This week on Strivin & Thrivin, we speak with Rebecca Powell, People and Culture Director at IntelligenceBank.
Rebecca is a hands-on People and Culture Director with experience spanning from working in Australia’s biggest corporate bookmaker, SportsBet, to start-up companies. Discussing the unexpected twists and turns of her career journey, Rebecca reveals the lessons she has learnt and how she has evolved as a leader.
Rebecca career journey started when she joined SportsBet in 2014. Despite its magnitude, she believes that the constant innovation, change and growth gave SportsBet a start-up feel that she enjoyed. From here she transitioned to a real start-up, describing it as accidental but natural as she discovered that this is where she thrived. Rebecca’s next move helped her to realise her need to be hands-on. Moving over to BetEasy, a smaller and younger company, Rebecca found a space where she could make a difference.
“I feel it’s a lot easier to drive change and have an impact on things in those smaller companies”.
Having been made redundant at the start of the first COVID-19 lockdown, Rebecca seized the opportunity to volunteer for a Not-For-Profit Talent Acquisition & Human Resources company. This work led her to a maternity cover job in a start-up company which ultimately confirmed her enthusiasm for spaces in which she could directly drive change.
Rebecca’s best career advice shines a light on the value she finds in having a practical and positive network of people around her. Quoting her mentor when she was made redundant, Rebecca explains how being told to, “Come out smarter than you came in” forced her to open up to new ideas and ways of thinking.
Rebecca applies critical thinking to her role as People and Culture Director at IntelligenceBank, ensuring she always asks questions, even as a leader.
“It’s how you conduct yourself. It’s your thought leadership more so than anything else that I think sets one apart.”
To hear more from Rebecca, including her spin on “Fake it ‘til you make it”, listen to the latest episode of Strivin and Thrivin now!
Laura: I’m your host, Laura Johnson. Today, I’m thrilled to be joined by Rebecca Powell, People and Culture Director.
All right. To get us started, can you tell us a little bit about your career background and your current role?
Rebecca: I’m currently the Director of People and Culture for a company called IntelligenceBank. It’s a rapidly scaling SaaS solutions provider, specialising in marketing and operations. Prior to that, I was head of P&C for a buy now, pay later startup. And before that I was predominantly in Talent Acquisition roles.
I came to Australia 12 years ago and I was in agency land at that time, and moved into internal talent acquisition with Sports Bet and then BetEasy. So 12 years on, here I am, didn’t ever expect to be in this role. My degree is not related to HR or talent in any way, but yeah, it’s been an interesting journey.
Laura: That’s great. I guess then, what got you into talent or recruitment in the first place, and then I’d really love to talk about the whole moving in-house, because that’s something that comes up a few times, and I know different people have had different struggles or have different opinions on that move as well.
Rebecca: It was back in Ireland. I had spent a few years teaching English in Japan, my degree is in marketing in Japanese. And when I came back from Japan, I got a job working for Dell, selling computers, great couple of years. One of my best friends and my sister, they were both in recruitment at the time, and Ireland was going through a massive boom, the Celtic Tiger, in case anyone remembers those exciting days in the early 2000s, where the economy was just booming, and recruiters were raking it in.
So, my best friend got me an interview at the agency she was in. It was a IT sales and marketing role, and I had a brilliant first year. I’d never done it before, but just thought it would be something different to try. I was about to hit 30, I’m a lot older than I look, I swear, and wanted to travel a bit more.
So, I came to Australia and off the back of my agency experience, and with some connections with the people I’d made, when I was working in Japan, I got into an agency role here. And so I had a couple of agency roles before going in-house. But yeah, it was just off the back of Ireland’s booming economy, recruitment agencies were just going gangbusters and I thought, why not?
Laura: There’s so many recruiters who I spoke to that have basically said the same. Someone that was doing really well at it, and I thought, what, “Well, I’ll give it a go. What’s the worst that can happen?” And it feels like most people, when they do it, if you’re good at it, you love it. And it’s just a really great camaraderie. Yeah, it’s just something you kind of fall in love with.
And then I guess from recruitment to in-house, what spurred that move? What made you want to move in-house rather than the recruitment side of it?
Rebecca: Well, for me, what I’ve always enjoyed about the recruitment work is, I just love bringing people together. I think every single person in TA says that and in recruitment, I will put my hand up and say, I was not brilliant at sales or business development side of things. In agency land, I hated the metrics. It just gave me the cold shivers.
So for me, what I took most pride in was, when I placed someone in a role, during my agency days, was keeping in touch with them, seeing how they were progressing, looking at that journey beyond just getting them in the door. That was something I really wanted to focus on. I just decided and I’ll admit, I wasn’t having a brilliant year in my last year in agency land. And I just thought, you know what? I need to just stop, step away from this role and focus on what I want to do, and have that clearer purpose.
And that led to the opportunity at Sports Bet, which was absolutely perfect for me. I love my sports, the culture was really engaging and inviting. It was a company that was going through a lot of growth and yeah, it spoke to me on a lot of levels. It was also part of an Irish organisation, Paddy Power at the time. Yeah, I could resonate very well with what they were doing. I understood it. So just, it was a great fit and I haven’t looked back.
Laura: That’s fantastic. I guess, for anybody that’s thinking about a similar move from recruitment, to in-house, what advice would you give them?
Rebecca: I think it’s really important to be clear about understanding the business. It’s not just about understanding the role. That certainly helps, and talking to tech leads, or dev managers, or marketing managers, it’s really important to understand how everything fits together, and have that commercial awareness as well as actually understanding the ins and outs of the role.
For me, the most important thing is… Agencies, it’s about sending in your CVS, getting bums on seats and you move on. And for me, the journey doesn’t stop when that bum is on the seat. It continues, it evolves, and we look at the internal progression and development. It’s coming in with that sense, I think is really important. Your key stakeholders are your internal stakeholders. Whereas in agency days, it tended to be more the candidates and just the hiring managers. But when you’re in-house, there’s so many more moving parts.
The other thing is if you’re an agency and you just can’t fill the role, you tend to move on. In-house, you have to fill it. There is no choice. You keep working until you get that person in, and then you keep working to make sure that they’re engaged and supported. Obviously, depending on the size of the company, you might have HR partners and others who are helping with that as well. But I’ve always taken on that responsibility as well.
I feel a sense of pride in the people I bring in. They’re my babies. I refer to every single person I’ve hired as one of my babies, and I want to make sure that they are supported, and that they feel that what I have promised and offered to them, is what they experience. So, there is a big mindset shift and you need to think about that, if you’re wanting to go in-house.
It is very easy, I think to transition in-house. I hired someone who was ex agency before. I’ve seen plenty of ex agency people have great careers, so there’s no barrier. It’s just a bit of a mindset shift.
Laura: That’s great advice. Just going back to your career a little bit, fascinated you can go from going from SportsBet to start-up. So you’ve gone from really big organisation that you probably had a really nice team and a budget, and then you’ve gone, “Oh no, I’ll go start up and do the opposite end of the spectrum”. Was that kind of a really deliberate career move or was that just kind of the right opportunity at the right time? What spurred that?
Rebecca: It wasn’t deliberate, I’ll be honest. And when I joined Sportsbet, we were, gosh, it was 2014, there was 300 and something of us. And even though we were that size company, it was very much a start-up mentality because of this constant innovation, constant change and growth. And I didn’t have much money. So, just because it’s a bigger company does not mean the budgets are any better. But for me, what I’ve always loved doing is, I’m very hands-on. I love to be in the thick of things and I feel it’s a lot easier to drive change and have an impact on things in those smaller companies. So, I went from Sportsbet to BetEasy, which was much smaller and a younger company, and they hadn’t had the dedicated Recruitment person or Talent Acquisition person there before.
I’m very pleased with the strides I made there, turning around time to fill, turning around quality of hire and engagement in the acquisition process and the hiring manager engagement. That was very well received. I actually was then made redundant, March last year at the start of lockdown one. And I spent four months volunteering with Jobs for Australia. And the role I got into subsequently as head of P&C for Payright, the buy now pay later startup was actually off the back of some of the work I’d been doing for jobs for Australia. So great connection to have, but it was just an opportunity that was there at the time, it wasn’t a deliberate choice. It was a more deliberate choice this time.
So, the role I had at Payright was a maternity cover position, and I knew based on what I’d done there and the opportunity and development I had in that gosh, 9, 10 months as I was there. I knew from that, that I actually really enjoyed being there sort of early doors, fairly Greenfield setup, where I could really drive some considerable change and improvement and add to the growth. That was something that really excited me, being right there at the start of something. So, the opportunity at Intelligence Bank, it’s not technically a startup because they’ve been going for almost 12 years, but they’ve been rapidly scaling over the last or the three to five years. And I’m their first People and Culture hire in that time. So, huge growth happening, huge opportunity and feeding off the back of the experience I’ve had with Payright which was starting up, but then also leveraging the experience I’ve had at SportsBet and BetEasy, I’m really excited. So, it was a deliberate choice this time.
Laura: Sounds like a really awesome opportunity. Just that level of scale with everything around it. It was great. I guess with that, so how do you stay on top of things or if there’s an area that you don’t know about, how would you go on up scaling? Because it must be tough as a small team and being by yourself that you’ve got to try and be good at so much. And we all know while scaling companies, everything needed to happen yesterday, right?
Rebecca: Yes. I’m very fortunate in my community or in my network. So, off the back of jobs for Australia, when I stepped into the role at Payright, I was invited by Justine Figo who’s a leader in the HR community to join the HR executive tribe, which has been a source of great support for me in the past year. I’m also part of Rebecca Holton’s old HR level up mentoring program, I have been since the start of 2020. And Rebecca has been a huge help to me as well. I often joke at the fact that I joined her program when I was just a lowly TA manager. And here I am, 18 months later, a director of People and Culture, the program works folks.
So yeah, I’ve been very fortunate. We’ve also got Andrea Kirby’s Talent Table or Talent Tribe, which has helped hugely the reconverse group back in the day, going to events like the ATC conference, just connecting with people. Outside of the bold HR tribe or group, a lot of us connect and catch up and swap ideas. And so I’ve been very fortunate with the people I’ve had around me, the incumbent Head of People and Culture when I was at Payright was also brilliant at being available.
Even though she was having a baby, she made herself available to me, which I really appreciated and I learned a lot from her as well. So yeah, surround yourself with good people. Never be afraid to reach out and ask someone because you’d be amazed at how willing people are to give advice. So, if you’re willing to ask for it, there’ll be plenty of people willing to help you out.
Laura: I think that’s so true and I think it’s something that I struggled with a bit at the start of my career, but I think people do want to help, people want to help other people. And I think particularly, and I think Jobs for Australia is a really great example of that. Especially last year, people really went out of their way to help each other. And there’s so much of that.
And I do think it’s one of the other things that’s come out of this year as we’ve had a bit more time with no community and no social lives, people have wanted to reach out and help each other out a little bit more. And that’s really incredible. And I think you’re right, there’s so much to be said for having that community and just being able to have a space where you can ask a question that if you had to try and work out by yourself would probably take you hours or days. Actually you can put it out into a safe space and someone’s going to offer you advice because they’ve already done it.
Rebecca: Yeah, no, it’s definitely been a feature I think, of the last sort of 12, 18 months. And yeah, I get people messaging me quite a bit now. I don’t necessarily think I’m mentor material because I’m very much still on a learning journey myself, but where I can, I absolutely will help those who ask for it.
Laura: I think you’d be amazing mentor. I think that’s a really interesting point and genuinely, I think it’s sometimes something we struggle with as individuals, but your experience and everything you’ve done is incredible and there’s so much people can learn from that. And I think sometimes we, I was saying it to a girl on my team yesterday, it’s just like, sometimes I just don’t know what I’m doing. And I say, neither do I. Just because I’ve done it for another 10 years than you have, that we all have these days where we’re like, what are we doing? We don’t know what we’re doing. And I just don’t think that shifts and sometimes we think too much about that rather than the stuff we do know. What’s the old saying, the more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know.
Laura: And I think sometimes as individuals, we will get caught up in that rather than going actually, I’ve done some stuff, I could talk to people about stuff.
Rebecca: Yeah. I had a manager back in my agency days here in Australia who used to say. “Fake it till you make it”. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the best advice, but at the same time, you don’t know everything, but start with what you do know. And as you embed yourself further in the role or the opportunity, you will continue to pick up new things, you will continue to broaden that knowledge base.
So, whilst maybe it’s not quite faking it, still if you go in with the confidence that you can learn that and you can do it, that absolutely helps. So bear in mind, I do not have any HR qualifications, none, but I’m a Director of People in Culture. I mean, what the hell is that about? So, clearly I’ve managed to fool a few people, but whilst maybe not going with the advice of fake it till you make it, I think absolutely go for whatever you see in front of you.
Laura: So, you mentioned there just about the fake it till you make advice. What do you think is the best career advice that you’ve had along the way?
Rebecca: I think it was actually something that Rebecca Walton said to me at the start of my redundancy and the start of lockdown one. She said, “Come out smarter than you came in”. And for me, one of the things I’ve only started to do, not late in life because I’m only in my early forties, but something that I’ve never really invested any time in is my own development or extracurricular learning.
And I’ve always just sort of, I don’t have time for that, I don’t to spend my free time reading business articles or books on how to be a better recruiter or how to be a better person or whatever. I was always very dismissive of that, but I’ve started to use the opportunity couple of years ago to invest in myself because I realised that I’m going to go nowhere if I just keep doing the same thing day in, day out and expecting different results.
And that’s what triggered A- signing up to Rebecca’s program, B- getting involved in things like free converse and Andrews tribe. And then just been willing to put my hand up for new and different roles. So yeah, coming out of it smarter than I came in I think has been a really great piece of advice. It’s forced me to open up to new ideas, new ways of thinking and new input that I might not otherwise have allowed. So it’s been, I think it’s helped change a lot for me, I think.
Laura: Yeah, that’s a really great piece of advice. I thought we probably all needed that memo at the start of last lockdown.
Rebecca: I literally have it pinned on a post-it on my screen in front of me, just right there, it’s out in front of me every single day. The other one was asked more questions. I think that’s been a very important one for me because I’ve been guilty of just jumping into things, just reacting, responding to things without understanding the big picture. And as you progress your career and as you step up into more and more senior roles, you’re not actually expected to have the answers.
You’re not expected to solve problems straight away. Having that understanding of what’s causing things or why things need to be the way they are, you need to be asking questions and I’ve always been guilty of not doing that. So yeah, I guess two pieces of advice, ask more questions and come out smarter than you came in. Both sitting on my screen all the time.
Laura: I think I saw a talk in Canada, must be a few years ago. It was a guy who’d written a book and I can’t think of his name called ‘The Coaching Habit’. And the idea there is you have to ask five why’s before you can say anything. So it’s just like, keep asking why. And I think that’s always stuck with me, like seeking to understand before you respond, because I think really early on in your career, you want to have the answers, you want to respond to things when people are asking things.
Oh, I know this one, I know this one. And actually that’s the worst thing you can do when you get into a leadership position that you should just ask lots of questions. But I think of is almost like it is that switch I think that at some point in your career where that kind of happens, or it did for me anyway, it was an interesting transition, I think.
Rebecca: Yeah. And the thing is that that ability question does set leaders apart and I’ve been guilty of jumping in, fixing what I thought was the problem, and then looking back and going well itself things for me, but what did it do for others? And realising as a leader that it’s not about you anymore.
Laura: Yeah. It’s very true. You will do soon in your current job by the sounds of it.
Rebecca: Yeah. I’ll need to, because we’re already over 80 people and we’re going to grow by at least 60, 70% this year. And yeah, so I’m going to be busy for one to do all the HR stuff and the recruitment stuff. But leadership for me, I used to think that it was about managing a team and progression and promotion for me, I thought it had to be vertical, not lateral.
And that’s something that’s changed over the last few years, getting exposure to new teams, new processes, new experiences that stretched and challenged me. So, I’ve always been paranoid, I’m still a little paranoid that having never led a team of people and never having had that experience of managing personalities, experience levels, all the rest of it, has made me less of a leader.
But it’s something I’m actually growing more comfortable with that you don’t have to have multiple people underneath you to be a leader. It’s how you conduct yourself. It’s your thought leadership more so than anything else so that I think sets one apart. So for me, that’s actually what I’m trying to focus on more than worrying about whether or not I’ve got a team that reports up to me and calls me boss.
Laura: No, I think you’re right. Again, so I was reading something the other day and it was basically around, there was a great quote and I can’t think what it was exactly, but it was around the fact that leadership is an attitude, it’s not position. And it’s basically exactly that. It’s about how you show up and how you conduct yourself. It doesn’t actually matter what the organisational hierarchy says, it’s so much more than that. All right, just looking at time, I’m going to ask you two more questions.
Laura: What do you think has been the key to your success so far?
Rebecca: The key to my success I think is the fact that I’m just willing to give things a go. I’ve put my hand up for roles, knowing that I don’t have all of the skills or experience, but being prepared to learn. And we’ve seen time and time again, people quote, oh, men will apply for a job and they only have 60% of the skills, women will wait till they have everything.
And maybe I’m more of a man than I thought, but I’m all woman. But you can’t grow if you’re not prepared to learn and challenge yourself. And so almost every single role I’ve gone for has been something where it is actually quite a step up. And it’s off the back of the support that I’ve had from my mentors and from my community as well that they’ve put that confidence in me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve absolutely had moments of imposter syndrome and been brought to tears because I’m convinced I’m a fraud and I can’t do it, but I’ve had the right people around me to support me, talk me down from my ledge and reinforce that self-belief. So, that’s really been the key for me is being willing to scare myself, challenge myself, face those fears and go, what’s the worst that can happen? What we’re doing is not brain surgery. So, if I make a mistake, it really isn’t the end of the world.
Laura: We really all need that reminder sometimes. Maybe that’s another post it I need on my desk along with the Rebecca Walton quote.
Rebecca: Oh, well, another one that I’ll put on your desk is nothing good happens after seven o’clock. So I am very strict with my work-life balance. Often do 11 plus hour days, but you won’t see me going after 7PM. If you’re starting work at seven, eight o’clock in the morning and you’re still going at seven o’clock at night, you’re more prone to making mistakes.
Nothing’s going to happen in those midnight hours before you log on again in the morning. So, step back, have some dinner, watch trashy TV, or hang out with your family or walk the dog or whatever it is. But for me, I’ve taken a very deliberate approach to how I manage my time now. And I don’t stay online after 7PM, unless there’s an absolute emergency and I can’t think of what that would be.
But yeah, people can still get me on the phone, I won’t do the work until the next morning though if they asked me to do something. It’ll be done in the morning. So, three post-its for you to have on your desk, “Come out smarter than you came in”, “Ask more questions”, “Nothing good happens after 7PM”.
Laura: Love that. I’m going to write them up and put them on the desk after this. Last question, who would you like to hear from on the Strivin and Thrivin podcast?
Rebecca: He’s worked for Save the Children at Perth Medical so he’s come from more of that not for profit background, which can be very, very challenging and they have very limited resources most of the time. So, I think someone like Craig is also well worth talking to. I’ve caught up with him a few times and just picked his brains about things and he had some great employer branding initiatives as well while he was at that Perth that like totally stole.
Laura: I love talking about employer branding as well. I’ll send you a message after this, see if he fancies a geek out. Thank you so much for today, I really appreciate it.
Rebecca: No worries, thanks for asking me.