Talent Stories: Alex Currie, Vice President, People and Talent at GoCompare
Thursday 14th November 2019
In our Talent Stories series, we put some of Wales' most accomplished and successful executives under the spotlight, sharing their inspiring stories with you.
This time we feature one of the brightest human resources professionals working in Wales today. Alex Currie describes himself as a "senior change agent and strategic facilitator" at GoCompare.
Responsible for a workforce of 340 at a fast-growing multi-million-pound company, Alex is passionate about driving success through organisational values and people.
He's also a big fan of using Lego-based techniques to overcome challenges and resolve conflict - more on that later.
Here, Alex shares the story of his stellar career to date.
Hi Alex. Can you give us a potted history of your career journey to date?
I can clearly remember choosing my A-Level options on the final day for submission, and being torn between studying the three sciences towards a potential career in medicine, or choosing English, History and Law with a view to a career in law. I remember asking my friend what she had chosen and quickly striking through the three sciences and amending my choices to reflect hers. I went on to undertake my Law degree at the same time as dipping my toe in the murky world of Human Resources. I then moved to Tesco, taking an employee relations role to help support me financially through my studies.
Once graduated, I moved to GoCompare.com, where I started as a legal assistant, ready and eager to use my new-found knowledge of commercial contract negotiation. I spent two years in the post, undertaking my ILEX (LPC equivalent) before realising that I quite missed the world of people and talent.
I was fortunate enough to be offered an internal move opportunity at GoCompare.com and over the last ten years have worked hard, gaining promotions along the way from Advisor to Business Partner, to Manager, Head of, Director and now Vice President. It seems a world away from the younger me and his medical ambitions.
Is there anyone you've encountered along the way to whom you are grateful?
I've been fortunate enough in my career to have a couple of excellent managers who have really helped guide and coach me. My current and former managers both encouraged me in my development, allowing me to secure my next promotion, and I will always be thankful for their time and support.
What is the biggest thing you have learned during your career to date?
I've probably learned most from some of the mistakes that I have made along the way. There are a couple that stick out, and I look back on them now and think "why did I handle that in that way?". But it is these mistakes that have guided my thoughts on handling things differently and certainly reinforce fundamental principles for me.
What is your approach to work-life balance?
I'm fortunate enough to work in quite a blended way. There are no hard boundaries between my work and my personal life. In today's world, modern methods of working make it easier to work more flexibly. There must also be an element of give and take. Certain times of the year require you to give more of yourself to either family or work, and my current role allows me to do that.
That said, I always use my annual leave and always take time out to recharge.
Tell us about how you use Lego in your work - we're fascinated to find out more.
I am a Lego serious play ("LSP") facilitator. To cut a long story short, Lego serious play is a technique focused on defining problems, finding solutions and getting teams to communicate effectively. Creativity is unlocked through the process of play, allowing participants to kinaesthetically share their ideas and tell stories through the use of their Lego models.
If you think about how a child plays with their toys, they are focused and almost in a trance-like state, creating stories in their heads and acting them out. LSP is similar and is focused on getting participants into a play mindset to unlock creative thinking and solutions.
I enjoy using the tool and often find it useful in team exercises where we are looking to provide feedback to each other. The use of Lego allows difficult messages to be delivered in a way means the recipient doesn't feel attacked, because the feedback is directed to the Lego and through the Lego. LSP can also be used in strategy setting, conflict resolution and scenario testing...it's an extremely versatile tool.
Who or what inspires you?
Music is my go-to. If I need to focus I put my headphones in, if I want to relax I put Alexa on, going on a long drive, I have a playlist. Music allows people to connect emotionally and can have a real impact on my mood and wellbeing.
What is the best piece of career advice you've received?
Take every opportunity you are given. I have been fortunate enough to have many opportunities presented to me during my career, and I have said yes to every one of them. Some work out, some teach you things and others fall flat, but that's ok.
What piece of career advice would you give to someone starting in your field today?
Learn your trade. Don't pigeon hole yourself too early. Know what you stand for and don't compromise on it. Be open to change and accept that you are going to hit bumps in the road. Work hard, give it your all and your hard work will pay off. Finally, be commercial in your approach. A People and Talent team's role is to enable the organisation, not to act as a quasi-police officer.
What is your approach to continuous professional development?
No-one can afford to stop learning. Likewise, no one is above learning and developing. The mechanic by which that happens changes as you progress within your career, but its importance should never change.
I take a 70, 20, 10 time split approach to development. 70% of development is about doing the job, improving, honing skills, building upon existing ways of doing things until you are an SME. 20% of developing is exposure to new projects, workstreams, peer development or situations. Finally, 10% of my development comes from more conventional training sources - usually books, articles and videos such as TED talks and LinkedIn learning.
What are the best and worst bits of your current role?
My role is so varied. I have oversight of everything from talent attraction and development to people, operations and engagement across five businesses. The best part of my role has to be having the opportunity to set the people and talent strategy and roadmaps for the Group.
The worst part of the job has to be parting company with an employee. A lot of people think it must be easy for People and Talent professionals to do this, but it isn't. It is never a pleasant job, but so long as you are fair and treat everyone with compassion, it can be easier.
The most satisfying bit is seeing people work hard, develop and get promoted.
Who do you admire?
There is no one person I look up to, more a group of individuals from different areas ranging from business to politics, and from popular culture to people I work with. What they all have in common is a sense of purpose coupled with a principled foundation that anchors them.
In your experience of recruitment, what is the key thing when it comes to spotting - and retaining - talent?
In my experience, the key to spotting talent is not to be confined by overly burdensome headcount or financial plans. If you see talent and they could make a positive difference, challenge yourself and your business leaders on if you can afford to pass it by.
Retaining talent is slightly different. Outside of your sanatory things like career maps, good reward structures and stretching opportunities, a mission, vision and values that are authentic and well communicated go a long way. People want to understand what they are working toward and what a business stands for.
What can you tell us about the benefits of working with an executive search consultancy, and in particular your work with Goodson Thomas?
Good executive recruitment firms allow me to outsource recruitment that requires a different approach and a higher time commitment than our in-house teams can afford to spend on mapping the market, identifying talent and speaking to candidates. Having a team like Goodson Thomas feels like an extension to my team.
In terms of working with the team at Goodson Thomas, it has worked really well. The team spent time understanding the business, its culture and our requirements for the role. Our interaction was relationship focused with a genuine approach of partnership. The team identified what our expectations and needs were and delivered every step of the way.
Describe your dream job if money was no object.
If money were no object, I would love to have a little bar with a gite on the coast in the south of France.