"Thinking strategically with an eye on the detail" (Jersey Evening Post - 5 August 2020)

Hannah Gray, Winner of the IoD Jersey Director of the Year Award, Start-up

IoD Jersey and Gold Sponsor, Appleby, recently announced the winners of the Director of the Year Awards 2020. Hannah Gray, Founder of HR consultancy Kojima, won her award for showing real drive and portraying a strong personal story in her entry. The judges commended Hannah for showing real leadership development that will continue to prosper. The Awards were also made possible due to sponsorship from HSBC, and it’s hoped there will be an official presentation in December, Covid restrictions allowing.

Tell us about your background and how you came to start Kojima

I consider myself an Islander. I grew up in Jersey before leaving at the age of 18 to attend the University of Bath, graduating with a BSc in Psychology and Communications Engineering and immediately after gained a Masters in Health Psychology. As an undergraduate I won a year-long internship to attend Harvard University; a unique opportunity to work with a number of renowned researchers. After studies and travelling, I returned to Jersey to be closer to my family and my love for the Island.

My career began in consultancy, specialising in research and development of psychometrics. I moved onto offering consultancy regarding island remuneration packages, in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. While working fulltime, I obtained a Masters in HR Management and achieved Chartered MCIPD status. I obtained further experience being employed directly by Government, spending several years specialising and leading a team in organisational change initiatives, including reward, workforce planning and performance.

This experience shaped my understanding about the complexities of working with a range of island businesses with varied workforce sizes, professions and trade union bodies. I recognised the need for a strong evidence-based, Island-focused, reward and HR consultancy company. That's why I founded Kojima - meaning “small island.”

How did you come to be a director?

I became a Managing Director through forming Kojima.

Being my own boss and establishing a business was a dream for several years and one that wouldn’t go away.

Having obtained sufficient qualifications and varied experience I believed I could offer a high-quality service. I knew I could manage my work commitments more effectively around my desire to have valuable time with my daughter.

I owe much of the decision to finally set up the business to my dad. He is a retired, successful MD, and over many conversations has imparted his wisdom and experience from throughout his career. He always has time to be a sounding board or offer constructive feedback, and I am eternally grateful.

Having dared to take the leap, I have been fortunate enough to fly! Both figuratively and literally speaking. Kojima has not only found success in Jersey, but also Guernsey and the Cayman Islands.

What do you consider the unique qualities you have instilled in your business?

What makes Kojima unique is our understanding of the workings and context of small island businesses and the complexities of their workforces. By drawing on our skills and local knowledge we are able to provide high-quality HR evidence-based solutions.

Kojima operates digitally by design, to enable remote and flexible working around our home lives. It has supported our need to think collaboratively and solve problems, and has enabled the business to extend to other jurisdictions. While travel has been beneficial to building relationships, the vast majority of our meetings are held online. There’s also a workspace in St Helier used on an ad-hoc basis. We are truly living and breathing flexible working practices.

The multi-generational team of associates I work alongside have embraced this use of technology; it suits their desired approach to work on many levels. We take considerable pride in our projects and are highly qualified and experienced in the full range of HR solutions which suits island-based organisations, that may not have the resources inhouse, to tap in to expert advice more efficiently.

What do you feel are the important qualities of being a good director?

It’s crucial to think strategically with one eye concurrently on the detail. To reflect on the past and to plan for the future, to learn, evaluate and prepare for what may be around the corner – but also the ability to be present in the moment.

I advocate for practicing mindfulness, something I studied at depth as a postgraduate, the ability to pay attention with intention. This is so important in today’s high-pressured, technological society. We are constantly distracted by our thoughts or devices. It is easy to almost live our lives ‘mindlessly.’ The application of mindfulness has several benefits, on both a professional and personal level, reducing daily stressors and enhancing other important qualities, such as communication by really listening to clients as well as colleagues.

A good director is self-critical and adapts their approach to achieve favourable outcomes. This means being open to accept that others may have a better or alternative solution, changing original business plans and a willingness to develop and acquire new skills.

In a small island community, a director should have the ability to foster a non-competitive working environment to support individuals’ personal and professional ambitions. Encouraging a culture of collaboration, knowledge sharing and creativity for the best performance as individuals and a business.

Where do you see yourself and Kojima going?

We are living in unprecedented times. My vision for Kojima, is very different to what I imagined at the start of 2020. Our existing operational practices were already suited to remote and flexible working. This has minimized the impact on our ability to deliver services since the pandemic began.

My strategy is simply to adapt and evolve around future island business needs. I believe that in any organisation people are its most important asset. This is truer than ever before. I have been privileged to work with and understand many of the island-based services at the pandemic ‘frontline’. It is important that they are recognised appropriately. Many organisations will need to change tack in their approach to pay and reward. Over the next year we will help keep businesses informed by further developing our online database of HR metrics. With several organisations continuing recruitment freezes, there are likely to be skills shortages where we can offer our resources on an ad-hoc basis. We have also had requests to focus more on employee engagement initiatives, to help understand the impact of the pandemic and how best to support employee wellbeing as we start to rebuild the economy.

To drive the business forward in this current environment I think is somewhat unrealistic. To achieve a steady state would perhaps be optimistic, to continue to support our islands' services in the best way possible is my aim over the next year. Thereafter, my intention would be to see Kojima expand to its full potential.

How has the IoD helped you?

The IoD’s decision to continue with the awards this year and adapt the process does, I believe set a good example of how businesses and Directors should respond to changing circumstances.

Personally, it has been hugely beneficial. Since winning this award, the announcements and publications made by the IoD have helped raised the profile of Kojima both, locally and internationally.

We have been inundated with positive feedback, for which I am extremely grateful. The online social networking has been incredible and already opened up new and exciting opportunities.

The IoD is recognised for setting the standards for industry leaders across a variety of professions, and it has helped to confirm that both on a personal and a business level, we are on the right track and have made exceptional progress.

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