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Power of the Parent 2: 2: Amrit Sandhar – The Engagement Coach

Power of the Parent 2: 2: Amrit Sandhar – The Engagement Coach

What a catch up!

Amrit Sandhar is the founder and CEO of The Engagement Coach where the team is all about developing (and challenging) cultures, leaders and colleagues.  As well as being a parent, Amrit is one of the most empathetic and compassionate people I’ve ever met, he’s also a data lover and engagement specialist. Amrit is also a qualified pharmacist.

His advice to me in the early days of Power of the Parent was to ‘hold your nerve’ and we explored how this has come full circle for him too. We talked about navigating the last 18 months when you’re running a business that employs other people, the weekend he channelled some Eeyore type energy and what his style is when faced with a crisis.

Amrit shared some of the conversations he has with his kids about the importance of plan B, C, D, E… and the rest. We chatted about the role curiosity has played for him, his love of organic chemistry (yes, really) and the big questions workplaces should be asking to better support and engage their teams.


Episode Transcript

Charlotte Speak 0:06
Hello and welcome to Power of the Parent, the Podcast. I’m your host Charlotte Speak, I’m a level seven CMI accredited coach, a Strengthscope Master Practitioner, Mental Health First Aider and talent consultant. And I’m also the face behind Power of the Parent. In this podcast, I’ll be speaking to parents in the workplace. Some of them are in traditionally employed roles. Others are running their own businesses. And we’re having conversations about life in general insights about being a parent and having a career and exploring the strengths that parenting has awoken for people. We will talk about things like the value that they’re bringing to the workplace, as well as my guests very generously sharing their personal stories and anecdotes about everything life can throw at us.

Hello, and welcome back to this next episode of Power of the Parent, the podcast. Today, I am joined by the quite frankly incredible Amrit Shandhar. Amrit and I used to work together at Asda, many years ago. He is now the founder and CEO of The Engagement Coach, where organisations are supported to develop their cultures, leaders, managers, and colleagues and lots lots more that I won’t be able to sum up in a few words. Amrit is also a qualified pharmacist. He’s also been a previous head of Engagement, Ahead of Growth, and has a curiosity for data and analytics with the most incredible empathetic and challenging insights. Amrit is one of the first people that I spoke to in the early days of Power of the Parent, and amongst other incredible pearls of wisdom, one of the things that he said to me was hold your nerve. And they are words that I have held onto ever since and, fast forward three and a half years, I very frequently hear myself saying those words in Amrit’s voice in my head. So it seemed like the most obvious choice to invite Amrit to the podcast to have a chat with him today. So thank you so much for joining me Amrit. Did I capture most things?

Amrit Shandhar 2:17
More than I would have put in there. So, thank you.

Charlotte Speak 2:21
I mean, obviously you’re a parent is a bit that I didn’t give as a headline there. Talk to us a little bit about what you’re doing at the minute and where you find yourself after, quite frankly, a bit of a crackers 18 months.

Amrit Shandhar 2:34
It has been I guess, it’s been crackers for everybody, hasn’t it? I think it’s funny you said hold your nerve. I found myself saying, I’d forgotten we had that conversation, so thank you. I found myself saying that to myself last year, a lot. And to my team, hold your nerve. And you know, we ended pre COVID, we ended our best year ever. It was phenomenal, we were on a high, we were high fiving each other, it was a job well done. It had been so tough, tough the other way because it was so intense. We were so busy. We ended up then taking on another colleague onboard, Simon joined the team, a small family grew, and then all hell broke loose and last year was hold your nerve. And I think you know, it’s funny, as a business owner, you know, I’m gonna be honest, there was a side of me that was like, slightly resentful thinking hang on, the whole world gets to go furlough. I can’t furlough myself, and my head went into what does this mean? What do we do? How do we solve this problem? You know, our job is solving problems for clients all the time. And I found myself, I would class myself as naturally optimistic. And I think in order to create your own company, you have to be. You always find opportunities and you’re naturally optimistic. But there was one weekend where I just needed to become Eeyore, and just hide away and try and make sense of the world around me. It was just the weekend. And I came up with sort of where we started to look at different strategies, what do we do? How do we develop other things of what we’re doing, but hold your nerve? That came back to haunt me. I will hold your nerve. That’s all you said. And, do you know, whilst I got some quality time with my kids, and my kids are everything and my parents live with us so we’re an extended family. I did find myself still distracted with how do we get through this. So it has been crazy. You can’t switch off. But thankfully we’re getting through it. And you learn lots of lessons about yourself, about business. And you know, we’re one of the lucky ones but hold your nerve. Yeah. Interesting.

Charlotte Speak 4:57
That quality time with the kids that you mentioned there, I think everybody’s had a different experience of homeschooling and just generally being there, as well as physically being with the kids, being that emotional support. And that’s something that when I’ve spoken with friends or other people that I work with, or clients even, that you were kind of treading this journey at the same time as your kids. And we were kind of talking often about when your kids go through things, when they’re younger, you’ve generally been there or you kind of you’ve been parented previously, through a particular situation, and you either take what you want from that, or you kind of go the opposite way and don’t do what you’ve experienced. And how did you find having to experience the pandemic alongside your kids? Were there any moments where you were kind of having to really shield them from how you were feeling, especially as a business owner, when a lot was on your shoulders? Or was it very much like, they’re going to see kind of the Eeyore moments.

Amrit Shandhar 6:14
I think the difference is, when I’m going through a crisis, I go into solution mode. It’s only after the crisis that I can take a step back thinking what just happened. And I can then go through the emotional journey. So whilst we were going through, I was solving problems. I was just going and that’s what they see of daddy or dad now, I can’t be called daddy. Right? But that’s what they saw of me. I think and, I gotta tell you Charlotte. I’m sure everybody out there saw, the kids are so resilient. I was just amazed at how they just adapted. They just switched over, like a flick of a switch and homeschooled. Yes, they were frustrated, they wanted to see their friends. And how do you learn with your mics off, your cameras off, but they did, they sat and, you know, there were times when I was sat there thinking are they really learning? Are they on the Xbox? But I popped in and they were sat there bored silly, but they were learning. So what they saw me was no different to what they normally see of me, I think in terms of me in solution mode, trying to solve what we can do and how we do it and everything else. I think when kids get older, they see you first when they’re young as the font of all knowledge, you know everything. So they naturally turn to you. There’s a time, I think, one thing I’ve realised is that there’s a tipping point, and it’s sort of mid to late teenage stage, or certainly for my kids, that they start to see that you don’t know it all. And even the advice I find myself giving my kids, I can’t give it with confidence because the world they’re about to enter is going to be so different. There are going to be jobs created for them that don’t exist right now. How can I advise on anything like that? So I think that there is this understanding now and they don’t look down upon you for that. But there’s just an understanding to say we muddle through life as adults. And sometimes you’re gonna get it wrong, and sometimes you’re gonna get it right. And I found myself telling my daughter, what’s your plan B, and your plan C and your plan D. And she’s like what are you talking about? I don’t need a plan B. And I said, that’s one thing I’ve learned is, we have a joke about it in the office, you know, whenever we’re doing any client work, what’s the backup, what’s the backup of the backup? Things won’t work, things will go wrong, things won’t go as expected. So we don’t know what the outcome is going to be. But what’s our backups so we’re not blindsided with what do we do now? And I think that was the Eeyore moment I went through last year, one weekend, I was blindsided, I hadn’t prepared for this. So I think that’s what’s probably been the most interesting insight is the kids have realised. And we’ve never tried to put ourselves on a pedestal to say we know it all. But you end up bringing your experiences of life to your children and say, Look, watch out, be careful. And, you know, go forth and experiment. But there are times when you think, I don’t know, I don’t know what the answer is, we’re gonna have to figure this out. So I think that’s probably the realisation and that’s happened recently.

Charlotte Speak 9:27
I really love that. And I actually find it quite comforting to think in that way. And like the words that you use there about, you know, we don’t know it all, I think something that I definitely reflected on from the corporate world was, and being in the thick of the corporate world, that that was a real currency. So knowing everything and having the immediacy and the pace of answers all the time was of high value. That was what I personally found myself on the receiving end of, we need to know and we need to know now and have you thought about every single stakeholder. Because that was what worked. And that’s what had kept the company going for a long time. Not that it was, it wasn’t necessarily recognised as something really detrimental. But that was something I had to really unpick when I did move to be self employed to run the business because going from a standing start of not having not having a clue really of what I was doing, I had this idea, and I knew that I knew what my why was, that has always been really clear, and it hasn’t really changed. But like the intricacies of running a business, and that realisation probably about I don’t know, seven or eight weeks in going, you really don’t spend a lot of time actually doing what you thought you were going to do you spend more time marketing or trying to get ahold of prospective clients or any of that side of stuff. I was incredibly naive to it. And I think one of the I put a post out on LinkedIn, I can’t remember exactly when but it was something about you know, being a learn it all rather than a know it all, which is a lot of the language that people like The Amazing If Team use. And I really love that. And I like curiosity is something that immediately springs to mind when I think of a lot of people that I used to work with, yourself included. But there is a whole big world out there and your career journey shows infinite amounts of curiosity. It’s been squiggly, hasn’t it?

Amrit Shandhar 11:40
It has. Curiosity is the word that comes to mind when I talk about all of that. You know, so I mean, let’s start with that. So my career journey. I wanted to please my parents. But I also loved, it sounds crazy but, I loved organic chemistry. I know I’m the one person who loves organic chemistry. My daughter says what’s wrong with you. And so I wanted to go off and do organic chemistry with no view of where I wanted to go. My parents, as a good Indian boy would listen to, said go and be a pharmacist. It’s a guaranteed job, you don’t have to compete with anybody. Just you walk into a job. Great. So I became a pharmacist. And actually, do you know what, I’m so glad I listened to them. Or I complied. Because I loved it, I love being a pharmacist, not so much the technical stuff. And the people who worked with me when I used to be a pharmacist will tell you that I used to sit in the waiting area with my patients. And I’d love a good chinwag with the old dears to hear about their lives, what’s going on. I was just fascinated with people and their life journeys. And you know, the stories they could tell, it was just amazing. And then I had faith in a team behind the scenes who could do a job better than I could. And it’s funny when you when you’re a pharmacist, you don’t get taught leadership or development, you’re thrown in from Friday, you’re a pre reg student on Monday, you’re then a fully fully qualified pharmacist, leading a team and managing with a flick of a switch. And so I was lucky and I didn’t get to stay a pharmacist for too long as in a practising pharmacist because I went into operations area manager, divisional manager, and I spent a lot of time then operations then and operations is another interesting area is probably the hardest job I ever did in my life. You can’t switch off, your whole thing is that everything operates on you. You’re there all the time. And again, I ended up with a fantastic team. I was just blessed with the people I managed to work with. And it that led me to curiosity, what is it that leads people to follow and lead people to lead? And what’s the dynamic going on there? And I developed a passion for amateurs, psychology and neuroscience and exec coaching and all that stuff. So it has been a very squiggly career and then to find myself in employee engagement, you know, heading up the Employee Engagement Agenda for Asda in terms of bringing the operation side of it, because it was its HR lead right in and when I was first asked about job, it was like it’s in HR who wants to go work in HR. Right. But what an amazing area. And I wanted to understand HR from the fundamentals. I think that was probably the pharmacist in me, I wanted to go off and do it. So I studied a level seven and just understood the dynamics of HR and what goes on. And then I went to work for the best companies. So the Sunday Times Best Companies to work for and had access to some of the best boardrooms. And in all of that time, there was just curiosity. And you know, going back to the point you’ve made there, I’ve got going off on a tangent but you mentioned that in corporate life. You know, the value was having the answers. I find myself having done you said the word unpick a man to dismantle a lot of that has anybody joins our team. I have to dismantle the corporate conditioning. Having answers and having the time and space to think about what might be the best solution are two different things. Being curious to say, I wonder and finding something. What people wanted in corporate life, and you and I experienced this, was confidence, have you got an answer? It might not be the right answer, but have you got an answer? They just want confidence, or they want compliance. They knew what the answer was, so can you give that answer? And that used to frustrate me because what if there’s another way? And there was always another way. And I used to then think well hang on, what if what if we do this and I, I used to irritate my superiors? There’s no doubt about it, because I didn’t believe the only solution that they were coming up with was the right solution. Again, maybe this was the pharmacist in me that says, How do you know, you need to have data you need to diagnose you need to understand, and then only from that, can you act, but to just blindly say this is what we’re gonna do? Based on what, where’s the science? Where’s the evidence? It’s been a squiggly career. Definitely. I didn’t think back into my early teens, or 20s. I wanted to set up my own company. I didn’t know what in. But it’s taken me till now to realise, you know, I was always passionate about people, you know, to think right now, in this day and age, there are people on a Sunday night, with their head in their hands, thinking I don’t want to go to work tomorrow. And what impact does that have on their kids, their families, we’re doing that’s on our watch. And we have the power to change that. So we can create workplaces where people say, I’m thriving. And we have the ability to bring the brilliance out of people. Charlotte, you and I have seen this, people being labelled as inadequate and not very good. And you think what, they’re brilliant, and it’s the lens we bring to the world that makes difference. So yeah, having an answer, or being able to have the freedom to find the best possible answer two very different things. And I think it’s how you use the phrase of corporate conditioning, where there’s a lot going on in organisations where we’re deskilling people, or we’re not getting the best out of them, we’re just getting compliance. And that’s why people end up leaving or getting frustrated thinking I could give so much more. And you see it in engagement surveys. But yeah, sorry, I think I’ve gone off on a tangent.

Charlotte Speak 17:15
No, I could literally listen to it all day. It’s a much needed tangent, I think. And I suppose I overuse the word curious possibly, but what I would be really curious about is when you have made these changes in your career, and that seems like a relatively small world, actually, it’s a small word, because it’s huge, what you’ve experienced, isn’t it? And the different, the different walks of life that you’ve you’ve gone through and they’ve all been very different worlds. I’m sure there’s lots of similarities as well. But it looks like you’ve had such a richness of experiences. What role did it play for you being a parent in some of those decisions that you will have had to have made and kind of gone through? Did it impact or have you always been like, it’s just Amrit?

Amrit Shandhar 18:11
No, I think it has, it’s definitely impacted. There was once a situation where I could leave a role quietly. Or I could leave a role giving some feedback of what I think is going on. And I remember it, had I not been a parent, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. But I remember having a conversation with my wife, saying, I need to look my kids in the eye one day. How can I ever give them life lessons when I didn’t live up to it myself? You know, the hypocrisy of it to say do this and do that and I didn’t have the courage. That’s been a really big thing for me is the lessons I leave for my children. So yeah, I sometimes do things that might seem crazy to some people, but I need to look my kids in the eye and say I was true to who I believe I am. And it means sometimes doing the tough thing but definitely being a parent has definitely impacted how I live my life, how I I mean even even setting up a company, you know, that whole issue of I’d really like to do that, I really want to. How can I tell my children to go off and follow their dreams when I chose not to? And that really bugged me and you know, if I not had not been a parent I don’t know whether I would have had the sense of duty or pressure to do that. But you know, there’s my eldest daughter. She’s amazing. I mean all my kids are amazing but she’s on the threshold of, you know, going into the world now and I tell her, do what you love. Just go and do it you know in even in our company at The Engagement Coach we talk about wouldn’t it be amazing if people brought their passion to work. We need passion in our lives. And so we’ve got to go and do what we love. How can I then tell everybody that and then not do it? You know, I love what we do. And I wish I’d done it sooner. But life sometimes means the timing is, you know, you can be wrong at the right time and right at the wrong time and so yeah, I think being a parent has definitely influenced my decision making. In terms of what I’ve done, how I’ve done it. Yeah, I think there’s a number of there’s a, sorry, the pauses are me reflecting and thinking back. And there are definitely situations where I thought, you know, I’ve come home to my children, and I felt comfortable in who I am. And because I did the right thing, and it didn’t go, you know, some of the feedback I’ve given people has been honest, not rude, not blunt, because I’m still compassionate and I’m caring. But to be true to who I am. Yeah.

Charlotte Speak 21:03
I absolutely love that. I think that one of the, I guess I’ll probably call it a cliche, but one of the things that I remember hearing when I was returning to work was that line of, you know, I’m a better parent for working and I’m a better colleague for being a parent type thing. I’m paraphrasing slightly, I think somebody said it in a little bit more of an articulate way than that before. And that doesn’t resonate for everybody. I completely get that. But it definitely did for me, and I think that it spilled over when I set up Power of the Parent as well. But similar to what you’ve said, there, you know, would I have followed those dreams if the kids weren’t there, I definitely wouldn’t have Power of the Parent had I not had been absolutely lucky to have had the girls because they absolutely are at the core of my why, and I think it really does help have better conversations with clients. And often people want to see the heart, they don’t know they want to. I mean, your whole business is based on obviously data and the science that sits behind it. But the stories that you’re bringing to life, and the cultural changes that you’re trying to make are with people at the heart, and people are stories and stories are people. And that seems to be like the biggest thing for me, I think I said it to you. I think I’ve said it to you before. Maybe I haven’t, the way that you share your messages on LinkedIn. And the tone that you use and the words that you use, it just absolutely drips in compassion and empathy. And you can see how much art goes into what you do. But also how important your team is to you. That it’s not just the Amrit show. It’s so much more. It’s like, we are a team and we’re all part of it.

Amrit Shandhar 23:13
Do you know, your team are you. This sounds really sort of cheesy, but honestly, your team are your extended family. Mortgages are on me. And when I make big business decisions, they’re involved. If I get it wrong, it impacts all of us. We’ve got a big whiteboard here that we strategise over the strategy day itself. I might be the owner. But this is a team effort. And they are as vested in this organisation as I am, you know, a couple of weeks ago, I managed to take a break. In fact, this week, I am off on a break. I go with no worry of what if they do this? What if they do that? Really, honestly, they are just fantastic. And we don’t always get it right. But the one thing I can’t and people say this all the time is you can’t buy you know, passion and commitment and but this is their organisation. It’s a part of who they are. It’s part of all of us our identity. I’m not, and I worked really hard, actually, when I first set the company up, it was Amrit: The Engagement Coach. No, I’m not the, I worked for The Engagement Coach. We even did a video then on our website and are beginning to say at the end, ‘I am The Engagement Coach’ with different people saying it because it was almost a we wanted to emphasise the point that The Engagement Coach will be this entity that works with you made up of all these caring, compassionate people. But it’s absolutely a team. You know, we’re now in apprenticeship training. Carol is amazing. I can’t teach her what to do. She knows it, she’s brilliant. Simon supports her. I do an awful lot of stuff behind the scenes. Nicola is just amazing with clients. Cam is fantastic with some of the research that goes on with all the associates we’ve got. We’re looking to grow now, because we’ve got a lot of work coming through. And one of the things I say is we live and breathe what we sell. There’s no point in us being in employee engagement, and then behaving in complete opposite ways. But we absolutely are an extended family of each other. Even when we’re off someone might send me something through, a note. This is not a working relationship. It’s like working with your friends. They own it, they’re passionate about it. It’s just amazing. I know all about their lives they know about mine. And, you know, we know that sometimes stuff happens at home, no questions asked, family comes first for all of us. And so, you know, we did previously have unlimited holidays, we’ve experimented with lots of things, sounds great. Problem is nobody took enough of it. So we have to go back to the official way of doing things because it was just a great idea. We’re so invested and we’re so passionate. Actually, there’s a risk, we just end up working too hard. So we’ve had to go back to the formal right, you’re going to have at least five weeks holiday, right? You have to, but they are, the team, they are fantastic. You know, one of the things I’ve realised this was somebody, it was my wife who said, you know, my wife works in the company. And she said to me, you’ve always got an opinion. I have if you ask me, but you don’t have to ask me. And so yeah, it’s it’s an amazing team. But they are like family, their mortgages are on me. And I sometimes feel that pressure. But that’s why, you know, the problem shared is a problem halved. They get involved in decision making. I don’t always know what to do. I have an idea. I do use data and even scanning the environment around me, I liken myself to a seismometer, whatever it is that sort of measures the Richter scale of earthquakes. I like to just sit there listening to the rumblings of what am I seeing, what’s the data telling me, and it’s, you know, I bring that back to the team. And we have collective decisions on what we’re going to do and how we’re gonna move forward. And sometimes, I won’t agree, and sometimes they won’t agree. But we decide together, and we throw everything into it, and it’s great. Love it.

Charlotte Speak 27:19
I’m fairly sure there’s gonna be some people listening that are now reaching and polishing their CVs to be like, Amrit, I want to come and work with you. Because it just, it really does look and sound, an incredible culture that you have created at the engagement coach, but also that you’re obviously then paying that forward to organisations, and I’m sure you’ve got an absolute plethora of very lucky clients to be working with you. So thank you, it seems like a really good place to end the conversation there. So thank you so much for sharing so generously your stories and experiences, it has been a pleasure to talk to you and catch up. And yeah, I’ve always got a little bit of Amrit with me. The question, what would Amrit do is something that I urge anybody to consider and think about because I think we’ve got a really good sense of your style and approach here today. So thank you so much Amrit, it’s just been a joy.

Amrit Shandhar 28:19
Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Charlotte Speak 28:22
Take care. Thanks very much for tuning in to Power of the Parent, the Podcast. I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you did, please rate, review and subscribe. And if you could tell all your friends about the podcast that would be wonderful. If you’d like to get in touch you can find me on Instagram. Just search Power of the Parent. See you next time.

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