Our un­sung front-line col­leagues are vi­tal to a com­pany’s suc­cess

Straight-talk­ing com­mon sense from the front line of man­age­ment

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - SIR JOHN TIMP­SON

Q John, what do you think are the big­gest lessons peo­ple and businesses should take from lock­down? A I will never take any­thing for granted again. I’m still shocked that our world changed so much in such a short time.

When we dis­cussed the pos­si­ble im­pli­ca­tions of coro­n­avirus at our board meet­ing on March 9, we were head­ing for another record year and had a record high of nearly £19m in the bank. By the fol­low­ing Mon­day, my family had put me un­der strict house ar­rest.

A week later, all of our 2,100 shops were closed, we were fore­cast­ing a full-year loss and we had started talk­ing to our bank about a sub­stan­tial over­draft fa­cil­ity. Within a fort­night, our am­bi­tions had shifted from ag­gres­sive growth to fi­nan­cial sur­vival. De­spite this des­per­ate re­ver­sal of for­tune, many of my early lock­down mem­o­ries are pos­i­tive: the gen­er­ous of­fers to do my shop­ping, the weekly clap for car­ers and the fast-mov­ing ac­tion re­ports from our se­nior man­age­ment team, who joined a progress call ev­ery Fri­day morn­ing (which had an added sparkle fol­low­ing Rishi Su­nak’s fur­lough an­nounce­ment).

Most of us – par­tic­u­larly those, like me, who iso­lated solo – learnt a lot about our­selves. In ret­ro­spect, I should have achieved much more dur­ing lock­down. I set out with good in­ten­tions to read lots of books, prac­tise play­ing the pi­ano and sort out the files in my house.

I’m hope­fully not the only one who failed to ful­fil their lock­down res­o­lu­tions.

I was em­bar­rassed to hear of many friends who claimed some spec­tac­u­lar suc­cesses: heroic DIY deeds, from re­dec­o­rat­ing to a kitchen makeover; in­dus­tri­ous PPE pro­duc­tion of scrubs and masks; and a branch col­league who learned to speak Span­ish.

De­spite my piti­ful Wi-Fi re­cep­tion, I mas­tered Housep­a­rty, We­bex and FaceTime, and learnt about “Zoom­man­ship” (the self­ish way to use Zoom). My psy­chol­ogy course at univer­sity taught me that meet­ings with more than six par­tic­i­pants are dom­i­nated by one or two peo­ple. This is cer­tainly true on Zoom; it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to push vir­tual ex­tro­verts off the screen. To make your point, you need to firmly in­ter­rupt and talk over the screen-hog­ger like a news in­ter­viewer. The big­gest bonus of Zoom, how­ever, is that no one can see you do­ing the Tele­graph cross­word while at­tend­ing the meet­ing!

Zoom posers are prob­a­bly the same peo­ple who made loud mo­bile phone calls on the train. I re­call some­one on my last jour­ney pre-lock­down: “Is that Julie? Just check­ing whether the other side has sur­faced; they’re bound to play hard­ball, but we’re the only deal on the ta­ble. One more chip and we are home and dry. It’s a no-brainer!”

Now Covid has al­most emp­tied ev­ery car­riage and most mo­bile phone users are mer­ci­fully muf­fled by their mask. The pan­demic has taken us on a strange jour­ney with a new lan­guage: “stay at home”, “so­cial dis­tanc­ing”, “es­sen­tial jour­neys”, “form­ing a bub­ble” and “gath­er­ings”. Now we can’t shop or catch a bus with­out wear­ing a mask. These changes make a mas­sive im­pact on con­sumer habits. On­line shop­ping and lo­cal stores have done well, while City of London shops have been aban­doned. It’s too soon to judge if old habits will ever re­turn.

By en­ter­ing this un­ex­pected world, man­agers have learned a sur­pris­ing lesson. Covid has high­lighted the vi­tal role that front-line col­leagues play in a com­pany’s suc­cess. At a time of cri­sis, en­light­ened lead­ers aban­doned their nor­mal prac­tice of fol­low­ing pol­icy and process. In­stead, they trusted the day-to-day team to use their ini­tia­tive and find im­me­di­ate so­lu­tions to a new set of prob­lems.

As Marks & Spencer de­clared last week: “Through­out the cri­sis, we have seen how we can work faster by em­pow­er­ing teams; it is es­sen­tial we em­bed that in our fu­ture or­gan­i­sa­tion.” Will­ing front-line col­leagues in or­gan­i­sa­tions big and small (espe­cially the NHS) have shown the power of true del­e­ga­tion – what I call “up­side down man­age­ment”.

By pick­ing a team full of star per­form­ers, they have made them­selves more ef­fi­cient. It’s a lesson that must not be for­got­ten when we reach the “new nor­mal”. Sir John Timp­son is chair­man of the high street ser­vices provider, Timp­son. Send him an email at askjohn@tele­graph.co.uk

Changes such as the in­tro­duc­tion of masks in shops hugely af­fected con­sumer habits

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.