Imagine being a university student in recent years. Our future leaders have all exceeded expectations through unprecedented times. I tried to put myself in their position and remember how my journey had been shaped at their age. My journey, acceleration in my career and any success was rooted in conversations.
L-R Sir John Sutherland, Chancellor of Aston University, Pertemps Lifetime President Tim Watts, Pertemps Director Jenny Jackson, Carmen Watson and Saskia Loer Hansen, Vice Chancellor of Aston University
We have all had many conversations saying you have to be determined, follow your passion, have to know your strengths and work incredibly hard even in the face of adversity. All of that is correct.
But so many of the conversations we have can be critical and far-reaching in playing a huge part in our futures. As Linda Lam, from the Reboot for the Future Campaign said: “One good conversation can shift the direction of change forever.”
Face-to-face conversations are far more than communication. When we have a conversation, we don’t just exchange information – that’s what computers do. It’s not what people do. People filter, people interpret, people elaborate on what they hear and what you hear can massively influence – for the better or for the worse. How you personally process the information is what really determines, predicts and shapes your future.
My most important conversation was with my headteacher. She insisted I stay on at school and further my education. I had other ideas and my heart was telling me to go and start my career. This conversation was so integral to my development. It wasn’t the words said on the day. It was the inference that if I didn’t stay on I would never do well in life, so I was tenaciously determined to be a success.
I didn’t see anyone in business who looked like me. There was no role model I could immediately identify with. It was just me and four other young ladies in a small office in Wolverhampton starting conversations to connect people with jobs and their future success.
I loved what I was doing and the responsibility that came with it.
There were only three Pertemps offices then. Throughout my journey with the organisation, it has grown to over 200 branches, a turnover of £1bn, employs up to 40,000 people at any one time and places up to 12,000 people per annum into permanent roles.
My career has been deep-rooted in communicating with people, understanding people: their hopes, dreams and desires. While technology can be an aide to reaching people, truly understanding people comes from the art of communication.
And so, I believe thoughtful conversations, mixed with academia, can give you the power to transform the world: connecting people to the values that they hold dear, making meaningful connections that help us to act for the welfare of the planet, to be conscious of sustainability, to bring diversity and inclusion to the forefront, and to keep our communities in good health and strong wellbeing.
Harnessing your superpower and leading those conversations we so often take for granted can lead to opportunities and influence people, their prospects and their outlook for a new generation. On average, our Google friend tell me there 860,341,500 words spoken in a lifetime. That’s a lot of opportunities for influential exchange. This is the time to have those conversations – the type of conversations that will change the world. We can all manage change.
My advice is to think about your own desires, your own direction of travel. Have those all-important conversations with those people who can help you to achieve and, as you progress and start managing your own teams, think about how you will be communicating your support to them.
This blog was adapted from a speech given by Carmen when she received an honorary doctorate from Aston University. Click here to read the full story and access a link to the video of the nomination and Carmen’s full acceptance speech.