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Q & A with Kim Atherton

Continuing the build up to the Study of Enterprise Agility Conference (SEACON) in November, I caught up with Kim Atherton, Chief People Officer at OVO Energy, and asked her a few questions.

At SEACON, Kim will be delivering an outcome focussed case study alongside OVO's CTO, Ed Connolly on the main stage.

Here's what she had to say...

Tell me a little bit about yourself, what you do and what gets you out of bed in the morning?

Well what typically gets me out of bed in the morning are my small children demanding breakfast! Although maybe I should say something more relevant like ‘my burning desire to help organisations be more customer centric and innovative’ :) A bit about me - I am a chartered Occupational Psychologist and spent the first 7 years of my career consulting globally with companies such as HSBC and Norvartis. In 2012 I joined OVO Energy, a green energy company, and helped to scale them from 50-2000 employees over the next 5 years. During this time we moved from a more traditional org structure to a network of teams each focused on a clear customer outcome. When I couldn’t find a piece of software to embed this way of working at a more holistic level I built and we span out as a separate business in the winter of 2018. We are now working with a wide range of clients from Veolia and Deloitte Digital to RBS and the NHS.

What will you be talking about at SEACON?

I’ll be speaking with OVO’s CTO, Ed Connolly on the organisational transformation that we led - the highs, the many lows and the huge learnings. With Just3Things I see so many clients wrestling with similar issues - how do we align the efforts of our teams to the strategy? How do we create a psychologically safe culture? How do we focus on customer outcomes not just feature releases or process? I think that it is really important that all of us in the community are willing to openly share our stories so that we can learn from each other.

You studied Psychology at University, how big a role does that play in leadership?

In order to create an environment where any sort of agile or lean principles actually lead to better customer outcomes and quicker delivery, effective leadership is critical. Without creating the right culture, a company can pay lip service to all of these ways of working but they won’t actually deliver any value. A great leader needs to set a compelling vision, but to be secure enough not to micro manage. They need to celebrate the learning which accompanies failure and to create a safe environment for teams to experiment and innovate. They need to get the buy in from the more traditional stakeholders that they are not creating chaos, and that the checks and balances are in place. All of this is calls for a secure self concept and a growth mind set - both in themselves and the ability to spot this in others. For me, this new way of thinking about leadership is all about psychology rather than experience.

We share a passion for helping organizations be purpose driven. How do you convince CEO’s to care about culture when their average tenure is less than 5 years?

Because they have no choice! A recent Deloitte survey found that despite exponential advances in tech designed to drive business efficiency, global productivity is not keeping pace because organisations are too slow to respond to change. Unless they are to become obsolete, companies need to find a way to deliver value to their customers more rapidly. There are countless pieces of research which shows that creating the conditions for this to happen is all about culture - this is not a nice to have or a fluffy HR initiative. Without caring about culture there will be no business!

Finally, who are you most looking forward to seeing talk at SEACON this year?

You have got an amazing line up this year! I was lucky enough to attend a recent PI planning session with Volkswagen Financial Services and their CIO, Christian Metzner was incredibly inspiring so I am looking forward to hearing more about their journey. I have really enjoyed reading John Smart's blogs and agree with so much of his philosophy around focusing on outcomes rather than agile for agile's sake - so I think that his session will be really interesting.

Find out more about SEACON by visiting

Buy tickets from Eventbrite with Kim's £50 discount code by clicking on this link.

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