Metrikus Meets... Dr Alexandra Dobra-Kiel
Metrikus Meets is a series where we talk with some of the brightest minds about the future of work, IoT, the built environment... and most importantly, themselves! We want to get to know the person behind the ideas.
Alexandra is currently Head of Behavioral Research and Insight at Behave where she helps organizations achieve sustainable growth. Previously, she was the Banking and Capital Markets Insight Lead for Deloitte UK, where she helped financial services companies better prepare for game-changing trends by identifying new corporate and business strategies. Alexandra started her career at Accenture, where, as part of her secondment to Nesta, she helped city governments support innovation and entrepreneurship.
She is a speaker at conferences (Tech & Trends, Women in Finance Online Festival), an author in practitioner journals (CEO Magazine, The European Business Review), an invited expert (Quilter Conference, UK Finance), and a commentator in the media (Euromoney, Financial News). Alexandra holds a PhD from Warwick and a master’s from Cambridge.
What does efficiency mean to you?
For me, efficiency means impact. More specifically, it means performing your job in a way that leads to positive economic and human impact.
How did you first get into the consulting industry? We’d love to hear about your career journey!
I got into the consulting industry straight after my master’s and re-joined it after my PhD. Consultancy suits me as I need high levels of intellectual stimulation and believe that challenging oneself informs leadership. As I progressed through the industry, I continued to build out my dual expertise in corporate strategy and behavioral science. Very few consultancies offer the possibility to pursue these disciplines within one job role, despite the two going hand in hand. Behave is one of these few consultancies; we flirted, successfully courted, and we married!
What’s been a highlight of your career so far?
My current role. I’m driven by making a positive impact and can explore this, and much more, at Behave. I’m challenged every day, as my job demands high levels of creativity and commercial acumen. Right now, I’m building out our adjacency expansion (including our employee experience offering) and our IP solutions, and I also enjoy being a thought partner on some of our clients’ more ambiguous challenges.
I’m grateful to work alongside many talented colleagues and to be supported by our excellent senior leadership team – with a special shout-out to Thomas Laranjo and Lucas Brown! Of course, I wouldn’t be here without the intellectual and ethical values instilled by my mother and without the support and advice received from great leaders at Deloitte and Accenture.
What would you say is your biggest ‘failure’ and what have you learned from it?
One lesson I have learned is the importance of creating teams based on diversity of thought. We are drawn to individuals who are like-minded, but this limits our exposure to different ideas and beliefs, which can curb the ability of the team – and of the company – to generate value.
What’s the best advice you were ever given?
I have four pieces of best advice that I always keep in mind. They form the building blocks of you, the team, the client, and the company, to create success in a role.
‘Tell your story’ – Neil Tomlinson, Vice-Chairman and Partner at Deloitte. This is about you. This is about undertaking an introspective exercise, whereby you dig deeper, deeper, and deeper into who you are and what you stand for. The objective is to be an authentic leader, even if it can feel uncomfortable at first.
‘Build people’ – Frédérique Deau-Blanchet, Managing Director at Accenture. This is about the team. This is about accepting individuals with their differences and vulnerabilities and fostering the talent that these differences bring. This is also about creating an emotional safety net that helps people build resilience when they’re faced with challenges.
‘Resist perfectionism’ – Evelyn McKinnie, former Managing Director at Accenture. This is about the client. This is about working out how best to adapt to the context of the client, which usually starts out as a ‘perfect’ answer on paper. The objective is to ensure the answer can be implemented in practice quickly enough to drive meaningful change.
‘Become an owner’ – Don Kinnersley, former Partner at Deloitte. This one is about the company. This is about switching your mindset from being an ‘employee’ to being an ‘owner,’ as you’re more compelled to think in terms of what is possible and how to enact that.
Where do you see your industry heading?
My bet is that the behavioral science industry will not only grow but will also play a more fundamental role. For simplicity, my bet is underpinned by one hypothesis.
A high proportion of answers to our economic, societal, and environmental challenges are driven by ideology rather than epistemology and put the cart (data and related technological capabilities) ahead of the horse (human decision-making). Too often the answers exacerbate the challenges or generate tangential challenges. That is, we judge and condemn rather than understand and solve. To understand and solve, we need a rigorous grasp of human decision-making. That is, we need behavioral science.
What does the future of work look like, in your opinion?
There is a technological and a human angle to this. The technological angle is about how higher levels of technology will become embedded in the workplace, workspace, and workforce. The human and more fundamental angle is to reflect on what we want work to be.
To illustrate what I mean by this, I will use ‘The Rock Breakers’ fable inspired by Charles Peguy. In all three cases in the fable, the job is the same but the meaning attributed to each job isn’t the same.
A pilgrim on his way to Chartres sees a stone breaker, tired and sweaty.
- What are you doing?
- I'm breaking rocks, it's hard, my back hurts, I'm thirsty, I'm hot. I could only find this painful and stupid work.
The pilgrim sees a second stone broker, who has a slightly different attitude:
- What are you doing?
- Well, I make a living. I break rocks. It's hard work, but it allows me to feed my wife and children.
Continuing his way, the pilgrim approaches a third stone breaker, smiling, radiant:
- I, sir, am building a cathedral.
We should think about how we can enable an employee to see meaning in their work. Not only will this endow the employee gain dignity and a sense of belonging to a community, but it will also be reflected in the bottom line of companies.
What’s one idea/invention you wish you had had?
Shortly after I had finished my master’s degree I moved to London, and this meant spending huge amounts of time finding accommodation. As the lazy economy (convenience-based consumption) was well underway, I wondered why real estate agencies did not offer virtual viewings. I must have been too embedded in the lazy economy myself as I didn’t pursue the idea! A few years later, I noticed estate agents had taken this up and felt slightly smug that my hypothesis – that there is a market demand for virtual viewings – had been validated.
What’s something that you think we’ve learned from the pandemic era that we should bring forward with us? (It can be literal or more figurative!)
To an extent, the Great Resignation has shown that more of us are acknowledging the importance of the ‘meaning’ factor in our work – which goes back to the cathedral builder in the fable. As we are going through economically choppy waters across the globe, we should not lose sight of acknowledging the importance of this ‘meaning’ factor.
Do you block out your time or wing it?
I do like to maintain a mix between ‘blocked out’ time and ‘wing it’ time, as this allows to train the brain to think in different ways. In addition, if I am honest, I do feel a slightly guilty pleasure from the adrenaline rush associated with ‘wing it’ time.
Are you a morning or evening person?
Despite my best efforts, I still must cancel my early morning swimming sessions far too often!
Who would be your three dream dinner party guests?
It’s a difficult one to answer but I would probably invite Plato for his tremendous intellectual contributions, Leo Tolstoy for his ethics underpinned by love, and Isabelle Huppert for her ability to never play herself.
If you have someone you think we should speak to for Metrikus Meets – maybe it’s you! – then drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with their (your!) name and what you think we could chat about!