Meet Anna Roe, our Chief People Officer. At just 27, Anna is one of our senior members of staff, helping us to build a healthy and exciting work culture and attracting, developing and retaining talent as we transition into our next phase of growth.
Here, Anna Roe discusses her natural interest in people and behaviour, her rapid rise to the top and how she manages her mental health in a fast-paced, high-pressure work environment.
“One of the things that’s always interested me is how society, cultures and people are the way they are…
I had a typical middle-class upbringing and was meant to go to university to study sociology, focussing on the sociology of terrorism. One of the things that has always interested me is how society, cultures and people are the way they are. Sociology is a less recognised science, but I find it really fascinating. If you think of any cult-based practice—and terrorism is a great example of this—you have people doing things that are frowned upon or against the law as if they were normal, natural or acceptable things to do.
I eventually decided to defer my year at university. My plan was then to work for nine months, travel for three months and then go back to university. Nine years later, I’m sitting here having done neither of those two things. So I started in agency recruitment for money-based reasons. And then I turned out to be pretty good at it.”
“Being able to sell something that’s genuinely interesting and is trying to make the world a better place is fascinating…
I was earning really well for an 18-year-old, which was appealing, so I spent the next 3 and a half years on the agency side, mostly working with start-ups, which I found really interesting. As a sales person, being able to sell something that’s genuinely trying to make the world a better place or disrupt something is fascinating.
I then got the opportunity to work at TransferWise and joined as one of their first recruiters. It was 2015 and there were about 200 people working there at the time; my focus was technical recruitment. The three years I was there, I ended up running the global engineering and product function recruitment, helping them open in Singapore, Budapest and New York. I ramped up the engineer hires from one hire every three months to 100 in a year.
“Start-ups are very good at presenting interesting problems for people to solve at a particular time…
As is the nature of start-ups, my time came to end at TransferWise. It was a great springboard company, but not a brilliant career company. Typically, start-ups aren’t great at providing long-term careers. It’s more about presenting interesting problems for people to solve at one particular time.
By the time I left TransferWise, there were 1000 people and I wanted to work more holistically, and unfortunately there was no longer a role for me to do that there. So I then joined Airsorted, a much smaller stage company, as their Head of People. I stayed there for 18 months, expanding the company globally into 20 cities and 10 countries. But unfortunately, we ran out of funding and the start-up didn’t launch in the way that TransferWise did. We had to make some really tough decisions.
TransferWise was the million to one shot: its high growth, financial success, everything about it. I needed the experience of working at a company that was more realistic about what the start-up world entailed. 99% of start-up companies fail and I needed to know and experience that. It was a horrible time emotionally, making decisions that would impact other people’s lives but I’m glad I’ve seen both sides of the coin.
“At TransferGo, I create the journey of attracting, developing, retaining and exiting talent in the right way…
I really believe in TransferGo and what they’re doing. I’ve now been here for 7 months, as their Chief People Officer, creating career paths and a culture that can sustain growth. A typical problem with start-ups is that they don’t create career paths for people and they end up losing people they don’t want to lose.
So as we internationally expand, we’re now working on building a great company to work for with great values, clear goals and the coaching, mentoring and development processes that go with that.”
“By creating a better office culture, we can improve the customer experience…
When I joined TransferGo, there were values in place, but they were outdated and nobody knew what they were. We’d been working in a way that hadn’t driven all the successes we’d hoped for. This is a common issue when a company moves from Series B to Series C as they rebuild their senior teams. For TransferGo, it was a natural time to change the values and business wants to make it really viable. The process of rebuilding our values was a representation of that journey.
Together with other team leads, we outlined five new company values: doing the work that matters, building trust, collaborating, being our best and owning it. But since values are still very open to interpretation, we took it down a level further to think about behaviours that we can action. The one that particularly resonates with me is doing the work that matters. Although my job doesn’t directly impact the customer, by creating a better culture within the office, hopefully we’ll create a better experience for our customers.
I really care that we enable a better, faster, cheaper way for people to move money around the world. Considering we live in such a global culture, banking is dated. Banks have too much control to do things poorly and with profit at the heart. I really support living without borders as a concept; obviously, I was very pro-Remain on Brexit, so I’m all for making it as easy as possible for people to live and contribute how and when they can. I love being part of something that allows me to have a real world impact.”
“It’s a mutual bond of giving back as much as we take from employees…
I’m a very impact driven person, but as a manager, I have to measure success differently. Obviously as a company, we can easily track metrics, but my role is to focus more on employee metrics and creating a great process every step of the way. These things are quite difficult to measure, but I look at things like speed of getting new hires on-boarded and unlocking performances in people. It’s a mutual bond of giving as much as we can take from employees, so I’m very passionate about enhancing people’s performances.
We use a survey-based app called Culture Amp, where we measure employee NPS. Our engagement score is 75%, which is 5% higher than the benchmark. Astoundingly, 92% of employees recommend TransferGo as a place to work and 91% are proud to work at the company, which is fantastic.
“There are no two days or problems that are ever the same when it comes to people…
People will never cease to surprise you. There are no two days that are the same when it comes to people, because you have to deal with emotions. I think the main one we’ve been working hard on is the common issue of moving from short-term to long-term and building things that scale better. That applies to all departments, not just people. It’s the challenge of changing the mindset from tomorrow, and into one that thinks about what we’ll be doing in a year’s time. And then working out how to validate that as quickly as possible.
Acknowledging that TransferGo isn’t the same business as it was 5 years ago has been difficult for some people. But that’s normal. We’ve gone from being a start-up to what I call the clunky toddler phase, where we’re really growing into this scalable, sustainable business. It comes with a lot of challenges of making sure we have people in the right places. We’re also trying to shift the mindset of everyone in this business to breaking down long-term goals into daily goals.”
“I started my senior role at TransferGo when I was 26. I want to give other people the opportunities I’ve been lucky to have…
When you’re building a company culturally, you’re essentially building a framework of telling people how to think. These are what values and behaviours are; telling people how to think and act. Essentially, you’re building a cult of what is and what’s not acceptable. A good culture to me is a cult. I know people don’t like that word, but if it’s executed well, a good culture is essentially a healthy cult. To build a culture that can impact you as a person is probably one of the most powerful things you can do. I love that I combine the things I love, and use it for the good to create an amazing environment.
The lines between life and work don’t exist anymore. It’s now just life, and giving people this opportunity is a huge deal for me. I’m 27 now, but I started this job when I was 26. I was a high-level exec at a start-up, but I wouldn’t have got there without the opportunities I’ve had. I know I owe my career to joining TransferWise at the right time. For me, being able to give anyone else that shot, be it male or female, is why I love what I do. I’m helping to shape this company to shape its people to be better.”
“You can have mental health issues and still be you…
I also like to use my role in the company as a platform to speak out about mental health. Around four years ago, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety after burning out quite spectacularly. I was in a long-term relationship, I was trying to renovate a house and everything was going on. After being diagnosed, it explained a lot as I was feeling really numb. I wasn’t the person that my then partner had fallen in love with.
I’ve been on a long journey since then, working out how to deal with this on a day-to-day basis in a high-pressure workplace. Because all start-ups are high pressure. Some days I have panic attacks and can’t get out of bed; sometimes I want to crawl in a hole and for the world to swallow me. Having learned to get through this, I want to stand up and prove that it doesn’t have to define you. You can still be successful and fulfil a leadership role and own it. I’m passionate about sharing my personal story to remind people that mental health doesn’t define you. It’s a part of me that I have to learn to live with and manage. I’ll soon be sharing my coping tips and tricks online and with the company.
I’m not embarrassed about my mental health. I don’t care that the world knows I take medication. My life might look perfect; I have a good job I love, a house and a dog. It might look like I have it together but I do have mental health issues. I have bad days where I can’t be a fully functioning human. And that’s okay.”
Stay tuned for upcoming content over the next few weeks. Anna Roe will be sharing more tips and tricks on dealing with mental health issues on a day-to-day basis.