Leading from the front – with support

Lancashire business leaders’ support networks have played a vital role as they grappled with the challenges thrust on them by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Having people to reach out to has helped give them the reassurance and motivation needed to see things through in tough times, Lancashire Business Week 2021’s session on managing change heard.

Michael Williams, managing director of Winter Gardens Blackpool, explained how Blackpool’s BID organisation and the town’s Covid Recovery Group had come together to support each other and the community during the pandemic.

He said: “It is about sharing best practice. It was a great community that came together.

“Support from the team here and my family has also been important. You can’t do anything on your own in isolation, you have to have that team around you.”

Louisa Scanlan, director at HR consultancy Collaborate Business Solutions, told the online audience: “My peer network was huge for me during Covid. I can just pick up a phone and say, ‘I’m having an absolutely horrendous day and I’ve got this challenge.’”

Rob Binns, group chief executive at Cotton Court in Preston, added: “I try to take it a day at a time. Luckily, I’ve got a good network of successful friends and mentors.

“Peer to peer, or whatever you call it, chatting about everyday things with people who have been there and done it, it is very useful.”

Euan Aitken, sales and marketing director at business automation software company Zigaflow, also highlighted the importance of peer support to him in difficult times.

He said: “The importance of picking up the phone and speaking to someone, putting the world to rights. Having that peer to talk to is really good.”

The panel also spoke of the experience of managing change during the pandemic and the way the working environment and approaches to leadership have altered in the face of all the challenges.

Heather Aust, a partner at law firm CG Professional, said there was now more emphasis on mental health and looking after the workforce.

She said: “Change for people is difficult. Generally, some people embrace it and go with it, but a lot really struggle. The idea of working for home for someone who has sat at the same desk, in the same office every day for 20 years, it has a massive impact on them.

“People managing and leading need to be aware and switched to support these people with these changes.”

She added: “Leaders have also had to trust people a lot more as they work from home. Professional services and other sectors have had to trust employers to get the job done and they have been surprised by the levels of productivity.”

Louisa Scanlan spoke about the need for strong communication in organisations going through great change. She said: “We are more connected now than we have ever been. It is about organisations really understanding fundamentally how they communicate with their teams.

“Team and Zoom calls are quite draining for some individuals. We have forgotten the art of picking up the phone and just having a conversation. It is about different ways of keeping people engaged and up to date.”

Rob Binns told the audience that business leaders were using “new found patience”. He said: “The whole emphasise on business had been get it done and move on the next thing.

“Everyone is a little bit more flexible when it comes to timescales. People ned bit more reassurance, they are more indecisive.

“A lot of really good leaders have the ability to still hurry things along, but not let people feel hurried doing it.”

He also said it was important for leaders to make sure the changes they think are happening are really taking place. He added: “You need to communicate that change clearly enough and have time to listen, so everyone else gets it.”

Taking up that theme, Euan Aitken said the “open nature” of the way people in the business worked was also important, adding: “I don’t really consider myself to be the leader in the organisation. We are trying to empower everyone as leaders in a lot of respects.

“We will have open and frank conversations about what it is we are thinking of doing and where we are taking the company. The key thing is to be really open with people, to have that dialogue.”

Tommy McIlravey, chief executive officer at Lancashire Mind, said there had been a huge increase in demand for the organisation’s services during the pandemic

Looking at leadership and change management, he told the audience: “Self-awareness is a really powerful thing, especially when we are going through change.

“The culture of an organisation comes to the surface more when we are going through accelerated change.”

He warned that previous grievances could bubble to the surface and added: “You have got to get the culture right.”

And he said that in a “value driven culture” people could pull together because they had something to gather around.

Tommy also spoke of the need to acknowledge the difference in leaders and how they worked when it came to giving them support.

Michael Williams also spoke about the uncertainty sparked by the first lockdown and its impact on the Winter Gardens and its workforce.

At the time the venue was contracted for around 250 events and had sold half a million advanced tickets for the coming year. He revealed that 95 per cent of staff were furloughed.

Michael added: “We have found we have got some great people that work at the Winter Gardens and have been here for many years. Their experience comes to the fore in challenging times.

“Whatever the pandemic has thrown at them they have coped amazingly well. The lesson for me is expect the unexpected.”

Watch this event in full here.

Other dates for your diary:
9am, Friday 10 December: Resilience to recovery Online

Headline sponsor of Lancashire Business Week is CG Professional.

Lancashire Business Week is also backed by patrons, Beever and Struthers, Bigtank, Burnley.co.uk, Burnley College, Cotton Court, IN4 Group, Lancashire Skills Hub, Nugent Sante and Zigaflow.

Venue patron is AMRC, and Lexus Preston is a supporter. Social media for Lancashire Business Week is powered by Boost Business Lancashire.