Solutions Driven

“Who Manages The Managers?”- Employee Development and Leadership With Elena Agaragimova

We’re 30!! Over the last couple of years, we’ve somehow managed to get 30 incredible guests to take part in The Talent Intelligence Podcast. Everyone from tech CEOs to Diversity Officers have graced our ears and every single guest has imparted insights to help us and our listeners navigate the world of HR, Talent, and employee development.  

So, for the 30th episode, we’re delighted to welcome Elena Agaragimova, someone who comes with a wealth of knowledge and insights on all our key topics. With a background in education, Elena is naturally curious about employee development, something that comes across in this conversation.  

Now Head of Talent Acquisition and Development – Appian Practice, Elena has also been named as one of Nova’s 40 under 40 and works as a self employed development coach too.  

Listen as Elena joins host Alan McFadden to talk about her own career in leadership and:  

  • How to handle employees who want to move up the chain quickly (when they’re perhaps not quite ready…)  
  • How graduates are beginning to think differently about the workplace  
  • Taking accountability for your own career  
  • The importance of management development  
  • And much more  

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Alan Mcfadden: hi! Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome along to episode 30 of The Talent Intelligence Podcast. I’m your host for today Alan Mcfadden, and today I am delighted to have with me Elena Agaragimova from Horizon Industries. How are you, Elena? 

Elena Agaragimova: Hi! Hi! Good to be here both.  

Alan McFadden: Myself and Elena will be laughing because with a Scottish accent it was  interesting to try and say your second name but I got there in the end.  

So, and, Elena, thank you for your time today, you know. I think I said off camera with a lot of buzz about people asking for me to get yourself into interview mostly, and because of your reputation and the type of content you put out to try and educate the marketplace. You fall directly in a sweet spot, and when I started researching yourself, I can see exactly why people wanted you to come on. Your passion comes across undoubtedly for the industry. 

Alan Mcfadden: But what’s the really key fact that I think you cover along the way with leadership. How you keep it Human centered when we are looking to bring people into businesses, etc. It’s also super valuable content at the moment, because people are asking lots of questions about it. 

Alan Mcfadden: But for people who haven’t heard your content, or your Ted Talks or read your book book that you have. Did you just give us a little bit of a background to yourself for me, please, Elena. 

Elena Agaragimova: Sure, Thank you. Thank you for the kind introduction. No pressure on me now, and I feel like I’ll have to really say something impactful. Yeah. So I come from background of education. Actually, I started my career in that quickly, you know, if people have seen my Ted talk. But after 17 different jobs, I’ve decided that maybe I have a passion to work with people I need something a little bit faster. So I was always looking for that fast pace, I need results driven environment. And so I decided maybe the corporate role would be something I want to try out. So  found my space within the corporate world where I do now talent, acquisition, and development. 

Elena Agaragimova: I also have a nonprofit where I work with youth and education as well. So I really, truly just care about talent. I think talent, I live and breathe talent, development, and I have a very strong emphasis on well-being when it comes to performance at work, because I feel these 2 go hand in hand. 

Alan Mcfadden: So that’s just a little bit about how I came back to talking to you today. Yeah. And again, I think that’s the reason why most people had been recommending a name to me, you know. I think it’s such a big deal. There are 2 things there. I think there is such a massive conversation right now round about how we develop talent, but also the wellbeing of our staff, especially after what we just come through with a global pandemic which was new to everybody. But I feel as though it’s now emphasized even more the amount of questions we get daily on well-being, where the line is between developing our talent over stretching people. 

Alan Mcfadden: I speak a lot myself about being too obsessive sometimes. I know that can take away from my well-being, so there’s many things in there that I can totally understand why people have been asking to get you on. So I really appreciate it, I think, for today’s conversation 

Alan Mcfadden: Most of the questions were round leadership and what we do to develop talent. 

Alan Mcfadden: I think there’s 2 questions. Yeah. Firstly, I’d like to ask your opinion on when it comes to developing talent. Do you feel what the media is pushed, that is all in the company. But the more people I speak to people say there’s a thin line between what the company needs to do with what the individual needs to bring to the table. So I thought it would be a good place to start. 

Elena Agaragimova: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m. I’m with you on the media push, and I think it’s good to have that side of the story, but I think that we’re missing a couple of other areas. So I always look at different responsible parties when it comes to talent development. The organization is one right. You do need to have the structure and the processes in place to make sure that people are developing and progressing in their careers. You need to have specific career passed in place. You need timelines for people you know, little checklists that they can go by, because it’s not always so straightforward for everybody, right in terms of, what do I do with my career in a in a company? So I think having that structure internally is important. 

The next important factor is also the manager. So the person who is managing the teams that they are looking to grow, because that’s the manager’s job. It’s not a simply a delegation.   

Elena Agaragimova: It’s people, management and people development, because in order for companies to scale, up in order for companies to grow, they need to develop the town coming up, and then the person who’s managing them is then able to come up, so it’s a win for everybody. But then one of the most important parts that the media misses often is the actual individual employee, ideally, ideally, and we don’t live in an ideal world. But you will have a great organization that has these processes and structures, and a great manager. But those are listening, know that that’s rarely a reality. 

Elena Agaragimova: And yes,  there are companies that do it really well, and there’s great managers that work in unstructured companies, and vice versa. So you can’t control that as an employee, but ultimately, as an employee as an individual, you can control of your proactiveness level of helping your manager help you grow in your career. And that starts with self-awareness, understanding your gaps that you need to work on, doing your own research is so much information out there in terms of doing research about what does a career progression look like in your particular area. And it may not be in your particular company, but I think it’s just taking accountability  for your own development is super important, because you can’t control these other things. But how can you influence it in a way that might help your own career growth? That’s where the focus should be. And the final thing I’ll mention in this part is, if we’re able to align these three everybody wins – but if it doesn’t work, then it’s just one thing or another that we have to collectively look at and collectively understand that it requires all these three moving together.  

And I think until we get on board with that we’re always gonna have these unstructured ways of career development, employees complaining about the lack of professional development, the lack of growth, and all those things because it takes 3 to tango in this case. Not 2.   

Alan Mcfadden: We are trying to push our staff to tell us what they want, or we are trying to. It seems like they are trying to be the ones like I’m in a function. Do you think there’s a real emphasis on understanding the person and making sure that some people might not want that development. Some people might be great at what they do. Did you see that happen at all? 

Elena Agaragimova: Yeah. So that’s a great point, because there is this emphasis on  some people know what they want and some people don’t know what they want.  

 Let’s be realistic, and I feel for the manager, but I also want to be mindful that to be a manager is very difficult. Not everybody can do it. Everybody should be a manager, not everybody wants to be a manager. It’s a tough job, and having the skills to be able to effectively manage people is a whole other conversation. There’s no magic formula to people management.  You just have to figure out along the way. Sure there’s specific trainings you can do, and there’s podcasts you can listen to and things. 

But it’s every day that you’re faced with a new situation with an employee or a new a person. It’s a completely different situation, and then your just like, okay I feel like I’m back at square one.  

But as a manager, what does work is building those relationships that you’re talking about getting to know the individual team member, and it’s not on you as a manager to figure things out for them, and maybe the employee also doesn’t necessarily know what they want. But if 2 people can have that conversation in a safe environment, in in a way that you know it’s transparent, and it’s truly open. 

That’s how you come up with those solutions almost having a little brainstorming sound board session with your manager, and for you know, and vice versa. That’s how you create the manager’s job, is to remove obstacles to provide resources and support right, and by having those conversations with the employee and the manager is typically somebody who has been in that area, perhaps for some time, has a little bit more knowledge than the employee potentially. Maybe they act as a mentor as well. The employee might want to get to where the manager is career wise. So the manager doesn’t have to tell him what to do but they, he or she, can ask questions that can guide the employee to start figuring those things out for themselves. It’s all on one side or the other. But I think by having a conversation in that safe space, is how we come up with ideas and hopefully solutions we can experiment with. 

Alan Mcfadden: This is a really good point as well, because I think quite similar to another few of the questions that came about. Quite a lot is, how do you manage the other ways? And if you’ve got an employee that’s overly ambitious, and wants to get there quicker than they should, or the skill set is at that time. How do you manage that? Then, taking the coaching into what they want is sometimes then the opposite way where they are very ambitious and very “I want it now I want it yesterday”.  

 Have you any tips on that type of kind of chat that you would have for somebody as well? 

Elena Agaragimova: Yeah, that’s a good question. So again, looking at 2 sides right as an employee, because in talent, development, and I work with a lot of young, ambitious tech talent, right? 

Elena Agaragimova: But there are certain things, and mostly I’m just trying to think in most industries, even in tech some things. Just take time. You need to have the hands on direct experience. You might be really great at something but I would love to hear from the audience, and in the comments after this , what they’ve seen, and with talent in different industries. Sometimes it just takes time to get somewhere, because it takes that experience. It takes that exposure. It takes that you know development of that expertise. So part of it is I think, being realistic on the individual side, and often not comparing what the other people are doing, etc. But what’s true for you? I do talk even with a lot of candidates that would tell me what I’ve done next Wednesday. It’s like, yes, but only until you get that full experience, when you look back, you’re like “oh that’s why it takes time” because it requires certain practices, a certain repetition and certain aspects to actually get to a certain place from a manager. Perspective is a tough one because people tend to get antsy.  

Elena Agaragimova: But I think again helping them  identify areas that they want to grow into. Because yes, you can be ambitious. But as a manager you can probably give them enough areas to work on, not to improve on, but just other side projects. For example, alternative technology, in Tech, for example, alternative technologies or tools that they can learn and use. Because everybody has an areas for improvements, a lot of people. Again, I’m going to speak in the tech industry. A lot of people in tech have great, technologically great analytical skills. 

Elena Agaragimova: But they have a lack and client management lack and presentation. So also, being realistic of how want to be ambitious, you want to grow. But what does this future position that you’re aiming for requires of you, and a lot of time in the tech space it requires the soft skills, the people skills the client, the stakeholder management skills that a lot of technical people don’t always have. So you might be great technically but you’re going to hit a ceiling because you don’t have those other skills. 

 Elena Agaragimova: So I think again, just being realistic about realistically. What are the gaps?  

Typically, how long does it take to progress in these particular areas? There are very few people that are so genius level that are just skyrocketing. Majority of us are pretty regular people, hard workers, ambitious, and some things just take time.  

Alan Mcfadden: Yeah. And I think I think when  most people have the experience and managing, once you get them to the point where you say “You’re good at this stuff”. But it’s also being self aware enough to understand that if I want to take that next career move. How do I understand my week? This is enough to start winning what I need to do to get me to a position of self awareness or gaps as a manager – that you can do yourself. So you need to employ people below you that way.  

Do you think it’s advisable or good advice? I heard you speak about this a couple of different times. Do you think it’s good to have a career ladder as in, if you want to be in sals then this is the criteria or skill set. If you want to be a senior sales person then here’s what the next step is to that level. And the skill set you need to get there.  

Whatever way you want to scale that, do you think it’s good to have that in front of people, so they know what the goals are also supposed to be. Do you think it’s good for the manager, then to be able to say to teams, this is the skill set, if you want to get there, here are the skills you want coached on?  

 Elena Agaragimova: this one I battle with all the time, and partially because most people want to see that. So in in my experience a lot of employees are like, Well, I need to see where I am going.  

Because many people need to have that guidance and part of it, and I don’t want to go to the rabbit hole in this. But part of it is because when we come from education system, at least in the US and many other parts of the world, especially the western side. We’re told what we need to get to next level, to graduate, to complete a degree, to get a job. And so by the time we get to out of university into a job we’re also looking for the same guidance. So the mindset is there. There is a rare group of people, and they they’re growing and growing each day that are creating their own career pathways. And sometimes it’s flatter, sometimes it’s sideways. Sometimes it’s zigzag. Sometimes it’s down, up, etc. So there is that unique group of people who are starting to realize that you don’t need that ladder to go to grow, and you can change your career within an organization if you want it to. 

Elena Agaragimova: But that requires sacrifice which I’m going to talk about, which relates to, how do you deal with the overachievers? How do you manage them and deal with them, but manage them? 

But most people today still prefer to have that career at it, because a lot of us don’t know what we want to do next, and don’t know how to take the next steps, or if we know what to do next, we’re not sure how to get there, so that helps. And that’s the structure of our of a business typically. Also, there’s also a lot of other indication impacts there which is around salary brackets which is around level.   

Elena Agaragimova:  Different organizational structures. So there’s a reason that exists, because if you have a bunch of people who are like well, I just can do all these things. It makes it difficult to be okay, so what do I pay you? I don’t know what your worth exactly is your because our staff structure is X. So, anyway. So that’s a separate conversation. But that’s just one thing to pay attention to. But on the flip side again, in an organisation, a person who is an overachiever, who wants to do different things one way that can help a person grow. And even for the individual to say “Well I have these different interests, I know I can do more. I have bandwidth for more.  

One way is to get them exposure into different areas of the business. This usually works quite well in Smes, where you have that fluidity within. So, because in a small business, sometimes you do marketing. Sometimes you’re doing sales. Sometimes you’re doing something else. Versus in a big structured organizations. It’s a little bit more siloed, and it’s like this is what you do, and that’s all you do, and it’s more difficult to move around, but that comes with a sacrifice that I mentioned, because you’re not going to get there.  

You want to progress as everybody else on that career ladder. The unique group of people I was talking about are those spending time outside of working hours that volunteer in the time to different. Let’s say, I don’t know. Let’s say I’m in TA. But I want to try a marketing department 

Elena Agaragimova: Volunteering time to the marketing team to prepare for a particular expo whatever, maybe. 

Elena Agaragimova: And for managers well to be able to have relationship across the different department to say, “listen. I have X person. He will be great for this project, or have you know, Monique here? She is going to be really excellent for this other thing, she’s willing to give her time.” 

Elena Agaragimova: But this is where it becomes tricky, because at least what I’ve seen is the minute you start to say, this is a solution for somebody who is an overachiever, and if you tell the individual that they’re like, “oh, well, wait a minute. But am I going to get paid extra? I have to give my time” And then you have to ask yourself, well, what do you really want? 

Elena Agaragimova: And a person who is a high performer, they are typically doing a lot of other things. So then again goes back to realistically. Is it that you just want to hurry up and get up there because you want the title you want the pay, or do you truly want to invest in yourself development and become that high performer? Because that’s what high performers do. 

Alan Mcfadden: Yeah, High Performance Coach, Andrew, I’ve interviewed him on here before that’s what he said. He said he said to me very early on there are no shortcuts to success, that was one. But 2. Was he got me. He used the words that harnessed my enthusiasm, my ambition because I really knew I wanted to get somewhere but didn’t know how to get there.  

And he was the one that said to me, funnily enough about self development – if I wanted to be in sales, what work are you doing outside of your 9 to 5 that actually develops you as a person. And the more I thought about it and started to change that round, your career naturally starts to take off.  

Alan Mcfadden: And when you start to develop yourself, and I think it comes back to the alignment you speak about a lot which I love. If you can get the business goals structure  on board and training coaching all aligned with the people you’re working with. There’s no doubt the success comes from that. 

Alan Mcfadden: I think the next big question I wanted to really ask you about this. 

Alan Mcfadden: Did I develop the managers underneath me the way I should have? An honest opinion was not always. I would always concentrate on people coming into the business. I would look at the sales people and think how they get them coached correctly. 

But I do feel managers get left out sometimes. There isn’t a real process in place for that. Do you find that happens a lot. Or have you any advice on that particular subject for me? 

Elena Agaragimova: Yeah, I absolutely. I mean, managers definitely are put under a lot of pressure and a lot of expectations. But then, who is supporting the manager? Cause they have to have somebody to look up to, and some of the organizations have that are above the manager, there’s the directors and the partners, Presidents, etc., that they can look up to. 

Elena Agaragimova: and that’s how people learn right. But ultimately, it’s also really just asking yourself as an organization, what am I doing to support the managers? And there’s different ways to do that, of course, for a lot of companies who have a very slim top. 

What a lot of companies do is outsource executive coaches to work with those managers right? 

Elena Agaragimova: But again, you know, I have to be realistic. Not everybody is going to do that. So if you don’t have the resources. Or if you, as a manager, if you the person who is managing the managers essentially, you know, are definitely putting the time to mentor them in the best way possible, or outsourcing that. But if not also for managers. 

Elena Agaragimova: what helps is first understanding that, and even for the organization you, don’t, teach your manager to be a manager by sending them to a one-week long course or 2 day workshop on leadership, which is, that’s what a lot of companies do. They’re like, oh, let’s just throw them on a course. They going to be awesome. Managers. It doesn’t work like that. Management is everyday management. Development every single day. Little small things you can do to be a better manager. So even if you don’t have that support from your company. 

Elena Agaragimova: asking yourself the questions of what can I do today to be a better people manager? Right? And it starts with what kind of relationships do I have with my team? If I feel, do I feel like I have trust, and there’s different indicators 

Elena Agaragimova: in terms of do you have trust, or do people come to you with challenges? Are they vulnerable enough to share what’s happening in their particular lives? I’m not saying, getting all personal. But you have to know what’s going on with your team members. Do you have a good enough relationship? Where, if your team member and this is a good indicator. 

And if your team member comes to you saying, I’m not where I’d like to be. But you know I really like working here. I’d love to work out a solution. I do have offers out there, but I wanted to have a chat. That person trusts you that showcases trust. If you just get a resignation later from somebody, and you had no idea that it was coming, chances are that would be a red flag for me.  

Elena Agaragimova: So relationships is number one a well number one self-awareness for a manager, then relationships. And then what is it that you do to actually show the behaviors and actions of a manager who is invested in their people versus just the business and just the money aspect. 

Elena Agaragimova: And I do have to say a little disclaimer here. There are situations that require a manager to just be a dictator, because sometimes, when the house is on fire you just gotta do that. 

 Elena Agaragimova:  And it happens, and hopefully the company is proactive enough to not be in that situation, but it does happen so. I don’t mean to say, if the house is on fire, you should be like, how how’s today going? What do you think we should do Sometimes you listen, do x, Y. Z. Moving on so I do again. There’s no magic formula. 

 Elena Agaragimova: I think statistically, most managers stay in a position for 10 years before they get any management training. But I also like to ponder with the statistics, because I’m like well, what kind of training we’re talking about, and a lot of times what people think is that 2 day or one week leadership training or they get an MBA. It’s just not enough. Leadership is every day daily steps. And it’s hard, you’re never going to get it 100% right.  

 Elena Agaragimova: It’s just being mindful of the 3 things is, self-awareness. What am I actually doing? Have I checked in with myself in general? Right? Am I leading by example. Number 2 relationships. I have my team number 3. How is this showing in action and behaviors?   

Alan Mcfadden: I’ve been in Solutions Driven since I think mid September time, and I’ve been in jobs for my career where I’ve managed big teams, etc. and when I came into Solutions Driven the one thing they did right off the back is we have a leadership book club.  

 Alan Mcfadden: We basically get everybody who’s in the senior management team, and we read a leadership book. It’s been picked. We then every month we pick a chapter. All that we read on it. We then go into a round table once a week. And honestly the actual random part of it is, the discussion is hearing from a manager and the other part of the business that might be stronger. It’s something that I’m not particularly good at, and how they deal with it. I can then take it and implement it in my team and that weekly meeting, it’s been something I’d definitely advise our listeners to do.  

Obviously we don’t always have time, but really having that in our weekly routine has 100% impact.  The way that I look after certain areas of my team just because one team might be better at then he might give me advice. We didn’t get it from the book.  

I could have read the chapter and said it doesn’t really resonate with me. But then, when I hear somebody speaking about it. You know what that can help, so I totally agree with you. I think management support is once a massive one, making sure that you do have that infrastructure of people that you can speak to. Totally agree with what you say about that and sometimes you do need to, as a manager, step in and take care of situations but most of the time, your team will respect you more for that. That’s the things where they need somebody to do that as well.  

Alan Mcfadden: And I think I think today’s discussions, a lot of time round about leadership. It just needs to be understood that you don’t need to feel alone, being a leader, because that’s possibly the place that normally happens in the development of a leader is absolutely key.   

Alan Mcfadden: Thank you for coming on here as well really appreciate it. One thing I always ask all my guess when we get to the tail end of our podcast, and something that I’m really excited to hear about is your career.  

I’ve obviously the pleasure of listening to your Ted talk. I found it really interesting. Firstthe first job you had is a waitress, was the thing that made you realize how you could judge people and how people treat waitresses. I like to think of myself as being very pleasant, but since I’ve listened to your Ted talk I’ve been a lot more pleasant, just to make sure. But if you can go back to your young yourself what would be the one bit of advice you would give yourself going into your career now. What would be the one bit of golden wisdom you would give?  

Elena Agaragimova: It’s a good one. There’s so many. Wait, let me choose one. For myself when I was younger, it’s just that self-awareness. Are you a good person, a good friend, a good partner, sister, daughter? And the actions, and it’s hard, because when you’re young, you’re so in your own world, and you don’t really know what’s the right or wrong, and but I think just self-awareness 

 Elena Agaragimova: again. Just frankly speaking, I used to think I was better than I than I was, and through many humbling experiences, and making lots of stupid mistakes, and embarrassing myself, did I then? 

Elena Agaragimova: But I’m a hard learner as well. I’m just one of those people that learn the hard way. But so I think I would have loved to have more conversations around. Who I am, who do I want to be? And what those actions of that individual look like. 

Alan Mcfadden: It’s amazing, I have asked probably about 7 or 8 people that question, and most people say self awareness. It’s something that just seems to be well not taught at school.  Our parents might make us a little bit self aware, but it’s usually through their eyes. 

Alan Mcfadden: So I always feel that people win the biggest license through self awareness. And most of the time, it’s through bad experiences or something will fail that if you self development. But you read, talks about failures, and how you overcome them. So I think it’s the most important thing to tell anybody and so thank you for being so honest as well. I do. I appreciate that honesty.  

And for anyone has not been on and checked out on this content. Please do so. It is fantastic, especially in the type of roles that we like to educate people on. But Elena, thank you so much for your time today. It’s always appreciated. 

Elena Agaragimova: Thank you. 

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