Creating great people and great businesses

As a lifelong learner, nothing gets me more excited than opportunities to acquire new skills and knowledge. Sharing my passion for learning with other people, and teaching, comes a very close second! I have been so fortunate to have been presented with exceptional learning opportunities throughout my career. Over the past six months in particular, I have been extremely grateful for the opportunity to substantially step up my learning. Since the very beginning of my career, nothing has got me more excited than a really great conference! I find that conferences are a great platform to gain insights and learn from both the keynote and guest speakers, but also from the incredibly experienced, knowledgeable and talented delegates in attendance. To me, it is such a platform of knowledge, connectivity and development that becomes a thinktank of innovation and motivation.  Every conference has given me unique insights, challenged my views and inspired and motivated me to be better and to do better, and probably none have done this better than this year’s CIPD Festival of Work.

It astonishes and amazes me that within two months of the live version being cancelled due to coronavirus, the conference was moved to an online platform and was streamed to over 25,000 delegates who watched over 80 guest speakers across 30 different sessions. I think that this information alone is enough for a fantastic blog! However, I would like to share the key, salient points that I personally learnt from the festival and I really hope that you find it as helpful and useful as I did.

I would imagine that a lot of people like me tuned in in the hope that some of the experts would be able to shed some light on the completely unexpected, unconventional, “unglued” and unbelievable times that we find ourselves in. Most of us were also looking for inspiration, some hope and optimism for the future and a sneak peek into what that might look like. And the speakers did not disappoint!

First and foremost, it was acknowledged that the immediate health and economic impacts of this crisis are substantial and devastating in terms of loss of life, loss of health, loss of jobs and income and loss of certainty and predictability. The ongoing and future impact on the economy and individual’s mental health is also considered to be substantial, and possibly even more significant than the virus itself.

However, what we do know is that bad times pass and that humans and societies are resilient. There were lots of messages of hope, optimism, learning and new beginnings.

Focusing on moving forward and the future, the underlying message that I took away was that because of the crisis, organisations of all sizes, across all industries and all borders, have realised that it’s people that matter. This great quote from Sir Ian Cheshire the Chairman of Barclays reflects this dominant theme that emerged, “The crisis has given us permission to be people-centric”.

This is not a new concept. Back in 2018, recognising the complexity and urgency of the significant challenges of that time, The World Economic Forum put together a Leadership Transformation Map and a refreshed set of supporting behaviours emerged that help leaders navigate today’s disruption to influence tomorrow’s success – by putting people at the centre.

In a situation of complete disruption and when we look to recovery from this crisis, emotional intelligence skills are deemed more important than ever and are of greater significance than technical skills or abilities. This was validated by John Amaechi OBE, “When you talk to people about what is a great manager, a great colleague, it is rarely someone’s technical skills that get talked about – it is their emotional competence.”  It is essential for us to upskill our leaders and employees on emotional intelligence skills and learning is the answer to many of the significant issues that organisations are facing.

Learning and development is key

Taking this a step further, it was communicated that companies will be expected to provide learning and development opportunities and real scope for progression to every person within their organisations. This is a time to support and encourage out of the box thinking and innovation. Creating an agile learning culture in organisations is the key to enable our people to embrace agility, adaptability and drive the innovation needed to ensure long-term growth. For our organisations to survive, we must create a culture that encourages people to take ownership or their own learning and where learning becomes a fundamental part of our working lives.

More business leaders will find themselves working on the frontline as the coronavirus pandemic continues, said Charlie Mayfield, former chairman of the John Lewis Partnership. He told delegates that as the country braces for the full economic impact of the crisis, the spotlight will be on business leaders to see how they manage their organisations. “There will be heroes and there will be villains,” he warned.

We have heard time and time again through this crisis that, “we are all in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat.” All of our employees will have had different experiences throughout this time and will approach a return to work in equally different ways. Some will be ready to hit the ground running and will be innovative and solution focused, others will need time and distance to get back into things again. HR departments will be the ones that have to deal with the repercussions of these events, said Amaechi. “Every one of your leaders is going to have to deal with mourning, anxiety, a sense of betrayal in their workforce… You’re going to have to deal with their reframed life and work expectations now that they’ve had this different way of working for a while”.

Talking about the creation of a ‘new normal’ after the coronavirus outbreak, Sean Penistone, learning and talent director at BT, said we are beginning to see hierarchical power and its importance “ebb away” and questioned what the role of the leader would be. “[Leaders] have an important role to play in terms of excavating the business purpose, make it easy to understand and put it at the heart of everything the organisation does,” he said.

From a wellbeing perspective, Emilia Madrigal, senior manager for learning and development of people and culture at Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, said leaders will have to “equip themselves with new techniques” to stay calm and handle stressful situations. “Health in your body and mind provides a strong foundation for people’s resilience. The WHO states that wellbeing has been severely impacted by the crisis, so leaders need to make the wellbeing of colleagues a priority and that needs to be done urgently.”


The challenge within organisations is coming from disruption, uncertainty and volatility but we need to provide psychological safety and rebuild trust so that people can bring their best self to work, be authentic and encourage innovation.

Jeremy Snape, Founder and Director of Sporting Edge, talked about developing resilient managers. Resilience is another key topic of the conference and indeed within the current environment and is considered a critical skill to leading organisations through the uncertainty ahead. When we consider resilience as a leader, we need to have the energy and drive to think proactively, to be solution focused, positive and encouraging and to lead. This means that as leaders, we have to be well equipped both emotionally and physically to lead. To do this, we need to control the controllables and rebuild that trust.

According to Snape, we need to spend 70% of our energy on our mindset/what’s in our control, 20% of our energy on what we can influence but can’t control and only 10% of our time on what we have no control or influence over. He talked about looking more to the short-term and what we can achieve there rather than the longer-term. Focusing on the WIN – what’s important now. It is important to have a clear view of what success looks like in 6-12 months, communicate the quest and unlock the potential in your team. When you create vision and drive, you unlock potential and that is the greatest thing that you can do for a team.


We need to believe that we are shaping the future, not managing the past. Uncertainty creates opportunity for leadership at every level. The most successful leaders throughout the crisis have been those who are highly emotionally intelligent, have solid people skills and the human touch. You need to be a more inclusive leader than ever before. According to Helena Morrissey inclusive leadership involves:

  • Authenticity, accountability
  • Humility – creating space for others to contribute
  • Self-awareness
  • Curiosity, interest in others
  • Cultural and emotional intelligence
  • Effective collaboration

She believes, as do I, that leaders will need less command and control, more empathy and connectivity, empowerment, listening, communications, transparency, permission to fail, permission to disagree and permission to learn.

In the words of Winston Churchill, “Don’t let a good crisis go to waste.” Bottom lines come from our results, results come from our behaviours and our behaviours come from our mindsets. There is so much to learn from this experience and so many opportunities for every single one of us to grow professionally and personally and to make a difference.

I could literally write a book about what I learned over the three days but will finish with this quote:

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything; but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” Edward Everett Hale