Interview: Kirsten Dellis @ Trainline

Trainline logo

This week I caught up with Kirsten Dellis, who heads up L&D at Trainline. It was a great peek under the hood at how L&D looks in a high growth tech company.


One of the reasons I was so interested to speak to Kirsten was that she had worked not only at The Trainline, but also Badoo and She says each had their own distinct identity and challenges. was a small company which rapidly expanded from 50 to 120 employees over the 3 years that she was there. In contrast, Badoo is the world’s largest dating site, with a lean HR team (just 2 people for an office of 250), and a complex product where it’s not always clear what people want(!)


Kirsten’s now at The Trainline, and the company continues to go from strength to strength. The company was acquired by private equity firm KKR two and a half years ago, and Kirsten clearly enjoys the professionalism and focus on the bottom line that this brings. Two years ago the service only covered the UK, but they now operate in 28 countries and just launched in China. With 570 employees across three main offices (London, Edinburgh and Paris), there’s never a dull moment!


As you might expect at a company the size of the Trainline, there are a number of learning initiatives ongoing. Some training is offered on an optional basis, such as their “Manage Your Career” course for junior and mid-level employees. The team has also used external vendors to build specific capabilities such as negotiation on an ad hoc basis. However, the main emphasis is on customising training specifically to The Trainline, and delivering it internally.

Their programme for new team leads is typical of this, itself a comprehensive course of 6 days spread over 6 months. This is delivered internally by the HR team working in pairs to maximise energy and engagement in each session. The course is compulsory across all functions for new managers and external hires, and covers everything from employment law and agile working, to managing teams and dealing with performance issues.


As in many companies at the moment, the Apprenticeship Levy is a hot topic at The Trainline, and something that they are starting to experiment with. As well as trialling one apprentice this year, they are also sending existing employees on approved courses to upskill them. With a minimum commitment of 12 months, it’s not as fast moving as many other projects, but one Kirsten is keen to see develop.

Another new initiative that Kirsten is running is their mentoring programme. Launched just 3 weeks ago, more than 90 people have signed up and roughly split between prospective mentors and mentees. Kirsten is now matching the two together, using information from an onboarding survey about what each is interested in, and her own understanding of the individuals. It’s early days, but with such a strong start she’s understandably enthusiastic about the potential!

Network Like a Champion


  • Know what you want out of it. Not every event is worth attending, and you’ll get most out of events if you can tell people concisely what you are looking for.
  • Research who will be there. Targeting 1-2 people provides you with some focus and helps you make the most of your time.


  • Find one of the organisers and ask them who is there and who they think you should speak to. It’s an easy way to get started and often leads to the best conversation of the evening.
  • To open a conversation yourself approach a group and ask: “Do you mind if I join you?” Everyone is there to network, so they will be glad to meet another person.
  • If you’re looking for someone specific, ask: “Are you X?” As long as you are polite there’s no reason for them to be offended if it’s not them.
  • Don’t creep up on people from behind. If they have their back to you, go around them so you can approach from the front.


  • Find out everyone’s name, and ask them who they are hoping to meet. Be attentive and ask questions if necessary to really understand them.
  • If you work out two people would be interested to talk to each other, make the introduction. It makes you look friendly and well-connected, and is excellent at generating a little karma for yourself.
  • Once you’ve listened to them, it will be natural for them to ask about you. If they don’t it’s fine to just tell them at this point, as you’ve already been polite enough to listen to them!
  • Be concise about what you are after. Offer just enough informative to pique their interested if they are the sort of contact you are looking for.


  • Once you’ve agreed to follow up, or decided that someone isn’t interesting at this point, move on. The opportunity cost of staying talking to the same person too long is missing out on meeting someone else more interesting.
  • Remember everyone is there to network. Gracefully exit a conversation by saying something like: ‘Well, I don’t want to take up any more of your time – I’m sure there are lots of other people here you want to talk to.”


  • After a particularly interesting conversation, step to one side and make some notes on your phone. It’s unnatural to do it whilst you’re actually talking to them, but easy to forget details, so jot down anything essential.
  • After the event, add people you want to stay in touch with on Linkedin, or send them a quick email to say you enjoyed speaking to them. Another touch point will make you stick in their mind.
  • Finally, set a reminder in your calendar to follow up with people if there aren’t immediate to dos. Either your or their circumstances might have changed in a few months.

Interview: Andrew Harwood @ ASOS

Adam Harwood

This week we had a super interesting chat with Adam Harwood who develops the digital learning programme at ASOS. We’ve summarised the key points from our discussion here:


“We’re used to information on demand” says Adam, “people want to choose how and when they engage”.When he started at ASOS, development was heavily classroom based, but he noticed that some people just asked for the notes, rather than attending the sessions themselves. He realised that learning needed to suit the learner, not the L&D team.


Now ASOS focuses on having all the materials that people need in a searchable platform (they use Looop). People are used to the internet being their source of knowledge. If it’s easier to Google something then people will, so learning materials need to offer higher quality and increased convenience. Looop is mobile friendly so people can access content when and where they want. Adam says they have people reading up on things as they walk into meetings, or even in the middle of the night.



Events are still an important part of what ASOS does, but the focus is more on discussion, collaboration and sharing experiences peer-to-peer – activities that can’t be replicated online. This has made events more engaging and better attended. Trainers can assume that participants know the the basics of any given topic, and devote more time to practice and advanced concepts.


To decide what should be on their learning platform, Adam organised a focus group with top performing team leads. He picked people that were new enough to remember the transition from their previous role, but who had enough experience to have a feel for what the role entailed. During the session everyone noted the things they wish they had been taught when they started, and then everyone voted on which topics were most important. This determined the topics that they built content on, and the priority they built it in.

Focus group


“Speed to competence is our key target”. Adam constantly seeks out feedback from both more experienced and newer employees to check in on how the training is performing. Asking the right questions is key. Instead of asking people for advice to share, he asks them what they actually did themselves. Google’s advice to “put your best people under the microscope” has been a strong influence.


“L&D is in crisis. It’s not about learning, it’s about DOING”. The business cares about what people can deliver, and knowing things is a means to that ends. According to Adam, the best way to get buy in from the rest of the organisation is to speak in their terms and help them achieve their goals. It’s vital to spend time in the business and understand what their goals are.

How to Exit Your Millennial Employees

Two weeks ago we hosted our first Learnitect Breakfast Roundtable Series and welcomed COOs and Heads of People from leading fast growing tech companies Benivo,  Deliveroo,  Salesforce,  Mastered,  Freshminds Yoyo Wallet,  Pockit,  Circle and Cisco.

This is part 3 of a three-part series sharing the best practices for attracting and engaging Millennials captured at the event.  Find Part 1 and Part 2 here.

The “exit” part of the employee lifecycle is an often overlooked opportunity.  When managed well, employee exits can be done with a positive feeling on both sides.  Former employees can be a future customer or referrer of future employees and business opportunities.

A comprehensive “alumni” programme may include a LinkedIn group, events (social or business-related) and employee newsletter.

Here are some more practical best practices for managing exits:

  • Do not keep employees that are a bad fit for their current role.  Roles and responsibilities change as your company grows.  If the employee is no longer a good fit, the best thing to do is to let them go.  This also applies to employees with a toxic attitude.  Failure to let them go may poison your organizational culture.

  • Keep exits positive – celebrate your former employee’s contribution.  Be conscious of the morale of the employees that remain.

  • Inform the rest of the team together, if possible.  Bad news travels through the grapevine fast.

How to Retain Your Millennial Employees


Two weeks ago we hosted our first Learnitect Breakfast Roundtable Series and welcomed COOs and Heads of People from leading fast growing tech companies  Benivo,  Deliveroo,  Salesforce,  Mastered,  Freshminds,  Yoyo Wallet,  Pockit,  Circle and Cisco.

This is part 2 of a three-part series sharing the best practices for attracting and engaging Millennials captured at the event.  Find Part 1 and Part 3 here.

Employee retention is the most challenging part of the employee lifecycle.  Average tenure at start-ups tend to be short and even established corporates have trouble retaining their Millennial talent.

Adobe is one of the many companies doing away with formal performance reviews, replacing the process with regular feedback.  However, the practicality of doing away with formal documentation on ratings and rankings may not be right for every organisation.

Easier wins include providing social budgets for specifically designed groupings (e.g., cohorts starting at the same time, teams that rarely work together, mentor-mentee budgets) or totally randomizing it (e.g., regular “Mystery Lunches” with randomly picked participants).  Other great ideas include allowing employees to spend time on business improvement projects and allowing each employee a small budget to pursue their interests (with the requirement of sharing what they have learned).

Here are some more practical best practices for retention:

  • All employees should be clear about their career paths.  Confusion over career path is one of the most common frustrations of start-up employees.  Millennial are hungry for continuous professional development.
  • Maintaining transparent communication may be challenging as not all messages are suitable to be shared.  Focus on keeping everyone informed of the company vision.
  • Feature an employee in your staff newsletter/all-hands.  Keep it light hearted and fun so people can learn about each other.
  • Create simple processes/tools (e.g., forms, apps) for employees to document important conversations (e.g., feedback and goal-setting).  This creates accountability.  You may want to consider opening the goals to everyone to create ultimate transparency.
  • Create expectations that feedback could be both positive AND constructive.  Have managers set examples of soliciting constructive feedback.  Share stories of how constructive feedback help people grow.
  • Consider reviewing performance based on desired behaviours which are aligned to the company values.  Displaying true ownership of work and mastering stakeholder relationships are two key skills to have in any ambitious organization.

How to On-Board Your Millennial Employees

Two weeks ago we hosted our first Learnitect Breakfast Roundtable Series and welcomed COOs and Heads of People from leading fast growing tech companies  Benivo,  Deliveroo,  Salesforce,  Mastered,  Freshminds,  Yoyo Wallet,  Pockit,  Circle and Cisco.

This is part 1 of a three-part series sharing the best practices for attracting and engaging Millennials captured at the event. Find Part 2 and Part 3 here.

Millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025.  Their attitudes towards career and work are different from previous generations.  These differences have already been influencing how workplaces are designed.

Research shows that 71% of Millennials are currently not feeling engaged at work.  Companies with engaged employees experience significant improvements in performance and profit.

We have identified 4 Millennial career themes:

  • A longer career: With retirement age going up, Millennials are likely to work longer than previous generations.  There will be increased demand for career flexibility (e.g., job rotations, lateral moves) and Learning and Development will have to be more customized to individual needs.

  • Authenticity and wholeness: Millennials expect two-way and transparent communication with the Management.  It is still a challenge to decide what messages to share with the entire organization and the best way to share it.

  • Digital natives and hyper connecting: Remote working will continue to increase. Millennials are already hyper-connected and are starting to feel the burn-out being constantly on.

  • Prefers experiences over things: While still driven to work by financial incentives, Millennials may appreciate an investment into worthwhile experiences (e.g., L&D programmes) vs. giving them the equivalent in bonus.

On-boarding your employees well is a key opportunity to create employee goodwill and confidence.

Companies doing this well include Mailchimp with their comprehensive onboarding programme and Breather with their fantastic onboarding kit.

Here are some more practical best practices for on-boarding:

  • A great interview question is to ask about how the role can help them prepare for their next role, even if this is outside your organization.  Millennial employees are unlikely to stay in one job forever, so your mission is for both parties to get the most out of the experience.

  • Invite “Ambassadors” from each function to introduce their team as part of your onboarding programme.

  • Get the incoming cohort to regroup after month 1 for a social. This helps strengthen cross-functional bonds.

  • Check in at appropriate milestones (Month 1, Month 3) to identify roadblocks and frustrations.

  • Improving the onboarding process (e.g., building/improving the onboarding kit, onboarding training) can be a great side project for new employees

Learnitect: the Masterplan


The first graduate job I had was with McKinsey, over 10 years ago. Within six months it was clear to me that I had already learned more on their graduate training programme than I had in three years as an undergraduate at Oxford. There’s something fundamentally wrong with education if the top universities cannot deliver as much educational value as an employer can. Ever since, my firm belief has been that further education needs a fundamental overhaul.

In March this year it was finally time to do something about it and I started researching how. Over 2 months I spoke to a huge number of CEOs and Talent Managers, who likewise complained at the readiness of graduates entering the workforce. Grads lacked even the basic skills needed to get a job done, unable to use powerpoint and excel effectively, unable to read a P&L, and in some cases needing guidance on how to turn up on time and dress appropriately.

At this point I was lucky enough to meet May Kwong, who was thinking along similar lines, and together we founded Learnitect. Our modest goal was to completely reinvent adult education. An ambitious goal that would require a Masterplan …

Step 1: Train Grads, Make Money

Running an alternative to undergraduate degrees straight off is not a credible proposition. Offering graduate training on the other hand is – we’ve seen what best in class looks like, and May has been running successful programmes for leading tech companies such as Expedia, Deliveroo and Groupon for the past two years. Delivering graduate training allows us to demonstrate the quality we can offer, start building an education brand, and generate enough cash to fuel our ongoing mission.

Our target market is fast growth tech businesses, which increasingly appeal to Millennials, but do not have the graduate schemes of professional services. We can offer them an amazing faculty with first-hand business experience, and have designed a super practical curriculum to teach the skills needed in the fastest growing companies. We deliver our training in a blended fashion with both face-to-face sessions and online content, for a premium experience at an affordable price.

All in all we think it’s a compelling service, and if we’re right, there will be no problem funding Step 2.

Step 2: Build a Bigger Lever

If you want to change the world then you need to have scale. And in today’s world scale often means technology. We don’t see face-to-face teaching ever disappearing, but the high engagement that it drives is accompanied by high investment in time and money. If we don’t keep face-to-face teaching lean, then high operating costs will prevent us from reaching many potential students.

Indeed, we consider ourselves delivery agnostic. Face-to-face workshops, digital content and everything in between has a place, and we need to figure out what is the right blend to deliver the maximum impact in our students for the minimum cost. Being a tech-first business doesn’t mean that we do everything online. It means that we use technology to do everything as well as possible.

With technology driving scale in our operations, community and ultimately brand, we should develop the critical mass to take on Step 3.

Step 3: Continuous Lifelong Learning

We believe education shouldn’t be restricted to a certain point of your like, but continue throughout it. Step 3 is the realisation of this goal – a modular curriculum that allows individuals to continually develop themselves. This modular approach also means better visibility of what a career looks like. We can suggest training to reach a particular goal, or show people where nurturing a particular interest leads. That means giving them a route map to their career path, as well as the tools to get there.

It also means that we can strike at the principal failing in adult education – the undergraduate experience. £27k for spend three years learning stuff that you won’t use in your career is not a good use of your time or money, yet it’s the default option for the UK’s brightest school leavers who will lead the companies of tomorrow. If we designed the experience from scratch, it would look very different.

Instead, imagine an apprenticeship where you got to work at Google, Facebook or Amazon. Where you rotated through different departments, mixed theoretical education with practical experience and got paid for the work you did. After 3 years you would have a phenomenal skillset to start your career, a better sense of which roles appealed, and a much healthier bank balance.

So this then is the ultimate vision of Learnitect. An organisation that facilitates your personal development and career achievement from the time you leave school onwards. To help people find and fulfil their true potential.

How You Can Help

If this mission resonates with you, help us out by:

  • Sharing this with growth stage companies looking to improve the training and development programmes for their employees

  • Sharing this with experts in your network that you think would be interested joining our faculty