Ask the expert – our conversation with Michelle Minnikin

Image of Michelle Minnikin, Co-Founder of Work Pirates

'Rulebreakers are like great artists, sometimes we don’t recognise what they give us until it’s too late.' - Sam Conniff

Our passion is to partner and collaborate with like-minded folk who have a purpose beyond purely ‘making money’. We want to support a more ‘conscious’ model of capitalism where entrepreneurs and business leaders share a growth mindset, have a true sense of purpose and are passionate about growing their businesses and achieving their vision; whilst harnessing the best out of their people to deliver performance and profits.

This is why we have decided to ‘Ask the expert’ and showcase some of our business partners; exploring what makes them tick and more importantly finding out more about their views on working in partnership and sharing their tips for how to make it work.

This month, we caught up with Michelle Minnikin, founder of Work Pirates that specialises in organisational development.

Through our conversation, this is what we found out…


Tell us about you and your business…

I am an organisational psychologist and coach by trade and co-founder of Work Pirates.

For years I have worked within big corporations supporting selection and development with the likes of psychometric testing to vet candidates, training managers on how to make the most out of their teams as well as how to interview effectively and career coaching.

Then in 2018, I read a book called ‘Be More Pirate’ by Sam Conniff. It made me question how many modern businesses are run. The hierarchical ‘you will do what you’re told’ power-struggle corporate style in which most big businesses are run no longer resonated with me.

The pandemic also made me more sensitive to this archaic structure and it hit home that there’s a better way.

At the time, I remember sitting interpreting psychometric reports for a corporation I was supporting during lockdown and saying out loud, “this isn’t me anymore.” It was all too polished and corporate and straightlaced… I needed something more fun.

I was also diagnosed with ADHD last year and it felt like that was when my life started to make sense. Keeping focused on one task at a time and not being distracted isn’t something that comes naturally to me but it was always an expectation of any employer even though that doesn’t work for everyone.

I realised that the way organisations have been run in the past doesn’t mean that’s how they have to be in the future.

So, Work Pirates is all about making work fun and life-affirming and not feeling like an absolute chore.


What is the most rewarding part of running your business?

Freedom! Without a doubt. The freedom to choose what I want to do and when. However, that does come with its downsides as often there’s too much choice and it’s difficult to know what to prioritise.

What’s also been a really interesting observation is the power hierarchy. When I was in-house I would often suggest improvements and my ideas weren’t implemented. Now those same business leaders listen to me because I am no longer an employee but seen as a ‘specialist’.


What’s the most challenging part of your job?

You need to be quite disciplined with yourself and have a plan. If you don’t you will drift. I tend to take on too much work and sign up for too many things, so I have to regularly look at what I have said yes to, cut back and try to work a 40 hour week. So, yes, freedom is amazing but it can also be dangerous.


Three tips for a good working relationship with partners:

1 – Set out your stall. Tell a partner, this is how I work and this is how you get the best out of me, as well as, this is how I like to be communicated with and of course, that’s reciprocal.

2 – Boundaries. Scope creep is a very real thing and being assertive with this will help establish what’s acceptable and what isn’t in a partnership. This is especially true for females because we are historically trained to just say, “Oh, okay then” without always questioning why.

3 – Training. If you haven’t set out your stall or set boundaries that are firm enough then training could be needed. For example, if you receive an email at three o’clock in the morning, don’t send them an email back at six, because people will treat you how you let yourself be treated.


How can a true partnership strengthen a business?

For small businesses, you’re not necessarily going to have the expertise in house. I’m a massive believer in figuring out what you’re good at, and then, do that stuff. And then outsource the things that you’re not so good at.


Who or what inspires you?

About six months ago, I was talking at a recruitment conference and in response to a question I said something that I thought was obvious along the lines of ‘have you asked your employees?’ One of the other speakers (Elizabeth Lembke) absolutely agreed with me and we bonded. She then invited me to the Empowerment League run by L&D Cares and we ended up creating a women’s empowerment conference which took place last month. And just being around these very vulnerable, open women, for the past six months has been amazing.


What are your plans for the future?

I’m currently writing a book. It’s called Good Girl Deprogramming and it explores how our colonial, patriarchal heritage is damaging for both women and men. I’ve drawn on my background in psychology as well as my more recent experiences through Work Pirates to create the content for it and I hope it inspires others to think differently about the world of work.