Get to know your peers in the global HR community through our career profile series. Today, we talk to Simon Gosney, head of learning and development at Dimensions. He shares his career journey, the importance of knowledge in building confidence and how to enjoy getting up at 5am.
Name: Simon Gosney
Job: Head of Learning and Development
Current employer: Dimensions
CV in brief:
- 2009 – 2014, Head of Learning and Development, NHS Direct
- 2007 – 2009, Learning and Development Manager, NHS Richmond
- 2005 – 2007, Access Development Manager, NHS Lewisham
- 2003 – 2005, Partnership Manager, Sainsbury’s
A day in your life
Tell us about your job and organisation
I’m Head of Learning and Development at Dimensions, a national not-for-profit organisation which supports around 3,500 people with learning disabilities and autism.
Who do you report into?
I report to the Executive Director of HR.
Tell us about your team
My team have built a good name for themselves as delivering a great service to our colleagues, be that supporting new starters through their induction, helping them plan their ongoing development, assisting them in achieving qualifications or working with various parts of the organisation to resolve issues or challenges. Between them, the team have a vast amount of organisational memory and knowledge of how our business works, which helps credibility when we talk to people from across the organisation.
What is the most rewarding part of your role?
I was handed a few big challenges on day one. These included replacing our management development programme and to developing/implementing a new approach to talent management. Both have been fantastic projects to get stuck into in my first few months in the organisation and it is rewarding to start seeing them take flight.
What is the most challenging part of the role?
Wanting to do lots of big things all at once because they are exciting and because it’s easy to imagine the impact they would have.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It depends where I am – sometimes I’m meeting my team, occasionally I might have a series of conference calls or external meetings. I try and protect at least one day a week to get my head down on some of the projects I’m working on. I make a point of spending time shadowing and getting to know people from across our business. I usually have a pretty varied and interesting week.
Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?
The things Dimensions wanted me to work on in my first year excited me and still excite me. They were things I hadn’t had an opportunity to work on either to the same degree before; or not for a few years. I felt I would really develop and grow by joining the organisation. . The commitment to delivering quality at all levels came across really well when I was researching Dimensions . I like our sense of ambition about how we want to develop and grow. I also believe we talk very persuasively about our values.
Perks and downsides of your role?
A big perk is the ability to go out and meet lots of people, working in very different environments and facing different challenges. I have learnt so much from that. You could let the travelling become a downside, I suppose, although I find it quite an effective way of processing my thoughts; reading or listening to podcasts, which all helps me when I get into work.
What skills are essential for the role you’re in?
Planning and organising skills are vital. You have to be great at building relationships and understanding the needs of your customers. You have to be able to communicate what you’re doing in a way that engages people – not just broadcasting information. Attitudinally, I would also say that openness to new ideas and experiences is very important, even when you find them challenging for whatever reason.
How did you get to where you are now?
This was through a combination of knowing the right people and working really hard. I have also found that the most motivating thing anyone can tell me is that I can’t do something or have to settle for something less.
What were your best subjects in school? What and where did you study?
Probably English and History. I enjoyed learning about the ways to use words effectively and I found it fascinating discovering about how different personalities had shaped history and events.
What was your first job? How did you get it and why did you choose to work there?
I did a paper round which, despite my liking of early mornings, felt a bit too much like hard work in the wind, snow and rain. I then worked in a supermarket and ever since I’ve never lost the ability to find a supermarket analogy for most things at work.
Have you followed the career path you set out to?
Not until the last five years or so. When I started out, I didn’t have a career path. I just wanted to do interesting things and work with interesting people.
What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge when I started out in L&D was one of confidence. I was working with people who had significantly more experience than I did. I soon found that the way to overcome that was to keep my knowledge up-to-date. L&D is a very future-orientated profession – people get excited by new ideas and ways of doing things. When you can start bringing some of that to the table, you quickly start getting taken seriously.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to land a job?
It wasn’t especially crazy but I was so keen to land my current job that my usual rule of turning my phone off whilst on holiday was temporarily suspended. I took a call on a beach in Sardinia to arrange my interview.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
It is always having someone from my team tell me that I’ve helped them to grow or develop, and seeing them start to challenge or believe in themselves.
Do you have any career regrets?
No. I see a career as something where you might start out with a compass and a map, but the fun is in wandering around, occasionally getting diverted, and discovering something new and unexpected. If you’re clear about your career values, you’ll have some interesting experiences without veering too far away from the things you enjoy and are good at doing.
What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?
I think curiosity is very important. There’s an old adage about the value of seeking out things you wouldn’t normally read about, or meeting people you wouldn’t normally come into contact with. I still make a habit of doing that. Also, find a good mentor. When I think about some of the mentors I’ve been lucky to have during my career, it always reminds me about how much they have helped me push my career forward.
What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?
- Enjoy the journey – allow yourself and your career to take a few unexpected twists.
- Spend time finding what you love doing, and then start to focus on it.
- Learn and practice how to network effectively as soon as you can.
- Coffee or tea? Coffee – nothing beats the aroma of rich roast coffee first thing in the morning.
- Jam or marmalade? Marmalade – on cold buttered toast, at weekends.
- The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? The Beatles – hard to choose between them, but I admire the way the Beatles created huge and lasting impact in a short space of time.
- Mac or PC? Mac – although I will admit to being a bit dependent on Microsoft OneNote
- The Guardian or The Times? The Guardian – the tablet app is excellent.
- BBC or ITV? The BBC because wherever you go in the world, it’s always rightly envied. We’re lucky to have the BBC.
- M&S or Waitrose? M&S – You can usually grab something interesting and new there for lunch.
- Morning or night? Morning. I enjoy getting up at 5am. No, honestly…
- Rain on snow? Rain. I’m not a winter person at all, but sharp summer thunderstorms can be invigorating.
- Sweet or savoury? Sweet. My dentist always drives a really expensive car.
- App: OneNote is the one I use the most, but I also like Newsify for collecting several news feeds in one place, and Pocket as a simple and clean way of storing the links you want to go back to.
- TV show: I missed out on Borgen when it was first on, but after my boss recommended it, I found myself getting more and more drawn into it. I think it focuses really well on the ways that likeable characters find themselves having to make dislikeable decisions, and deal with the consequences.
- Band: Blur, for their ability to endlessly reinvent themselves and for providing a soundtrack to my years as a student.
- Song: And I Will Kiss by Underworld, because it takes me right back to magic of the London Olympics.
- Book: Non-fiction: I always happily read and revisit anything by Jim Collins. For fiction, I was never into Harry Potter, but I find JK Rowling’s ‘Robert Galbraith’ detective novels magnetic and unputdownable.
- Sports team: Don’t follow a sports team as such, but Andy Murray winning Wimbledon was the happiest sporting moment of my life so far.
- Thing to do on a Friday night: A few drinks with friends, occasionally the cinema or an art gallery or museum.
- Place to eat: There is an Ethiopian restaurant in Kentish Town called the Queen of Sheba that I happily rave about to anyone who is prepared to listen.
- Holiday spot: Croatia. Beautiful scenery, great service, interesting history.
- Piece of advice you’ve been given: Always work for good people. I’ve found that good advice because it’s a reminder that, ultimately, we have choice about our careers and who we work for. If you get it right, you’ll always find work satisfying and rewarding. And it won’t feel like work.
By Karam Filfilan
Karam is Changeboard Middle East's editor and UK deputy editor.
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