The Big Interview with Julie Standfield

For our latest Big Interview, Jen Gaster spoke with Julie Standfield, Director of OD Sophos, to hear about her early influences and the x-factors she looks for when hiring.

What are the leadership muscles that you have built during the pandemic that you want to carry forward?

I think the ability to not panic when everything goes wrong has been a real strength over the past 24 months. 

When we first went into the pandemic, we literally had to stop what we are doing and completely refocus. 

For any of your HR people who know about the MBTI profile, I have a very strong preference for J, so I like a plan, I like to know what is coming up.  

That complete flux we were thrown into was super uncomfortable for me and it has just become part of my trademark now that you have no choice, you have to be able to pivot. 

That comfort level with the unknown and that ability to be able to be agile with how you respond to things is really key. 

I think specifically leadership wise I have had to become a lot more trusting and a lot less controlling than I would be in an office environment. 

In an office environment, you can see what people are doing but you can’t see that from home. 

That real shift from managing from knowing and being able to see that people are being productive and then moving your whole mindset to manage through results. 

As long as people are hitting deadlines and the quality of work is good, when they’re doing it doesn’t really matter.

What were your early influences?

I cut my teeth at HSBC, a very compliant background everything was process and data-driven and we had rituals and routines for everything. 

That gave me a good grounding for being able to deliver on time and to schedule and being able to deliver expectations. 

That was the grounding of my leadership role, but I didn’t really become a leader, I was a Manager at HSBC. 

When I became a leader was when I got out into the real world and didn’t have a massive organisation behind me, as a leader in smaller businesses I had to learn how to do my own interviewing and how to manage customer RFI and RFU processes, in a big company you have teams that do that for you. 

For me, moving from a big corporate to a smaller company really expanded my capabilities in a direction I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere.

In what way is the reality of that Director of OD role different to what you expected when you first joined Sophos?

In every way, I think it is fair to say! 

My main learning point around what I expected versus what actually is are that you have a lot more freedom, therefore you have to be very disciplined around the decisions you make. 

I thought I would have to justify things; I don’t have to, but I carry the can. 

On the flip side, which might sound a little contradictory, you don’t get to make all the decisions you think you will! 

While I have a lot of freedom I am not ultimately in charge of things; I have a boss and my boss has a boss so that freedom that I thought I would have to change the world – actually there are a lot more processes in place that I can’t evolve. 

It is a real balance of that freedom versus not being able to change everything but then just taking a different route into influencing people so I have had to very quickly learn how to influence people in a different way. 

What are the important x-factors that you are looking for when interviewing candidates?

I want somebody who is passionate and excited, somebody who convinces me that not only do they want this job but they want to grow in the job and they want to be part of shaping things in the company. 

If that excitement isn’t there or I get a sense of well I just fancy doing something different I can get that anywhere, to be honest with you. 

So the excitement and the passion are really some of the x-factors. 

I think the other key thing is you need to know a little bit about who we are and what we do.

It is such a basic thing that most people would automatically do but I am always amazed by how many people don’t do that research. 

That research, that knowing who are our customers, our stakeholders. 

What are our products and how do they work, you don’t have to know all of the technical stuff but just have an overview and be able to ask some intelligent questions about where we are going and what the next 12 months look like. 

A key thing for me is the desire to continuously learn. The desire to enrich your job and grow and develop.

I have interviewed a number of people recently who have been doing the job for a long time but didn’t show that desire to keep on top of things in leadership space in cyber security which is our background. 

It doesn’t matter how old you are, I am no spring chicken myself, but that desire to keep learning to keep on top of what is going on and what is coming next is so important.

We are having conversations all the time about data, how are you using that and where do you see that going in the future?

We are very lucky that we have a team to do that for us, as it is not a strength of mine personally. 

We are using data to really track what people actually do versus what they say they do. 

I will have people say we need these courses and workshops and it is really urgent, then when you go back and track who signed up and who turned up, then who also actually completed courses. 

That data really helps us go back to businesses and drive their thinking around what else we can do to really drive things.

It is about having really intelligent conversations with businesses and making sure they are spending their time wisely. 

If one thing the pandemic has taught me is that we are all a lot busier than we were, if we are going to give our people solutions and support, we have got to give them the right things. 

The data is one of the things that allows me to intelligently help the business to make decisions around how they spend their people’s time.

What do you think I really important about what people now need to bring to the table and how as a leader are you working with your teams to create the leader of tomorrow?

We are very competency-driven and we are very clear about not only developing people’s competencies but understanding what is going on in the wider world. 

We don’t just look at pure OD competencies we also look at leadership competencies and cyber security competencies and make sure that people are well rounded, so it is great to be an expert and I am a big believer in going down a route, but you’ve also got to have half an eye on everything else that is going on. 

So, I think not shutting yourself in a box and actually keeping an eye out on all the other things is really key for me.

I will give you an example, a member of my team is probably one of the best facilitators I have ever seen – and I have seen a lot – she is amazing, but her design skills were something she knew she needed to develop so that has actually been more of a priority than some of the other competencies we may have focused on for some other people. 

So, a real eye on competencies, really rounding people out and individualising the development, making sure that you are creating really rounded individuals because ultimately, I need to make myself replaceable. And that is how I do it, by making sure my team has those rounded skills. 

It is a real duty of care I think being a leader and yes, of course, you want to hold on to your good performers and you want to grow them and develop them and sometimes the best thing is that they actually leave. 

If you’ve done a great job they might just circle back and join you at a later date in a more senior role and that is a real key component of our philosophy here, that duty of care is absolutely to the individual, not just the business.