Managerial Training in Mental Health

#21 Designing work to be family friendly- Erica Westbury, CEO, Norwest Recruitment and Southwest Recruitment (s01ep21)

Oct 22, 2021

Erica Westbury is the Managing Director of Norwest Recruitment, a multi-award-winning business, which has also ranked 47th in the BRW Fast 100. Erica herself has previously won CEO of the Year with The Executive Connection. The recruitment industry was hit very hard in the early stages of the Covid pandemic, so this was a critical time for Erica, who really went to great lengths to protect the mental health of her staff.
"I'm an extrovert, I love people. So, when I can create and gather a great team, it's easy to really look after them, and to make sure they're getting what they need from me. Whatever it is they want to achieve, that's what I want for them too."
- Erica Westbury


  • Creating a two year mission
  • Building a family-friendly business
  • The importance of good workplaces during difficult times


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Transcript from the interview

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Graeme Cowan, Erica Westbury

Graeme Cowan  00:08

It’s a real pleasure to welcome Erica Westbury, the CEO of Norwest Recruitment and Southwest Recruitment to the Caring CEO. Welcome, Erica. 

Erica Westbury  00:18

Thank you. Thanks for having me, Graeme. 

Graeme Cowan  00:22

What does care in a workplace mean to you?

Erica Westbury  00:26

What I would say is that it’s knowing the people in in the business and it’s showing an interest in them, and about genuinely wanting them to thrive in all areas of their life. So and and that builds trust, you know, that if they trust that, and everybody has that feeling in the business that they genuinely want their colleagues to thrive I think that’s what care means, you know, business to me.

Graeme Cowan  00:59

I watched a video on your website, which showed them review of staff, what really impressed me there was simply a number of them who’d been 10 plus years. So what do you do to really create that commitment that sense of care that says engagement from your staff?


Erica Westbury  01:19

Well, you know, I think a lot of it is natural, I’m a extrovert I’m a people person, I do love people. So when I can create, when I can gather the, the really great team that I have, it’s, it’s easy to really look after them, and to make sure they’re getting what they need from me. So I think there’s lots of things that go into that day to day. And one of them is something I stole off the CEO of Spotify is to have everybody in my business on a two year mission. So what is it that they really want in two years? What do they want to look back on and see as that they’ve achieved or they’ve grown a division, or they’ve become an incredible sales manager, that’s what they really want to nail. That’s what they who they want to be. So, then they trust that I’m going to find the right mentor, they’re going to pay for the right training, I will give them the feedback and get grow them into that position. So each of them would have very different missions. Even if they might be doing the same job. But they, you know, and for them to grow and develop, I think and they trust, that’s what I want for them to. Now I think that just and then of course, in two years, I’ll go on to another mission. But that I think that gives people a sense of fulfillment instead of working for a paycheck, you know, that and probably lots of other things, we have a one page business plan that they help create every year, we theme it for lots of fun stuff. So it keeps it alive for us. You know, I just and it’s really the trust of getting the right people together.


Graeme Cowan  03:29

And does it just cover the work mission for two years? Or does it also incorporate their private life goals as well?


Erica Westbury  03:37

Well, we do other things, you know, once that cover that off, I’m just trying to think of if anybody has anything that they’ve ever taken into their private life, I think every everything personal development that we do, and business development, I think it all just really helps create an overall better life, you know, on in our innovation meetings, which is fortnightly, that’s when we’ll do TED Talks, or we have guest speakers or we do i mean this during lockdown, we’re doing yoga every every week, as you know, and then we’re extending our meeting to do to start that and then have a topic of, you know, confidence or resilience or mindfulness we’re getting every Monday morning, we have a mindfulness coach for half an hour. So that way, you know, not so much the two year mission, but I think everything we do is about the holistic person.


Graeme Cowan  04:42

Yeah. Because I also saw that you have quite a few people with young families and they’d like the flexibility that they have. You make it very easy for them to work in the way that they can.


Erica Westbury  04:56

Yeah, well, you know, years ago I could when I was doing some planning, I could see that in the next five years, I had 10 maternity leaves coming up. And that really was crushing. You know, I had great people, and those people are not easy to replace. And so we’ve really just had to work out how can we do what we want to do and help these people to come back. So yeah.


Graeme Cowan  05:33

And what were some of the things that you found new to do to help make that happen?


Erica Westbury  05:39

One thing that was really hard to implement, I’ve got to say, is that we little sleep pods and trying to get people this is when we’re, you know, back in the old days, when we, you know, we’re all working all day in the offices. And, you know, I was trying to encourage people to go off and have a 20 minute nap, you know, when they feel tired, because our whole business was run from sleep deprived people. And I’ll tell you that it was so hard people would not do it. And I had to do the I had to put in incentives of if you do five naps in the next two weeks, you’ll get a free annual leave day. I do incentivize that. So but you know, it really helped them to stay sane and focused. And, you know, we all know what fatigue does to us. It’s terrible. So debilitating.


Graeme Cowan  06:36



Erica Westbury  06:37

I mean, I don’t know what else could do. That’s a good question. What else did I do? You know, obviously, part timers. We ever only became job sharers or part timers and and then focus skills of what do you want to do? What’s going to make your life easy? What how are we going to get the best out of you and you do what you want to be doing?


Graeme Cowan  07:01

Yeah. You mentioned also, as part of this two year plan, identifying mentors, private mentors? How do you choose those mentors that can help guide your people to meet that two year plan?


Erica Westbury  07:20

Well, sometimes they already know these people. So one of my staff had years ago work for someone that she described as the most motivating and the best sales manager she’s ever worked for. So and that person is now living and working in New Zealand. So she’s reached out to say, you know what, would you I want to be as good as you can you help me? And I think that’s a lovely acknowledgement of that person. And of course, that person is Oh, wow, okay, and remembered. My staff member is being a top performer. And, you know, it’s hard to say no to that, isn’t it? So sometimes it comes from them. Sometimes it’s people that I know that I admire, and I can do the introductions. So it’s from everywhere really.


Graeme Cowan  08:14

Yeah. You mentioned something which I think is very powerful about putting together a one page business plan with the input of your team. How do you go about that process of putting it together?


Erica Westbury  08:28

That is, that comes over time. So it’s not a you know, a half day planning session or a day planning session. There’s a couple of those. But once again, that’s a topic in our what we call it innovation sip session. So we might take a few weeks, it comes from our employee engagement surveys, how are you feeling? What do you like about us? What do you want to keep or don’t you want to keep? How can we improve? It comes from, you know, past experiences of what worked and what doesn’t work. So in our business, it is a very, very unique to us. So if you got hold of it, which I’m happy to share, I’ve got one sitting right in front of me, because every one of my staff has it on their desk, and I interview and walk people through it in interview, and we do one on ones and we use it and everyone’s got it up. So we really try and keep it as live as possible. And all of that information goes in all of our sessions together goes in and it’s all our jargon that specific to us. And wouldn’t make sense much to anybody else. You know, some of its industry that you know, if you’re in our industry you might get but a lot of it’s about our our personal experience and what our culture means to us. And that’s how we do it. And then we theme it every year we have to come up with a theme. And that’s how our, you know, quarterly parties or things like that, and awards all that stuff.


Graeme Cowan  10:04

And so what’s the theme for 2021?


Erica Westbury  10:08

Well, it’s a movie theme. At Christmas, we did our Christmas party, we have got the red carpet out and cries Academy Award night. So all the language on that is all around Academy Award perm goals and blockbuster growth, planning on having and the flops. That’s the behaviors we don’t like in the business that my staff have identified. Our screenplay, you know, all that critical acclaim? Well that’s what topics. 


Graeme Cowan  10:45

I really love that it’s there’s something very powerful about having everything on one page and also about personalizing, you mentioned about using your jargon, your language, and it’s wonderful you’ve got it on everyone’s desk, they know exactly, you know, where the where the group is heading. You mentioned previously about the innovation hub or innovation session you do, how do you run that?


Erica Westbury  11:18

Well, we do, it usually takes about an hour, or an hour and a half. And it’s whatever topic that’s where we cover, that’s where we all get together, often we have job meetings, what we do every morning, a quick job meeting all together, virtually, it’s like keep the team together, you know, keep everyone on track. You know, it shows us how we can help each other, field jobs, that’s all clients and candidates, but the innovation is about us. So that is we will do refresher training, we will do as I said a guest speaker, it could be about ad writing, for example, it could could be a TED talk about, you know, presentation skills, or it could be about above the line thinking and, you know, let’s break into groups and work out when we go below the line or above the line. It could be about our charity work. So really, it just covers off all that stuff that’s important to us. That’s not job related, as far as running jobs, candidates, clients. So yeah, and everybody has turns out at hosting, I run most of them, but my line managers will run them, you know, staff will get up and have a space to do it. It’s whatever we feel is needed in the business at the time, or just to keep up with, you know, the charity stuff.


Graeme Cowan  12:50

The last three months have been very volatiles. And I know from speaking to former colleagues in the recruitment area, it’s been very challenging time has it been for your group?


Erica Westbury  13:03

The first lockdown was, you know, scary, because it was so foreign to us. We didn’t know what was going on. And all recruitment got put on hold. So it was pretty devastating to the business. And I really just, you know, we just spend our time, just care, you know, really just caring for each other, you know, I could see that there was going to be an end to it, I had no idea when and I really wanted to retain everybody to get through it. So everybody’s mental health was of uptmost concern to me, it’s like, let’s stay together. Let’s just be you know, be gentle, pressures off. And job people really save the day for me, I’ve got to say that really took the pressure off me. And then this time, it feels like it’s going a bit long. But we’re busy. You know, that’s a difference for us. It’s people saw that we came out of a really a candidate type market, they walked into what they wanted staff and some businesses have thrived over COVID, of course, and they could not get good staff for love nor money. So and I think that’s why people are still recruiting now because they know with the borders shut, they will not have many people to choose from and they want to go for the best. So people are still recruiting.


Graeme Cowan  14:37

What are some of the things you do with your team while they’re all working remotely To provide that sort of sense of connection, fun enjoyment, What are some of the things that you do that help with that?


Erica Westbury  14:50

Well, we get together every morning for our job meeting so keep people with goals to achieve and I feel that’s important. You don’t want to be languishing in this time. It would be easy to we do weekly yoga on Wednesday lunchtime. We have virtual trivia nights and game nights, last week was about scary movies. So we will have to dress up. And that was fun. We did horror movie charades. We do awesome jars. So we’ve all got this jar of awesome. Thank you Tim Ferriss, and we put in a jar of awesome every day, we try and find something that we’re really grateful for.


Graeme Cowan  15:48

So does that does that involve writing it down and putting it into a jar? Is that how it happens? 


Erica Westbury  15:52

Yes, yeah. It’s a really good, you know, favor, you get to say, oh, I’ll send you something that Tim Ferriss wrote about. And it is lovely. Gratitude is really important. And, you know, meditation. We do meditation. On Monday, I think this week, we started our meeting with laughter yoga. You know, it’s a pretty weird culture, I think probably. So we’re in creative projects, like take your eyes away from the desk, let’s do something interesting. Recently, we’ve got our children to say a line of, of acknowledging country, and recorded it and then my marketing managers put it all together. So now, at the start, this is just for us internally. I don’t think we’d do it for any other meetings, but we’d have a nice out children saying the acknowledgement of country so it’s cute. So I don’t know. We seem to come up with fun things that keep us tight.


Graeme Cowan  16:56

I love the idea of having the kids contribute to welcome the country or acknowledgement to the country. What a great thing to prepare a lot of fun to I suspect.


Erica Westbury  17:06

Yeah, it was, I mean, the bloopers oh my goodness. That might be its own film.


Graeme Cowan  17:14

And with regards to self care, and taking care of yourself, Erica, I heard that you’re a Whim Hoffer. Would you mind explaining what that is and why you find it really valuable?


Erica Westbury  17:31

Well, I’m not great at explaining Wim Hof. He is a mad Dutchman. But he, he is often referred to as The Iceman. And there’s three elements of what he teaches. He holds about 22 records of world records of doing crazy things like running the Namibia marathon with no training and in shorts, no drinking, no water. And but mostly it’s ice stuff like climbed Everest in shorts. And he’s, yeah, he’s pretty mad at holding his breath underwater. So I think it comes from a lot of it might be a bit yoga oriented, breath work, he so it’s alkalizing your body with a lot of oxygen. That’s what the breath work does, and his belief and he you know, there’s a lot of research to say that a lot of the diseases come from and this particularly in city bodies. So there’s breath work involved, which does make you feel amazing, and cold showers, which then lead to ice baths. So I think I got into that because I was enjoying the challenge of it. And it did make me feel really good. And I did it all through last lockdown. I started it really seriously just before lockdown. And it’s just as make you feel really good. And it’s really a calming experience. So So yeah, and I did some ice baths with my cousins. And that was really tough. I’ve got to tell you, it was tough.


Graeme Cowan  19:16

You say it was coming out with you make you wide awake very quickly in the morning.


Erica Westbury  19:21

Well, I do it morning and night and it’s a great sleep from a cold shower at night. You’d think it would be the complete opposite.


Graeme Cowan  19:31

You mentioned also that you meditate, how often do you do that?


Erica Westbury  19:34

Well, I try and do it daily. So I do daily meditation, which is a mantra based but I have studied Buddhist meditation many years ago and different Hindu meditations, but it’s daily that I tend to do daily. So 20 minutes a day. Hmm.


Graeme Cowan  19:54

I saw earlier in your career, you worked in Outplacement how Did you What did you learn from Outplacement? Which is very relevant for recruitment?


Erica Westbury  20:06

Um, I guess. Outplacement was a business that I set up with my then husband, and he really ran that business. So and then then when we separated and divorced, he took that. But it was a fascinating insight into, you know, how we really do create ourselves as our work. And I think it’s always a lesson to have these people outside of work as well. I think it’s such an important our work is so important to how we identify us with ourselves. But we really need to be more than that and bigger than that. That’s what I got out of it, I’ve got to say is, yeah, we have to be bigger than our work. 


Graeme Cowan  21:08



Erica Westbury  21:08

What about you, do you?


Graeme Cowan  21:11

I always found it very fascinating. And, you know, you can’t take you can’t say black and white rules or insights about it. But I felt it was particularly difficult for a lot of men, where a lot of this social interactions come through work. They didn’t seem to invest like women do in relationships outside work. Hopefully, that’s changing somewhat, but I know that it is, you know, work is so important to our sense of well being our sense of identity, our sense of meaning, as well. And, you know, I think going through that process can really help you choose a new direction, or just refine where you’re heading to. So that is a really valuable time. And from my time in recruitment, and also Outplacement, it’s just so telling if people are in the right job, with the right skills, the right qualities, it’s made to help them flourish. And I’ve always not liked the term work life balance, because it implies that life is good work is bad, which is completely wrong for any people work provides a huge amount of reward, motivation, sort of social interaction. And so I prefer the term work life integration for that reason.


Erica Westbury  22:31

Yeah, that’s a great way to look at it, because you’re right, when I’ve had staff going through very difficult times, for whatever that is at home. The first thing I always do is say, Would you like to take time off? Would you like to have extended leave? You know, how can I support you? And I don’t know that it’s ever been taken up, people say, No, I need to be here. You know? And it’s like, Okay, well we’ll try to help you in other ways. So people do find it as a refuge, and they do get a lot of meaning out of it. And, you know, that’s another reason why it’s so important for all of us to create really good workplaces.


Graeme Cowan  23:15

And also, someone’s going through a tough time at home, it can be a distraction, as well, which is, you know, really important when that there can be having really personal challenges at home. And, you know, being at work provides that  third place to, you know, just have more time to themselves. Can you think of a time when you went through a really, really difficult time and someone asked you, are you okay?


Erica Westbury  23:43

Hmm, well, actually similar, is that I did go I remember, one day, I was going through it was just after my divorce or sometime over that period. And I was feeling really fearful. I think, I think that’s how I could describe it. I was just insecure and feeling a bit fearful of the future. And strangely, two people out of the blue rang me and said, and I said, to a wish, I just want to know, everything’s gonna be okay. That’s all I want to know, is everything gonna be okay? And two people rang me that day that I’ve said that to myself. They rang and said, Erica, I just want you to know, everything’s gonna be okay. 


Graeme Cowan  24:35



Erica Westbury  24:36

And that was incredible. And I just thought, Okay. That’s so they didn’t ask, are you okay? I wasn’t, you know, I don’t know that. I could say no, not okay. But I was just put it out there. I just want to know, everything’s gonna be okay. That’s all I care about. And two people rang to say that.


Graeme Cowan  24:57

Yeah, yeah. And I understand you’ve got twins, right? How old are they?


Erica Westbury  25:06

My twins are about to turn 20 next month, and my youngest is 15. So three beautiful boys.


Graeme Cowan  25:14

Yeah. And how did you, you know, provide them the support they needed when you were obviously very busy with your work and very lots in challenging situations. How did you, you know, I guess keep your finger on the pulse of those relationships and make sure they were as good as they could be.


Erica Westbury  25:34

I well I’ve always worked four days a week, I’ve never worked more than that in in my business. So I set this business up. So I could be at home with my children and be a mother. Because I was, you know, business in the city and recruitment business that it was publicly listed. And of course, you know, they want blood. So I set up when I was, you know, when I was pregnant with my twins when, sorry, when I was my twins were 10 months old, I set the business up, I was on maternity leave. And I had to go back to work. And I thought, me, I’m gonna sit, you know, I could see the opportunity out in the western suburbs where I was living at the time in the hills. And I thought no I can, I’d rather do this and be a mother. So I until locked down weirdly, I’ve only ever worked four days a week, and I finished work at 5:30 when my nanny finished and I would go home and that was when my real job started. So and I wanted it that way I wanted to be a hands on mother in in the city, I could work till 10 o’clock at night, you know. So I often think I wonder what would have happened had I have been able to put that sort of energy into my business but and I also strategically worked out I had been a good biller, I knew how to recruit. I, you know, I was taught very, very well. And I knew I could do it. But I knew if I had lots of client contacts, it would be the Erica Westbury show, and I didn’t want it to be the Erica Westbury show because I wanted to be really present for my children. So I even quickly trained other people to do it. And I’m luckily, my possible only leadership strength that I have is to be a delegator. So I I entrusted my clients with, you know, consultants that I trained up, and I had to be a really good trainer, I had to have great systems in place. And I had to create a McDonald’s style business, even though it’s a small one, that everybody was trained the same way and attempt consultants trained, as well as a perm consultant that client visits are handled the same way. Our service levels are the same way the interviews were the same way. So that I could I didn’t be dragged into the business 24/7 leaders, I grew leaders into the business. And that was because I had my beautiful children that I wanted to parent. So that’s, that’s one of the strategies, 


Graeme Cowan  28:29

What a great environment to create and right from the start. So with a goal of just the four days a week, that’s really, really sensational. And hopefully, other organizations like larger public organizations will realize that that’s possible as well. I think that’s one real benefit that’s come out of the whole COVID isolation and working from home. You mentioned previously about Wim Hoffer and also Tim Ferriss that had practices around gratitude. Has there been other leaders that have really influenced you?


Erica Westbury  29:06

Well, Graham Jenkins, as I said, was my chair at the executive connection, that he has been a great mentor for me. And all of my, you know, executive connection buddies, and now my CEO group with Anthony Moss, it’s those, you know, it’s those people that you can get to know really deeply when you’re in one of those environments that meet very regularly, you can share information and, you know, they make me want to be a better CEO all the time, every meeting, I walk out of them thinking, I’ve just got to do more. I’ve got to do better. You know, I to deserve to sit in that team. I need to be better. So there’s countless of CEO friends that I admire and respect. And, you know, I came from recruitment solutions. Greg Savage was, you know, a mentor in many, many ways. Like he’s a very different style to me that in but I try it probably tried to emulate that Graeme Genkins, a Graeme Whelan was, you know, great role model for me. And I think I probably take a talk on it back in those days, when I first set up the business, I probably took on that sort of tough, you know, masculine leadership, because that’s all I knew, really. And, and I think it’s taken me years to find my own feet and work out really who I am, and have the confidence to be who I am. You know, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes on the way and you continue to do that. But I think I feel that I’m far more authentic today than I was when I first started.


Graeme Cowan  31:12

You also said that you one thing he’s really focused on is being a great delegator. What do you think of the elements of being a great delegator?


Erica Westbury  31:22

Look, you can’t be a perfectionist. So, you know, I can see how people who are perfectionists just can’t get it because, of course, you’re going to be better than your newly trained person. Of course, you will, you’ve got lots more experience, but you just have to go with it. I think you have to be comfortable with other people making mistakes around you. And you have to just keep being training people you have to train train train, we have a role play box that we pull out, you know, number of mornings a week of client and candidate objections and, you know, elevator statements and all that just keep training. It’s so important. Never, you know, never think that you’ve said your message once and it’s going to be taken in your nine times. I think it’s normal for messaging by email by conversations by Whatsapp group by just keep pushing the message. I think you just have to, you just have to have empathy, I think and compassion and you know, just keep trying.


Graeme Cowan  32:40

Yeah. It’s you had the opportunity to teach one thing to the world. What would that be?


Erica Westbury  32:48

For I would, I don’t know that I have the skills or the the certification. Okay, all right. That’s not the question. The question is, what would I teach? What I would love to teach is I would love to teach people how to find joy. I think if that’s what I could teach people I think, you know, that oh my God, this sounds stupid. But you know, the world would be in a better place people would feel better, you know, Joy is I think what you know, that’s the best feeling in the world and, and we should all be chasing it.


Graeme Cowan  33:25

What brings you joy now? 


Erica Westbury  33:27

Well my children Absolutely. 100% they give me so much joy. It’s incredible. I walk away from having him in that moment with them and I just feel joy you know, time with friends. I’ve got beautiful friends. And that’s always good to have a laugh with my friends. You know, people achieving things that they really want to achieve impacting on other people’s lives in a positive way. Animals my dog gives me a lot of joy. 


Graeme Cowan  34:04

Great stuff. It’s been absolutely fantastic. Catching up today, Erica, I really love, you know, how authentic you’ve been. How you’re very honest about the lessons along the way. And also the importance of learning from other people along the way. I think all of us really need to do that. And you know, seeing role models can make a really, really big difference. If you had to sort of, if you had the knowledge that you have now to go back to your 20 year old self and give that 20 year old person you a key message what would that be?


Erica Westbury  34:46

The message I would give my 20 year old self is everything is going to be alright. You’re on a path you don’t feel like it but you know only with hindsight can we join the dots and see Oh, where was that while I was doing that stuff, you know, do the work. I think self awareness is so important. So do the work. Do, you know, I’m a big believer in therapy and every type of therapy and get that stuff done, you know, the investment that you make on yourself, is the best financial investment you’ll ever make.


Graeme Cowan  35:26

What a great way to finish the discussion today. Thanks very much, Erica, for being part of the the Caring CEO podcast. 


Erica Westbury  35:35

Thanks, Graeme, and best of luck with it.

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