Sessions is temporarily moving to YouTube, check out all our new videos here.

My Leadership Journey

Katie Hermans speaking at TECH(K)NOW Day in March, 2017
Great talks, fired to your inbox 👌
No junk, no spam, just great talks. Unsubscribe any time.

About this talk

Katie will talk about her leadership journey and provide practical tips to being a successful female leader in technology.


Good afternoon everyone. Everyone having a good day? [Audience] Yes. Yes, win. I'm Katie Hermans. I work at Liverpool Victoria or LV as we are known nowadays. I head up the digital delivery team in CIO. My team is predominately formed of software developers and project managers. Over the last seven years, our team has been on a absolute magnificent journey. We've increased the team size from three developers to a team size of 35. And over the next 12 to 18 months, we're probably gonna be hiring at least another 18 people to the team. So I'm here today to talk to you my leadership journey, the challenged I faced because there has been a tonne, and how they have overcome them. And I really hope to impart some of that knowledge with all of you. I'm happy to take some questions at the end. So, who can tell me who we've got up here? Mary Poppins. Hopefully some of you will relate. But I spent many hours as a child watching Mary Poppins. I thought she was the blooming business. And she a had a magic bag. It was just magic hats off. And I probably was a bit older than I should have been, 12, 13, so no one's actually perfect are they? She doesn't exist. And that was a bit of a realisation for me. I've grown up. As a competitive swimmer, I was in the water from 4:30 to seven every morning. I was always told you're not quite good enough, get better, get better. And I actually thought, it dawned on me, no one is perfect. So come on, let's take a little bit of pressure off. So today, I've got five top tips. Probably got more than five. I've trieddown. Top tip number one, go beyond the safe side. When I look back over the last seven to 10 years, a lot of my achievements have been attributed to me going outside of my comfort zone. So quite often I have that feeling of, oh my goodness, did I just say or do that? Why did I volunteer for that? And then I tell myself, I will only improve if I stretch myself, I take myself out of that comfort zone and it is perfectly okay to make mistakes. Because ultimately, that's how we learn, that's how we develop, that's how we improve. I actually probably like the thrill of being outside my comfort zone. I like that nervous energy that I get. And I think afterwards, I think I'm really proud of myself that I did that. I didn't think I could do that but I've proven to myself I can. Just last month, the CIO of LV said, "Katie, I really want you to head up two more digital "agile delivery teams. "One for digital strategic initiatives and one for RPA." I just looked at him, racking my brain. What is RPA? Does anyone know what RPA is? No, I had one of those moments where do I go along with this? I don't know what RPA is. Do I fess up and say I don't know what it is? And so I did, I said, I don't know what RPA is. Can you tell me? He was actually very vague himself, so I looked it up on wiki. It stands for Robotics Process Automation. And it's an area which LV heavily want to invest in it. So I'm automating using robots and machines, automate the backend processes. So the theory is you'll get a shed load on efficiencies and reductions in the things like head count. Digital is my comfort, so I can talk about digital for hours and hours. Robotics, I haven't gotof a clue. So I was asking myself, why am I being asked to do this? And it sort of dawned on me that I wasn't being asked for my expertise or specialism in this particular subject. I was being asked because I have a proven track record of being fantastic successful teams that deliver outcomes. And I've definitely got quite high energy. And I've taken that into this new challenge. I don't have all the answers. But I will recruit people that will have all the answers. Another example of me going out of my comfort zone is right here today. I am very nervous and my first experience of presenting was perhaps six years ago. And I was asked to go and present to the exec. And I got in there and I was really prepared, I had all my, I had rehearsed it parrot fashion. And I go about three or four sentences into my presentation and I had forgotten to breathe, so I had that tragic moment of followed by the bright red face. And I thought I am never ever presenting again. The execs were laughing at me. It was brutal. But I got out, dusted myself off. And I'm here standing here today. So it couldn't have left too many scars I suppose. So I guess my advice is I really urge and encourage each of you to stick your head above the comfort. Seek out opportunities and volunteer for things that really make you feel uncomfortable. You will make it a success. We women, we put everything that we have into making things successful. And trust me, you will look back at it, and you'll be very proud of yourself. Top tip number two, deliver on improvements. So those that know me quite well that I'm really compassionate about continuous improvement, whether it's process, people development, technology, tooling, the list goes on. And I've said before previously, it very much stems from my childhood. I was a competitive swimmer. I was in the water 15 hours a week. I was always striving to be just that bit better. If you do this, and you change your stroke just like that, you'll get another second off. So it's ingrained in my brain, if you just chip away bit by bit, you will improve slowly over time. And 12 months down the line, 24 months down the line, you can make magnificent improvements. So in 2013, my team, we were predominately a Waterford delivery team. We had two weeks to production. We did a bit of fixes and enhancements for six weeks, and then every 12 weeks. We were a slow team. Development was slow, testing was slow. Production deployments were slow. You get the gist, we were slow. And I should have probably already mentioned actually, but in 2014, I went off and had a baby, so I have seven months off. And when I returned from having my maternity leave, I sort of looked at ourselves, and I thought unless we change the way in which we go about project delivery we will always be slow. So I took the opportunity reinvent the wheel. And I came up with this agile, what we callspeaker change delivery mechanism. We went from to having non-code bases to four code bases, and we went from two weeks to production to four. So we're able to now make changes to production every week, every four weeks, every 12 weeks. And we've also got a code branch there for when we have urgent production fixes. Recent flood warning that we were having, we were able put a splash page out from our application very, very quickly by the speed change process. We've introduced tooling such as JIRA and continuous integration, Sonar to make sure that our application with scanning it regularly for PCI and security threats. And preparing on for delivery from 2013 to 2015, we've tripled our productivity. I didn't like giving up what I enjoy doing. My background is I am a software developer. And last year, I surprised a few of my colleagues by just knocking up an Angular website which was a department who's who, what are capabilities, the skills we've got, mugshots of everyone. And people would come up to me, you didn't do that. And I was like, I did, I had some help. Julie, wherever you are, you're over there. Julie helped me. But I guess my point is don't give up what you enjoy doing. You may step into a leadership role, but that doesn't mean you can't do the bits that you enjoy. I wanted to crack a little fun when in the office. A crazy thought, I know. And I was also at the time into adult colouring, it's a proven stress buster, it helps you focus on the area of topical concern. So I got a massive colouring wall installed as you can see here. It's actually, I don't know, the size from here to across there. And everyday, I see people wondering up to it, getting their colouring pens and having their little colour. People said, "Wow, that's brilliant. "Am I actually allowed to colour it?" Yes go for it. But do not steal the sharpies though. Third top tip, take time to be a team and know your team. Cannot stress this enough. Upon my return from maternity leave, a number of my senior team decided, it was the end of a huge project, they wanted another challenge. So they exited to go on to pastures new. And this news, it hit the rest of my team quite badly, I'll be very honest. Morale was low and the mood was lethargic. And everyone was going what are we going to do? How are we going to deliver? We've lost three or four really great people. And I said, well we're not going to replace them. These people were senior tech leads, skill sets. And so we were gonna go and recruit junior developers. And people were like, she's gone a bit kooky. She's come back from maternity leave and she's gone all a bit weird on us. But I tell you know, it was absolutely the best thing for the team. Overnight, just the environment and the culture changed. We embedded teamwork and not just as in work, on a day to day basis. You see lots of pictures here. We've done charity events, we did happy fun, where we built a travel quick quote mobile application in seven hours. And I wanted to be able to trust and respect within the team. And I thought well how can I do that? So I got some of the guys in the team to bring in their tents and we did a blindfolded tent building exercise. We buddy-ed up the junior developers with the senior developers. We did knowledge sharing sessions on a weekly basis. Guess the point is we very much changed the way in which we worked. And at the end 2015, we won double whammy award. We won CIO team of the year, and LV group wide team of the year, which is the highest accolade a team can ever get in LV. And this was rewarded with the team's rather extravagant holiday to Iceland. So you can see in the far right picture, and that was some of our team in Iceland high off the mountain, out to go snowmobiling for a couple of hours. The worst piece of career advice I've ever had, your team are not your friends. If you ever hear anyone say this to you, just run. 'Cause it contained me and I spent too long not being myself, holding myself back, not being my true self. And upon my return from maternity, I thought no, I've had enough of that. These people are fantastic individuals and I've put everything into knowing all about my team, family names, hobbies, pets' names, parents' names. We've developed, all of us, we've developed a wonderful family feel like culture in the team, whilst be extremely successful as a team. I've also learned what motivates the team and what generally motivates people. There isn't one recipe that you can skip on everyone. Some people, they're motivated purely by having a sidekick. Others, they are motivated by being rewarded by having extra responsibility. So this actually really helped me 'cause I was taking on extra responsibility. And I needed to divulge from responsibility. So I shared that across the team. If you have a relatively flat team structure in hierarchy, that works wonders because everyone feels that they are part of something much bigger. There's no them and us, or I'm not doing that because they're more senior that I am. So my main piece of advice for building and sustaining an effective and strong team is hire for the right attitude. Don't hire for seniority. Take time to be a team and embed that teamwork into day to day working life. It doesn't matter how busy you are in a project, because if you are ineffective as a team, the project may not get delivered. My fourth bit of advice, stand up for yourself. My biggest challenge in my transition from developer to leader was in 2008 when I took the opportunity to be promoted to team lead. It took me way beyond my comfort zone. Overnight, people that trained me as a graduate developer were working for me. And it didn't go down well. So out of interest, who's had a moment in this room where you had a conversation, email, phone call, meeting, where afterwards, you think to yourself, did that actually just happen? Put your hands up, yeah. And then afterwards, you have that feeling of low self confidence, worry, dread. Sometimes you may get a bit upset because you just think I didn't deserve that. And then after awhile, you think I wish I had said something back in response. But you didn't, so you tell yourself you're gonna do it next time. You're gonna stand up for yourself. But then the next time comes and you don't stand up for yourself, it's a vicious cycle. I had so many examples of this happening to me in that transition of developer to team lead. I had pats on the head, good girl, you're young enough to be my daughter I was told many a time. And yes, it knocked my confidence. And then one day, a good friend Julie, Katie, find your assertiveness, it's in there. So slowly I started to give it a go. I gave feedback with more confidence. I communicated clearly. And as a result of that, I could see people were starting to talk to me differently. They were starting to respect me and what I stood for. So my main piece of advice is be confident, stand up for yourself, and do not be a doormat. My last piece of advice is take the pressure off. So I've already said, I'm a mother, I've got an almost three year old. That's her in the middle there, little Millie. I had seven months off maternity leave, and I'll be honest, I was actually really excited about coming back to work. Plus I loved every second of having that seven months with her. I was craving adult conversation and the mental stimulation. But I knew that when I came back to work, I needed and I wanted it to be different. I wanted a balanced home-work life. So it's a bit of taboo subject. But I asked that can I do full times hours in four days. And it's a taboo subject amongst female leaders. And sometimes it's met with, well that's part time. If you're in a leadership role, how are you able to? You need to be in the office visible everyday. And LV actually were fantastic. And I've actually probably got back a fifth of my team on flexible working And so LV, they did agree to me working full time in four days. And yes, it is met with challenges, and I am always in this sort of, I've got to get the ironing done, I've got to get the washing done, I've got to get Millie off to nursery. I've got to get to work on time. I really wouldn't change it for the world. And if I do have some mommy guilt, it is tending to be focused on that inadequacy of should I be working full time and how is my daughter missing out as a result of that? And I try and compensate that by immersing myself fully in her after nursery, before bed, when she says, "Mommy, can I get the glitter glue out" at 6:30. I do say yes even though my head is saying no. We make sure we have really lovely Fridays as Friday's are my day off. We do little outings and day trips, we make pack lunches, and we make picnics. And yes, the house probably isn't as clean as it once was. And now there're crumbs on the floor, the ironing pile is like this, but hey, I'm not Mary Poppins. So that's fine. Every one of us has bad days. And doesn't it feel like the world is against you? It's awful, it can really get you down. This last weekend I was travelling up to Chateau Gorge for a girls day out, no children, we are so excited. Five minutes up the road, there's a massive wasp hovering my shoulder, and those that know me, that's just panic attack territory. So I managed to shoo the wasp out, and then I get another hour down the road. And my tyre blows on my car, and I'm parked out in the middle of nowhere, country lane, I don't know where I am, for a couple of hours while the recovery man tries to find me. And then the next whammy was I have to replace the new tyre but I'm getting a brand new car on Saturday. So spend hundred pounds for six days per person. So yes, when crap happens, try and just deal with it. And I try and make sure that I don't let one crummy day turn into a cruddy week or a cruddy month or far longer. And I try and process it as quickly as possible. And the way in which I do that is I go home, if I've had a bad day at work, I try and leave it at work. I go home and I do some more, or I may go out, I might go to the gym. Good rant often works. Friend, husband, family member, mother. But time box it, just don't leave it hanging for ages and ages. Time box it, get that energy out. And then I reflect on that bad day so I can actually try and learn about why it was a bad day. What learnings can I extract from that. Try and prevent it from happening again. And tell yourself tomorrow is a whole new day. Wake up the next morning and be happy. Have some bounce in your life. It's okay to say no and ask for help. And I think as women, this is something that we can always struggle with. It makes us feel vulnerable. Open to suggestion that we may not be managing or coping, or that we've reached our full potential. And the truth is that actually asking for help establishes respect, and saying no demonstrates that we've got boundaries. First time I asked for help, my manager actually clapped and said "thank goodness, "because I never thought you'd ask." And I was being stretched too thin and I was risking of not doing a very good job at anything. So my advice is say no, but say no selectively. Pick and choose wisely what you say no to. And understand the reasons why you're saying no. Don't feel guilty for saying no. And be confident in communicating the no. And just my parting thoughts are, I really like this. So until you spread your wings, you will have no idea how far you can fly. As it certainly resonates with me and hopefully it resonates with a number of you. So thank you for your time today and I hope you got something out of it. And I'm more than happy to take some questions. - Great, thank so much.