Talk to a Tykling: Alison Lambert, Head of Employee Success
Talk to a Tykling: we find out the latest from Tyk’s Head of Employee Success, Alison Lambert
Tyk’s remote-first policy means that the company has been able to recruit the best and the brightest from around the world to deliver its innovative full lifecycle API management solutions. Right now, those Tyklings include 30 different nationalities, spread across 27 countries.
So what does it take to make the grade and become a Tykling? We caught up with Alison Lambert, Head of Employee Success, to find out. Alison explains the value of treating others as you wish to be treated and shares her mission to ensure that all Tyklings have a successful career journey at Tyk. She also showcases the advantages of Tyk’s policy of letting people chose the hours they work, building exercise into her working day and losing three stone since starting with the company.
What do you do at Tyk?
I was HR Manager but my role has just changed and now I’m Head of Employee Success. We have a talent team which focuses on bringing the right people into the business and making sure that we hire in line with our values and culture. Then after the hiring, it’s over to my team to ensure that people have a successful journey at Tyk. We make sure that people have the tools and everything they need so they can be successful.
There is also the HR compliance and policy side to my role – making sure people are paid, that they have contracts, the right to work, etc, but the main focus is around career progression.
We want people who come to Tyk to feel like during their time here they’ve had the best support and development and that they’ve worked on the best projects they can. So, if they choose to progress through the company, that’s amazing. And, if they choose to leave, they leave with a heartfelt thank you from Tyk and some really great experience under their belt.
We have a massive focus on career progression and I’m working on something at the moment which I can’t really talk about yet but it’s a little bit different. It’s not just a career path where we put people in boxes. I’m really looking forward to sharing the details of it in the near future!
My role also involves lots of stuff around growth and how we structure the team. We’re thinking of doing something quite radical there. There’s a big push on wellbeing too, which is really exciting. Obviously working remotely brings challenges because when you’re in an office you can see how someone is, but it’s not so easy when people are working from home, so supporting wellbeing takes on added importance.
The package at Tyk is amazing, particularly the unlimited paid holiday. Do you find that people take more holiday or less when you give them that freedom?
Like every business, we have a pocket of people who need encouragement to take the legislative minimum. At Tyk people are at one end of the scale or the other. So, people tend to take 40 or 50 days, which is fine, or want to take none. There’s not much in-between!
I’ve just done a few things to change that because we genuinely don’t want people to burn out. I’ve just changed the holiday year, which I hope will encourage people to take more leave and help balance any overflow where people have to use up their days.
The last year’s been weird because you couldn’t go anywhere. We had someone who went hiking for a month but other people who’ve barely taken any time off. Personally, I don’t ever struggle to take my holiday!
Where do you like to work from?
I don’t actually know because I started at Tyk two weeks before the pandemic! I used to travel a lot in previous roles. Then I had kids so needed to work locally and switched to working ten minutes’ drive up the road. I could never find a happy medium.
I’ve really liked spending time at home, especially on my own. So now things have opened up again, I find I don’t want to go to a coffee shop because I like being at home.
I also like to manage my day so I can do a run at lunchtime. I’m not a nomad like a lot of people at Tyk who travel the world – I’m at that stage in my life where I’ve got two kids and I just like being at home!
I am a member of a gym and I did intend to go to the gym and then work in the coffee shop there but I find myself going for a run instead because I like the fresh air. I love being able to do what I want to do in terms of managing my hours and the structure of my day.
Last week, for example, I had a new starter in my team who’s based in London so I went there for the day. That was really nice; it was entirely on my terms. I went to the office, met Alex, went for lunch and met some of the team in person whom I’ve only met over Zoom. Working from home is still a novelty to me after 23 years of travelling for work.
Can you give me a potted history of your background?
I grew up in the forces and lived in various places, including Germany and Cyprus. My dad was in the army, so we’ve always travelled, which is why I love to travel.
I didn’t go to university after school. My mum died, so I stayed with my dad and started working in a local building company. It was purchase ledger work, which anyone who knows me now would laugh at because I’m not a numbers person! After a month, I think they realised that and they said they needed someone to do HR, so that’s how I ended up in the HR sector.
I stayed in that role for a bit, then worked for various global companies with manufacturing backgrounds and plenty of travel opportunities. It’s given me a really good grounding for HR. Nothing would shock me after that! I think you need to have that background experience so you can deal confidently with whatever the job throws at you.
I fell into tech four years ago when I worked for a local tech company, and I loved it. I loved the people – they’re really intelligent and passionate, just really genuine and they want to learn and better themselves. When you’re in HR a lot of your focus is on that.
In previous roles it was more, ‘HR are doing this to us’ or, ‘they’re making us do this management course.’ Tech is very different. People really want to learn and improve so I don’t think I’d move out of tech now. I love it.
How did you come across the role at Tyk?
The last tech company I worked for had a 9-5 mentality and, because I’d travelled so much, I was used to working funny hours. I loved it there but I found those hours too stifling. I’m better working when it suits me. I saw Tyk by accident on LinkedIn and the role just dropped into my inbox. It said something about flexible hours, which really attracted me. So, I got the role so I could work from home and work more flexibly. Of course, then we all started working from home because of the pandemic anyway!
I love the autonomy at Tyk and that people trust you. If I put a proposal to my manager, he’ll trust that I’m doing it with good intent and that I’m the expert. It’s great to have that autonomy, so I feel like I can use all my years of experience in a useful way. Ultimately, if I make a wrong decision, I hold my hand up. You don’t get shot down for making a mistake at Tyk.
What else do you love about Tyk?
The work life balance. It takes a bit of getting used to but being able to get up and go for a run at lunchtime or whenever I feel like it, which I wouldn’t have had time to do in an office, is great. Since I started at Tyk I’ve lost three stone, which I’ve always wanted to do but I didn’t have the time. And family time too. I get to pick the kids up and also have some time for me.
In the run up to the school holidays, I decided to take a day off. I went for a run, met my friend for brunch and sat on the settee all afternoon watching Grey’s Anatomy! Normally I can’t do that because I have to save all my holiday days for the school holiday. That to me is a massive deal, to have a day to myself before we embark on six weeks of the kids being off. I’ve made a pact to myself that I’m going to do that before every school holiday. I might even take two days next year!
You do need to make the work life balance work for you though. You could easily sit here for 12 hours working and not move, so I’m very strict with my diary. I put my lunches in and my exercise time too.
Is there something in the HR industry that you’d love to fix if you had a magic wand?
There are two things: the HR ‘policing’ and people not seeing value in HR. For example, if I message someone to ask them if they’ve got a moment, the reaction is to wonder what they’ve done wrong.
I do think there’s a reason for that, as there are a lot of HR people who behave in that manner. My personal ethos is to treat people how you’d want to be treated. Even if you have to dismiss someone, do it in a way that you would want it done to you. That’s a big thing for me and I think HR can add a lot more value with that approach.
I’ve worked in manufacturing, where we did dozens of disciplinaries in a month. You didn’t have time to do anything outside of that, like education or support – it was all reactive. That’s so far from ideal.
For me, many companies don’t see the value in HR. Tyk is different. I sit on the leadership team at Tyk. At a lot of companies, HR just can’t get a chair at the table, which is a big frustration.
Tyk is the best place I’ve worked. Companies often bring you in at the end of a process instead of the beginning whereas, if they’d got you involved from the start, they might benefit from some really good ideas, as well as legislation that nobody has considered! Tyk is the opposite. If they want to make big changes, they come to us first. That’s really refreshing.
What would your tips be for someone joining Tyk who’s never worked remotely before?
For me, it’s about managing your diary. Think about your lifestyle, then map it in. Think about how you want to structure your days, because work can very easily merge into your life and when that starts to happen, it’s not a positive experience. I like to know when I’m logging off, although I do sometimes work late. I go through my diary, I put in my lunch breaks, when I’m dropping the kids off, when I’m picking them up and when I’m exercising.
People need to think how they want it to work for them. Some people might want to log on at lunchtime and finish later. It took me two or three months to get into my routine of what would work for me. Of course you can still tweak it whenever you like.
What mistake did you make earlier in your career and what did you learn from it?
One of my biggest weaknesses or areas where I can make mistakes is my attention to detail, which for an HR person is not great! Very early on in my career, I used to get a lot of feedback around this. For example, if I wrote a contract there would inevitably be an error.
So, rather than one big mistake, I used to make loads of little, silly mistakes and I used to take it really personally. As I’ve grown older, I know that’s my area of weakness so I know I have to work harder on it.
When I recruited my latest team member, for example, I wanted someone who was really good at compliance, good at detail and payroll. Part of being a leader is about recognising the areas where you’re prone to making mistakes and then working to fix that. I know now that if I’m writing a contract, to get someone to check it. It’s important to recruit people who are better than you in your weaker areas.
What are the values that drive you?
Apart from treating people how you would want to be treated, I really value autonomy and trust. Particularly trust in people’s expertise. I think a lot of people think they could do HR because it’s not technical.
I couldn’t go and code a piece of software, but I think some managers think that because HR is a people thing, that they know a lot about it. I would never question a finance person on how they came to a figure, or a software developer on how they came up with that code, but people do think they know how to do HR. So, being valued as a trusted expert is important to me.
I also value a good work life balance – spending time with my kids, I value massively.
What are your top three books or podcasts?
I listen to podcasts while I’m running. I’ve been listening to The Diary of a CEO by Steven Bartlett. He founded Social Chain. It’s a good podcast where he tells you how he did it. It’s frank and open. That’s quite motivating.
Because I’ve been doing my fitness thing and losing weight, I listen to some fitness podcasts too. There’s one called The Courtney Black Podcast which is about nutrition, fitness and the reverse diet concept, where you don’t have to count calories. She talks to other nutritionists and fitness experts so it’s very good.
My favourite books are by Paul Britton. He was a criminal psychologist in the 70s and 80s who worked on really big cases like the James Bulger and Rachel Needham cases. He gets into the minds of the criminals so that’s really interesting. He’s written two books – The Jigsaw Man and Picking up the Pieces.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
I love spending time with the kids. Exercise has also been a big focus for me in the last eighteen months. I’m definitely a lot fitter than I was. Having the time to myself to do that has been massively important – for my mental health too.
And holidays are my thing. I have so many places on my bucket list. Italy would be top of the list, but I also really want to go to Vegas because I’ve never been. I’d want to do it as part of a bigger visit to the US and go to Nashville too.
Where’s the best place you’ve been?
We’ve been to Mexico a couple of times, which I liked. My husband would go every year, but I like to try different places. One of my favourite places was Miami. I loved it there because everything was on the water, it was very chilled.