Russell served as an Officer in the South African Navy for seven years, culminating in his career as a junior lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch Faculty of Military Science – the South African equivalent of West Point. He taught Industrial Psychology to young officers and was deeply involved in other training and development initiatives.
After leaving the Navy, Russell joined the Groupon team as Head of Human Resources for sub-Saharan Africa where he applied a combination of academic learnings with leadership experience to mold corporate culture and train leadership teams. In 2015, while at Groupon, he was introduced to iXperience while hosting a handful of iX interns and was drawn to the iX mission and vision.
Russell has since joined the iXperience team, completed a Masters degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and this year, he will lead the coaching team for the Remote Plus Program while fulfilling his role as Head of People at iXperience.
Russell Cunningham, Head of People at iXperience and Lead Coach for iX Remote Plus 2020.
[Audio clip] How iX Remote Plus works – with Russell Cunningham, Lead iX Remote Plus Coach
An interview with Russell
Can you tell us more about your current role as Head of People at iXperience and what you are working on?
Having traditionally been involved in Operations, I made the pivot to focus on the internal functioning of our most important asset: our people. My role is to work closely with leadership and all other entities to assess, analyze, and strategize various ways of making the most of the people that work in our team. This means maximizing their engagement, sense of purpose, and development to mould happy, healthy team members. If you have those, you will invariably have a high-performance team that looks after your business and your customers.
How have you worked with people development in the past?
In various forms - from grassroots development involved with military training, through to more executive development. Some of my fondest experiences have been working with young professionals entering into the gambit that is the world of work - it can be a daunting experience, but armed with the right tools, anything is manageable and even enjoyable.
What are the central principles that are most helpful for career development?
1. If you can, align your focus with your purpose: then your days just don’t feel like work.
2. We all exist only in the context of those around us: understanding your colleagues, bosses, and subordinates will enable you to make meaningful and effective connections.
3. Have a plan: whether your goal is to upskill yourself in a certain area, find your dream job or even merge into a new job market, without knowing what it is you want to achieve and how you are going to measure success, you’re more likely to lose your way.
“If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there” - Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
4. Learn how to manage upward: give your boss what they want before they ask for it, every time, and you can construct your own emotional and professional freedom.
5. Network: there are loads of people out there with more experience, deeper insights, and richer perspectives. Meet them, share with them and most importantly, learn from them.
How do you adapt your teaching to individual needs, personalities and visions?
In one word: preparation. Although I believe that there is a definitive set of coaching theories and tools that would benefit anyone, these are all seen through the lens of the individual. Pre-work becomes very important to create the context for coaching sessions, allowing me to get a glimpse into my coachees before actually meeting them, which is helpful in designing a bespoke approach aligned with our objectives.
What are you most looking forward to about iXperience this summer?
I am excited to meet with and create personal relationships with my coachees - it gives me the greatest amount of intrinsic reward to know and feel that somehow, I managed to make someone’s day, their perspective or even their knowledge base a little brighter and fuller.
What’s one piece of advice that you have for the iX class of 2020?
Despite all that is going on in the world, don’t allow the Summer of Corona to become a stain on your developmental track record. Repurpose your time meaningfully: learn a new skill, discover something meaningful about yourself, be creative with getting the exposure you need to grow in ways that you want. There is a world of possibilities out there that is accessible to us through technology and a willingness to seek them out.
What would students be surprised to learn about you?
I have been an artist for most of my life - mostly pencil and ink sketches - and recently turned my focus to tattooing. Drawing is something I have just been able to do for as long as I can remember, and I try not to squander my talent.
What song do you know all the lyrics to?
Billy Joel - “Piano Man”.