This month we caught up with Fiona Roach Canning, Co-Founder and Chief Product & Marketing Officer at Pollinate, to find out what her day looks like in the New Normal.
Prior to co-founding the FinTech, Fiona worked at the loyalty business Nectar, payments giant Visa and as a management consultant.
How do you start your day?
My intention is to swim. It rarely happens – especially in winter when it’s still dark outside. I’ve got two little boys who are five and eight so if I can, I go before they wake up. When I do swim I don’t think about anything in particular, but when I get out of the pool I find I know my priorities, or what to do about something that’s been bothering me. It sets me up really well for the day.
After that, I have an hour of getting the boys up, dressed, give them some breakfast, and trying to hit two out of three on washed faces, vitamins and brushed hair. My husband normally takes them to school, so the house is calm from 9.00am, which is useful because I’ve been working at home a lot.
What is your workspace like at the moment?
I love being in an office, and I’m lucky to have a really short commute. In March, I wanted to believe the lockdown would only last three weeks and refused to even buy a desk. Then I conceded to a folding card table I put in my bedroom. It’s only very recently I’ve caved and made the spare room into an office. But it is a bit strange working in a room with a bed. I’ve added a few plants, and a nice office chair. I drink a lot of tea, so I keep a Thermos with me at all times.
I get a lot of energy and enjoyment from being with people. That’s hard to replicate virtually, so guidelines permitting, I make sure I meet colleagues as much as possible – even if it’s just for a walk in a park. I haven’t yet worked out how to get that “spark” on Zoom – where you make a deep connection, bounce off each other and come up with a transformational idea – but we’re working on it.
How do you find setting boundaries? There’s a risk of burnout especially when some people send emails at 11.00pm.
I am one of those people – I’m really sorry! But I never expect a reply. It’s one of my more productive times of day, and I like the quiet when the children are asleep and there’s no distractions from emails or meetings. It might be the red wine, but I find I can think more clearly.
Lockdown has given me the chance to be more flexible. I’ve been working more fluidly – taking breaks during the days to walk with my husband or play with the kids. Then I have dinner, put the boys to bed, and will do a couple of hours of work in the evenings.
What takes up the most time in your day?
One of my colleagues and I have a regular debate about where you should spend more time – with the team you lead, or the team you’re in. I try and balance the two, as well as making sure I spend time external to Pollinate, talking to small businesses and seeing what else is happening in our space. I think visually, so I’ve colour coded different types of activities, so when I look at my calendar for the week I can easily check it feels balanced.
How did you get where you are today?
Serendipity. A series of lovely coincidences, with a few interesting meanders to live abroad and have my children.
I have a maths degree, and I’m quite creative. If you look in reverse you can construct a good story around data, customer behaviour and storytelling. But I’m not one of those people who’s had a life-plan taped to their fridge – there’s no particular destination in mind, and I’m very much enjoying the journey.
I tend to do things on instinct – finding projects that sit at that intersection of “people I like” who are “doing things I find interesting” in a space “I can add value”. I’ve found that’s worked pretty well for me so far.
How different does your day look now to in previous “corporate” roles?
In any organisation, no matter the size, you’re always in a fight against false busy-ness. That can drain the life out of a business, and out of me.
In a large organisation you have so many regular meetings there’s no time to think. That started to happen with Pollinate when we went into lockdown. Suddenly everything had to be a meeting, and there was no space in my day. So, I took everything out and then added meetings back in when I felt a there was a need. I find you have to do that a few times a year.
Do you ever feel you’re not doing enough?
Doesn’t everyone? Having children forced me to be much more efficient – especially when I was also trying to home school - but it also means I’m always making choices about where I spend my time. What’s been important for me is being explicit with myself about the choices I’m making and why. Lots of people will have opinions on what the priorities should be, and It’s been important for me to face into that and decide what I think rather than always being led by others.
A good example – my passion is travel, and I like to travel for work. It means I don’t always put my kids to bed or make it to every class assembly, but it energises me, so when I am with them I’m not resentful that I’d rather be doing something else.
I don’t make that much of a distinction between “work” and “home”. I write tasks in the back of my notebook – because it’s satisfying to tick things off. Right now, that list will have work related items, but also notes about ordering groceries, buying gifts and getting flu vaccines.
I also try to think in different horizons. What do I need to do this week, this month, this quarter? How do I want Pollinate to be different mid-2021 in comparison to where it is today? Where do I want to have travelled with my family while the boys are young? That sets checkpoints I can look back against.
What about days when things don’t go to plan?
I’m going to misuse the Pareto principle in a couple of different ways.
Firstly, in general, 80% is good enough for most situations. I’ve become much better at not worrying about the last 20% – obviously, unless it’s really important.
Secondly, I’m really productive for about 20% of my day. So I’ve got really good at recognising when I’m not “feeling it” and switching to a task or conversation more suited to my mood. I try and encourage my team to do the same.
If something does go wrong, it’s really important to me that people can be honest about it – and not fear blame. If it happens in my team, it’s often as much my fault for not communicating or checking in.
Seeing success is important – but this year it’s been harder to celebrate milestones. As an example, we’ve recently signed a major deal with National Australia Bank, and it was great to publicise it externally, but by the time that was signed everybody in the organisation already knew about it. We’d been working hard for ages and we couldn’t get everybody together for pizza or go to the pub.
As we go into next year, while we can hopefully be together in person more, we also need to learn how to celebrate virtually much more effectively.
Is there any item you can’t be without on a daily basis?
A paper and pen. I need to draw to be able to explain ideas. When I’m talking to someone over the phone I’ll draw what I mean and then send it to them. I’ve even been scribbling while we’re talking, it’s often nonsensical to look at afterwards, but it helps me articulate my thoughts.
What do you read at the end of the day?
I know I’m too busy when I’m not reading, and I don’t think I’ve finished a book since March. On my nightstand I’ve got The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. As a FinTech that works with banks you need to get the balance right of being corporate in a regulated environment, but not losing that nimbleness and speed which is why they want to work with you in the first place.
I’ve also got my kids’ copy of the Osborne Book of World History. My husband somehow completed a world history course in the first lockdown – while I just about managed to brush my teeth every day. It feels like we have been in this pandemic a long time, but reading about different civilisations over thousands of years helps put it into perspective. Besides, after a long day, a book aimed at children is exactly what I need.