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Calling for an evolution of leadership: today’s leaders need a high care quotient 

Calling for an evolution of leadership: today’s leaders need a high care quotient  1

By Chris Parke, CEO, Talking Talent

Everything has taken a hit in 2020. Nothing has gone unscathed or unchanged – and the same goes for leadership. From boardrooms to living rooms, meeting rooms to spare rooms, leadership has moved away from face-to-face interactions to digital communications. Meanwhile, forward-thinking initiatives, spurred on by continuing diversity imbalances and widening gender pay gaps, have been put on hold. Following government guidance, only half of businesses published their 2018-19 gender pay gap report – which could reportedly push gender equality back a whole generation. We are risking losing sight of what’s important to us – and unless we’re intentional about how we make systemic, much-needed organisational changes, they’re not going to happen if we only focus on more ‘critical’ things, or keeping the lights on.

Alongside a clarion call for businesses to push on with these initiatives – as a must-have, rather than a nice-to-have – is the equally important call for a new style of leadership. In my view, leaders started off with IQ – an intelligence quotient – then we moved onto EQ, an emotional quotient. Then we hit the 2008 recession and resilience was key – calling for RQ, or the resilience quotient – but today we need a new intelligence: a care quotient (CQ), which encapsulates self-care, other care, and simply giving a damn.

How lockdown has changed leadership

When lockdown hit, the world changed in a matter of days – and so did work. As teams went from being in the office to working from home, all the workplace elements that people enjoy – banter, chatting over making a coffee – disappeared in an instant, and finding ways to replicate that team feel and connection has been challenging. So too for leaders. Not being able to see people’s body language – barring what you can observe through a 22-inch screen – and missing in-person catch-ups has meant a huge change in how people have been able to lead. It’s created a new imperative for leaders to be even more inclusive – and push forward where it really matters, even when in survival mode.

With many leaders forced to think just about surviving, and maintaining revenue levels, it’s naturally pushed elements like inclusion initiatives lower down leaders’ to-do lists and priorities. But now, it’s becoming a danger that leaders will no longer have budgets to invest in these important measures – like coaching and development – which aren’t just a nice to have, but are of vital importance.

Paradoxically, over the weeks that we’ve all been in lockdown, I’ve seen managers and leaders be a lot closer to their teams than they have been in months, even years. They’ve also had to connect with people on a far more human and individual level. In essence, there has been a swing towards leaders and managers being more inclusive without intentionally doing it. Now, we need to think about maintaining that beyond the COVID lockdown – and also consider what we’ve learned from it.

The importance of authentic leadership

Lockdown has revealed two stark examples of how people react to perceptions of poor leadership: Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. From the response to Johnson’s perceived mis-management of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, and the ongoing discreditation of Trump’s presidential style, the country-wide backlash to these two leaders has resulted in a lack of faith and belief in them. It’s also shown what we really need – on a smaller scale, in the workplace – from those who lead.

We’ve seen how well our clients have been able to cope with coronavirus-related business uncertainty where teams and functions have been and are being led by inclusive leaders – those who bring to the table an understanding of importance around wellbeing, engagement and longing. Stark differences in this style of leadership are only being highlighted in lockdown. But it’s also lockdown where this new style of leadership has been born, in seeing leaders show a high care quotient – with inclusive leaders communicating more authentically, and asking people about themselves and their personal positions. This includes being aware of people’s pressure points – which are so easy to forget in the office when everyone leaves for the day, and much easier to remember when you can see people’s set-ups on camera, and hear their children in the background. Lockdown has also enabled leaders to show their own vulnerability – which doesn’t always come naturally – and in that way it has been a great leveller. Above all, remote working has highlighted the need to create a sense of belonging and community and build inclusive cultures. Now is not the time to cut back; now’s the time to dial up.

The next stage of COVID-19 will be the shift through the change curve – as shops reopen and offices think about welcoming people back, some people will experience real sense of grief and loss as a result – the people who have been enjoying seeing more of their family, or not having to commute, or travel regularly. And then there will be the people who are excited about going back to work – but are uncertain about how a phased return and social distancing measures will change their office. And with nearly all – 93% – of employees being stressed about returning to office post-lockdown, what is certain is that there will be pain in reintegration. Here, true inclusivity can help mitigate that pain, and enable leaders to learn from it. Previously, the majority of businesses weren’t interested in remote working, nor making it a viable offering for the majority of its workers. But lockdown has changed all that. Now, leaders must focus on deliverables – not the way of working. Especially as it’s what the next generation wants – the generation that will start dominating the workplace more and more.

Let’s not backslide to our old ways

As businesses – many of whom have had to make tough financial decisions in lockdown – re-balance, leaders must also be considerate – and intentional – when addressing any necessary cost-cutting issues borne out of the pandemic. A lot of companies who are looking at redundancies will, whilst claiming to be focusing on promoting senior females and supporting BAME people, let those very people be the first to go. It’s a conversation that’s become even more crucial to have around the recent Black Lives Matter movement – these are considerations that simply can’t be ignored.

One of the things observed during the last financial crisis was the impact that it had on under-represented groups and women – who were both far more impacted concerning redundancies (whether planned or voluntary). This presents a real danger for organisations who, if they make the wrong choices, or react in a kneejerk fashion, could lose a decade’s worth of work and progress in a matter of weeks or months. Therefore, though it’s going to be normal – and necessary – for most organisations to restructure to some degree as a result of COVID-19, must recognise that certain sectors will be particularly impacted, and do all they can to combat that. They must also understand the importance of having diverse experiences, skill sets and points of view around the table. There is no way of knowing what the next six-12 months will hold for any of us – and businesses will need to be reactive. Those that have diverse teams, all feeding in, all contributing, will be able to pivot well.

COVID-19 has shifted all of our priorities – and the companies that get things right – by having a diverse team, in having the right working set-ups, and by prioritising what’s important – stand to emerge from it all the stronger. After all, it’s going to become more important for people to be in an organisation that cares and champions them. Therefore, we need an evolution of leadership in the leaders of today; whether they are running a team, a company, or a country, all leaders must practice and preach inclusion with purpose. Not only that, but they must lead with a high care quotient – otherwise the people they lead will stop caring about them, and the company they work for. And that will be worse for business than coronavirus.

Business

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key 2

By Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK

As lockdown restrictions ease for the foreseeable future, conversations across the business world are starting to turn to how employers can safely and seamlessly prepare for their workforce to return to the office.

Research from Robert Half has found that over half (54%) of employees are worried about working in close proximity to their colleagues, while a similar proportion are eager to return to the office due to loneliness working from home (45%) or concerns about missing out on career opportunities (30%).

Unsurprisingly, after everything companies and their employees have done to successfully adapt their operations and working practices to social distancing rules over the last few months, immediately returning to the old ways of working will likely neither be sensible or practical. With safety being the key priority for the ‘new normal’ of office life – communication, flexibility and preparation should be the main focus areas for employers.

With this in mind, what are the challenges and opportunities that employees anticipate as they prepare for the return to work, beyond government and industry supplied health and safety best practice? Furthermore, how can employers best support their staff during this period?

Keep people at the heart of change

It is important to recognise that your workforce has been working through an intense period of uncertainty and change for months, which can be incredibly unsettling. On top of this, working for weeks in isolation without the usual physical interactions with team members could be potentially detrimental to employee engagement and mental wellbeing.

Having adjusted to keep staff connected with one another from a distance with virtual team building exercises, video calls and daily check-ins, as teams begin working in hybrid models with some in the office and others remote, staff engagement will need to adapt again.

Managing people with greater sensitivity and maintaining positivity throughout will be crucial. To help instil a sense of normality and engagement, encourage maximum collaboration between individuals (in accordance with social distancing rules), and make sure teams feel part of company goals and opportunities through regular meetings and communication – no matter their location.

Continuing to invest in technology and offering flexibility will also be important to ensuring that people can continue to work remotely or on-site, either in accordance with their own wishes or as part of your staggered return-to-office plan.

Communicate, communicate, communicate (and listen)

Reassuring staff that they are able to safely return to the office will require continuous communication. From expectations of the physical office, to expectations of how to operate within hybrid teams, these new expectations and new workplace requirements should be communicated to all staff clearly to avoid confusion.

Regular email updates, updates on the company’s intranet and social media channels, as well as frequent town hall meetings (either online or in a smaller setting) could be key elements of an effective communications approach.

Also, consider a feedback channel to allow staff within the team to offer thoughts on their experience of returning to the office and any suggestions on improving the process. Whether on a company-wide basis or a team-by-team approach, schedule regular check-ins to engage with employees’ questions and concerns.

Maintaining open communication channels with your team will be essential for keeping up employee morale and ensuring clarity. For example, if some employees aren’t comfortable with coming to the office every day, then they should have plenty of opportunities to voice their concerns and have them dealt with promptly, respectfully and fairly.

Staggered return-to-office planning

Depending on the size of business and density of office space, maintaining home working arrangements across teams on an alternating basis could make it easier to implement safe social distancing. This involves select teams working remotely while others work on-site on any given day.

An alternating approach to remote working might also reduce the risk of staff feeling pressured or overwhelmed by an immediate return to the office five-days-a-week. After all, some families might be juggling temporary disruptions to childcare arrangements and public transport systems will likely become crowded again. So, a transitionary period will help everyone adjust to post-lockdown office working.

Finally, if you have developed your technology infrastructure to facilitate remote working, you would do well to continue to leverage these new capabilities as in all probability, a mixture of remote and at-office work will be needed for some time.

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Business

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy  

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy   3

Leading payments provider, Contis, has applied for two grants from the RBS & BCR Alternative Remedies Package, totalling £35 million.  

Unlike most applicants who will deploy funds through a single brand, Contis is taking a completely different approach. The funding will be used to drive fintech innovation in the UK by developing an off the shelf, B2B electronic and card payment technology platform for SMEs. With Contis’ powerful tech stack and regulated status, this will empower hundreds of fintechs to support the SME market with groundbreaking technologies, payments and lending capabilities. Contis today services over 800,000 consumer accounts, 14,500 business accounts and processes £4bn in transactions per year, demonstrating a proven track record.   

UK businesses are facing a challenging economic environment with the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit. As large corporations and entire sectors are affected, SMEs will play a vital role in the recovery. Contis’ approach is completely disruptive, offering three channels to maximise support for SMEs and sole traders, through three unique brands, all powered by APIs from Contis’ modular and configurable engine. 

1.       Canvas for Business 

Contis is a super-vendor in the world of fintech, offering payments through proven banking rails and card scheme capabilities including issuing pre-paid, debit and virtual cards. They’re linked to digital delivery like Apple Pay and Google Pay, and a trusted tech stack that boasts 99.99% uptime.  

With funding from the Capability and Innovation Fund (CIF), Contis’ technology and regulated services will be made available to the whole fintech community, enabling them to provide dedicated SME accounts with the latest leading-edge capabilities delivered via Contis’ wholly owned, secure, cloud-based technology and apps. Contis’ solution has a firm eye on the need for SMEs to compete internationally, particularly after Brexit, and offers FX integration as standard.  

Canvas for Business will increase competition by providing fintechs serving the SME market with technology that outstrips the big banks. Contis will also provide credit referencing capabilities and empower fintechs to lend to their SME client base through Contis’ own credit licence. Without the constraints of legacy systems, it will enable simple connectivity to accounting and payments solutions, as well as to unlimited future innovations.  

2.       Engage for Business 

Over 150 Credit Unions currently use Contis’ Engage service and technology, and hold an estimated £400 million in undeployed cash reserves. Developed with CIF funding, Engage for Business will enable Credit Unions to launch business accounts and payments products for the first time, and allow excess funds to be redeployed in the SME sector through business support loans. This will revolutionise access to funding for sole traders and small businesses. 

3.       Freedom for Business 

With CIF funding, Contis will also offer large scale SMEs a direct-to-market solution where Contis holds the relationship and provides a bespoke offer to meet the business’ exact needs. 

Contis’ application to the Capability and Innovation Fund is focused on creating the widest possible impact for UK SMEs by fulfilling their accounts & payments needs and driving innovation in SME financial services. 

Through the grant, Contis will empower over 200 fintechs and Credit Unions to provide credit, simplify payments integration into everyday business needs, offer digital credit referencing, provide budgeting tools to SMEs, enable automated payments, give predictive insight on cash flow, provide rewards to SMEs on spending, and much more. 

Peter Cox, Founder and Executive Chairman of Contis said: “Our mission is to democratise payments and financial services for all SMEs, so they’re spoilt for choice with innovative and affordable solutions that meet their exact needs. Our approach, based upon proven technologies, will broaden and disrupt the services available to SMEs far beyond the capabilities of existing providers such as the big banks.  

“By driving competition and innovation, while improving the availability of funding, our approach will increase the services on offer to SMEs and make them more affordable, therefore becoming easier for every entrepreneurial person with vision to run their own businesses.” 

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Business

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver 4

Nearly a third (32%) of consumers would switch providers if a brand’s website is unavailable for more than 24 hours

A study released today reveals the scale of omni-channel pressure brands now faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as consumers flock to apps and websites to as the priority destination to transact with brands.

The UK has experienced a huge leap in use of online services thanks to lockdown, with the public appearing to have less concern for the availability of a brand’s physical location. Research by Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) uncovers a “window of availability” that UK businesses now have before consumer loyalty changes:

  • If a brand’s website is down for 24 hours – 32 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a brand’s app is down for 24 hours – 28 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a physical store is closed for 24 hours – 20 percent of consumers would switch provider

The results by industry paint an interesting picture of the availability timeframes brands are expected to adhere to:

  • For online retailers, excluding grocery retailers – 23 percent of consumers would switch provider if they could not access online services for 12 hours, rising to over a third (34 percent) after 24 hours
  • For financial services and entertainment streaming platforms – 21 percent of consumers would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to 33 percent after 24 hours
  • In the case of online grocery shopping – 20 percent would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to one third 33 percent after 24 hours

The findings also highlight that as digital reliance increases, so will consumer expectations towards availability in the future. Over the coming two years, a third (33 percent) of consumers expect online financial services to always be available, rising to 35 percent for streaming services.

“UK consumers have become reliant on the constant availability of online services, and lockdown has only served to heighten this,” comments Chris Huggett, SVP, EMEA at Sungard AS. “What used to be a choice between physical and digital has now firmly accelerated into digital environments across various industries. As online worlds continue to outpace bricks and mortar as the face of businesses, ensuring constant availability and clear communications on downtime will be key for brands to build trust and loyalty.

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