots of other businesses because if you’ve got Starbucks on your client list, then people think, well, you know, it must be okay what you’re doing. Mm. So that was a real pivotal moment as well. Mm-Hmm.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (15:41): And so in terms of sort of business achievements, I mean, you, you, you know, so you obviously achieved a lot, so is there something that really stands out that you to have as your sort of, you know, key anecdote you go bang, I did that or I achieved that and I’m genuinely proud of it.

Sally Bibb (15:57): Well, can I mention three things briefly? The first one is the obvious kind of you know, ROI return on investment one, but I am proud of this because it really, the, the kind of work we do is the only HR type work that I’ve ever known, that you can prove a connection with saving money. And one of the first clients we had, we save four and a half million in the first year. Whoa. And that came to turn out to be not that unusual. So I’m very proud of being able to do that. The second one is the work we do is having an impact on the diversity in organizations. And one of the teaching hospitals, we worked in their appointment of senior nurses from B AME groups increased by 9% wow. In the first year as well.

Sally Bibb (16:58): Mm. So that was really great. And then the third one is, is more of a sort of anecdote really, and more of a goose pimple moment where it was again in the NHS. And we’d been working with the top 10, he teaching hospitals to introduce strengths based selection for for ward, sisters mm-hmm . And as part of that, I was trotting around these trusts presenting to big groups of nurses, matrons, and so on. And I dunno if, if you ever worked with nurses, Sean, I love them cuz they tend to be very straightforward and just say as it is. Yeah. Yeah. And you know, and I’m always there saying, come on, tell me your worries. Tell me if you’re cynical. Is there anything that you’re not sure about with this? And there was one lady who was very cynical, she’d seen it all before.

Sally Bibb (17:48): Was it another HR thing? And you know, she was, she was really worried about, are we gonna waste a lot of time? And this isn’t going to work about six months later when things had got implemented, I was going to give a presentation along with a few others to the exec team. And they’d opened it up to any nurse that wanted to come and hear about progress. And we just got started and I saw this lady walk into the back of the room and I thought, God, you know, what’s she gonna say at the end? She came up to me and she said, Sally, can I give you a hug? And I said, why? And she said, this has just changed everything on my ward. I now go home at night and I don’t worry about what’s gonna happen during the night because I know I’ve got really good nurses and I know they’re right for the job.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (18:36): Wow.

Sally Bibb (18:36): And it’s that sort of moment a bit like the one I told you earlier about the lady I spent the day with yeah. Is that, that really gets me saving money is nice, but it’s the human moments that motivate me really.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (18:52): Yeah. Yeah. Sure. And, and in terms of things that inspire you to say sort of externally, so, I mean, are you, I dunno, you a big reader. I mean, I obviously you’ve having read written eight books. I wondered, you know, what do you read? Where do you get your sort of info from and your inspiration from

Sally Bibb (19:10): I’m a, I mean, I’m a big reader. I read a lot of fiction, but also nonfiction, I like to read biographies mm-hmm so I currently just about to finish Gina Miller’s book rise. Yeah, it’s, it’s a very inspirational read. Obviously she’s a woman of great courage. But it’s really about purpose and contribution. And I think it will be on my list of books that I recommend people if they want to be inspired, to be a little bit more courageous. And then the other one which has been around for a while now is Ken Robinson’s the element mm-hmm, , you know, that’s really about how finding your passion changes things. I would reframe that slightly to understanding yourself and what you can contribute. Cause I think when you talk to people about finding their passion, it can be a bit of a scary and well, I haven’t got a passion moment. But nevertheless, I think what Ken Robinson talks about is, is incredibly important for everybody really. Mm.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (20:14): And then in terms of, so when you’re talking about these issues and the world of conferences and events and all the rest of it is, is so multi-layered, and we often hear, you know, some amazingly great stories and also some real horror stories, any particular conference anecdotes that you, that you could share. So any, you know, places you’ve been that you’ve given talks at that you’ve thought, wow, that was really, really well organized or that was an inspiring lineup of people we had there, or, or what

Sally Bibb (20:44): I find more and more that it’s the conferences where dialogue happens rather than set piece speeches, to be honest. And I, I do do speaker slots, but I always have an element of dialogue with people and also get them to talk to each other. Cause I think that can, that’s people don’t have time for that. People don’t have time to listen to other people much, and the feedback tells me that they really value it.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (21:14): Mm. How interesting

Sally Bibb (21:16): That, that, I suppose that’s my big takeaway about the best conferences these days. And then my other anecdote about a conference that I’ve enjoyed the most, but it was the, the most scary thing I’ve ever done was to speak at a conference in Madrid. And they said to me, look, you can speak slowly in English. And I thought, oh, I’m not doing that. That’s, that’s really awful to expect people to, you know, listen to me in my own language and I don’t speak Spanish. So I decided to, it was 20 minutes. I had it professionally translated into Spanish and I got myself an improv coach and I delivered it in Spanish.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (21:56): Oh,

Sally Bibb (21:57): A and it was so interesting because a, I was incredibly nervous and I don’t tend to get that nervous anymore these days. And I knew I was putting myself out there because the organizers kept saying to me, are you sure this is a good idea? And it was one of those things, you know, people talk about vulnerability I

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (22:15): Was good to say. Yeah.

Sally Bibb (22:16): And it was one of those things where I stepped up on the stage behind this podium and I thought, this is what vulnerability feels like. Yeah. It gave me a connection with the audience. I mean, of course they appreciated the effort I’d made and they had a good laugh about my mispronunciation. Yeah. Yeah. But it created a connection because I went to them and that was quite a moment. And, and it’s really back to my theme, which is about, you know, valuing people, seeing them for who they are. It doesn’t mean always being soft. You know, sometimes it means saying really hard things, but in a, in a in a very human way and way. And so that experience was one that reminded me the importance of, you know, trying to connect with people by going to them.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (23:12): Yeah. Fantastic

Sally Bibb (23:13): Theme of my work, I suppose.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (23:15): Yeah. And he’s saying the sort of vulnerability of it as you get up on stage and accidentally say something appallingly rude in Spanish, that sounds a bit like what you’re trying to say. What about so, you know, as we are now in 2020, what what’s coming up for you? What, what’s the what’s the next big thing on the horizon for you?

Sally Bibb (23:31): Well, the you know, that one thing I love about life is that things are also unexpected and the strengths book and the strengths workbook, both of them made the W H Smith airport top tens, which is, you know, as you know, Sean and author’s dream, you never expect it to happen to you. Yeah. Brilliant. And so these are both taken off. And so I’m, I’m doing more and more short workshops around the books, which are having great impact. People are loving them. And it means I’m working with lots of new and different kinds of groups, all sorts of people from women prisoners to air traffic controllers senior executives. And it’s a wonderful experience because what it tells me is that it, you know, there’s, there’s something very, it’s very different world being a wo woman in prison to a senior executive in a $3 billion company, but they’re all humans and they all really don’t know that much about themselves and what drives them in the deeper motivations. And it’s very energizing when they do. And so this is this is a very fun part of my work life. That’s becoming bigger and bigger right now.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (24:44): That’s absolutely brilliant. Okay. In that case, but last questions. So in terms of for the, for the Speakers Associates audience, wherever they may be in Asia or the US or the Middle East or UK, et cetera, if you were to be stepping up on stage or at an event to give your, you know, ideal speech, what would that what would the ideal talk be about who’s your perfect audience and, and, and so therefore, what would you really like the this, the, the listeners to this podcast to really take away is the, the key thing that you could be providing for them.

Sally Bibb (25:25): It’s quite simply about energizing and re-energizing their incredibly valuable talent.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (25:34): Very good. Well look, so Sally Bibb, award-winning business author, keynote speaker, and founding director of Engaging Minds, the strength consultancy. Thank you.

Sally Bibb (25:46): Thank you, Sean.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey (25:51): Thank you for listening to The Speaker Show podcast. Please leave a rating on iTunes. We’d really appreciate it. And also it’d be great. If you could subscribe to the podcast itself, you’ll find it also on Google podcasts, SoundCloud, or your favorite podcast app. Thank you.

Podcast host

Sean Pillot de Chenecey speaker

Sean Pillot de Chenecey

Foresight strategist, author and podcast host Sean Pillot de Chenecey is an inspirational speaker, who’s also consulted for some of the world’s biggest brands.

Sean has a very deep level of knowledge regarding the genuine issues impacting brands from a cultural, social and business perspective.

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