Lessons from Lockdown Leaders Conference

Culture and values / Learning and development
Sarah Kilian
By Sarah Kilian | 20th October 2020


"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."

Albert Einstein

On the 23rd of March 2020, the nation tuned-in to hear the prime minister make a statement on the national fightback against the Coronavirus. In this twenty-minute address, it became clear that the immediate fate of our nation rested on two words: 'National Lockdown.'

In the following weeks, the power of these words became a reality as Lockdown disrupted our personal and professional lives like never before. Other phrases such as social distance, self-isolating and furlough also entered our conversations as we grappled to understand our new reality.

Six months in, as Coronavirus rages on, the discussion is shifting. While our work and personal lives remain in a constant state of flux, and restrictions are tightening again for many, we now have six months of experience in our back pocket. What words of wisdom are emerging?

To explore this, on the 23rd of September — the sixth month anniversary of Lockdown —TWM and Talent and Potential hosted a virtual conference entitled 'Lessons from Lockdown Leaders'.

For three hours, we heard inspirational stories from a diverse range of experts in learning, engagement and talent. It was fascinating to hear how they’ve risen to the challenges of the pandemic in innovative and novel ways and delve into how they are applying these learnings to the months ahead. While everyone acknowledged the difficulties, loss and grief behind us, and the struggle ahead, surprisingly, the word on everyone's lips was 'opportunity.'

Phil Purver, The Working Manager's Chief Executive, set the tone with an anecdote about 21Soho, a London comedy venue that's laughing against the odds despite being forced to close their doors just days after their final licence to open was approved in March. Lockdown was no joke for Dan Fry and Nick Mills, but the co-founders stood firm in the name of stand-up, adapting to provide a common room and changing facilities for local construction workers until they could find a new way forward. Far from ideal, but it was all worthwhile and a cause for socially-distant celebration when the duo reopened in August, pulling together some unforgettable nights of work-in-progress comedy.

In Phil's panel on 'Learning Differently’ Russell Miller, Director of Learning Solutions and Innovation, Imperial College Business School, Pat Neal, HRD at Polygon UK and Ireland and James Betchley, Officials Pathway Manager at Motorsport UK shared similar stories of creativity under pressure.

Russell explained how the pandemic has provided ‘overwhelming opportunities’ for the business school. Before the pandemic, the school delivered most of their education face-to-face, but Lockdown forced them to move online very quickly. ‘We've built some amazing programmes over the last six months, and the feedback from participants is really strong… therein lies the opportunity,’ Russell commented. With a more global reach and increased cohort numbers as a result, he sees ‘huge opportunities in the future’.

Likewise, James described how the pandemic had afforded them ‘the opportunity to look at some of the processes and the procedures that we've had in place for many, many years. And to reevaluate how we do things.’ Upshots for James include more scope for virtual meetings in future. ‘We're relocating to a new office in January,’ he commented, ‘we've even built dedicated Zoom and video conferencing booths into the office plans. It's something we would never have even considered six months ago.’

In a session chaired by Michael Strawbridge, Global Head of Content, Networks & Member Services for the Learning and Performance Institute, Gareth Batty, CEO of Fareshare Yorkshire, shared how he too had gained a unique perspective over the past few months. ‘Like many others, we've had to find ways to innovate during challenging times.’ For Gareth, this meant adopting a ‘fail fast’ strategy for decisive action. ‘Try things. If it doesn't work, move on,’ he advised. ‘Our principles haven't changed. What we’re doing hasn't changed, but we will very quickly adapt due to external conditions that we are facing.’

Matthew Joint, Director of People, Bristol University Hospital Trust, was similarly resolute. In his interview with Sarah Hobbs from Talent and Potential on ‘Lessons from the NHS in Lockdown’, he commented that despite very difficult circumstances during the first wave of the pandemic ‘it created an opportunity for us to make some significant changes in the way that we do work.’ Team members ‘enjoyed the benefits of rapid decision making’ regarding long-overdue changes.

On harnessing opportunities in future, Matthew advocated ‘keeping your head in a place where you can grab opportunity… keeping a cool head has never been more important.’ If we can do this, he believes, we'll find that ‘every drama, every crisis brings opportunity’.

If the fantastic people in our health service can find optimism in the crisis, there's hope for us all. So, alongside conversations about a second wave, circuit breakers, Christmas being cancelled and quarantine, let's not forget the more uplifting buzzword of the moment: ‘opportunity’.

On behalf of TWM, we'd like to thank all conference speakers for their valuable input — which exceeded the scope of one blog post! Please look out for more posts over the coming weeks, which will include further insights from Pat and draw wisdom from contributions from Phyl Hughes, Co-Managing Partner at H2Pro, The Revd Canon Dr Rob James, Canon Chancellor at Wells Cathedral and Sarah Hobbs from Talent and Potential.

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