By Martyn Gregory
Martyn Gregory, senior partner at Deloitte’s South West & Wales practice, looks back at the past 15 months, a period of change and transformation, as well as uncertainty for many businesses across the South West.
Earlier this month, I was delighted to take part in a panel discussion with other business leaders from around the region, the aptly named ‘South West Game Changers' web forum, hosted by the editor of South West Business Insider magazine.
The focus of the online forum was change and transformation in business – something that companies all around the UK have had to deal with over the last 15 months, ever since COVID-19 hit our shores.
Change and transformation are business issues that organisations deal with every day if they are to get ahead of the game and maintain their competitive edge, responding and adapting to shifts in the market, changing customer behaviours and attitudes or taking advantage of emerging technologies. We can definitely say, however, that the pandemic with its lockdowns and restrictions has led to unprecedented change in the world of business. It’s even fair to say that, in some cases, COVID-19 propelled business leaders into taking action and making changes in the way they do business that they had long talked about but hadn’t yet implemented for various reasons.
A test of resilience
Resilience has certainly been tested throughout the pandemic, not only in how business leaders have responded, but also in the fortitude of their operating models and supply chains. Throughout the pandemic I’ve been in touch with many business leaders and the overriding viewpoint has been that their business is resilient and they’ve weathered the acid test that has been COVID-19.
That’s not to say businesses did not experience a quick fire set of challenges one after another in a relatively short time frame when the pandemic first hit and lockdown was upon us. Many businesses experienced uncertainty and a series of dark days, where their absolute focus had to go towards liquidity. I remember many conversations with my clients, especially those from privately owned companies or entrepreneurial businesses, on how they might react to the heightened uncertainty. In my experience, those that had credit in their facilities tended to draw on those facilities – their reason for doing so wasn’t necessarily because they needed the cash but it was one way they were able to respond to the uncertainty they faced at the time.
Roll on 12 months and if we look beyond consumer-facing businesses that have experienced the most challenging time, especially those with a large real estate footprint, there are elements of success in all sectors and it’s difficult to pick out any specific sectors where most businesses have not come out the other side in good shape. More interestingly, I’ve also seen that many businesses have grown and I imagine that, when they look back look back and examine the shape of that growth, it is probably slightly different to what they had predicted.
Change means opportunity
It is true to say that people are mainly fearful of change, as it involves the unknown. However, with change comes opportunity and, in my experience, change opens more doors than it closes. We all need the confidence to embrace it. And by all, I really do mean everyone – business leaders and their workforce alike.
It’s when we think of our workforce, business leaders like me can see clear and apparent changes that we couldn’t have imagined 15 months ago. It’s our people who have been most impacted, not just in terms of changing working patterns, especially for anyone who used to spend five days a week in the office, but in all aspects of their lives. For many who have pivoted to working from home, this has been a positive outcome, with a new appreciation of their work/life balance and family integration.
Looking after our employees’ wellbeing as well as diversity and inclusion, were all prominent on business leaders’ people agenda well before the pandemic. But with the Black Lives Matter movement, individuals feeling increasingly isolated without their usual support networks around them, these themes have come to the forefront, are now very much part and parcel of day to day business life, and most importantly, more actions are being taken.
One key thing that comes to mind when discussing change, is how we communicate with our people. Change involves people, and communication is key. Decisions may be rarely made on a committee basis, but giving employees a platform and the opportunity to be heard when embarking on a change programme is an important factor that some organisations tend to overlook. In my view, engaging with your people and making them feel their voices are heard is crucial. You only need to look at organisations that have performed well within the change agenda and you’ll see that these are businesses that have adopted a comms strategy that is multi-channel or even matrixial in structure, open to listening to voices at all levels of the organisations, embracing and sponsoring diversity in all its forms.
Change is constant and we’re still undergoing change, especially when it comes to returning to the office. Personally, I’m very optimistic for when my colleagues and I make this transition and what the future of work will mean for us. It’s something I’m looking forward to and think it’s important to get people back together, as for me and our business I find that is when the magic happens. Of course, I appreciate it’s going to be a quite different experience to the office life we left 15 months ago. But it does feel like we have a once in a generation opportunity to do a heap of things quite differently and it’s for this reason I’m excited as to what the future may bring.
The #InsiderGameChangers web forum is available to watch on demand here and you’ll be able to hear what my fellow panelists – from Sanctus, CEG, Pentadel and DeGould – and I had to say about the business transformation agenda taking place across the South West.