Follow the Leader: Sinead Devlin


In the latest of our series of interviews with business leaders about their journey so far and plans for future success, we speak to Sinead Devlin, managing director of Emergenetics International for the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region, based in Dublin.

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Emergenetics was founded in the US by Dr Geil Browning in 1991. It aims to improve the performance of individual and corporate teamwork using innovative cognitive testing.

Sinead Devlin, who was previously head of organisation development at Ulster Bank and director/co-owner of talent management firm Develop Associates, began her Emergenetics tenure in January 2016.

What is Emergenetics’ elevator pitch?

“Emergenetics is the merging of two ideas: our behaviour emerging from our life experiences and our genetic traits. We have developed a psychometric tool that measures four thinking attributes – analytical, structural, social and conceptual. And three behavioural attributes – expressiveness, assertiveness and flexibility – which every person exhibits.

“We provide organisations with an Emergenetics profile for each of their team members. It gives them a clearer understanding of the cognitive diversity within their workforce, which also asks what their individual strengths are.

“Some employees gain energy from working with data or research, where others might have a preference for the more social or intuitive aspects of the job, such as bringing people together. Some prefer structure, guidelines and details, while others get their energy from new ideas, being creative and seeing the bigger picture.

“Employers can use this knowledge to develop strategies and teams to become more efficient and effective. Instead of suffering from groupthink, where people feel and act as one, they can collect different attributes into the same room at the same time working on ideas and projects. They can address a problem from different angles and approaches and are therefore more likely to have success.”

Recommended reading: Follow the Leader - Brian O'Reilly, of MCE Events

What is the key motivation and raison d’être behind the business?

“I took over managing EMEA’s Dublin-based headquarters in 2016. I felt there was a real gap in the market for a technology-led psychometric tool like ours. Traditionally, psychometric testing produces paper-based reporting, which by its nature is a very manual process.

“The first thing we do when working with a client is to get them to determine what problems they are looking to solve and what they are wanting to improve. We then get every individual to do our online questionnaire, collate the data and see the composition of their team.

“We have also produced a mobile app called Emergenetics +, where employees can log in and see quickly and clearly their own cognitive profile and those of their colleagues. The app can compare profiles, provide tips, and share similarities and differences. This helps them, on an ongoing basis, find the right people to form a team to work together on certain projects or strategies. It also enhances personal development by giving tips and resources on improving communication and presentation skills, or giving and receiving feedback.

“We have strong engagement with our clients, who are mainly in the corporate and public sector but also non-profit organisations and charities. When we work with a company or run a workshop, we always follow up. We want to help companies truly understand the data and for them to use the information practically to make a real difference. This can be achieved by building higher-performing teams, stronger interpersonal relationships, smarter hiring, and having a greater self-awareness of an individual’s strengths.

“The results have been proven in areas such as better retention rates, higher productivity, improved efficiency and employee engagement scores.

“I believe organisations are more open to the concept of cognitive testing now. There is such a war for talent and you need to ensure that your employees feel engaged, challenged and stretched at work. You want them to enjoy the workplace, to exceed and excel.”

Looking back at the early stages of the business, would you do anything differently in terms of leadership?

“At the early stage of a business it is easy to undervalue your proposition as you look for clients. We didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about who we were, what made us different, and building our pricing model. As such, we felt tempted to offer our services at a lower rate to get business in the door. It felt sensible at the time, but it is not a long-term model for success.

“It also took me a while to put together a leadership team that was as cognitively diverse as possible. But having had that experience certainly helps me empathise with our clients when they are trying to develop their best teams.”

What motivates you and keeps you engaged to drive the business on?

“Getting great feedback is a wonderful driver. We know that we can provide businesses with a long-term legacy and that we can make a difference. On a personal level, I am a very competitive person and I want us to be the number one go-to psychometric tool for businesses.”

What does achievement and success look like for your business?

“When we get contacted by businesses because they have heard from their peers about the great work we are doing. That is the definition of absolute success.

“Having a broad range of clients across different sectors and borders is also a measure of success. We have partner offices in the UK, France, Benelux, Germany, Romania, Italy and Egypt, and we are aiming to develop into the Nordics and Spain in the next 12 months. Success is also about helping employees work more efficiently and positively together.”

“We felt tempted to offer our services at a lower rate to get business in the door. It felt sensible at the time, but it is not a long-term model for success” Sinead Devlin, Managing Director, EMEA, Emergenetics International

“We are trying to build that unity outside of the workplace as well. We have another product for educators, which focuses on youths utilising the Student Teacher Emergenetics Program (STEP).

“Families also benefit from Emergenetics for adults and youths. Perhaps parents are having problems with a teenager and there are recurring arguments. Emergenetics can help determine, for example, that the parents are more structural and want to know what is happening, when and how, and the teenager may have different attributes. If you can better understand that difference, you can alleviate the tension by making allowances for each other. We are looking to do more work in this area.”

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

“As a leader it is to keep your eyes five years down the line. So, thinking about long-term strategy. Put clients at the forefront of everything that you do.”

What has been your proudest achievement with Emergenetics to date?
“I remember in December 2016, we were just six months in and I went to an American Chamber of Commerce Ireland event. They discussed their Future Leaders Innovation Hackathon event taking place in February 2017 [where participants competed in teams to create an innovation, service or product that would help make Ireland the best place to live and work].

“I decided that we would support the event and carry out profiles on those individuals taking part. My team thought I was crazy to do this in such a short space of time, but I saw it as a great opportunity to get our name out there.

“During the hackathon there was an introduction to Emergenetics, then the hackers shared their preferences, worked in cognitively diverse groups and received customised group reports. These reports gave a summary of the group, their preferences and any potential gaps, which helped them to step into each other’s shoes and look at the innovation from different perspectives. Doing this creates a common language, and a greater understanding of the other team members.

“For example, one of the teams directly benefited from realising that there were no strong decision-makers in the group and, as a result, made a greater effort in this area. This helped them to have a complete concept in the final pitch they were putting together for the event.

“It showcased what we do, especially as the team with the better cognitive diversity won the event.”

Your approach as a leader is best described by which words?

“Enthusiasm, dedication and innovation. On the first, I am competitive and enjoy seeing the business grow. I love new ideas – nothing is ever out of the park and I get great energy from that.

“On dedication, I trust my team 100%. We have always got each other’s back. Whatever idea they have, if it is for a good reason then I encourage and tell them to go for it.

“With innovations, I am always looking for something new, such as the hackathon. I am always scanning the world at large to see what is happening.”

How are you preparing and planning for Brexit in your business?

“I see opportunities because more businesses are choosing to come to Dublin and be based here. On a personal level, I live in Belfast and manage the team in Dublin. I am in Dublin three days a week, so a hard border would be a concern for me.”

What’s next for Emergenetics?

“We want to expand our European footprint and further develop Emergenetics +. It has been called, jokingly, Tinder for Business. It does act as a social network where you can look at your profile and your network’s. We knew it would be useful inside a business, but we have found there is real demand from users to connect with people in other organisations. Millennials especially love using it – they find it exciting and user-friendly.

“So, if it is what people want, we will build it out and stay further ahead of the competition.”


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Comments 2

Tara De Buitlear on Monday, 30 July 2018 12:13

Another very interesting interview with an Irish business leader. #BusinessAchievers

Another very interesting interview with an Irish business leader. #BusinessAchievers
Yvonne Kennedy on Monday, 30 July 2018 12:42

Super insight into a very exciting & innovative company. Congrats Sinead, Ashley and Frank and continued success to Emergenetics!

Super insight into a very exciting & innovative company. Congrats Sinead, Ashley and Frank and continued success to Emergenetics!
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