Having worked in nine countries ranging from when she was a teenager in Ireland through to her time teaching teachers in China, to her now temporary home in Sri Lanka via 12 years in Dubai, Dawn Metcalfe has worked with leaders at all levels around the region and beyond to change the way they see the world, their behaviour and their impact on others.

As well as authoring The HardTalk Handbook and Managing the Matrix, she is also the founder of Dubai-based PDSi, which helps individuals and teams get even better at what they do best. Known for not being afraid to tell truth, her insights and straight-talking approach has kept her constantly in demand from large multinationals and government entities, across the Middle East, over the last 10 years.

Dawn regularly contributes to publications including Entrepreneur Middle East, Forbes and The Tempest and speaks publicly on a broad range of subjects on the radio and at conferences. Dawn created HardTalk (the book and accompanying modular, blended programme) to help us get better at mastering the science and art of difficult conversations we keep avoiding. Using extensive research and neuroscience techniques, it explores the reasons behind communication behaviour and how to combat those that hold us back. Dawn’s HardTalk principles help people to hear and be heard effectively to get the results they want, no matter culture, background or experience.

Her fourth book, the C Word, focuses on what it takes to build a sustainable culture that supports your strategic objectives. It was delayed by COVID19 but is due for release in 2021.

You can visit the PDSi website here www.pds-i.com

In an interview with IIBN, Dawn revealed that at PDSi they help individuals, teams and organisations to change behaviours/cultures through training, coaching, mentoring and facilitated events.  I also work as a speaker and have authored a few books.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

It’s my job to make sure that our customers are happy so that means making sure our people know what they’re doing and are ready, willing and able to do it professionally and effectively. I also have to carve out time to think and write.

What are your biggest challenges?

Right now, my biggest challenge is that I’m grounded in Sri Lanka where I’ve been since the beginning of March. I came over here, ironically enough, to put the last touches on some online learning as we had decided to incorporate this more and then the world closed down. Luckily, I have a track record and a network and so work has continued to come in but managing everything remotely is certainly a challenge.  And, perhaps ironically again, I find myself unable to write in my writing retreat!

That being said, Sri Lanka is beautiful and I’m very lucky to have access to the most ridiculous and ever-changing views as anyone who’s been on a zoom call with me will testify. They’ll also testify to the ludicrous number of animals I share my garden with.

How has your business strategy been adapted in the context of the Covid-19 crisis?

I’m not going to say it’s been a positive. It hasn’t. But C19 has sped things up in some ways insofar as we were already moving towards adding some asynchronous online training as well as live, virtual training to the mix of what we offer.

The idea  was that this would make it  accessible  to individuals who might be interested but not have the budget or time to commit to a 2 -day training programme or who might just want the answer to a specific question or dedicated support. We knew this market existed because of conversations in real life when I’ve spoken at events and via social media.

C19 means that the potential market is now much larger as organizations of all types realise the possibilities when it comes to developing people remotely.

What are the challenges facing your industry going forward?

The biggest challenge will, I imagine, be the reduced budgets that I think are inevitable. It always happens in a crisis -people feel under pressure to cut costs and so training is under pressure.

Funnily enough, despite running a training company,  I’m ok with that as I believe that if you don’t think the work you’re  doing in developing your people has any value you shouldn’t be doing  it in good times, never mind bad. Why spend money and time if it doesn’t get you anything?

On the other hand, if you believe that it’s worthwhile then why would you cut it?  As the world changes you need to be ready to take advantage of that and that means having people ready and able to do the jobs you need.

I’m confident that we’ll get our fair share of the budget that’s out there because we have great clients but there’s no doubt that it’ll be less than it would have been.

Education is the next thing – we are going to have to educate clients about what’s possible and what’s desirable when it comes to this new world and we’re going to have to do that as we learn it ourselves.

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Obviously remote working is the major trend. That gives us opportunities, but it also presents challenges. It can be frustrating as people want to replicate “the real world” and that’s often not possible or even necessary.

When training remotely, for example, interactivity becomes difficult quite quickly if you try and replicate the classroom experience but you can share resources and ask people to work “off line” either alone or with others. Rather than interactivity the focus should be on engagement and relevance as well as ease of access.

I’m excited about the new online school we’re going to launch soon – lots of free resources and then the opportunity to “upgrade” too.

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Yes. I’d like to see a much greater focus in organizations on working out the root causes behind certain behaviors and not assuming the answer is always “train them”. It takes more time up front and can be uncomfortable but it will save time, energy and money in the long term.

Unfortunately, too often the problem is identified and the answer pronounced as “training” without looking at the structural and cultural obstacles that may need to be addressed first or at least simultaneously.

Are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

“Soft skills” or, as I prefer to think of them, “essential skills” never go away and, in fact, as we see technology take over more and more parts of jobs they will be the most important thing we bring to the workplace in many ways. Our humanity is going to be the one thing the robots can’t replace – for now at least!

How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Because of where I’m based Brexit is not applicable really and in any case has certainly been dwarfed by C19.

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success for me is being able to look myself in the mirror and be proud of what we’re doing. I love knowing that whenever the phone or email pings I don’t have to be worried about what might be in there.  It’s also about having enough so that I can say “no” to things that don’t fit with my values or where I don’t believe we can be helpful.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

It’s related to how I see success. Be nice. Play nicely with others. My father told me, years ago, to always be nice to the security guards, receptionists, assistants – the people who actually do stuff and I’ve always tried to remember that.

The advice I’d give is “don’t focus on the money”. Money is important but it’s not the right metric to judge success.

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

The best thing that’s happened was just before C19 hit when we launched a free book – the Possibilities Project – to help people succeed in their careers. It was originally created for young people but the feedback we’re getting is that it’s useful to all. There are 20 chapters by 20 different prominent and successful people covering lots of topics. We launched it at the Emirates Festival of Literature  with a number  of the contributors and then sent 10,000 hard copies across the UAE as well as making it free for download worldwide via the website thepossibilitiesproject.co

What’s next for your company?

(Laughs) Who knows? I’ve no idea what will happen next and so, right now, we’re trying to continue to serve our clients and be ready to deal with whatever happens next.

What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2020/21?

The world is our oyster in some ways. I do believe that C19 has fundamentally  changed the  way we work for now and, absent a vaccine, it will be some time before we stop  working virtually at least some of the  time – especially given what we  do usually involves being with large groups of people.

In some ways this is an opportunity as it means that we’re no longer limited geographically – I can just as easily speak to a group in Chicago as I can in Abu Dhabi or Cairo. Assuming I can set my alarm clock to wake up on time -the downside of no geographical limitations means a very upset sleep schedule I’ve discovered.

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

At the moment the big focus is rewriting the new book. It was supposed to come out earlier this summer at the SHRM conference in San Diego but of course that didn’t happen. It’s written as a novel looking at how a consultant works with a team to create a sustainable culture that helps them achieve their strategic objectives. Of course, now that consultant may have to work remotely and the team will have to press the levers that manage culture remotely too at least some of the time. Luckily we’re currently working on a client engagement doing precisely that and so learning how it all works. The plan is to incorporate what we’ve learned and then publish it as a really useful “how to” guide for anyone who is interested in managing culture AKA behavior in their team or organisation.

I’d also like to be able to get on a plane and go and see clients and speak at fabulous events  but, more importantly even, my family and friends. Fingers crossed it won’t be long.


Leave a Reply