If I look at the work ethic and the demand across the team… When I first joined – you know, I’ve been connected to the business since 2008, remotely, and I knew it was a good business, I saw the numbers and I saw the figures and I interacted with a few of the people in the Leadership Team and occasionally with the Partnership Council – I knew there was good people here. So coming in and taking this commitment, I was looking at: do we have the confidence and the capability of the team, do we have the organisation that best fits what we are trying to achieve and do we have the tools that they need to be able to do their jobs well? As an employee-owned business, and learning to be a better employee-owned business, what I saw in the crisis last year was a whole load of people step up; everybody stepped up and became engaged to protect our livelihood, which is our business.
If I look alternatively outside of our business to other businesses – where partners didn’t feel safe, they just left site, and stopped production because they didn’t feel safe at work for whatever reason. That would tell me that there is something wrong in the business – that people don’t recognise that actually, if you don’t come to work, work might not be there. It can go, and lots of people have lost their jobs; and there’s still a lot more people that are going to lose their jobs. But when I saw us as an employee-owned business – and it may not have been felt completely by everybody – but what I saw was that commitment to our livelihood and our business, and the dual challenge of the volume increases and COVID just resulted in a very positive ‘go get' attitude — 'yeah we can do this’.
You know, I’ve lived and worked in an employee-owned business since 1996, and it is a common thread through all of that experience that when crises hit, people step up. Because I’ve not lived in a non-employee-owned business, I haven’t seen it the other way during a crisis – although I did see it a bit in Kodak when they had some financial crises in the late 1980s-early 1990s, and I just saw a big separation between senior management and very clever people – there was no comprehension around what was going on. But I’d like to think here that we had a joint comprehension around the problem, the crisis, and through that communication and understanding, there was some sort of appreciation in everybody’s mind around ‘this is our livelihood, this is our plant, this is our business, and I need to work in it to keep it going’. So that was not universal, we saw some not get that message, not understand that message, but the vast majority – back to that 99% – absolutely stepped up and understood what that was. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to achieve it the way we could have achieved it. And for me, in the role that I’ve got, it's about how we build on that and take that learning and grow forward, because the other things that happened last year – if I look at not only getting us through that – but we purchased machines, we reorganised our layouts, we introduced projects, specified projects that we’re now implementing to take us forward (the IT, the MES, QPulse and other HR systems that we’re deploying); we recognised there were issues that we needed to fix going forward.
We’ve started the deployment of Teams and better digital communication, so there’s an awful lot of things that spanned out of last year. We recognised things that were holding us back, we got behind project teams, and they’re going to deliver this year a great deal of improvement and capability that we didn’t have before. We managed to get all of that thinking, at the same time as running through a crisis. So for me that’s another example of putting together an understanding, but also I think some of the efficiency and productivity gains that we’ve seen with better, faster decision-making and knowledge decision-making in action.
People ask how do you develop people – well the best way to develop anybody is at work, doing their job. You can send people on training courses and everything else, but there’s nothing like a crisis to really teach you and train you on what’s possible, there's nothing more useful in that regard than the actual action and seeing what it is. And that’s why we asked the team to pull together a lesson sheet of what we learnt; and you know one of the things we learned was imposing some shift patterns just didn’t work for people, and we had to learn, we had to take it away and put them back. We learned so many things around what we thought was possible, what worked, what didn’t work…
The key lesson for me in the whole of last year was: ‘Don’t get paralysed. Continually make choices'. Because if you stop making decisions – whether they work out as good or bad – if you actually stop making decisions and stop making changes, you don’t improve, you don’t learn. You don’t find better solutions. So if you want to find better solutions, you have got to keep making decisions – and you won’t get it right every time – but be afraid of not making decisions because that means you definitely won’t be getting it right.