Thriving Workplace findings – Huddersfield
Thriving Workplace findings Huddersfield MMB Private Lunch Club Networking – March 2019
Topic: The secret to a thriving workplace
By Katie Mallinson – Scriba PR (Find out more about Katie here)
During the month of March, MMB launched its popular Private Lunch Club in the region of Huddersfield. Held at the luxurious Manor House in Lindley, invitees – mid-senior-level decision makers from across the town – were invited to discuss and debate ‘the secret to a thriving workplace’.
Chaired by Scriba PR’s MD Katie Mallinson, the inaugural event took the form of a relaxed and informal afternoon, allowing like-minded people – from varying walks of business life – to talk openly about the theme, in depth. Here’s how the discussion unfolded…
Following the introduction of all parties in the room, Katie explained the reasoning behind the chosen topic, saying: “The secret to a thriving workplace is something that has definitely evolved over the years. In the past, being as physically productive as possible was key, which evolved into possessing a large share of the market and recruiting the top graduates.
“Now though, in the current turbulent economic and political climate, it has become more about resilience, offering an increased level of service to meet consumer demand, and safeguarding morale through employee engagement.”
In the first of her key questions of the afternoon, Katie commenced the debate by asking what the secret ingredient to a buoyant workforce truly is, and whether the catalyst for this is through leaders or people.
Chris Taylor, corporate and commercial lawyer at Eaton Smith Solicitors, believes it is a mixture of both, and said: “There needs to be leaders directing from the top, to define where a business is going. But leadership is not about the title given, it’s really what you do with it.”
However, director at DealTrak, Steve Lees, disagreed, believing that it starts with the people and that leaders can be found in all areas of an organisation, not just at the top. He commented: “Leaders come from many different sources, and if a person is influential, they can be a leader, regardless of the level they work at.”
Mo Bunter, vice-principal of Greenhead College backed up this point, stating: “Depending on the business type, leaders may be needed at all levels of an organisation. For example, in a people-orientated environment such as the college, it’s important for student ambassadors to have an impact and inspire others – this allows our people to thrive.”
The issue of poor leadership was also raised. Ruth Brooks, principal lecturer and undergraduate team leader at the University of Huddersfield stated: “It’s possible to have people in leadership positions that are ineffectual, so it’s about ensuring the right personality and skills come together.”
It was agreed by some attendees that the freedom to lead is heavily linked to culture. And Chris Iredale, founder of Thriven, elaborated on this, saying: “The culture of a business, and its core identity must be clear, to ensure the correct people are recruited. There is no right or wrong when it comes to cultural differences but hiring those who fit with your ‘way of living’, will ensure the right people come into your company.”
Gavin Howarth, MD of Howarths, then asked: “But can you recruit specifically for leadership?”
The general consensus was that, yes, this was possible. Abbie Coleman, founder of MMB, said: “Don’t recruit under your own vision, it has to be a business need – aligned with the goals of an entity – to ensure the right leader is recruited. Clear company aims, culture and vision have to be something all employees are aware of – and buy into – to attract the right people.”
Natasha McCreesh, founder of Pip To Grow Strong, thought that it wasn’t always necessarily easy to recruit for leaders, as, in flatter structures, self-leadership is more prevalent. “In this type of business, people need to stop always looking to others, and instead be more self-reflecting in their own roles – which, in turn may assist in developing them into leaders, helping them bring colleagues along.”
Everyone around the table agreed that a major point to note was that the answer lies with knowing – and working with – your team, and the strengths which they possess. Discussing her recent period of maternity leave, Amy Wray, managing director of Applegate Properties, shed some light on her specific findings. “I’ve done a lot of work with my team, through team building and personality testing, to help find where skills – including leadership – lie. I don’t want to micro-manage, and instead want systems in place which enable others to show power and responsibility in their own roles.
“It’s not about having lots of leaders, it’s about knowing your people, playing to their strengths, and recruiting in line with your core values from the start.”
Deborah Ogden, a personal brand coach, added: “There is an assumption that everyone wants to lead, and this isn’t the case at all. Success looks very different to different people.”
And Natasha McCreesh agreed it all came down to an understanding of strengths: “How we put our own strengths into practice and use them to better understand how to work with others, is a major contributor to achieving the vision and goals of a business.”
One element raised was the situation where new members of staff take over from excellent leaders with a long-standing legacy. Simon Lett, principal of Greenhead College, has felt this in his role at the institution: “The attitudes to a new leader can be mixed, as even when the values are the same, changes have to be made over time – which can take some people a little while to get used to.”
Gavin Howarth agreed: “When I took my business over from my dad, I ran it in a different way. Leaders can have the same goal, but – as a result of different characteristics and various qualities – use a range of styles. There’s no right or wrong, and you’re heading down a path of failure if you try to be someone you’re not.”
Amy Wray added: “Emotions play a huge part. It’s important that you get people invested in other leaders, whoever they are, to help support those running the company.”
And Chris Taylor also made the point that: “It’s no longer about presuming workers will remain in your business. Find out what makes them tick and why they want to come into work, then – where possible and appropriate – give them some freedom within their role to develop their passion.”
Louise Wright, commercial director at Punch Creative, summed up this section by discussing an eight-month change-management programme she had taken part in, and one of the overall findings. “You can’t lead others until you can lead yourself.”
Another key question was then raised asked by Katie: “What role does tech play in a thriving workplace?”
Abbie Coleman kicked this off with her thoughts: “Tech is a double-edged sword. It’s an amazing tool to have in the workplace, but it does bring issues with it. It isn’t tech that’s bad, it’s people’s misuse of it.”
Natasha McCreesh agreed that tech was fantastic in the workplace, saying: “Tech has allowed me to run a global business without leaving Huddersfield.” Through webinars and videos, she trains and empowers clients based abroad, meaning that she isn’t required to travel long distances every time clients require sessions with her.
Amy Wray made another point, stating: “When it comes to managing tech in the office, staff can judge each other on their levels of knowledge – or lack of.”
And Deborah Ogden agreed, acknowledging that tech was an area for which she had sought additional back-up. “I’m developing an online programme and have enlisted the services of a technical expert for support in this, rather than letting my lack of expertise hold me back”, she said. Chris Iredale added: “A good IT contact can be fantastic at increasing the value of your business model, and capacity.”
Looking at the possibilities tech creates, there was no doubt in the room that it has fuelled the rise of flexible working. Steve Lees advised: “Connectivity enables people to work anywhere. Presence in the office isn’t necessary – as long as you can get the outcome that you want. Deployed correctly, tech is brilliant, but don’t dictate how people use it. And have an action plan in place should colleagues fall out of the ‘doing a great job’ box.”
Gavin Howarth then asked: “But is remote working isolating? Do people want to work from home or rather think that they should want to?”
The attendees agreed that giving flexibility in the matter allows choice – it’s letting people know that they can work from home that is important. Ruth Brooks added: “It’s about managing working from home properly, and stopping the feeling of isolation, if it exists.”
The non-stop nature of tech was touched upon too. Abbie Coleman said: “As tech has advanced at a quicker rate than our understanding of it, we have turned into a 24/7 society, and are now seeing the issues this is causing to people – we can’t leave work in the office anymore.”
Mo Bunter agreed: “Tech can cause huge issues – in terms of mental health and social media.”
And Amy Wray backed up this point, saying: “All businesses are open to be complained about now, 24 hours a day, due to social media. People believe that they can write what they want – which has both a positive and negative impact. It can help you grow, but it can include personal attacks too, which affect staff.”
Many of the people in the room commented that workers need to know what their boundaries are, discussed how cyber training is available – and an excellent tool for staff – and commented that policies should be put in place, with guidelines for all.
Katie then asked whether any topics had not been touched on which they felt were important to this theme as a whole.
Ruth Brooks added that: “Diversity is also important – it’s enriching, forces tolerance and is good for business. Research has shown that mixed cultural teams are more effective.”
Steve Lees commented: “Creating a good environment to work in is conducive to getting the best out of people too.” And Katie agreed, reflecting on a mentor’s comment she disagreed with when she started out – being told that an office is ‘just four walls’.
Others added that they preferred to do different tasks in various areas, depending on what it was that they were carrying out – ie something creative or requiring more concentration should perhaps be completed with a change of scenery in place, to ensure greater productivity.
And using flexibility was a common denominator, with Chris Iredale giving a final point: “Don’t cram everything into the working week – do tasks on an evening instead where required. If you want to walk the kids to school on a sunny day then do – just know that time is then owed to work.”
Katie ended the session by thanking everyone for their input to what had been a great afternoon with some fantastic ideas and opinions shared. Attendees all then had the chance to network with those who they may not have managed to chat to before the lunch, and many took up this offer.