Introducing the Unbabel Podcast

At Unbabel, we’re on a journey to create universal understanding, and we’re not alone. Every week we’ll bring in leaders, researchers, artists, and authors who are building understanding across their fields, to find out how they work, and what makes them tick.

A couple weeks ago, we spoke with Paula Kennedy. Like many before her, when Paula Kennedy was just fresh out of college, she took an entry level job for a contact center. Then she climbed through the ranks of an organization with over 200,000 employees to become the vice president at Concentrix.

Besides having won multiple awards, Paula is a champion for diversity, a mentor for women, and a disruptor in our industry. She’s been advocating for remote work even before this health crisis turned the world upside down.

In the first episode of the Unbabel Podcast, we asked Paula about her career, life, and the future of work. After all, if she’s cracked the code for life work balance (and not the other way around), we want to hear all about it.

Let us know your feedback, questions, and suggestions at podcast@unbabel.com. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast app to get these episodes as soon as they come out!


The following is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.

Fernando: Hi, Paula. Welcome to the Unbabel podcast. You achieved so much in your career already. Did you always dream to become an international business leader? 

Paula Kennedy: Gosh, dreaming to be an international business leader…  You know, I think anyone’s career…The advice that I always give people that I mentor, people that speak to me is actually: Your North star will find you.  

 I’ve been in this industry for over 20 years, way more than I probably want to admit in a podcast. Been in this industry for a long time, and I’ve done an awful lot of different jobs within the industry and roles within the industry. So over time you just learn new skills, you pick up new areas and you evolve as technology is evolving.

And so it opens so many doors to you. So if I look backwards, that I think at that point in time what I was going to achieve, what I was going to do, where  my career would take me, probably didn’t realize. Um, but now I know that it can go in many different directions because you find what you love. And do you follow your dream that way.

Fernando: You didn’t study to do this.

Paula Kennedy: I have a degree in languages, so I didn’t study to go out into technology or to go out into customer management. Um, I have a degree in Languages and a postgraduate in Marketing. So… Very different and kind of got into the contact center space at the very early entry level to make some money and go traveling when I was really a lot younger and it all evolved from there. As an industry was starting to take shape, I might’ve just been at the right place at the right time to move with it.

Fernando: Do you think that inside Concentrix right now you have a project , may I say that it’s your baby called Solv. 

Paula Kennedy: It is my baby, yes.

Fernando: Can you introduce us your baby? What is that about?

Paula Kennedy: Yeah, Solv has been great. Um, so we’re coming up on our year anniversary since we took it to market. Solv is Concentrix’s solution to provide customer experience customer service for brands by leveraging the strengths of the gig economy.

So very disruptive even for what our core business is. Um, tapping into a crowd, doing a crowd source model and, um, complete virtual anytime, anywhere support. So it’s not, you know, it’s not something that is established in this industry as yet. We’ve been really early adopters to take this side, and it’s been an incredible year of learning and fun, mostly fun.

Fernando: You  mentioned gig economy, so is Solv like the Uber of customer service or you don’t like to be compared? 

Paula Kennedy: Ah, I don’t really compare brand to brand. 

What we’re doing is very different. Uber very much, you know, transport, logistics driven, and they have their model running for years and it’s very successful for them. You know, what we’re aligning to do is to effectively crowd source customer support. And that can be anything today from customer service, tech support.

It could be online moderation. It could be social media monitoring. You know, there’s so much in that spectrum of what customer management really is, and there is a flexibility of doing it completely at a time and a place that suits you for as long as you want it to be. So it’s a different model and working in a traditional working environment, um, but it’s not drivers and it’s not riders. So it allows a lot of other people to do different things.

Fernando: You were talking now about the future of work while gig economy is for sure a piece in that. You have over 200,000 people working at Concentrix. Are they going to be replaced by Solvers?

Paula Kennedy: No, I mean, our business continues to grow. I just think for all organizations, everyone’s very cognizant of the fact that the world is changing.

It’s changing for what consumers want from the companies they they buy from and get services from. And that means that you know, that demand to be there always on 24/7 on the connected world that we live in is very much a reality. And from a workforce point of view, there’s a shift from what we used to call work life balance and to life work balance, right?

So people want to have more flexibility and we appreciate that in this kind of crazy world we live in, which is so fast paced, that finding time with family to do the things that are important to you, sometimes they get compromised. So, as newer demographics and generations come through into the workplace, they’re looking and asking for different things, and probably even my generation did whenever I was starting out.

And that’s the thing that we have to be very conscious about as we strategize and make plans for what happens in the future. No, absolutely is there a possibility that the kind of work that we do within Solv and on the gig economy could displace customer support to be handled in a different way?

Yeah. But it, it takes a pretty savvy organization and a brave and bold organization to recognize that and go with it and appreciate that change has to be embraced if you want to survive the future.

Fernando: You said something that caught my attention that a work life balance, you’re calling it life work balance. So what’s the meaning of, switching the order is that a, what’s outside of work is more important?

Paula Kennedy: I think it’s about recognizing its importance and think about a typical day for   a lot of people that live in a city. They’re up really, really early to get a commute to get through rush hour traffic, to get into a job, to do a shift in a nine to five to hit that again.

And sometimes you can have 12 hours plus a day where you’re not actually in your own home and doing things that are you. And you kind of have to sleep in between all of that as well. So compare that to the difference of now, um, customer management positions being available to the most remote areas where you don’t have to do a commute.

Not only is it a great green factor and is it great for, you know, corporate social responsibility for brands as well, but just that health factor and that wellness factor and that kind of, yeah, my life is important to me and those, those hours that I sat in a car or a train or a bus. And I have them at home.

I could be working, I can take a break. I can be more flexible be on, be off and do things. So I guess it’s down to every individual what works for them.

But we have moved away from the times where it was check in, check out at nine to five in an office environment. Those times are changing and there’s much more movement and quick pace movement for remote work.

Fernando: So you, you mentioned a customer management, because obviously that’s where you are involved, but you think this is a, a general movement across many different areas?

Paula Kennedy: There is absolutely a shift. We see the shift in organizations who are promoting remote work, be that hybrid or trying to introduce those policies into their organization. Then you look at the kind of braver, little startups that come through that.

That’s just what they do. They start with a wholly remote model and they don’t have offices at all. Obviously the commercial benefits of that to an organization is really important. But depending on the kind of work that it is, you know, you go into the normal infrastructure of a, of, of a business or a company, there’s lots of things you have to bear in mind with that.

Employee engagement, keeping in touch, communication. It’s a different set of tools. It’s a different way of working. I guess what we’re doing within the Solv gig economy is enabling people to have access to do work that would normally take them a commute to get into a contact center to do that they can now do from home and at a time that suits them and we’ve deliberately unshackled it to say it isn’t shift driven. We’ve modeled it in the gig economy because that is a whole new force that’s coming through and it’s ever evolving, right? We, nobody has quite figured that out yet because at best legislation is different, even country to country and state to state, so we also have to navigate that , with respect and care and make sure that we do the right thing as we start to grow gig economy practices and make sure that we’re doing right thing for the workers of the future.

Fernando: So about this regulation,  do you think that the right regulation is in place, it’s being created now, are you thinking ahead of the regulation, what’s the right thing to do? And if you could influence that regulation, what are the areas that you would focus on?

Paula Kennedy: I don’t think it’s fully evolved by any stretch. I think that’s why you see the noise and that’s why there are opinions around gig economy being good or bad. It’s, it’s, it’s very swing and opinionated away. And you can see that people are putting, um, laws through inconsistently across lots of places because I think every single case and instance is being looked at separately, and it’s not necessarily that gig economy is new, new, it isn’t.

It’s been around for quite a while, but it surfaced to the top and it’s gaining momentum. And with that, then, you know, it brings it, it brings scrutiny. But what do we just need to be careful of? I don’t know if we have, you know, the checklist of the right things to do and everything is figured out. But I think what we’ll start to see a wee evolve is looking at what is right for the worker.

The environment that they’re working in, the times that they’re working, making sure that jobs are fair, tasks are fair, and that, you know, wages and salary and benefits align to what maybe it was outside of a gig economy environment. And that will all take time to evolve and get standardized, you know?

But it’s being a responsible player in that space to influence it and to look where the opportunities are, to bring things in first and test and learn and see what works. I’m really, really pleased with the progress we have made in the gig economy space through the last eight, 10 months. Um, but we’ve done it very cautiously to make sure that what we do is the right thing for our Solvers, for our own brand Concentrix and absolutely for the brands and the clients that work on the platform.

Fernando: You believe that in the future it will be possible to make a career, and a successful career, working, or at least starting in the gig economy. So looking at how you started as a customer service agent and now you are vice president at Concentrix. You think there could be a Solver right now that is a Paula of the future?

Paula Kennedy: The really good thing with solvers, um, and who are applying and being attracted to work on the solve platform is as a currently, typically as a second income, they’re bringing really in depth demand expertise to the table. So it’s a very different model from traditional business where we might hire in more at an entry level and staff will go through training and then they have a period of competency to make through. That’s kind of the typical model we’ve all been used to. We’ve seen something very different, which means we can scale and ramp in days rather than weeks. We can build knowledge and see set levels, you know, better than before and in hours and not days because we get people who bring skills already and tenure and expertise.

So I think that’s a dynamic that’s very different. And everything’s learning. So the data that we gather through all of this, for every experience that we have, will play a really important role as to what the next decisions are and the next features we put in the platform and the partnerships and alliances that we build, all of that will be generated through the data and learning and the insight that we get from our Solvers as well.

Fernando: So you mentioned having great mentors several times. Did they have an influence at every step of your career? How did that work?

Paula Kennedy: Absolutely. You know. I’m a big believer that you mark your own way for the future and your ambition of what you want to have. And that’s very individual for every person. Just because Paula wanted to do A, B, and C doesn’t mean that the next person does, and we all have different ambitions, but my personal experience has been, you know, identifying people in the organizations I’ve worked with, and indeed, sometimes outside of your organization, just someone who inspires you, that you look at what they’ve achieved and you see how they’ve gone about it and they’ve done things that you think, yeah, that that would work for me. And not to be shy about approaching and asking for support as a mentor, having a mentor within work is just so, so important.

Um, I mentor other people downwards as well. So you see two sides off at a point where you can give advice, but you know, you’re never… You’re never too experienced or at a level where someone can’t offer something more to you. So I think having a mentor and a sounding board within the workplace is an incredibly important thing, and it served me really well.

There are people that I would identify throughout my career that I would still call my go-tos, um, that I would call and talk to, even if I’m not working with them any longer. We may not be in the same team, we may not be in the same organization. But yeah, mentorships are a pretty important thing.

Fernando: I think that most people will agree to that and will think that it would be a great thing to have, but doesn’t feel really comfortable or not sure how to go about asking someone to mentor them. So you have your manager and obviously there’ll be some help there that is expected, but going outside of that somewhere else in a different part of the organization, or even outside. And what do you do, would you say, “I really admire you and I would like it to be my mentor”?

Paula Kennedy: Yeah. You know, it’s awkward. It’s not any less awkward than the first time you go to a networking event or you attend a meeting. Those firsts are always very daunting. From the workplace. I think it’s driven a lot by the culture of the company that you work for as well. If there’s a culture there, which is really about fostering and influencing people to be the best version of themselves and to always strive to the next thing. Good organizations want the people at ground level to move up through the ranks because brand loyalty, company loyalty, and just that development of skills and inherent demand knowledge that you pick up is really key to hold onto. That doesn’t mean that, you know, you can’t move to outside roles as well, but it’s what you personally want to do. So I always encourage people to have that one on one conversations with their line manager.

That relationship will always go to a certain point, but you may want to get different skills that that person isn’t necessarily employed to do. So I think, again, my encouragement is: seek mentorship within areas and people that are not always necessarily the same as you either. Right? Because you want to challenge yourself.

You want to really ask yourself if you are being the best version of you, if there’s extra things that you can learn, and sometimes the best way to do that is to be mentored by somebody who’s in an entirely different field, but they’re achievers and there’s things that, inspiration can be so many things.

So whatever it is, you know, navigate, find that network to help do it. Leverage the tools and the people that you have around you, um, and that will have a huge, huge return.

Fernando: And you mentioned you yourself mentoring other people. How do you find the time for that?

Paula Kennedy: Well, that’s an important thing to do. So if you have a team, right, work is important. Performance is important. Results are very important, but none of that happens without people being happy and people being motivated. So within your own team, you have to make time to step out and have the non-work mentoring within our own group, within Solv, we do things like, you know, offsite brunches where we talk about what’s going on.

You know. And to do with, with the work that we have for sure. But then we, we break and we say, what else is going on in life? We have breakout sessions one-on-one. My teams will have time in their diary already calendar that if they want to use it with me, it’s there. But it’s totally, the only agenda is: it isn’t work, it’s about other stuff. But I also get involved with a lot of local bodies and associations, specifically helping women through the workplace. Um, because of this, I, I’ve been there in my day. And if you can give back, that’s a great thing, right? So if we want to really foster, again, this whole diversity within workplaces and really encourage. Women specifically have less confidence in that kind of asking for mentorship and they have less confidence in the networking environment, so creating an environment with people that you trust and helping them through their way. Trust me, I get as much out of mentoring as, as the people that I mentor.

Fernando: And that might be something that helps people feeling more comfortable about asking, is knowing that first people in certain positions do want to give back and they are also getting something back from it. So there’s no problem in asking.

Paula Kennedy: And not everybody has the luxury of working for a great organization like Concentrix where we have lots of people around us and teams are big. There’s a lot of really great people out there with potential, but they may have their own business or work in a smaller firm where that kind of sounding board just isn’t readily available to them.

So to move out of the isolation and have a network of people around you that you can ask things, and having people from lots of different backgrounds, again, gives you a different perspective on what you want to know, what you want to hear, what you want to do, and to challenge your own decisions. And that’s a good thing.

Fernando: You touched already a point that I, I had mixed feelings talking about it, because it’s obvious having a, a woman in a high position in a big corporation, the topic of gender equality is an obvious one. But I also feel like we live in 2020, we’re kind of living in the future. Does it still make sense to have this conversation? Is it still important?

Paula Kennedy: A hundred percent so never, ever feel awkward. My first ask would be, do not ever feel awkward about having the gender discussion because actually gender equality is about, um, as much having the conversation women to men together as it is women to women together. Right? Um, so it’s really important that we all embrace everything.

And it’s not just about gender anymore, right? It’s about having a diverse workforce that is inclusive. And those two things are not necessarily to cm are directly correlated, right? It’s about inclusion, about including people from all backgrounds, race, religion, ability, gender. Anything into what kind of decisions are being made within a business innovation that’s happening within a business and opportunities for everyone.

So it’s a really, really important topic that we have to keep on the table and we have to be confident about speaking about, um, because it’s, it’s our new normal, right? But it’s not balanced. We don’t live in a 50, 50 world, so we still have to keep talking about it and making changes.

Fernando: And I noticed, I find it interesting that you are an advocate for  women’s equality at work, but you, I think you avoid the label of feminist and you choose a egalitarian.

Is this a conscious choice from you?  is it uncomfortable to use the word feminist in the corporate world?

Paula Kennedy: No, I’m really surprised you say that. I’m, I would say I’m proudly feminist, probably more feminist than I would maybe even have admitted before.

Um, cause it went through a period where saying feminism seemed to be a little bit of a slight word, right? It’s really not. It’s about, you know, um, encouraging women to be phenomenal, to be great. They are. There’s nothing wrong with being feminist. You can be feminist as a man, you can be feminist as a woman, and it’s a great thing.

I encourage my five year old nephew to be a feminist, right? Because we all have to, we have to really adopt the mindset of equality for everybody. And again, it is much more than just gender.

But no, that’s, that’s okay. I carry that with pride. 

Fernando: Okay, so you’re part of the lean in movement, which is inspired by the book by Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg. Can you explain what is the lean in movement?

Paula Kennedy: And you know, the lean in book was written quite a few years ago by Sheryl, but the principles, whilst her book was very gender driven, the principles do carry across to everything. And it’s about, it’s about, that equality message and that diversity message, and that’s about giving everybody their voice.

You know, if you’re in the room and someone’s not speaking because there’s a hierarchy there and they feel that they can’t encourage them to have their voice at the table, pull up their chair at the table, you know, make sure that we give everyone a fair and reasonable approach to do everything. And, and, and Sheryl’s program is absolutely phenomenal.

I mean, the reach that it has globally is, is great. The tools and resources that are offered. From Lean in, which is a not for profit, to organizations to be part of and independence to be part of. Um, so you’ll see lean in circles and, um, chapters grow up and networks, um, in countries and in cities or in organizations.

Um, it appealed to me because, you know, we talk a lot and I even probably three years on from when I first got involved with the program. We talk a lot now about, you know, diversity and how has it improved and how we got better. But three years ago, what was way different than it even is today. And we’re not perfect by any stretch at the moment.

And as a female who’s kind of grown my career through the ranks, I’ve lived and breathed it. Without any derogatory feeling towards any of my male counterparts and peers who were great people that have always worked with me. But it was noticeable, the higher up you go in ranks how there are lesser and lesser women in those jobs.

So, honestly, if that is one of the few things that I can look back on at the end of my career and feel like I had an influence on or helped a single person feel better to get that next opportunity thenn job done. That’s a good thing. And it just about the skill of getting lots of people with that same mindset to reach down and pull the next person up and give them a hand is really what it’s all about.

Fernando: How can someone a first, can anyone join a circle and how can you do that?

Paula Kennedy: Even guys. There you go. It’s very inclusive. Even men. Um, yeah, they can so, I mean, that’s one program of many. Um, and I think you’ve, you know, organizations are more and more building their own diversity and inclusion programs for Concentrix, it is such an important thing for us that we foster and, you know, an aim and a target for 50, 50 balances at all levels in all countries.

And we’ve, you know, we’ve got some incredible, great results of actually achieving that and better. Um, and I think that’s the encouragement that I give to, um, organizations and leaders to lead by example and make that difference and make the opportunities available to everybody.

Fernando: So one of the issues, um, with diversity and specifically with gender equality is equal pay and the pay gap, and some people might argue that it’s women’s fault for not negotiating themselves. Uh, so, well, so what’s your advice for women when it’s time to negotiate your salary?

Paula Kennedy: So, first of all, I want to talk to those people who might say that that’s just a conversation for another day. But you know, it is one of the challenges.

It’s a confidence thing, and it’s, it’s those resources and tools and how you mentor and how you help, because, um, you know, the data will stand by the fact that if jobs come up or salaries have to be negotiated, you know, guys males, typically will look at the job rec and they’ll say, I can do seven out of those thing, I’ll go for it. We don’t, we tend to wait until we’re perfect at all off them before we’ll try and, uh, and it’s helping people take that leap of faith. Trust me. I’ve taken leaps of faith through my career where I might not have been 100% ready to do it, but I knew I could. So just have the courage to know that you can and you will and surround yourself with the right people to help you get there, and you’ll achieve that and more, and you’ll leapfrog onto the next thing and the next thing.

And that’s really what it’s about. But it does come down to how our brains are wired, but there is, we can help each other by doing that, and we can identify those things. And that’s why. Um, I really do encourage back that message that driving an inclusive environment is not just one gender driven.

It’s about both. Because it’s about also females making their peers, their male peers and men in the, in the organization aware that that’s how we are. Because you might not know that. You might not identify with that. So we got to tell you as well, right? And it’s a two way thing, so…

Fernando: So besides the gender, you mentioned there, there are other types of diversity that organizations should care about.

What do you think are the bigger issues that we face right now in terms of inclusion and diversity not related to gender?

Paula Kennedy: Look, we just have to make decision based on talent. The best person, regardless of gender, Reyes, sexual orientation, physical ability, the best person should be the person who gets the job.

It seems really simple. It’s just not necessarily applied everywhere. We all have a lot of work to do more of that and just be more consciously aware of the things that we have to do to encourage us that everybody feels welcome within the workplaces. So, you know, everybody has the same ability, the same access to do.

And I think when you, again, data will stand over it, but when you have much more diverse working environments, the innovation and the ideas and the business results that come from that, it’s visible in bottom lines. So it’s the right thing to do! We just have to all do it a little bit more consciously and actively.

Fernando: That makes perfect sense, but do you agree that in some environments, like computer science, for example, the bias is so strong since college that the best available person for the job ends up being a man more often than a woman. In those cases, how do you create a more balanced environment? 

Paula Kennedy: You know, it starts way before anybody is ready to apply for a job. It has to start at education. It has to start in the schools and colleges, right? And so there’s so many great ambassadors out there driving STEM programs to help girls get into science and tech and things like that. Yes, today it is unbalanced and it will only move whenever more girls and females get into those environments to work, but then the results of that better by encouraging women to apply for those roles as well.

And we talked a little bit earlier about the future of work. I mean, again, we’re very focused on things that happen in the traditional workspace, but just look up at how many more doors open whenever we make things remote, and people potentially, who do have disabilities, can still do those jobs from areas without having to do a big travel commute into your city.

So there’s, there’s lots of pieces of this. There’s lots of things in this cake recipe to get right, but there’s lots of things that people can be doing.

It’s not just workforce driven. It is skills driven, it’s parenting, it’s education, it’s culture. And as our world evolves more and the next generations come through wanting different things and demanding that we, you know, we think about things differently, I think the pace of how things will change will be faster.

We’re on a momentum. It’ll gain more and more traction as long as leaders continue to to drive that.

Fernando: So in the workplace, outside of the traditional office, it will be more diverse.  Naturally. 

Paula Kennedy: You should definitely be seeing more diverse opportunities, but it comes in also just by opening the door and saying work remotely doesn’t fix the issue.

Culturally, organizations still have to be welcoming how policies have processes in place that support people of varying needs. And, um, giving everybody the same opportunity to succeed.

Fernando: So we talked about your activism, about gender equality, but I, I found it really curious: you’re in the brain injury matters foundation board. So what is it about this cause in particular that’s called to you?

Paula Kennedy: Brain injury matters as a local charity in Northern Ireland who doesn’t have sponsorship from any national levels or anything else. So they have to work really hard to maintain their funding and help a population of people who didn’t expect to come across, um, serious trauma or injury in their lives and their entire family is affected. It’s a cause that I just think is very important. It doesn’t come from something within my own family that’s been there, but with a network of, of people that I know who have been affected by acquired brain injury, which is something that happens after birth as a result of an accident in sport or many things, even illness can cause it and there is not the same medical care available longterm for families who are affected by that. So it’s a really, really good cause that I’m delighted to be part of the board and and influence how they take their success forward.

Fernando: A lot of people want to support some cause and sometimes people get criticized because you’re supporting this and that is more important.

Um, people support animal causes and they say, why are you not supporting people causes, something like that. How would you advise someone to find their cause, what they like to support?

Paula Kennedy: They’re all important. There isn’t one that’s more or less than others, and it’s a very individual thing for people about where they want to, maybe, give donations and sometimes you know what they want to do at one part of their life can change to another. I think there’s so many incredible causes out there who need our help and where we have the ability to do that, whether it is financial donations or lending time, or supporting or standing up to things that just aren’t right.

You know, that’s a very individual matter across the peace. There’s lots of things that I am very passionate and sensitive about. I just happened to be on the board with brain injury matters, but it doesn’t take away from other things. And I think lots of people are the same, um, and we’re very woke as a culture now globally, right?  So I think we’re seeing more and more that’s coming into, you know, cruelty of animals, and shouldn’t be eating as much meat as we are and what’s happening with climate? These are all massive topics, right? We could have podcast for those for weeks. Um, and they’re really, really important and equally as important to, to me, because we’ve got families and the next generations coming behind us have to live differently than what we have.

Fernando: I had a topic about work life balance, but now it’s going to be life, work balance. 

Paula Kennedy: Thank you. Great. 

Fernando: And I know that you love what you do and you don’t really think of the things you have to do as sacrifices. But there are options sometimes you have to take in order to, to work at a certain level where you are like spending a big part of your life from airport to airport, uh, like, uh, working at weekends or late at night.

So what are the costs of being successful in the corporate world in a role like yours?

Paula Kennedy: Do you know what? I really don’t want to think of it as cost. It’s about balance, right? And it’s about, um, knowing what you’re really great at and surrounding yourself with even better people who are better than you at it to help you through it as well.

You kind of need to leave a job title at the door. I mean, my team, I’m really blessed. I’ve got a team here, who are just phenomenal about what they do. And we, you know, share the tasks and share the load and do what we have to do.

But ultimately it’s family first. Categorically, and I love my career and I’m very passionate about what I do, but it’s family first.

Um, so you know, time, time off when you have it, spend it. Well, spend it with the people that you love. Do things that make you happy. If you’re not happy, something has to change. I’m very fortunate that I love what I do. And you’re right, and sometimes working doesn’t feel like work, but you have to consciously know when to switch off and when to go into, you know, a different mode. so…

Fernando: Yeah, I love when work doesn’t feel like work, which is what I’m doing right now in this moment. So… But did you ever feel or were very close to a situation where work was damaging your health?

Paula Kennedy: No, listen, do you know what, there’s not a week goes by that there’s not a moment where you’re really busy, right? Sometimes that’s self-induced, especially when you work in a really exciting project like Solv and you’re taking something new to the market.

There’s brilliant, great ideas every day, and I work with a lot of very smart, clever people distributed all around the world, so it’s easy to get excited very quickly and go all in about what you want to do and all of a sudden it’s time to go home again, right? That the day has passed. That’s part of the thrill of what we do and getting excited about what it is and constantly challenging ourselves.

Um, but you do have to be conscious about what your tipping point is and your triggers are with stress. You know, our mental health is really important and more and more organizations, thankfully, are, you know, taking that a lot more seriously. So it’s not just about me personally, about where my triggers are, but watching it from my team and watching it for people around me because we all work at different paces. Um, and again, as leaders, we have to be conscious that we don’t build this, um, this environment where people who may work for you because you’re just the boss think that they’ve got to work at that same pace as well.

So it’s about stopping and making sure we take a breather and people get time to do the stuff that’s important to them and time off. That’s really important.

Fernando: Yes. I have seen that. So that expectation that people can work at the same pace as I do, follow my lead. So, but as your team grows bigger, you start to realize people are different in that they different ways of working… 

Paula Kennedy: So look for the skills. Yeah. Look for the things that people are great at and focus on those skills and balance and how the things are to other people and have a nice mix of things within a team. Don’t create an army of Paulas ’cause that might be a scary team right?

Fernando: Maybe.

So at the end of the day , in a practical way, how do you avoid burnout? You look for those triggers?  You pay attention and you take a week off, if you feel I’m getting close to that?

Paula Kennedy: Gosh, I probably have spent… I probably have been working remotely and working from home way ahead of our time because I’ve been doing it for about 15 years.

I’ve traveled and worked remotely. So you get into your rhythm of, yeah, you might be on a plane and then you do a little bit of work, but at the same time, if you work from home through the day, you can maybe go and catch up a coffee with friends. So you know you can, you can balance it. I said, I’ve been doing this for a long time, which is why it probably doesn’t strike me as as abnormal, right? Um, and the things that we are now implementing at wider scale for, for workforces around the world, I’ve kind of been doing those practices myself, but it’s about prioritization. What’s important family, my family are singularly the most important thing in my life. So. Um, that comes first, and work will always be there.

And you work for organizations that are caring for their people that you can say, I need to take time out, have to do things. That’s okay. You give back, you get back, right? So for me that’s what it is. But I will realize when I’m not being effective. If I’ve traveled too much and, and I don’t even do that as often as I used to, um, or I’ve been working really hard and something, it’ll come to the point where you’re not effective. You’re not making a positive change. Just stop, take a break. And that could be half asleep, watch TV, go to the gym. I’ve got  dogs, so… 

Fernando: You know, it’s interesting because I also spent around 15 years working from home before joining Unbabel. Some people may want that freedom, but don’t realize the challenges that come with all that flexibility and having to be responsible for your own schedule every day. How do you manage your time ?

Paula Kennedy: We’re not slave to the rhythm no matter what we do. So I think it’s about how you use your time. I might just compartmentalize mine differently through the day because I know that if I don’t finish something by, I don’t know, let’s say four o’clock then I might want to do, if I was in an office to get home to hit the commute, I can stop and I can pick it up again later as long as that works within my lifestyle, right? And it kind of does. My husband plays a lot of golf, I have two dogs, my parents live further away from my house, so I’ll balance and all of that around also working. Interesting though is that this year I’ve probably spent more time in the office than I’ve done in previous years as we’ve built up Solv and worked with the team on site just because that kind of, um, incubation mode is there of ideas and getting things done. So there’s been a nice mix of what that is. But again, you, you adapt to that. You adapt to what the needs are at that point in time and planning. I have incredibly great OCD. I could plan anything within 30 seconds, so I’ve got a plan for everything. So that’s the trick! 

Fernando: You are very disciplined with your time because you can easily just go to the couch, watch Netflix, and your day is over, right?

Paula Kennedy: No, we don’t do that. Totally not that.

Fernando: So every time I talk to you, and this is no exception. I see the enthusiasm and the vision of a startup founder. How does that style fit in a big corporation like Concentrix?

Paula Kennedy: It’s got to be in the right organization, Concentrix is entrepreneurial to the core. I mean, and we are very open about wanting to be bold and wanting to be disruptive in the marketplace, so that culture exists, it’s embedded in everybody in the business. And that can sound cliche, but it’s true. So no idea is a bad idea.

And when you can go to senior leaders in your business and they’ll say, yeah, give it a go. Great. Yeah. That’s money from heaven. That’s fantastic. But then also say no rubbish idea. Rethink that. Yeah. Okay. That’s what’s important because not every day ideas are great, right?  Um, so I’m very, very blessed. Um, my team, people in Concentrix, I believe are really blessed.

Every time we have kickoffs or we have culture sessions, or we meet with different groups of people, there is just this energy in the room about the ability to be free thinking, and try things and do things and, you know, no bigger example than my last 12 months, you know, shifted role completely into, take a concept take it to market and make it work.

Um, and that’s been a really, really fun year of just doing something different altogether. And it gives you a refresh. It reenergizes you for you know what else you can do, but you can only achieve that if you work in an organization where leadership wants to hear those ideas and sponsor and endorse it and back it strategically. That’s fantastic.

Fernando: And I guess in order to have that, that trust and that endorsement. So we have in our marketing manifesto, we have a line that says execution trumps ideas and, and I guess you’re pretty aligned to that.

Paula Kennedy: Yeah, ideas are great as long as they can happen and work, that takes dedication as well, right? But when it’s your baby you’re going to make it work, right? Yes. That determination has to make it happen.

Fernando: Okay. So I have one more question. Do you see yourself radically changing your line of work in the future?

Paula Kennedy: Isn’t that strange that it feels like, uh, if you’d asked me that 12 months ago before I’d started gig, would I have thought I was going into the Solv project and doing it?

I see that as being a pretty fundamental change or a pretty radical change from what was maybe, you know, more traditional customer management business and to creating something different. And it’s very, very rare. I’ve said this to so many people, um, I’m so privileged. It’s very, very rare that you get a chance to actually be part of something, of creating something, which in a few years time we’ll look back and we’ll have fundamentally changed an industry.

I mean, that’s crazy, and I’m so lucky to have been part of that, so I don’t know where it can go from here, but yeah, we’ll take on a little bit more disruption and be a little bit more radical. Watch this space. There’s some very exciting things coming in 2020 that might raise an eyebrow it yet. 

Fernando: You’re still being quite disruptive, and in a global industry.

Paula Kennedy: Yes, and we’ve only just got started. 

Fernando: Do you see yourself, I don’t know, going back to Ireland, open a flower shop or something like that?

Paula Kennedy: No, I’m not ready for the flower shop, um, not quite yet. Maybe I’ll come to Lisbon and go surfing. That could be radical.

Fernando: Okay. Thank you very much Paula.

Paula Kennedy: You’re welcome.

Fernando: It was great talking to you as always, and I hope to see you soon again.

Paula Kennedy: Ok, thank you.

Fernando: Thank you for listening to the podcast. If you want to hear more from Paula and what she’ll be working on next, follow her on Twitter at @TweetPKG. If you liked the Unbabel podcast and don’t want to miss future episodes, subscribe on your favorite podcast app. And if you really, really like us, help others find our podcasts by leaving a review or sharing this episode with your friends.


This episode was produced by myself, Raquel Magalhães, Raquel Henriques, and Resonate Recordings.