Vonnie Alexander interview
Vonnie Alexander interview
The 2Y3X programme has been joined by a team of expert consultants, who have been running emergency planning workshops on a voluntary basis for the past few months, providing critical support for businesses who need it. For more information about this please see this page.
Starting with the basics… Could you talk a little about your background? What types of businesses do you usually work with?
Up until five years ago, my background was almost entirely in marketing and marketing services. I worked in the world of advertising and communications agencies, with a specialism in CRM. So data-driven marketing.
I climbed up through the ranks and got to middle-management level and then thought, ‘I know! I can do this better.’ So I went off travelling for a bit to find myself, or some equivalent… Then I came back and started an agency with three other partners, which was called Kitcatt Nohr. We started in 2002 and we sold it to Publicist group in 2011. I stayed with Publicist group until 2015 when I decided that I’d sort of outgrown the industry, and it was time for me to move on and leave.
I took a year off to spend time at home being mum for a bit, and then I re-trained as a coach. And now I coach individuals, teams and I am also delivering training and workshops. I’m also a non-exec director as well, so I’ve got a really nice range of things I do.
In my career as an agency person, I was always client-facing. Which is born out of a real love of people. Which is why I think I’m doing what I’m doing now. I really love meeting people and working out what makes them tick and what motivates them. And that’s also marketing, in a way. What makes people do something, or not do something?
What was your first impression of The 2Y3X Programme?
I liked the simplicity of the model. I like the rigour, and it’s really a type of non-exec role, holding the businesses to account. Keeping a certain distance and perspective to remain objective and imperative and not to go native is all a part of that.
How have you seen businesses react to the current crisis?
My clients are largely from the corporate world, they tend to be from my old sector – lots of agency type people at senior and leadership levels. I also work with retailers and publishers and professional service organisations. But everyone I coach is a human being, an individual. My relationship with them is about their whole lives, how they’re coping with work, but also with life outside work.
I suppose what I’ve seen which is common to all is this is our reaction to change. We all struggle to a certain extent with change, whether we like to admit it or not. Lots of people go, ‘Oh I love change, it’s so brilliant’, but chemically what it does to the brain is that it unsettles us. It makes us go into fight or flight mode to protect ourselves. So we know that change is uncomfortable for us as human beings.
I think one of the things I’ve seen is businesses reacting really quickly to change (because they had to) and it’s impressive. And at the same time that’s taken its toll on people, in terms of how they’re feeling and how exhausted they are. The possibility of burnout is great.
Attached to change, we’ve had a large dose of uncertainty. You can usually deal with one or the other, but both in large volumes together is quite awkward and difficult for people. So it feels like people have coped admirably and brilliantly and yet, the bedrock has been fundamentally shifted, so people feel a little bit at sea.
What one piece of advice would you give to business leaders struggling during these times?
I would look at what you can control and what you can’t. There are the circles of influence and the circles of control, so I’d say to look at what is in your power and what isn’t. Because when you’re dealing with change and uncertainty, you worry about all the things you can’t control and you can’t effect. So if you can park those and just say, ‘they will be what they will be’, and I will respond accordingly. Knowing what you can do now puts yourself back in control. It doesn’t matter whether you’re being made redundant or losing a client, or whatever it might be, the minute you can get back some sense of control, you’re in a more powerful place. When things are happening to you, you go into victim mode and you lose your resourcefulness.
Are there particular issues which you personally find important and get excited to fix, regardless of the client?
There are two things I’m drawn towards. Conflict is one – people shy away from conflict because they find it uncomfortable, and often it’s brushed under the carpet. What that does is it makes it worse, as we all know. It doesn’t go away, it festers and hangs in the air. So I quite like dealing with the conflict, and to find safe ways of doing that. You can create a space for members of teams to express their emotions, to vent and find common purpose again. And common purpose can be to go separate ways, it doesn’t have to be a common purpose towards a future together. I like tackling that.
The other thing I love is actually setting teams on the right path from day one. This is something that in hindsight I wish we had had when we started our business. You can create contracts, the right atmosphere and the right agreements between you for your business, partnerships and leadership teams to thrive and succeed. And you can bake into that how you’re going to work together when conflict emerges. If you do that at the beginning, it’s much much easier than entering a situation that you then have to get out of.
Are there any business-related books you’ve found useful or inspiring recently which you’d recommend?
This is my favourite book of all time, and it’s better than a business book! It’s a beautiful book from a coaching point of view, and it’s got so much wisdom in it. Beautifully illustrated and perfect for eight year olds and 80 year olds. It’s The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy. I’ve got tabs all over it because it’s got so many pearls of wisdom in it. It’s a gift you must give yourself. I often reach for it and refer to it when I’m coaching at home.
What do you like to do in your spare time, outside of work?
My spare time is for my children, really. There isn’t a lot beyond that. I’m a social animal, I like people. So it would have to be barbeques, lunches and picnics, holidays and travel.
How have you adapted your professional life to fit around your personal life?
I was prepping from home pre-pandemic, but all my work was face-to-face, and I like human contact. I miss eye contact and body language cues in a room! If you’ve got eight people in a room and someone says something, you can pick up the ripple, which you don’t get in any of the VC platforms. So I really miss that – feeling the energy in a room.
It has been easier than I thought, but it’s been much harder at the same time. My learning curve was skyrocketed, in terms of being able to manage complicated meetings on Zoom.
I had a six-eight week period at the start of lockdown which was a bit mad as I was creating and delivering a lot of content. They were pretty intense for me, but now there’s a bit more balance in there.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve started writing and testing the water with my writing. I’ve published three articles in lockdown and they have slightly different flavours, so I’m seeing how people respond to different things.
I’m working with my clients, I’m preparing some workshops for one of the businesses that I work with for their parent and family communities. One for people who will be returning to work after having children, and one for parents who have been through this really difficult phase of juggling childcare and workload. Given that we think this is going to continue, we need to think about how we will make this sustainable. We also need to take stock about where we have been resilient and where we haven’t, and where we might want to increase our resilience.
I’m still learning. I’m about to do a course about all the saboteurs, like imposter syndrome. To work around those little negative voices that we all hear in our heads. I’m also trying to plan a summer holiday of sorts…
I’ve spoken with some 2Y3X clients and I’m happy to have conversations with those who need support during these times. I would love to work with individuals who are at a disadvantage. Perhaps mentoring somebody or a business who would benefit from coaching.