Interim Tales – an interview with Guy Ellis (22nd of June 2006)

Introduction

I wrote to Debbie Jenkins to inform her about the interviews I’d conducted with some of her other authors. In the process, I asked her if any of her other authors would like to be interviewed and I was pleased when she responded with a few suggestions. One of them was Guy and as I did the research, I found Guy to be a most interesting man, with diverse talents and interesting stories to tell. I contacted him and he agreed to this interview. Without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing to you, Guy Ellis …


Aneeta: Guy, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Guy: My pleasure Aneeta.

Aneeta: Tell me a little about you. What is your background? Where do you live and where did you grow up?

Guy: I was born and grew up in Auckland, New Zealand. I lived with my father and sister from an early age, attended the local schools and eventually went to the University of Auckland.

When I was thirteen I decided that I wanted to go the United Kingdom to work and from that point on I did everything I could to make that dream happen. Three days after graduating from University, I left for London on a one-way ticket. At the age of 21, I found myself in London with no job, nowhere to live and not knowing anyone!

I quickly found a temporary job and a place to live and four months and numerous rejections later, began work with Hewlett Packard on a fixed contract in their Human Resources team. HP was a wonderful employer and gave me numerous opportunities, including a secondment to their Australian office where I gained the knowledge to come back to the UK on a working visa.

While at HP I met my now wife, moved to London and started work at the Bank of America. My next move was to Citibank and then NatWest where I was Human Resources Director at one of NatWest’s businesses at the age of 29. When Royal Bank of Scotland acquired NatWest in 2000, I took the opportunity to leave London commuting behind and work closer to home and to my young family. I joined Aon Consulting as HR Director and after two hectic but enjoyable years left when the parent company restructured and my job was made redundant.

I then had the means to set up my own business, begin writing and enjoying more time with my family.

I now live just outside Reading in the county of Berkshire, UK.

Aneeta: It says on your website, http://www.guyellis.net that, amongst other things, you’re an experienced interim manager. What is an interim manager?

Guy: There are many definitions but essentially an interim manager is a seasoned professional who is employed by a company to do a specific job for a specific period of time. Interim managers are employed because they are ‘over-qualified’ and are expected to become productive very quickly.

Interim managers are becoming more popular and because they ‘do the work’ rather than give advice (although they can provide counsel as well), they’ve worked in companies previously and understand how they work, and they’re significantly cheaper than consulting firms!

For example, I’ve helped companies restructure departments, choose IT systems, write policies and create three-year strategy plans, all with a focus on the human dimension.

Aneeta: You say that you’ve worked with some of the best-known organisations in the world. Please tell me about three of the most interesting ones you’ve worked with.

Guy: I’ve been incredibly lucky to have worked with or researched a number of household names and it would be unfair to single out specific ones. However, I have learnt that although organisations act and work as unique entities, they are the sum of the individuals who have currently or previously worked in them. What this means to me is that although you may find things that work well for certain organisations at certain stages in their development, implementing the same policy/programme/activity with a different set of individuals and circumstances will probably not work at all.

In a sense, what I’m saying is that there is no such thing as a ‘best practice’ organisation. Companies need to find the right solution for their own needs.

Aneeta: I really like that as I’ve found that this applies to writing/storytelling as well. I remember reading somewhere, (Sorry! I cannot remember where I read this or who said it) that if you’d like to be a lawyer, you go to law school; if you’d like to be a doctor, you go to medical school. But, if you want to be a published writer, you’d have to find your own way. There’s no school.

Now, I know that you’ve written a book entitled Tales of Talent: How to Harness Your People’s Talent to Achieve Your Organisation’s Vision. Please tell me a little more about this book.

Guy: During my career in Human Resources I’d tried to understand the theory behind modern management practices and how to simplify those concepts for everyday use. When I set up my own business, I took the opportunity to develop those thoughts through research and analysis of blue chip companies.

I started off writing a textbook on talent management and struggled to 90,000 words before a friend, who was editing it for me, gave me some honest feedback. Essentially she told me that while the content was great, it was boring and she thought I’d lost my way. However, she did say that she liked the first paragraph – which was a story about my vision of the future. To cut a long story short, I realised that I had enjoyed writing that paragraph more than the rest of the book and so decided to throw away the textbook and start again in that storytelling style.

My book is very different from most. I have written five short stories set in modern organisations and linked them using the tale of a young boy seeking enlightenment in medieval times.

Since being published, I’ve moved to a more coaching style when giving presentations and the feedback has been wonderful.

Aneeta: It’s pretty obvious from the title of your book that you consider storytelling important in your line of work. Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness, I would like you to explain your thoughts on the importance of storytelling in any organisation.

Guy: What I learnt whilst writing the book was that I had used storytelling throughout my career when advising and coaching managers. For me, telling people ‘facts’ is not something I feel comfortable doing – I cannot hope to understand all of the influences that are bought to a situation. By telling stories, I hope to create a context that individuals can relate to and potentially apply my experiences to their situations.

For organisations, storytelling goes even further and creates tales that help define what the company stands for, what is important to it and how people are expected to interact with each other. Employees can use the company’s tales to guide them in their own behaviour and if used correctly, these tales can be powerful mechanisms to change an organisations direction or culture.

Aneeta: That is all I can think of asking. Is there anything else you’d like to add, Guy?

Guy: I believe storytelling is a tool that has been used by humans throughout time to share information, reinforce bonds of loyalty and create shared dreams. Over the last few decades we have forgotten the power of storytelling and only now are we rediscovering this underused art form.

If people want to contact me they can do so directly at guy@guyellis.net or through my website at http://www.guyellis.net. My book: Tales of Talent: A Modern Fable for Today’s Leaders can be ordered from Amazon.com ISBN: 1905430116.

Aneeta: Thank you, Guy.

Guy: My pleasure Aneeta.


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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