Why a colleague first approach will be key for business success

  1. A year of restrictions on businesses has forced changes in leadership style – fuelling more learning,collaboration and innovation – and it is paying dividends.

This year has demonstrated that some challenges are simply too complex for organisations and individuals to tackle alone. And that is a trend that isn’t going away.

I believe we’re going to see people and teams collaborate more – not just within companies but also across companies – to form strong ecosystems that add more value and boost our chances of success. This collaboration includes everyone and that means leaders at the top too.

In a recent Trust Me, I’m a Leader podcast my co-host Martin Ewart, myself and Atholl Duncan (business coach, entrepreneur, and ex-BBC journalist) reflected on leadership lessons from lockdown and the ways in which the coronavirus pandemic has challenged long term thinking for business and society in general.

Geographical boundaries have been shattered across many areas in business, from supply chains to sourcing best talent. People no longer need to relocate to a firm’s head office
base, so overnight the talent market-place went properly global and at a local level the ability to work from home has even been linked to the recent property market boom in rural locations.

Meanwhile traditional organisational boundaries are being broken, driven by necessity. People are willing to work differently with different partners in a way that they didn’t before. Why does this matter? Collaboration is the basis of innovation and creating new knowledge, and that creates new value and that drives revenue.

A 2015 study showed that profitability increases when employees are persuaded to collaborate more. Other studies estimate that we spend significantly more time now in collaborative activities and communicating with colleagues –a jump of up to 50% over the last two decades. And that was before the global pandemic.

We are learning that it’s not about where we work or even how we work; it’s about how we work together. We are working smarter. The pandemic has generated deeper conversations between suppliers and vendors to overcome significant challenges and to put positive social and economic impact ahead of just short-term profit. COVID-19 has been a huge change accelerator that has challenged business capabilities and inspired their potential.

It’s clear to see that necessity drives focus, cooperation and innovation and things which may have been deemed impossible with a normal mindset can be very realistically delivered when there is no alternative.

We only need to look to the many examples of business diversification throughout 2020, or indeed the development of a vaccine in unprecedented timescales, to see this in action.

For years, many businesses have said they put purpose at the heart of what they do, but in reality that wasn’t true for several of them – they talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk. Some businesses have learned to come together – even with their competitors – to collaborate to solve our biggest challenges; and to truly be a force for good.

Examples of this include the tech companies getting together in order to create track and trace apps, the pharma firms which have been cooperating on a vaccine or the supermarket supply chains which have been working together to prevent shortages.

This renewed emphasis on collaborative working across a range of sectors has been a really encouraging sign of highly effective business leadership.

It shows maturity in the approach to business collaboration as business leaders recognise the need to form trusted partnerships in order to deliver more, against more obstacles, in these challenging times.

Looking to the future it’s clear more than ever that a one-size-fits all solution no longer works. Wellbeing and culture within business was already, and rightly, a focus area but has begun to dominate as a result of the pandemic and the workplace changes it has triggered. With stress, burnout and employee disconnection on the rise in some firms, there is a real need to create and nurture positive environments that create the meaningful work that people seek and society values – this means constantly changing goalposts and a needfor leaders to be able to shift and adapt to accomplish that.

Leaders are on a new journey. As a leader, the more you give the more you will get. As leaders we must put the spotlight on our teams and our colleagues and hold a mirror up to ourselves to create the real conditions for high-performance and sustained success. This is the leadership the world needs.

-Suzanne Lamont

4th November 2020