The year that didn’t go according to plan!

December is always a good time of the year to reflect on what we have learnt as leaders this year. Here are my top four.

This time last year we published a blog called 2020: the year to have great vision, all about how to plan for the year. However we have all had to rapidly change our plans this year, whether that has been due to recalibrating the whole business or taking advantage of sudden new opportunities.

1. Some plans are for changing, some plans are for pressing on with.

It is hard to let go of plans that you have spent ages crafting, that you know would make a significant difference to your business. But it is better to do that, than to continue with something that is not going to impact your people for the better, and your bottom line.

This year we accelerated plans to introduce a new tech learning platform for our team (LearnAmp), we delayed plans to spend money on one scheduled new hire, and we stuck to our plans and our timeframe of promoting our Ops Director to MD. This was perhaps the hardest decision, to promote someone in the middle of such uncertainty felt very odd, particularly as it had the potential to disrupt some people on the team.

But if we hadn’t pressed on, we would have caused ourselves other problems, such as a lack of clarity at the top, frustrating promises we had made, and holding back plans that had been made for good reason. We pushed ahead but worked really hard on our communications plan, which had a great impact.

2. Watch your language: reframing really helps

The use of language is something I’ve been challenged on before, and this year those warnings have echoed in my mind. Yes, COVID has had a huge impact, but how you talk about it within the context of your business can sow the seeds of panic and chaos, or it can reinforce the strength of the culture and leadership team.

Consider the difference between ‘devastating impact’ and ‘a challenge we can rise to’. As business leaders, we have a responsibility to our teams to flex our empathetic and problem-solving muscles and see where the possibilities lie.

But maybe it isn’t in everyone’s nature to reframe and recategorize. Often we need a bit of help to do so, with the help of a mentor, a challenger, a trusted advisor. If you do not have one yet, talk to us about finding that person to help you with your messaging.

3. Its better when we are together

Many of us have rightly embraced more virtual working – increased flexibility that I hope is here to stay.

At People Puzzles, a virtual business since the start, we have always celebrated key events by getting people together, specifically for planning meetings, strategy, learning events, induction, and opportunities to socialise as a team.

But there are things getting missed. For example, new initiatives in certain departments that used to be discussed casually now need a different forum, and opportunities to collaborate take the required effort to pre-plan rather than just naturally occurring. People have always moved around departments as a way to get promoted, and it cross-fertilises our businesses, adding tremendous value when this happens. So often this is a result of relationships, casual conversation, and unplanned opportunity.

After all, the office environment gives a number of advantages over working from home, including learning and development, the potential for coaching, socialisation, escaping the home, a change of routine, spontaneous thinking, catching up and laughing with colleagues.

Bringing people back together to have meaningful conversations and interactions is already critically important, and I think that we (CEOs and People Directors in particular) have an important role in advising and curating this across our businesses as soon as it becomes more possible.

4. Know and share your business non-negotiables

Many businesses very sensibly write down the vision and values on a one-pager, easy to share across the team. After all, alignment and clarity go a long way to help everyone head in the same direction.

But this year we realised at People Puzzles that there was a very important layer underneath this about HOW we do our business. We called this our ‘non-negotiables’, sending a clear message that these were fundamental to our success and way of doing things. It made a huge difference to our new MD to understand things that we had only alluded to in conversation but expected him to know all about!

Once we made a list of these (around 10 or so), which we had learned over the past decade, we felt were really important, and needed significant board agreement to change, it shifted the energy and alignment significantly. They included things like key routes to market, margin percentages for various services, profit expectations, and principals of recruitment and team support. They ended up forming part of the MDs job description, perhaps an unusual place to sit, but all part of the clear communication of authorisation levels needed in an important job role.

So, there you are – my four key learnings this year.

If you’ve never thought about why crisis and hardship allows us to grow, check out Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski talking about how lobsters grow on YouTube. He points out that times of stress are also opportunities for growth – if we use adversity properly, we can grow through it. After all, 2020 has certainly been an opportunity for all of us as business leaders to grow!

If you think your business could benefit from a People Director – or you feel you need support to re-align your business ready for growth in 2021, we’d love to have a chat with you to work through the best plans to help you to succeed. Call us on 020 3239 3307 for a complimentary call.

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