August 30, 2021

Key lessons in returning to the workplace – The Scotsman

Repost of Colin's article in The Scotsman

Over the past 16-months the pandemic has forced employers to adapt to extremes never considered before, and it has taken strong leadership to steer things in the right direction.

However, as restrictions ease and we all prepare to return to the workplace, we must adapt again to changes that will last beyond the pandemic – and it falls again on leaders to navigate their people on the road to recovery.

Over the past 16 months, organisations have changed immeasurably, and so have the demands placed those in the driving seat. What has become clear is that ina crisis, the leadership approach must change too.

Let’s break this down into three phases: emergency – the pandemic; return – getting people back into the swing of ‘normal’ working; and recovery – what happens next.

In the emergency phase, leaders had to move to the frontline and fight the fires. However, in the return phase, leaders must step back and spend more time supporting their teams.

In recovery, leaders need to strike a balance between guiding a smooth return while maintaining the pressure to renew and rethink the future.

So what does this mean for leaders in the ‘new normal’ and what should they be thinking about as we emerge from the pandemic?

1. Recalibrate what you do and why you do it.

This is a crucial step – often overlooked – but an easy win. Re-tell the story about your organisation and why it exists, what it does and what is important. Many people have now re-evaluated their personal priorities and whether they are still aligned with those of their organisation. Spending time here helps everyone to get ‘back on the bus’, know the destination, how they will get there, understand what seat they are in and how they can contribute to success. Don’t overlook the obvious just because you know the way ahead, and if you don’t know the way, keep listening, talking and asking for contribution.

 2. Rethink how work gets done.

Clearly, the pandemic changed the way we work forever. For some this may be minor, but for others this could mean a change of role entirely. This is an opportunity. Don’t slip back into your old organisational structure – you need to better understand how your business needs to operate and then think about what that means for the roles required and the people you have. Capitalise by resetting the organisation and reviewing if you have the right structure for now – not the past. Include your team in this. It helps people shape the right structure and roles, and they often have a better understanding of how things work day-to-day. This helps identify where gaps and development areas are in knowledge, skills and behaviours that are necessary going forward.

3. Elevate your authentic self (NB this is key).

It can’t all be about the business strategy and structure. Leaders must be explicitly authentic. What does this mean? Well, leaders need to role model vulnerability for a start. Why? Because everyone is probably feeling a little vulnerable and nervous about the future of work, and the truth is no one really knows what the coming months and years have in store. Leaders need to be honest, transparent and show vulnerability. They need to connect with their human-side and be able to express their feelings and display emotions for others to understand that ‘it is okay, not to be okay’.

We have had to immerse ourselves in being more resilient and focus on our wellbeing over the last 16 months – this cannot and should not stop. We need to ensure we are putting our own lifejackets on before helping others. Leaders need to look after themselves, to be able to look after others. To do this, we can ensure we are booking in regular maintenance and re-fuel time so we don’t burn out. There is a fine line, and leaders need to know themselves better to manage their impulse control and emotions to create a safe psychological environment for people to feel they can come forward with concerns or questions.

4. Navigate your people back to work

Going back into the workplace should not be overlooked. This is a BIG deal for most people – especially if the set-up has changed. We all know the importance of how people see their physical place of work and why some have battled with the introduction of hot-desking in recent years. You should create a staged campaign here to get people excited about going back into the workplace (once it is safe to do so). Pilot different ideas and bring people in to help test and ask for their feedback. Re-think why you are asking people to return to the office and consider how you can still offer flexibility for teams and individuals who have improved productivity from working from home.

For most, the move to digital and working from home (or anywhere) has really elevated industries – creating an opportunity to rescope how the office is used and how to work in a hybrid way.

We would also recommend ‘re-orientating’ workforces on their return. I don’t know how many people we have spoken to that have forgotten how the printer works or how to set the alarm. Going back over the basics and bringing teams in to go through a re-introduction to the workplace shouldn’t be missed. It will help create a buzz and start reforming relationships again. Top tip – take the small stuff seriously.

5. Promote ‘out with the old and in with the new’

Leaders need to encourage and role model change. Recovery isn’t about going back and slipping into old habits. This is an incredible opportunity to assess pre-pandemic routines and behaviours, then determine which ones serve the organisation, and which ones are best left in the past. “Renewal not return” is the term used by leaders such as Siemens Chairman Jim Hagemann. Leaders who have created a psychologically safe culture with their teams will be able to progress, promoting and rewarding others to help do things differently, faster and better. This is when you can get creative and innovative with teams – form huddles and create the environment for creative problem solving and looking at ways to improve processes and workflows. This is pivotal to your people feeling part of and contributing to the change your organisation needs to be a success. It is not about the leader having all the ideas or solutions – it is about creating the right culture and environment for your people to take ownership and accountability here and bring their own ideas of how they can improve productivity.

Colin Lamb is founder of Connect Three, a Scottish consultancy which helps businesses improve through their people

July 15, 2021

World Youth Skills Day

It might not get as much press as other international days, but 15th July is World Youth Skills Day, and since it celebrates something that is very close to our hearts at Connect Three, we wanted to do our part to spread the news about the great work that happens internationally because of it.

What is World Youth Skills Day?

The UN created the day back in 2014, with a goal of "celebrating the strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship".  Now, annual events in countries across the world are held to create a dialogue between young people, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions, firms, employers’ and workers’ organisations, policy makers and development partners.

Why is it important?

Did you know:

  • UNESCO estimates that schools were either fully or partially closed for more than 30 weeks between March 2020 and May 2021 in half the countries of the world.
  • In June, 19 countries still had full school closures, affecting nearly 157 million learners and 768 million more learners were affected by partial school closures.
  • Young people aged 15-24 have been even more severely affected by the COVID-19 crisis than adults. Globally, youth employment fell by 8.7% in 2020, compared with 3.7% for adults.

The consequences of all of this disruption to the early labour market experiences of youth could last for years to come.  So what can be done?

What can I do?

If you want to attend the live event, you can register here.  Otherwise, why not use today and this week as an opportunity to start dialogues with the youth in your employment about what skills they need to develop in order to progress this year and beyond.  If there are no people in your employment under the age of 24, now is the time to discuss with your team how you can help address that, and prepare for the next wave of graduates and the additional skills help they might need after the events of the last 2 years.

June 14, 2021

Skills potential of Scotland’s Workforce can Propel Nation from Recovery into Growth

Industry expert says skills potential of Scotland’s workforce can propel nation from recovery into growth in the aftermath of COVID-19

Connect Three enters major four-year partnership with Skills Development Scotland to help upskill Scotland’s workers 

Connect Three’s ‘joined up, people-first’ approach to skills development has helped more than 800 businesses thrive 

Skills Development Scotland programme will help Scottish SMEs flourish in wake of pandemic 

DEVELOPING skills at small firms across Scotland will be key to the nation’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis, according to Colin Lamb of Connect Three – a consultancy that specialises in improving businesses through people.

Colin was speaking after the ‘changemaking’ consultancy entered a major four-year partnership with Skills Development Scotland (SDS) to help upskill the nation’s workers as part of a new four-year initiative designed to propel small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) across the country from recovery into growth.

Covid-19 - alongside longer-term challenges such as demographic and technological changes - has brought the skills needs of Scotland’s businesses into sharper focus.

Connect Three is one of four partners selected to deliver the Skills for Growth programme, which offers free support to SMEs helping them adapt to a new economic environment brought about by the pandemic. With a focus on innovation and productivity, Skills for Growth helps identify and address skills gaps in the workforce to drive businesses forward.

Since it was founded in 2014, Connect Three has supported more than 800 businesses from across Scotland and farther afield in North America, Europe, and Asia, helping 10,000+ managers become leaders able to drive their business and people forward.

Big name clients at the Good Business Chartered firm, which has offices in Glasgow and London, include Sky, Scotrail, Border Biscuits, Cala Homes and Scottish Enterprise.

The SDS partnership is a major coup for Connect Three, which made its name tearing up the rule book on ‘management consultancy’ – a label the firm distances itself from.

Connect Three offers a holistic approach to skills development, focused on developing people and establishing positive business cultures.

Colin, founder and owner of Connect Three, said: “Few sectors of society have felt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic more in Scotland than SMEs.

“It has been a period of instability nobody thought possible, and recovery is absolutely attainable, but it takes leaders, teams and individuals equipped with the right skills, mindset and belief to achieve it.

“Upskilling, reskilling and skills development will be central to how businesses thrive again, and we are delighted SDS has recognised Connect Three’s ability to deliver that change and help Scotland on its route to recovery.”

He added: “We are not a traditional consultancy, in fact, we have been known to take offence when described as a 'management consultancy'. What we do is more than training. We believe in business cultures without hierarchy that actively encourage contribution and independent thinking.

“We practice what we preach, and by helping Scottish businesses move towards this model, we can provide the key to unlocking business potential and driving firms from recovery and into growth.

“The potential to achieve it exists within the people working in Scotland right now, they simply need the tools to realise their potential, embracing mistakes and using them as stepping stones towards their goals.”

The move follows a major Scottish Council For Development and Industry (SCDI) report ‘Upskilling Scotland: The Future of Skills’, which identified the three key pillars of a high performing Scottish economy – high performing individuals, high performing workplaces and in-work development – and proposes 34 ideas to support them.

Delivered in partnership with specialist consultants including Connect Three, Skills for Growth helps identify any learning needs, create a positive culture and provide a fresh perspective on what skills your organisation needs for the future.

Gary Gray, Skills for Growth manager at SDS, said: “Scotland’s employers are adapting to a new economic environment – including a greater focus on innovation and productivity – where having the right blend of skills in place is essential.

“By working with partners Connect Three and others, we are committed to helping employers face these challenges - equipping people and businesses with the skills to seize opportunities and realise their potential.”

More information on the SDS Skills for Growth programme can be found here.


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