Beverley Aylott has been quietly transforming organisations – here she tells us about her work and inspiration
Beverley Aylott has over 20 years of experience in developing people and organisations. She is an Organisational Development (OD) practitioner with a particular focus on transforming organisations through people development interventions.
She has had a very full and varied career to date; covering banking, engineering, charity, public sector and pharmaceutical sectors as well as three years as an external consultant.
Beverley has won recognition for her work over recent years. She received a bronze award in leadership development at the TJ Awards 2013 and while at Imperial College Healthcare won the HPMA Award, again for leadership development, and was shortlisted in the OD category too.
All of Beverley’s roles have been newly created positions designed to enable some kind of organisational change, she has never moved into an existing role or had a handover from a previous incumbent.
Beverley belongs to a number of professional networks believing that it is vital to stay on trend with best practice and latest thinking and to share thoughts and experiences with peers.
Beverley believes that everyone deserves to feel good about themselves at work. That going to work should be a positive, safe and fulfilling experience. No one should feel fearful or anxious walking through the door in the morning. We must value difference and embrace all types of people in our workplaces.
Why training and how did you start?
I started in HR and a time when it was called Personnel! I quickly realised that my passion lay in developing people. I gradually moved across into L&D and then OD, and now I am Head of Learning at global pharmaceutical company AbbVie. I love the breadth and creativity of L&D, the complexity of understanding what makes people tick and being able to help people to become more than they thought they could be.
L&D keeps evolving and we are finding out new things all the time. It’s a wonderful field to be in; challenging and rewarding. I am also addicted to learning myself so it’s fantastic to be immersed in learning all day long!
Who or what inspires you?
In my last role at Imperial the nurses that I met really inspired me, their selflessness, their innate drive to care for others is so humbling. I was at a seminar recently delivered by neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield who outlined worrying research showing that levels of empathy are falling in the 24/7 digital world.
I read somewhere recently that engagement is about relationships not initiatives and I totally believe that. If you can get the relationships between individuals, teams, managers and leaders working well that is the key to a healthy, sustainable and successful organisation.
New ideas with common sense inspire me. I am a voracious reader of management books. I have just finished Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last and his concept of the ‘Circle of Safety’ really resonated with me. I am also an advocate of positive psychology and believe that we should enable people to do what they do best every day – we’re all different with different talents – let us be different!
I was at a seminar by Google last year and their motto is, “If you give people freedom they will amaze you”. Unfortunately most organisations are not brave enough to give up the control (or illusion of control) that a ream of policies and procedures gives them.
At this point I do have to give a big shout out to all the introverts out there in L&D roles. One of my old bosses bought me the book Quiet by Susan Cain to show that he understood and valued my contribution. She says that introverts are not shy or unsociable they are just very highly tuned to the world around them and so need time and space alone to process their thoughts – and she also says that introverts make the best leaders because they are natural listeners!
What has been your lowest moment, and what your noblest hour?
One moment that I will treasure is reading the leaving (thank you) card I got from my team when I worked at a national charity. In it there were two quotes particularly poignant:
“Great leaders leave a legacy and I am proud to have been part of yours”
“You always thought I was capable of more than I believed I was, thank you”
My lowest moment, gosh that’s hard, I tend to be quite a positive person, I guess seeing people come out of a development programme buzzing with enthusiasm for trying new things only to find out later that the organisation has swallowed them back up and stopped that from happening, it’s so sad and frustrating.
The other thing that really makes me angry is people in positions of power using that to make others feel small. One thing I always discuss on my leadership development programmes is the enormous power leaders have over their teams and the huge responsibility which comes with that.
What and when was your career turning point?
My second role for a small banking organisation made me realise what I could achieve with just passion and drive. They took a real risk in appointing me to a very senior role with no training experience whatsoever because they thought I was ‘feisty’! From nothing we achieved IiP in less than 18 months. From that experience I became determined to make a real difference everywhere I went, to have a lasting impact on the organisation and its people, even if it meant challenging the establishment and being a bit unpopular.
Describe your best learning and development experience?
It would have to be doing my Certificate in OD practice at Roffey Park. I learnt a lot about OD, but also about myself too. The assessment process was peer review which I really liked, it was supportive but we really did challenge each other too, it wasn’t easy. We were a group of six and had a fantastic learning journey together, we still meet regularly and ask each other’s advice on sticky situations. It’s wonderful to have such a great professional network – we always bring different perspectives to everything.
Thinking back, there are two things early in my career which still stick with me today. The first was when I was pitching a new performance management system to my manager and I launched into a long speech about it, he listened patiently and then said to me: “Next time ask me a question first to see where I stand because I completely agree with you and we could both have just saved ourselves the last 20 minutes!”. The second is when one of my bosses said to me: “You know what I really like about your approach? You bring me solutions not problems”.
It’s ‘on-the-job’ moments like those that have definitely shaped my way of working.
What’s next in your career?
Not to sound ancient but I guess I am starting to think about where I want to be when I retire, what I want to have achieved and what legacy I want to leave. I think I will continue to seek out organisations where I can bring in new thinking and new ways of working and really make a big difference through exceptional people development.
I recently watched a YouTube video on a group of people who just came together for a day to make robotic hands for disabled children (look under Hand-athon). No rules, no hierarchy, no organisation, no one getting paid, just people with passion, skills and a clear common purpose. I would love to be a part of something like that.
Playing to win
Get close to your business, understand them and speak their language. To be credible you need to be able to show that you understand how the organisation works, what the key front line roles are actually like; what their drivers and frustrations are.
Be confident in yourself and your abilities, focus on your strengths and talents. Don’t waste effort trying to ‘fix’ your deficiencies. Everyone is great at something, know what you are great at and develop it – be proud of your unique differences. Celebrate successes.
Keep a focus on your own CPD, get out and about; join networks, read articles, learn, learn, learn! It’s really important for us to keep at the forefront of our profession, to be up to date with new thinking and research that can provide us with a solid evidence base for our proposals. We need to have theory and practice to hand to support our views.
Look after your health and wellbeing. Remember yourself and ring-fence time for your friends, family and hobbies. Mindfulness is really important; to enjoy the small things and live in the moment. I see so many people rushing about who are so busy doing that they aren’t really living.