As featured in EG on 4 July 2020.

Coming from a Quaker background, building a business with people at its core was a key driver when I co-founded Redwood Consulting.  In 27 years, we’ve faced many challenges, but Covid-19 has been the most unexpected and difficult.  Over these last three ‘sleep challenged’ months, and from conversations with other SME business owners, I am convinced that our long-held values of prioritising our people has helped us navigate the most demanding aspects of lock-down and will shape the business as we move through recovery and look to the future.

As a consultancy, our people are our most important stakeholder in delivering for our clients. In those early, exhausting days in March, we had to make difficult decisions on furloughing staff, balancing the needs of our business with maintaining an effective team to continue to support our clients in their most challenging times.

We have put real effort into motivating and empowering our people to respond to the changing needs of this time – protecting client reputations, keeping momentum on live programmes, being nimble with new virtual approaches and establishing new models for engagement with communities and the media.

We had to make space for people to find positive opportunities and adapt to the shifting patterns of business behaviour, arming them with the skills and confidence to try new things, be fleet of foot and learn from each other. The expression “may you live in interesting times” certainly rings true today. It has been fascinating to watch how people stand out and shine in different ways – virtual business can be a leveller for some, and where you sit around the meeting room table no longer matters.

Collaborating and knowledge sharing

In addition to Redwood, I deliver leadership training and coaching for senior executives in professional services across the globe, and that exposure to best practice from some of the world’s largest organisations benefits Redwood. To influence and empower growth and development has therefore always been part of Redwood’s DNA.

Lock-down proves the true value of our in-house training and team 0ff-sites, as we equip our people with new skills, share best practice and look ahead to future trends for the sector. We have been up-skilling our teams on all things from remote leadership, Myers Briggs profiles and influencing skills, to using LinkedIn for better networking and virtual pitch presentation training for new business (yes, there is a some about!).  This approach allows us to pool our knowledge and create impact to remain competitive – introducing whole new engagement models such as digital public consultation and giving our clients clear insights into changing media behaviour and trends.

Prioritising professional development

Staff development is key to retention, and a great line management system is even more important in lock-down. Our monthly line-manager meetings have increased in frequency, and individual KPIs set in January which are no longer achievable or even relevant, are being reviewed to set new targets and objectives so that progression is still clear in the challenging times we find ourselves in.

Regular, consistent social engagement

We were a sociable bunch from the outset – shifting our engagement strategy online was surprisingly easy. Birthdays are still celebrated but now with off-key Zoom singalongs, and the Friday quiz and drinks now feature guest appearances from new puppies, small children and partners. We’ve added mid-afternoon “stretch and a cuppa” sessions and even a virtual hen party to the list – encouraging participation across all parts of the business is critical.

Respecting the unique, individual needs of our workforce

In our business, listening is a founding principle. Once a quarter we sit down with teams at each level to have an open, honest dialogue about what works and what doesn’t.  In fact, our pre-Covid approach to flexible working was informed by our junior team, and we’ve developed a bespoke team survey to understand the individual perspectives as we consider future working practices and an eventual return to the office.

Redwood’s strength and staying power comes from being flexible and adaptive to the vagaries of market forces and staying true to our core principles of empowering our people to do the same. It is with this in mind that I feel confident about our business’ future, and excited about the new ideas and opportunities that lie ahead.