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Anna Rasmussen - OpenBlend - Q&A headshot image

Anna Rasmussen, CEO and Founder, OpenBlend

Q: Could you give us a brief introduction to your career background and OpenBlend?

A: I have over 15 years' experience as an executive leadership coach, working with HR people managers, in groups and individually, to train them in how to drive performance through effective coaching conversations.

During this time, I came to realise that managers need more on-the-job support in how to have effective conversations – theory alone was having little impact in terms of creating positive behavioural change among managers. This realisation is what led me to create OpenBlend in 2014. OpenBlend is a performance management platform that drives performance through conversation.

The big questions

Q: What’s been your biggest success in your career?

A: The biggest success of my career to date has been creating an award-winning software platform that enables highly effective and valuable performance conversations. Today OpenBlend is supporting amazing customers such as Gymshark, M&C Saatchi, Dr Martens, and The Prince’s Trust. I am really proud of what the team and I have achieved.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

A: My biggest challenge relates to being a first-time founder/CEO, with a product that I am hugely passionate about. This combination is tricky because there are always improvements to be made, things that can be done better, and I have to work hard to remind myself that everything is good enough. Striving for absolute perfection all the time is not healthy.

Q: What has been the biggest regret of your career?

A: Without wanting to sound cliché, I don't have a single major regret. Yes, of course, I might regret how I responded in a meeting when I was stressed, or I might regret not responding quickly enough to a certain matter or email, but these things are all part of everyday learning. I am a strong believer that a career is a sequence of steps, and every step I've taken has got me to where I am today. Some of those steps have been more enjoyable than others, but there are none that I regret.

Q: How do you develop your skills and knowledge?

A: I was told early on as a founder and CEO that I should always surround myself with people who are smarter, more experienced, and further along the journey than me. This is something I've always done and continue to do. Couple this with my dislike of ego, I learn every day. I'm a naturally curious person, and I'm always out talking to HR development managers and chief people officers, understanding their priorities and challenges in the workforce – this knowledge is essential for both myself and OpenBlend. I also have stacks of self-help books next to my bed which help my personal development.

Q: What has been the biggest learning opportunity of your career?

A: Without a shadow of a doubt, it's the entire OpenBlend journey. There have been highs, lows, turns, and twists over the years. It really has been a learning journey that I wouldn't change for the world. I am out of my comfort zone about 90% of the time, more or less, so that constant stretch has caused me to learn at record speed.

Q: Who have you learnt most from? What have you learnt and why has this been useful to you?

A: I couldn't name just one person. There has been, and continues to be, many people who support me. One common theme is their belief in me, yet all of these people regularly challenge me to think differently. The value I have gained from this has driven me to pass this forward, and I'm currently supporting two early-stage founders.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge in your marketplace at the moment and how are you working to overcome it?

A: The biggest challenge is the number of performance management tools on the market right now, and how competitive the space is. There are lots of vendors who have been around far longer, with many more rounds of investment.

The way we are working to overcome this challenge is by honing in on what makes OpenBlend different, and that is the enablement of great conversations between managers and employees to drive performance. The majority of performance management tools serve as repositories for performance objectives, so our differentiation resonates with buyers, making the challenge more enjoyable.

Tips from the top

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?

A: That everything's a phase. When times are tough, remembering it's a phase makes it easier to dig in and know that you'll get through it. In contrast, when times are great, appreciate it and don't take anything for granted.

Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring CEO?

A: Genuinely believe in the purpose of the business, surround yourself with people who make you a better CEO, and be really clear on your 'why'.

Q: What do you think is key to managing a successful team?

A. Regular conversations that address and align goals, behaviours, motivation, and mindset. Honest, open, and transparent conversations in the workplace are game-changing.

Q: What’s your top tip for managing work-life balance?

A: As a mother of two young kids and a lovely stepson, my top tip is making sure you have a partner or a network that shares responsibility for all things home related and is a co-creator of what you're trying to achieve.

Future gazing

Q: How do you see the CEO role changing in the next five years?

A: We've seen a dent in this over the last few years, but I believe we will see a further continuation in the movement away from leading as one, to leading as an ecosystem. No longer ruling and dictating from the top, CEOs will need to become more human, more authentic, more inclusive, and invest in elevating the people around them. As a sense of purpose becomes more important to the workforce, the CEO must become more vocal about the purpose and vision of the company, and the difference that people make.

Q: What technological advances do you foresee within your role?

A: With Covid-19 and Brexit, and the rise in disbanded workforces, technology that supports collaboration, connection, and conversation will continue to evolve in terms of innovation. It's true that nothing replaces face-to-face communication, but in a world where this is becoming less possible, I see technology playing a very important role in helping to bridge that gap.

Q: What do you see as the future of work in the UK?

A: This is something I stay close to due to the nature of OpenBlend. Hybrid working isn't going anywhere and heightens the importance of supporting every stage of the employee journey, to ensure that you are creating the best possible experiences.

For example, career development and progression are a key priority, and businesses are having to respond to that quickly in order to engage and retain their people. Alongside this, the younger workforce is more vocal about how they want to be treated, listened to, and valued in their role, which increases the need for managers to be continually developing, coaching, and supporting them. Finally, whilst we've made significant headway with regards to inclusivity, there is still a lot of exciting and important work to be done.

Love Mondays: At Reed, we are on a mission to help everyone love their job and improve lives through work

Q: What do you love most about your role and why?

A: I love the difference that OpenBlend makes to our users – the managers and employees in our customer base. Every week, we collect comments that affirm why 94% of our users say their one-to-ones are now highly effective. Reading these comments and other customer testimonials gives me a huge sense of purpose and I love that!

Q: What does your average Monday look like?

A: An average Monday starts with kids' breakfasts, packed lunches, and everything that comes with getting two kids out the door for school. Then I'll go for a run with the dog along the Thames and get ready for 9.30am when we have an all-company stand-up call, in which we share highlights and focuses for the week ahead. I'd spend the rest of the day catching up with my leadership team, jumping on a few customer calls (it's vital as a CEO to keep your ear to the ground), and preparing for any presentations or events I have coming up that week.

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