How this leader is ‘laser focused’ on delivering improvements for businesses

18 May 2023

Jane Dawson-Howe. Image: Slalom Ireland

Jane Dawson-Howe of Slalom Ireland talks to about her role as country leader and how the company is utilising technology to support businesses.

Jane Dawson-Howe is the country leader for business and technology consultancy Slalom Ireland. In her role, Dawson-Howe spends her time getting to know clients and future partners in order to understand how Slalom can help them to realise their ambitions.

“For me, a thriving business is one that is making meaningful impact for Irish organisations, our people and the local community, and being able to lead this team and business right from the start is incredibly exciting!”

‘My job as a leader is to help each person reach their potential, and to do that we need to create environments in which people can thrive’

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The current economic landscape is a challenge, wherever you turn. From a business perspective, budgets are under the microscope and scrutinised like never before, so our role as consultants is to ensure that we are laser focused on helping to improve those elements of a business that will deliver the biggest impact for our clients. It’s our job to consider what the next global trend or big issue might be and be both the eyes and ears that look ahead while providing support in the current challenging times too.

Our role is about prioritising transformational outcomes for our clients and, during turbulent times, efficiently locating issues that may be causing an unnecessary drain on resources and removing them from a business. Often, this can lead to a rapid, substantial transformation.

With the emergence of new technologies, we’re able to do this even more quickly. Tools such as generative AI allow us to reduce time spent on repetitive tasks and spend more time getting to the root of an issue and focusing on what truly matters to our clients. Which is often sustainable, profitable growth. Our approach to combining modern technologies and human-first processing is integral to overcoming turbulence, especially these days.

We’re also still dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic and the impact this has had on the talent pool. Attracting and retaining people is a serious challenge, as the pandemic changed the face of work in such a substantial way, giving rise to an increased desire amongst employees to find a workplace that is more closely aligned to their values, as well as providing the flexibility we have all become used to. While this is a challenge for some businesses, I see it as a high-quality problem which encourages businesses to really work on their employee value proposition in order to attract and retain the best possible talent for their business.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

We partner with 400 of the most innovative technology companies in the world, including AWS, Salesforce, Microsoft, Google Cloud, and Tableau. This gives us the platform to build tailored solutions for our clients that make the most of the innovative technologies available, coupled with our team’s experience and expertise with businesses around the world.

Emerging technologies are often met with a lot of trepidation and debate around whether they will drive us out of our roles, but to ignore the positive impacts that modern developments give us is to potentially miss out on huge opportunities for all businesses. I read a recent report by Ipsos that described this notion superbly, stating “AI will not replace you – but someone using AI will.”

The likes of generative tech, and AI especially, are consistently evolving, meaning we need to navigate this area carefully, bringing it back to each organisation’s individual priorities and challenges, otherwise we lose the human-centric element.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I’ve met very few people who at the age of 21 knew exactly where they wanted their career to go. I was lucky enough to start my career at Accenture. Over nearly 24 years I had three distinct careers there: in consulting, outsourcing and then sales, and learned a huge amount about how businesses operate and how to scale and optimise them. I later moved to LinkedIn where I spent six years leading large European sales organisations.

All of this experience has helped prepare me for this exciting new leadership opportunity. The last few years in particular have taught me a huge amount about what I call ‘modern leadership’, leading large teams of people through very uncertain times including the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the recent economic downturn. I have learned that building an environment of inclusion, belonging and also wellbeing is critically important to enable people to do their best work. The consultancy skills I developed in my early years – including curiosity, focus and the importance of impact – have given me a great foundation for success throughout all my various roles.

‘There is a need – across all sectors – to hire more diverse senior people’

How do you get the best out of your team?

The culture of a workplace has never been more important. I believe that every person shows up to work wanting to make a difference and have an impact – and every person is capable of doing great things. My job as a leader is to help each person reach their potential, and to do that we need to create environments in which people can thrive.

To do this, you need to build trust by really getting to know your team. Once you build that trust, you can empower people to get their work done by giving them the tools and the space to do so. After that, it’s a case of ensuring that your team is looking after their whole selves, emotionally, physically – and even spiritually.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

While it’s easier to recruit from more diverse backgrounds in recent years, it can be harder to retain diverse talent. This is because those employees do not always see someone who they identify with in more senior positions, so the role modelling, the aspiration and the sense of belonging falls short. There is a need – across all sectors – to hire more diverse senior people in order to address this.

As part of creating environments for diverse employees to flourish, I am a big fan of mentoring, and it’s something I’ve taken part in throughout my career, both as a mentor and a mentee. Being a mentor is an opportunity to share advice, expertise and life experiences with people who you might not meet in other contexts. It also gives me an opportunity to reflect upon my own experiences and become better. I also find that ‘reverse mentoring’ happens very organically in these situations.

What’s the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

I was once told to never assume that hard work on its own will get you where you want to go, which I think is good advice because it’s also true.

A piece of advice I wish I’d been given but wasn’t, is to listen to Carla Harris, former vice chair, MD and senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley. She talks brilliantly about how to manage what people think about you and your brand and how to influence perception. I remember watching her at a LinkedIn event some years ago thinking “where were you when I was 25 years old?” Since then, every person I mentor I tell to watch Carla Harris’s speeches.  She gives brilliant advice about figuring out about what you truly want to be known for.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I’m always reading and listening to podcasts and think it’s a great way to learn about the world around you. Some of my favourites are:

  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Lencioni (team dynamics)
  • The Culture Map – Erin Meyer (decoding the differences in culture)
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – Carol Dweck (research conducted into the power of mindset)
  • Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown (challenging the core assumption of ‘having it all’)
  • The Coaching Habit – Michael Bungay Stanier (practical advice derived from research about coaching in business)
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I use my morning commute to plan my day, whether I’m on a train or a bike, and then rely heavily on my calendar as a tool to keep my day organised. My morning commute is a great time to think, prioritise and work through any potential hiccups before I get stuck into client work.

I also love podcasts to entertain and inform me through the week. Some personal favourites are The Other Hand with Jim Power and Chris Johns which discusses economics and political news, Babbage from the Economist, Work/Life with Adam Grant and Masters of Scale by Reid Hoffman, and of course, Slalom on Air.

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