One of my favourite bits of the year is getting the team together for our annual review and strategic planning. In recent years, we’ve combined this with our Christmas party, which provides a nice celebratory climax to proceedings. The team is spread between Cumbria, Gloucestershire, Cornwall and Devon, so these events provide a priceless opportunity for us to be together, brainstorm, prioritise, test, and have fun.
My firm belief that it’s vitally important to involve the whole team in establishing goals was formed from my own experiences working for a high street bank in the nineties.
In 1993 I relocated to Harrogate, North Yorkshire, where the company was opening a brand-new call centre and operational unit. It was one of the best moves I ever made, for lots of reasons, including the fact that Harrogate is, in my view, one of the nicest places in the world to live. From the perspective of career too, it was an incredibly positive change. I was part of a brand-new management team that shared a determination to do things differently and the hierarchy and status-based culture I’d been used to was largely absent. For the first time, I was not expected to call my boss ‘Mr’ (the bank was very old-fashioned, for a very long time). Even more importantly, I found I wasn’t being ‘told’ what my objectives were. Instead, I was asked to submit plans for my department for the coming year, which I did after discussing and working out with my team what we did well, what we could do better and where we could make a real difference.
I remember how motivating that period was (my team broke productivity records and won awards for introducing new initiatives) and how crushing it felt when, a few years later, just as we were starting to develop our plans for the new year again, a document arrived from Head Office, where a new MD had been installed, telling us what our plans and objectives would be. The new goals imposed upon us weren’t radically different from what we’d have set ourselves; indeed, we might have gone further, and we’d certainly have been more creative if left to our own devices.
What was radically different was our attitude towards the plan, and, ultimately the business. Overnight, we lost our sense of ownership, and to a large extent our sense of responsibility. Morale plummeted, and it’s no coincidence that I, along with others, left that part of the business the following year and started to think about plans beyond the company.
I sometimes wonder whether the role senior people play in an organisation is sometimes confused by the title we give them; directors. The key thing, I believe to remember is that a director’s role is not to be directive, but to provide direction and leadership. There’s a key difference. The former implies that those at the top have all the answers; the latter suggests they are actually there to carry the map and make sure everyone has the mental and physical tools and resources they need to reach the shared destination together.
When we involve people in shaping the business, we demonstrate trust, and we recognise that whatever we achieve; we achieve together.
I know my team will take enormous pride in achieving the goals they’ve set themselves for next year, which are exciting and challenging, and that they share a huge determination to outperform what has been one of our most successful years yet. And I look forward to sharing some of our goals with you too, as we strive to deliver on our passion to always be innovative; customer focused, team spirited and socially responsible.