Part one of a three part interview with Anna Rasmussen, CEO & Founder of Open Blend.
With 15 years’ experience as an executive leadership coach to enterprise organisations, Anna is a well respected specialist in leadership coaching, and a founder of game-changing software company, Open Blend. 4 years ago, whilst coaching, Anna started to really consider the notion of work life balance. Struck by how negative it felt, she intuitively knew there was a better way to look at it and the concept of Blend was born. Open Blend is now the only people platform specifically for people managers. . In just 4 years, Open Blend has made a significant impact in some of the UK’s leading organisations, such as Avios, Lacoste, and Guidant Group.
In this interview, Anna shares how to hire for a fast-growth business, build a culture of flexibility and shift perceptions around flexible working.
Tell us about Open Blend
Open Blend is a platform that facilitates coaching led one-to-ones, supporting all aspects of an individual’s development journey and enables managers to accelerate the performance of their teams.
What are the challenges facing managers today?
I don’t think there’s ever been a time where there’s more pressure on people managers. The world we live in has completely changed – they’ve got a huge job on their hands to get the best out of people. The modern workplace is now 24/7, tech-driven, multi-cultural and multi-generational. This complexity means managers have many different roles to play.
In addition, today’s workforce is hugely diverse. Diverse in terms of gender, sexuality, religious beliefs, cultural values, it’s race and managers have got all of those different types of people to get the best out of – plus the fact that it’s a reality now that everybody brings their whole self to work. We don’t leave ourselves at the front door anymore. In order to be really good at my job I need to be authentic and bring my whole self to work. That means I’m only ever going to work in an organisation that acknowledges blend.
With all of this to take into account, people managers need to be equipped and supported by their organisations to rise to the challenge. That’s where Open Blend comes in.
Can you share with us some of the challenges of growing and running a business in the Thames Valley?
I had an idea that solved a problem, I didn’t set out to be a founder/CEO of a scaling startup. I’m here because I’m really passionate about the problem that Open Blend solves, which means I’m having to really grow and learn to be a CEO of a business.
I’m not sure it’s specific to the Thames Valley, but for us, it’s all about hiring the right people, in the right roles, and supporting them to do a really good job. It’s like making a cake – you need to put the right ingredients in and then it all comes together, crucially you need to make sure that you’re just being really efficient in every single area.
One thing I find amazing is that there’s two guys in the office here that have met whilst working at Open Blend and they’re going on holiday together with their wives and kids. That really stands out for me as an example of how organically the people in your business come towards each other to create an ecosystem.
How are you finding hiring your talent?
People want to work here. We have a great product, we solve a genuine problem. It’s all about supporting people to reach their potential and supporting people to learn and develop and continue to grow. Our product does that, so of course people that work here become part of that – that’s our ethos, that’s our mindset.
Obviously we use Open Blend with everyone in the business as well. I just finished a session before this interview and my team mate said ‘I just love Blend sessions, I love being Blended. I love that I’m working for a company where I’m so passionate about the product.’
So are people proactively finding you or are they buying into the story once they’re part of the recruitment process?
A combination of both really. We’re reaching out to quite a few people on LinkedIn, as an example, explaining what we do. Some of our client names really help as well – we’ve got some great clients so working with those types of businesses is interesting for people as well.
You’re fairly close to a station – what’s your catchment area for your staff?
Actually today one of the core members of the team is moving to London and will commute out, so yes we’ll stay close to the station. I see people coming out from London, a couple of our team are from Surrey that drive up. Our COO lives in the Cotswolds.
But we’re flexible on how people work. We’re building a culture and we need our people to build that culture. One of our values is that we’re in it together, meaning we are a team that stands united and pulls together, so in order to really live that we need to be together for some of the time. But if you want to work from home, you can work from home. If you want to slightly shift your hours you can do that.
Flexible working is such a broad term – I’m probably working 55 to 60 hours a week at the moment but I still work flexibly, our Head of Marketing works four days a week, and recently our Head of Product shifted to a four day week too. There are so many different combinations that I think flexible working is a bit of an umbrella term. You need to understand what that means for that individual person, their priorities and what they are hoping to achieve, and then consider how the business can accommodate that.
So how has Open Blend developed a disruptive approach to flexible working?
Open Blend gives businesses the opportunity to make flexible working the norm. It also disrupts the common perception of flexible working – it means something different to different people and that’s really important to understand. On Mondays I pick my kids up from school which is completely different to somebody who works from home every day. It’s swings and roundabouts but Open Blend makes it okay to talk about it and disrupts the way that the perception of it as a generalised term is used.
How are you seeing the culture around flexible working change?
I think flexible working can be perceived as being the remit of working parents. That irritates me because it’s not that at all. You could have a semi-professional triathlete, you could have someone who has horses, you could have someone who’s got a sick child or elderly parents – there’s so many different reasons why people would need to tap into that. It might be for a small period of time, it might be for a long period of time and it’s about dispelling that perception of working parents only.
In part two of this interview Anna shares with us her recent experience of raising funding for Open Blend – look out for the next instalment in May.