Episode 279 – Wot the Book! with Leanne Hamley

Leanne Hamley‘We wanted to explore how books, which seem to be a real missing link in the corporate world, could be brought in and really used to enhance people’s development… If I could step away from everything and invest in myself, what does that look like?’

If there’s one experience common to pretty much every business sector in every industry over the last 18 months, it’s screen fatigue. Which is a challenge for learning and development professionals who also care about wellbeing: sure, people need to learn new ideas and skills, perhaps now more than ever, but are another few hours staring at a screen for a webinar or elearing programme the best way to support that? 

Leanne Hamley (and I’m right behind her) thinks that businesses are overlooking one of the most powerful, lightweight development tools of all: the book. Along with Kate Bowers, she has founded Wot the Book!, a subscription service, podcast and community dedicated to bringing brilliant books to businesses. She’s also an author herself, and talks frankly about her own experience of writing a business book. 

Wot the Book! (includes social links): https://www.wotthebook.co.uk/

Leanne’s site: https://www.culturecreator.co.uk/

Wot the Book! on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BookWot

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

The 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge September 2021: https://alisonjones.leadpages.co/proposal-challenge/

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

The Extraordinary Business Book Club bookshop: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/extraordinarybusinessbooks

The EBBC summer 2021 reading list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/thinking-better-the-ebbc-summer-2021-reading-list

Alison Jones: I’m here today with Leanne Hamley, who is an experienced leader and business coach specializing in behavioural change, leadership development and organizational culture. She’s set up numerous high-performing learning and development functions, and she’s worked on international HR change programmes for major companies such as DHL and McKesson.

Her time in Sri Lanka working on a change program to integrate child Tamil soldiers into a Sinhalese orphanage helped her understand fully the power of culture for behaviour change. She’s the author of The Golden Thread: How consistent culture creates purposeful people and high-performance, and she’s also co-founder of WOT the Book!, a nonfiction book club, podcast and community.

So you’ve got two hats on today, Leanne, welcome to the show.

Leanne Hamley: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me Alison.

Alison Jones: It’s so good to have you here. And it’s brilliant to talk about this sort of intersection of business book-y stuff. So, where do we start? Well, shall we start with your book? Let’s start with The Golden Thread, which came out this year and is gorgeous by the way. I mean, it’s a really good book, but I just have a particular thing for the cover. It is just sumptuously gorgeous.

Leanne Hamley: It’s great, navy and gold is just divine.

Alison Jones: Oh, it’s lovely. So what drove you to write it? And what was it like writing it?

Leanne Hamley: Oh, gosh, big questions. So I guess what drove me, I’ve worked in large organizations, large corporates as you said, for quite some time. And it’s really interesting looking at kind of where large organizations can go slightly wrong and slightly adrift, where subcultures can easily develop. And for me, there’s a lot about how disalignment can really uncouple what should be an amazing culture or what was an amazing culture.

So I think I’d seen and being privy to quite a lot of amazing cultures, what they did for the people that they employed, what they gave to the customers, the whole wellbeing aspect around it. And then I saw and got exposed to cultures which were really fragmented, and then seen the impact that could have on the employees, not just from a wanting to come into work, but actually from a mental health respect as well, what that toll took on them in a personal respect.

So I think it was kind of, I’d explored quite a lot of it for some time. And really because I’ve specialized in leadership development, it was how can leaders really drive culture forward? And do leaders always know the power that they have in shaping the culture or the power they have in decoupling a culture?

So I think for me, it was really about how could we just put a book together that just demystifies a lot of the stuff around culture, it is broken down into some really easy digestible steps, as opposed to thinking it’s this massive thing that we’ll never wrap our arms around.


Alison Jones: Well massive but also separate somehow, you get the sense that there’s culture and then there’s what you do every day. And you’re like, no, no, no what you do every day.

Leanne Hamley: Yes.

Alison Jones: And it’s every single touch point.

Leanne Hamley: Absolutely, it’s every touch point, it’s how you turn up to work every day, it’s how people get along, it’s how people, you know, there is so much that shapes an organizational culture that it’s in every single thread.

Hence why it was called, nice link Alison, hence why we called it The Golden Thread,

The book is of two halves. The first half is very much a blueprint to culture design, culture enablement. And the second half is actually, don’t forget that every single step of that employee journey, they will touch something which is around culture. So if you’re going to do culture and shape it, explore every single moment from when that person enters, or even is attracted to the business, to when they eventually leave.

Alison Jones: Yes, and I love that whole life cycle point. And also your point that it’s not optional, the culture is there and it’s just whether you are actually actively managing it and being intentional about it, or just letting it happen.

Leanne Hamley: Absolutely. It’s conscious decision and what we’re seeing at the moment with COVID, we’re coming out of a pandemic and cultures have changed, the way people work, the way the people show up has changed. People have had to reflect on how they want to live their lives going forward and organizations who are consciously deciding what the culture of the work, the environment will be going forward, are those that are accelerating quicker to the pandemic.

To your point, if you’re not making that intention or if you’re not consciously making that decision, then again, it’s a culture that’s just unraveling or it’s taken a different shape and that shape might not be the one that’s going to deliver you organizational success.

Alison Jones: Yes. Right. So we’ve got a sense now of the book and the intention behind that. Now you, gladdens my heart to say this, you’re a business book geek. You love reading them. Well, what was it like writing it? How has that changed how you think about business books? What was that experience like?

Leanne Hamley: Oh, gosh, it is an experience for sure. It’s one of those things that I think, I never even set out to write a book. I just sat down one day and I think just wanted to download, to get things out of my head. And I think it was a real passionate plea to try and drive some change.

So the process was actually for me, probably incredibly cathartic.

And I just enjoyed going through it. I learned so much, I learned that I need to research more if I ever write a book number two. And yes, I think there was a lot for me about making sure that I was in the right environment, in the right mindset and I’d followed a certain routine on a daily basis to make sure that I was in the right kind of mindset to be able to sit down and get some words out onto paper.

Alison Jones: And I am going to be asking you about your best tip for writers so, don’t…

Leanne Hamley: I’ll hold back.

Alison Jones: Yes, hold that one back just a second. So let’s move on to WOT the Book! Well, first off tell me why you set that up.

Leanne Hamley: Okay. So the reason why we set it up was over the last 12 months, particularly with what was happening in COVID… there was a number of reasons that we were seeing that development in the corporate space wasn’t getting the response that it needed.

So for example, people got really tired and fatigued with being online all the time, and then you’re online, you’re on your zoom calls and then you’ve got sent of more online learning.

And we saw that that was a real challenge for people. And what we wanted to do was explore how books, which seem to be a real missing link in the corporate world, could be brought in and really used to enhance people’s development in a way that allowed them to switch off.

It was more, you know, how do I turn off to turn on?

Like, if I could step away from everything and invest in myself, what does that look like? So that kind of the reasons why.

Alison Jones: And it’s interesting, isn’t it, because I think you’re right, books have been, they’re old tech and they’re somehow less sexy than lot of the investment that’s been pumped into digital learning. And you’re right digital learning, it’s great, it’s definitely got its place, but I just, yes, people are missing a trick. When you think about the health benefits of actually reading, of disconnecting, of absorbing yourself in really sustained ideas.

It’s deep work, isn’t it in Cal Newport’s terminology…

Leanne Hamley: Yeah…

Alison Jones: …and it’s just so portable. So you can just, you can sit in the garden, take it into a cafe and it’s odd that we have kind of lost sight of how lightweight and powerful that is.

Leanne Hamley: And there’s something about it that’s, you know, you’ve got to feel it, we’ve kind of lost all of this connection in the last year. People really suffered with that. And actually this is something really tangible. You can hold onto it. You can connect with the words or the author, you can connect with the ideas.

So I do, I completely agree. It’s portable. It’s such a great solution, but for some reason it’s really overlooked.

Alison Jones: Hmm, really fascinating. And one of the things, I guess that’s problematic about a book is that you can’t track somebody’s use of it. And that’s one of the reasons I think why corporate learning systems, virtual learning environments in corporates are really great because you can track what somebody has done and then you can tick boxes and you don’t get that with a book, which feels a bit subversive for the person reading but I guess it’s also a bit frustrating for the people who are wondering if anything’s actually happening.

Leanne Hamley: Yes, absolutely. And I think there’s a whole piece to your point about if you’ve got people in the classroom then here we go, that they’re learning and that’s not always the case. And some people learn better in the morning. Some people learn better in the evening. It’s such a personal thing to explore what it is that you want to develop.

That actually, that one-size-fits-all of going on that training course, could be incredibly ineffective compared to saying to people, right what is it that you need to learn? What’s the areas? And how do you become a deep expert? Now let’s look at the medium that is going to make that happen.

Alison Jones: Yes and what have you found from people who’ve been partaking in the WOT the Book! programmes, what’s the feedback that you’re getting?

Leanne Hamley: Well, we’re starting our first cohort in September. So we’re signing everyone up at the moment, which is incredibly exciting. So we’re a step away from that at the moment, but I think what we’re hearing in the feedback that we’re getting is everybody likes the concept that they complete a diagnostics, they learn more about themselves. We provide them with the books and a way to annotate the books, but also from their diagnostics, these are the books or the chapters that they should really look and invest into.

And what we’re saying is you don’t need to read it cover to cover because actually if the area that you want to develop in is communication or engagement, then actually within these books, these are the sections that would really benefit you.

So it enables just that research quality as well. And it makes it less arduous if somebody is not a big reader, but actually this is more about, let’s explore the content. And then they get the community, which is actually, let’s discuss this and how you put this into action.

Alison Jones: And that’s the piece, isn’t it? That’s where you make the stuff tangible and you apply it to your own situation. And also demonstrate to people that you have actually read the damn thing.

Leanne Hamley: You’ve read it, you’ve understood it and because you also get to meet the authors, they meet six of the biggest thought leaders out there on a pathway at the moment. So actually the author will bring this to light in a way that no one else can. So to get that kind of access is, it’s pretty phenomenal, and I think the businesses we’re working with are really excited by it.

They’re excited about what this could do, and we’ve made this incredibly affordable because it is books. So actually it’s a great opportunity to give people something that says, look, this is for you. Take this, run with it.

But it isn’t having a huge impact in the sense that some classroom training can be extortionate in comparison. So it’s got multiple benefits.

Alison Jones: And there’s no user support and there’s no train people on how to use the system. Here’s your book. Open it.

And it’s not just the book club – you talked about the community there as well, and you’ve also got the podcast, and I love the way you’re kind of synergizing those touch points , and that they complement each other.

So just tell me a little bit about that, the ecosystem that you’ve built, how it all fits together and why you did it that way.

Leanne Hamley: I think because we wanted to explore as many mediums as possible that just wasn’t directly online. So we have got a website. Our website is due to launch in July, which is very exciting. But we wanted to give people auditory. We wanted to make the books tangible. For us it was around how do we get connection? How do we create a community? How do we get people who are fans of books to join, who want to delve into this a little bit deeper? And how do we get them to be the advocates as to why there are so many benefits to this?

So, yes, we’ve kind of done it in a much more kind of broader sense, which has been exciting.

Alison Jones: Yes, I imagine so. And do you enjoy the podcasting, leading question, but.

Leanne Hamley: Of course. No, it’s so good. Honestly, we feel so overwhelmed by all of the amazing authors who have graciously given us their time, who have graciously supported us on building diagnostics, who see this as something incredibly special and have backed us every step of the way. And, you know, we’ve made some amazing contacts.

Our network has grown considerably, and it’s such a lovely author community to be part of. So yes, it’s our way of also giving back because these people we hold in such high regard that we want organizations to get visibility of, you know, be current, don’t just look at your development for your people in the same way that you’ve always done.

Look at the most relevant authors out there at the moment, because these are the people who are challenging what’s been in place for years and they need to be listened to really.

Alison Jones: Absolutely. Yes, I love that. and of course you’ve had some Practical Inspiration authors on there already, and I hope you’ll have more in the future, that sense of bringing the readers… I mean, that’s ACE, isn’t it, because normally when you read a business book you want that, you want to be able to sort of ask the author, what did you think about this? And how does this work? And to give people that, it’s really exciting.

Leanne Hamley: Yes, they bring it to life. The podcasts that we’ve ran with some of our authors, who… They are just stand out. They are so good.

The authors can explain, there’s some amazing content and with our books that we’ve selected, we selected them because they are practical books. These are books that give you step-by-step guidance to making change. So these authors have created some incredible tools that sit in these books and they bring those to life incredibly well. They can sit there, they can articulate the impact, they can give the examples as to why these have got such high value in the workplace. And no one can really do that other than an author or somebody who’s incredibly passionate and has implemented that for years.

So it does, it just takes it to another level and I think the members of our community, those who are joining the pathway will see some real value from having that kind of interaction with the author that can demonstrate that.

Alison Jones: Yes, it’s so exciting. And I just, you know, I’m so excited about an initiative that is bringing books to the attention of corporates and reminding leaders that here’s this really, really powerful thing that you’ve kind of forgotten about, that your people are crying out for right now.

Yes, really exciting. Now I promised that I’d loop you back to the writing piece and I haven’t forgotten about that.

So putting your writing hat back on for a minute but actually informed by everything you know as a reader and as a kind of curator of this community, what would be your best tip for somebody who’s writing their first business book?

Leanne Hamley: My best tip probably will be be as involved with other people who are in your field as you can be. It’s by using your network and growing your network that you can find out more examples, more ways you can challenge your thinking. I think they help bring it to life. So if it’s something that you’re incredibly passionate about someone else will be as well.

And it’s so good to have those questions and answers with other people because they inflame your own personal passion. And if at any point that you’re wavering, it brings you back to, that’s why I’m doing it. Someone gives you another story. They tell you another anecdote about, in my case where culture was so badly wrong or where it was so amazingly great.

And each time it kind of further powers you to continue to write, to get this down, to make sure that what you’re doing can help other people. So, yes.

Alison Jones: That’s such a great point. Yes, because there’s… so much of writing a book is actually about energy, isn’t it? And fueling that energy is really important. Are you one of those people that naturally understood that that was necessary? Or did you have to kind of fight the inclination to lock yourself in a room and hold this tight to your chest and write it?

Leanne Hamley: Probably I think I bounced, I probably started very much in my own head and then soon learned that that’s probably not the best place. But I think I had a lot of examples of my own but I absolutely also wanted to see and speak to other people. And I don’t think I shared for a long time that I was writing the book.

And then when I did, I realized that, oh, I’ve got to do this now. So actually I do need other people to power me on and I need support. Yes that’s when I was, right, use your network, grow your network, find other like-minded people. And I think there’s no shame in that. I think it’s the best thing you can possibly do to keep your energy alive.

Alison Jones: It is, it’s a joy and it actually deepens your own understanding of stuff, as you say, so there’s kind of no downside to it really, is there? You hold yourself accountable, you get more energy, you get better material. it people, do it. yes

Brilliant. That’s a top tip. Thank you.

And I’m really interested in this one as well, because you are such a, you know, brilliantly a business book nerd like me. What’s your business book recommendation apart from The Golden Thread obvs?

Leanne Hamley: Can I have more than one?

Alison Jones: Well, you can have like two or three, but you know, we could be here all day Leanne, we do that. We can’t do that to everybody.

Leanne Hamley: The book I wish I’d written…

Alison Jones: That’s a great way of putting it!

Leanne Hamley: …is The Power of Us, David Price, just genius, one of the most phenomenal men. His book is on culture, people-powered innovation. He is just unreal. So his whole book is peppered with years of research, years of global research. So thankfully I read that after mine.

And I was like right, that’s what I should have done. So I hold him in really high regard. The book I always go back to at the moment from a business respect is NLP at Work. Mainly because I think it doesn’t matter if you’re a coach or a leader or whatever your role is, actually understanding more about how people receive information, communicate better, just to be able to interact with others in a way that makes people thrive, I think is really key.

So it’s a really useful one that I use quite often just to explore from more a coaching respect, but I think it’s valuable for everybody.

Alison Jones: Well, you managed to limit yourself to two. I’m really impressed. Well done. That must have difficult. .

Leanne Hamley: I’m biting my tongue.

Alison Jones: Well, I’ll tell you what, what we can do is point people in the direction of WOT the Book! and your sites and so on, and you can share more there. So where can people find out more?

So WOT the Book! so www.wotthebook.co.uk. It is a landing page, but it is launching imminently. So just watch that space or you can find us on LinkedIn and Instagram and similarly my own page, which is culturecreator.co.uk.

Brilliant. And of course I will put all those links up on the show notes at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com. It is worth saying it’s WOT the Book! as in W O T because you might not instinctively know, yes brilliant.

 So Leanne, that was absolutely brilliant and took in so many different sides of business books, so I could have gone on literally all day, but yes, thank you so much for your time. It was great to talk to you.

Leanne Hamley: Thank you so much for having me on Alison.

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