Interview: Understanding What Makes Teams & People Tick: A Conversation with Cross 8’s New Director, Simon Keay
How do you understand what drives and motivates people, then take that insight to solve complex business challenges? It’s a question that Simon Keay has been exploring for two decades.
Simon, it’s great to welcome you to the Cross 8 team. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Yes, I’ve spent the last 20 years working across utilities and financial services but my interest in solving business problems goes way back to being interested in businesses from a young age. I’ve just always been fascinated by people coming together to form these things we call ‘companies’ and how people build a common story around a goal and work together to achieve it.
Most of my focus has been around managing supply chains and commercial relationships. When two organisations work together, both need to have their needs met in a financially successful way that manages risk and I’ve spent a lot of time in that space.
I’ve also spent two periods of my career running large-scale operations, including over the last 12 months. Because I’ve spent a lot of time shaping relationships with third parties to deliver services, it’s been invaluable to have hands-on experience as the delivery partner. That’s especially true when you lead operations through challenging recoveries and migrations. I can now confidently challenge suppliers with real-world evidence of what’s possible!
Do you think that fascination with how organisations work came from somewhere in particular?
I think it’s actually a fascination with people. I like to observe and try and understand why we act as we do.
You can wrap technology, processes and bureaucracy around our intentions but it’s all motivated by our wants and needs as people, either collectively or individually. It’s all about how you align those wants and needs to meet as many goals as possible.
I really like that point you made earlier about proving what can be done – it’s something we’re big on at Cross 8. Are there other reasons you wanted to join us?
Historically, I’ve not been a huge advocate of consultants so for some people who know me, this move probably feels like a bit of a departure! But the big difference with Cross 8 is that I see us as much more of a delivery partner than a consultancy.
The depth of experience in the team at Cross 8 is completely unique. Every single team member has over 10 years real world experience. That experience has been synthesised into a set of tools that mean I know we can understand and solve problems far quicker than others.
It also aligned with my personal values that Cross 8 only work on outcomes. No one is counting hours and success for us will always be success for our clients.
What’s it like being back with some of those people that you’ve already worked with in the past?
It’s like walking into an ideal room of people you know you can trust to deliver. And Cross 8 is at a scale now where we’re small enough to be quick and agile but big enough to be really impactful. We can still get the majority of the key people in a room and thrash out a problem which is a great time to be joining the business.
Plus, there’s something very unique about the people who’ve been brought together here. I can confidently say that a significant proportion of the most skilled people I’ve ever worked with are here now as part of this team.
That gives me huge confidence that we’re really going to add value and deliver what clients need.
How are you finding Cross 8’s new offices?
Well, it’s 20 minutes from my house so that’s much better for my carbon footprint!
But it’s also a great hub where we can bring people in to help work through client’s problems or knock on the door in person and grab someone to get their insight. It’s just exciting to be in that environment.
Even in the short time I’ve been there, you’ve got partners, members of the Cross 8 team, and clients using the space, because it’s just a great atmosphere. There’s always value in being face to face with the right people in the right environment.
How do you think your expertise is going to help Cross 8 clients?
So if I look back over the years, I’ve studied business and marketing, then worked in marketing and product development. I worked in procurement, spent a lot of time with legal teams, and spent time in customer services and B2B environments.
And I think what that’s given me is the ability to be able to see problems through different lenses – which allows me to connect, empathise and align disparate stakeholders and perspectives. It’s important because very rarely is solving a major problem or challenge about one area or one thing.
I think the second thing, that bolts underneath, is having context and understanding. It’s having an understanding of operations, what it takes to deliver good customer service and what your customers value. You need to understand the market and your value proposition. I could say more here but I’d summarise those as two big areas where I’m really looking forward to bringing expertise.
You mentioned problem-solving there and Cross 8 is definitely a team of problem solvers. Are there any business problems you’ve helped to solve that particularly stand out?
The most immediate example that comes to mind is that I’ve just spent 13 months seconded from the organisation that employed me to address some pretty deep-seated challenges with their major outsourcing partner. Unfortunately, the relationship wasn’t working for either party and it was a long-term arrangement.
It was a really interesting situation. Having previously been involved in the oversight of that third party, I then took on responsibility for 2,500 people, spread across multiple locations with a whole plethora of systems and business challenges.
I’m pleased to say that we got from a position of missing all service levels to a point whereby we were able to achieve, 13 of the 14 service levels that were there. Most importantly, there’s a much better understanding between the two organisations about what they need to do differently to try and make it successful.
I’m also really proud of the trust major organisations have put in me to enter over £1 billion worth of sourcing arrangements for all sorts of products and services. I couldn’t pick out one particular arrangement but some of the contracts have had transformative impacts on the performance of both customer and supplier.
Ok, thanks so much Simon. And finally, can you just tell us what you’re up to when you’re not solving business problems?
Yes, so I’ve recently become a town councillor, I decided after COVID-19 that I wanted to try and contribute more to the community. It’s been pretty interesting – a different culture, environment, a different set of challenges but ultimately quite fulfilling to feel like you can make a difference locally.
Then there’s probably the most complex of all of life’s problems – I’ve got a 20-month-old son. Outside of work, I’d say he’s pretty dominant in how my time is occupied!
If you would like to see the full video interview with Simon, it is available on our YouTube channel.
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