After many years spent working in digital media recruitment, I continue to be fascinated by the stories that those in the community have to tell about their career. To that end, a few months ago, we launched FFS.
Otherwise known as Futureheads Five Stories, this is a regular interview series where we speak to people who have interesting stories to tell. We aim to find out more about their career in the digital world, and the lessons they've learnt along the way.
And we couldn’t resist the acronym.
For this edition, we're joined by digital and transformation adviser and Leaders in Change speaker Andrew Rolf.
What’s the story of your career so far?
I’ve always switched jobs to follow whatever is the most interesting thing going on at the time; the underlying theme has been customer experience and I’ve set up several successful CX teams. I’ve worked across retail, FS, media, tech, telco and government sectors and I don’t have a CV that follows any typical career progression paths; in short, I’m a recruiter’s nightmare!
I’ve worked everywhere from tiny agencies to global corporates such as BAE Systems and KPMG. A few years ago, I chose to jump ship and went client-side, working in the Commercial department of the Guardian newspaper during a fascinating period of significant change. I’ve been lucky enough to live and work in different countries and my time in Memphis, Tennessee and Istanbul were particularly memorable.
After the Guardian, I set up my own consultancy and now advise boards on digital transformation, organisation design and customer experience. I’d say that I’m now in the most interesting chapter of my career; owning my own consultancy gives me freedom, flexibility and variety.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love being able to make a difference. I’m pretty good at spotting problems and helping organisations to join the dots to make meaningful changes.
I get a real buzz out of being able to point to something that people use and say “I made that better”. I’m still proud of the work I did redesigning the Transport for London website over 10 years ago, which in the year it relaunched came runner-up to the iPhone in a design award.
Since striking out as an independent consultant I’ve been fortunate to travel to some fascinating places. I really have been everywhere from Abu Dhabi to Zimbabwe in the last few years – I have a fridge full of souvenir magnets to prove it! It’s been amazing to be welcomed by organisations hungry to learn how to change.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
Knowing how best to use your resources. No amount of money can manufacture more time, so how you use it is so important. I’m now always thinking “how can I be as productive as possible?” This can sometimes mean saying “no”, which as an independent consultant is one of the hardest things to learn.
The other lesson is knowing when the conditions are right to do something amazing and when OK is good enough. Oftentimes budgets, resources and timeframes don’t allow you to deliver a gold-plated solution; you can’t knock it out of the park on every project. Knowing what is acceptable for a client and delivering it can be a better outcome than unfulfilled promises.
What advice would you give to yourself when starting out?
Relax, smile more and that big dreams are pointless without a plan. That said, it’s highly doubtful that the 18-year-old me would have listened to a middle-aged, balding, bespectacled version of himself.
What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge in our industry over the next twelve months?
Twelve months is a very short time-frame in the work that I do. Implementing change is really about the human and cultural dynamics, which play out slower than implementing the technology.
Designing great customer experiences has been a consistent theme throughout my career. It still staggers me how little resources organisations put towards continually optimising every touchpoint of their customer experience.
Our industry must focus on its productivity. I see very different working practices and approaches across the world and my observation is that the UK is behind. Organisations should focus on where and who is creating value for them. The best people aren’t always at the top of an organisation and the best people are often under-rewarded for the value they create.
A little bit about Andrew
He advises boards and senior leadership teams on digital transformation, customer experience design and commercial strategy. He stands by the motto “if you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got”.
Want to take part in our FFS series? Say hello at firstname.lastname@example.org.