"Learning has been the golden thread running throughout my career."
For the fourth in the series, we were thrilled to catch up with Jo Ruston, Learning and Development Advisor at Stride Treglown, an employee-owned architectural practice and a Certified B Corporation®.
Jo talks us through her fascinating route to L&D, which includes designing kitchens and supporting production room managers for a well-known cosmetics brand, and working in France and Canada as well as the UK.
We discover why it’s crucial for learning professionals to take ownership of their own growth too, why ‘best practice’ may not always necessarily be the correct approach and that it pays to challenge conventional thinking every now and then.
Jo tells us about a continuous appetite for learning, why it’s not unusual for her to have at least four books on the go at one time and why she’s a self-proclaimed jack of all trades…
Stride Treglown is the ninth largest architecture practice in the UK. We are the only practice out of the top 100 architects to become a certified B Corp and earlier this year officially became carbon neutral. As an employee-owned company, everybody has a say in what we do and how we work.
Our expertise spans the sectors of Civic, Commercial, Education, Healthcare, Infrastructure and Residential and together with our clients we stand for better places, empowered people and resilient partnerships.
I head up the Learning and Development strategy for the business. This involves collaborating with internal subject matter experts to create and deliver high-impact training solutions, building our teams and enabling them to be the best they can be at what they do!
I started as a temp in the HR department at Unite Students, but after only a month, I was asked to stay on as the L&D Coordinator supporting the hospitality teams across the student properties.
It was fun, exciting, and provided me with a great understanding of L&D best practices and a ton of hands-on training delivery – I still reference these experiences today!
A key role was working for Lush North America's Head Office in Vancouver, supporting the production room managers. This combined training, coaching, and plenty of HR specialist work. I gained a wealth of experience and could really bring my own creativity to the role.
I’ve had various jobs along the way, including a Kids Rep for KeyCamp Holidays in France (now known as Eurocamp), a commercial kitchen designer, and an office manager at an outdoor activity centre.
However, when I started at Unite I was actually studying for an English degree with the Open University in order to become a primary school teacher.
People development is definitely a fun-zone for me, so I think I chose the right path in the end. However, being a jack of all trades as you can probably tell, I’m also a yoga teacher and a barber! I just love learning and trying new things.
When you work in a role that is focused on making sure everyone else’s skills are developed, your own needs tend to get overlooked; so, I realised early on in my career that I needed to take ownership of my own growth.
Fortunately, I’m hungry to learn as I do get bored easily! I’m always on the hunt for new books to read (I currently have four on the go!), online training events to attend, and new people to meet.
My advice would be to try and find an organisation where you can learn from people who are already doing the job, and doing it well. Gain as much exposure to different elements of L&D early on, then you can decide which area fits you best.
My other piece of advice is to challenge convention! Just because it’s what ‘best practice’ says, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily correct. It’s important to have the end goal in mind — what the organisation actually needs — and to consider the culture and people.
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’. Ask questions. Be creative. Be bold.
We’re really proud to be a B Corp, and humbled because it’s an ongoing responsibility! We became certified because we believe the B Corp standards are an ideal fit with our existing culture and operations. So much of business is dog-eat-dog and a race to the bottom. That’s not us. We believe in the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.
We decided to go for certification during the early part of the pandemic, which was not the easy thing to do, but we asked ourselves: will it serve our clients and help them reach their goals? Will it help us grow and nurture collaborative relationships? Will it help us constantly improve and become a better business? The answer to all those questions was a resounding ‘yes’.
I love the businesses that put integrity first, and not just as a marketing stunt! I may sound biased, but as an ex-employee of Lush I can say wholeheartedly how ethically strong they are. The business invests in its people and its community, and ensures integrity and alignment throughout their supply chain. They care.
I’ve only been in my Learning and Development Advisor role for just over seven months, so it hasn’t impacted me much. In fact, I would say it’s been an enabler in some ways, as I’ve been able to manage the flow of conversations and have the space to focus.
As for the business, it did a fantastic job of adapting quickly and looking for solutions. The challenge, as all businesses have been finding, has been to stay connected with individuals, particularly those who have joined during the last year.
We’ve also had to find alternative ways to replace the ‘learning by osmosis’ that happens when you sit in the same office.
We haven’t created anything formal; more of a general awareness to consider the sharing of information and knowledge with people in a more structured way. Particularly with people who have joined us since the start of the pandemic.
By working remotely, there have been opportunities for more junior staff to attend meetings that they may not have previously travelled for.
Some teams have had more information sharing sessions. Our CPD sessions used to be organised by office, but now thanks to technology they are centrally organised and opened up to the whole business. This has led to a greater spread of knowledge.
I think this is a very broad question and one that is specific to an industry or business. Some businesses won’t have needed to change much, whereas some will have undergone huge changes and challenges in the last year.
I believe that L&D should always be flexing and adapting, pandemic or no pandemic — we just have a new context to operate within. We must focus on meeting the needs of our people; their needs change, and so we respond.
As long as you take the right precautions and people feel safe in the environment provided, then I think it’s a positive move.
So many people I speak to can’t wait to return to in-person anything, and training is certainly one of those things.
I think the benefits of virtual training in a company with multiple offices are hard to ignore, but for me it depends on the content.
Although we have no plans in the short-term, we fully intend to return to in-person when the time is right.
In the meantime, and as I’m new to the role, we are still in the process of getting the L&D offering up and running at Stride Treglown. We hold ad-hoc CPD sessions, as mentioned previously, and there are various webinar sessions (for example, we run a wellbeing series on topics such as Stress, Imposter Syndrome and Menopause).
I tend to scroll through LinkedIn to see what’s going on across the world and in my own networks. I follow various organisations and individuals, examples being The Female Lead (for inspirational quotes and stories) and Richard Branson and his daughter Holly.
I tend to just browse and then find myself following topics of interest. I have a passion for coaching and growth mindset, so those are the topics that usually grab my attention!
For inspiration I love TED talks. I recommend Shawn Achor’s “The Happy Secret to Better Work” – very funny, but also impactful with regards to our perspective and approach to work and life.
Another one I particularly enjoyed was by Benjamin Zander as his enthusiasm is incredibly addictive – he also has a great perspective on leadership!
I don’t really have L&D inspirations as my areas of interest are quite broad, and I think it’s important to get a variety of perspectives.
A colleague I worked with about 17 years ago once said, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get...” and that has really stuck with me.
As a woman, there can be the risk of not putting yourself out there unless you are guaranteed success (be it a job, pay rise, etc.), and waiting for recognition. We need to speak up, ask, request and put our hat in the ring. After all, what have you got to lose…
I have a two-year-old daughter who is also my alarm clock. When she comes and stands next to my bed smiling at me, I don’t need any more motivation than that.
The alarm is set for 7.00 am, but I’m rarely still asleep at this time. My daughter usually has me up earlier with cuddles, book reading, or singing songs.
I’ve always been an early riser so this suits me well; my mind gets busy.
I’d love to be eating dippy eggs at a beach bar on a random Greek Island somewhere, with a yummy coffee in hand…
In reality, I usually eat scrambled eggs or Marmite on toast with green tea at my kitchen table.
I’m reading about four books at the moment, which is not unusual for me!
I’m reading “Women Don’t Ask – Negotiation and The Gender Divide”, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever (a bit dated but still relevant), “The Montessori Toddler” by Simone Davies, “The Coaching Habit” by Michael Bungay Stanier and “The Shock of the Fall” by Nathan Filer (who incidentally lived down the road from me when we were children).
Food! Without it I am like a toddler… it’s not pretty.
I love learning and so working in L&D means I have the opportunity to get to know a little about everyone else’s job; there is so much to learn about! I also love meeting a wide range of people and building relationships.
The most challenging part for me is staying focused; I’m fascinated by the bigger picture and want to get my finger in many pies, which time doesn’t always allow for.
I enjoy walking, running, cycling, open water swimming, and generally being outdoors. I’m a yoga teacher so I teach classes in and out of work.
I’ve also developed a joy of sewing - I recently made a pair of trousers, an apron for my daughter, and I’m halfway through a dress!