Steps to Build a Resilient Organisation – in this episode we speak to Clive Memmott, Chief Executive at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. We look at management – how leaders can empower and retain their employees, especially within the Covid context.
Listen for Chatter about Clive Memmott’s first experience of employment, his top tips for employers to build more resilient organisations, and key management concepts derived from his book ‘Growing Your Own Heroes’.
"We weren’t talking about flat structures then, it was deeply very hierarchical multi-tiered structures and I always instinctively knew that wasn’t the best way to get things done.”
We weren’t naïve, we could see the pandemic was heading to the UK and coming our way but had no idea how rapidly it would take hold and how life-changing it would be for so many of our clients and staff. This is our story of how we remained strong and resilient in the face of significant change and upheaval.
Initial Reaction to the Pandemic
At Pure Innovations we are used to facing challenges - financial, staffing, growth, safeguarding, to name a few, and dealing with problems head-on. The pandemic was no exception, although it was different because it was an unknown quantity and a worldwide problem. We swung into action in early 2020 before the first lockdown, revisiting and updating all our health and safety provisions and project risk assessments.
The five Directors on the corporate team worked as a close unit to ensure that we were all kept informed of the latest government guidance, advice, and available support from partners and commissioners. We are a well-established, experienced team led by a strong, knowledgeable, and confident CEO and this cohesion stood us in good stead throughout the crisis.
Building a responsive and adaptable corporate team has not been an overnight task or an easy one. It has taken several years and we continue to evolve, but it undoubtedly helped us to remain positive and fearless as we got to work to create a ‘new normal’ for those clients still accessing our services, and our dedicated staff working hard to support them.
We work with some extremely vulnerable clients and knew they would not be able to get through a pandemic without our support, so from day one we were determined to stay open and to offer a service to those who were in most need.
Practical Steps to Build Resilience
Our immediate first concern was providing a safe and welcoming, albeit restricted, service to those clients who needed us most with the support of our commissioners and other partners. Our aim was to protect people as much as we reasonably could and we achieved this by introducing new ways of working, virtually overnight in some cases.
We consulted with clients, parents, carers, and staff as we progressed and learned that practical considerations were just as important as legal compliance. For those clients who were unable to access our services, we arranged regular check-ins with our staff and used Zoom and Teams to hold remote get-togethers. We aimed to ensure that no one felt excluded or isolated.
The furlough scheme and its successor, the flexi furlough scheme, were an unexpected bonus as they enabled us to temporarily reduce our headcount without losing our team of dedicated, experienced staff. However, we weren’t able to furlough everyone, and inevitably some of our casual workers were laid off as our projects temporarily closed. We also had to lay off all our volunteers and even today, we are still not in a position to bring them back due to space restrictions, social distancing, and the risks posed by rising Covid rates and new variants.
Some Commissioners, in the education sector for example, specifically asked us to not furlough staff attached to their contracts, so we continued to deliver services to students on our internship sites and to those on our personalised education programs. We had to rapidly adapt our delivery and move to online provision. Zoom and Teams became the new watchwords and we upskilled ourselves and our staff in these areas.
Continuing community work during the pandemic
With changing and emerging needs in the community, some teams were temporarily re-purposed to deliver services and support to local people in need. Meeting community needs brought a sense of fulfillment and gave us a purpose during the pandemic. We maximised the resources and skills we had in our teams to benefit the wider community for example by:
- Supporting the holiday hunger projects - producing 500 loaves each half term
- Offering free school meals during half term in our cafes
- Distributing Arts and Craft packs to clients who were shielding and self-isolating
- Passing on excess produce to The Wellspring
- Supplying cake to residential care homes in Stockport
- Distributing over 300 food hampers
- Collection of over 300 gifts for distribution to care leavers
Our staff were engaged on a shopping contract, delivering food to people who were housebound in the Stockport area. The project was successful because our staff were adaptable and resourceful and lived up to our values by being responsive, respectful, inclusive, and aspirational.
Prioritising Good Employment during the pandemic
Nothing was too much trouble and to enable them to deliver, Pure encouraged them to work remotely at times to suit them, to balance their work and family responsibilities when they were homeschooling or caring for others. Requests for flexibility were welcomed and accommodated because they were of benefit to all.
We couldn’t have achieved what we did without the support of our partners and commissioners. They were able to react quickly to our requests for help and to remove barriers that in normal times might seem unsurmountable. Pure operates as a responsible organization by evaluating the wider economic, social, and environmental effects of all our business activities. The National TOMs Framework enables us to identify and measure outcomes in three key areas; Jobs, Growth and Social Innovation. By incorporating this wider social value across its various sites Pure are able to offer extensive added value and benefits when delivering services.
Mistakes we made - and what we learnt from them
Naturally, there were some things that didn’t go so well and they have informed our learning for the future.
Whilst some staff worked non-stop to keep things moving, a number of the furloughed staff felt isolated and forgotten. We didn’t communicate with them frequently enough as we were too focused on our client communication. By June 2020, having realised this was an issue, we started sending out weekly newsletters to keep staff informed and we wrote guidance for managers to use to re-induct their staff back into the business when furlough ended.
Staff returned from furlough as and when the clients came back so it was a gradual process rather than a big bang. Those who returned last often needed additional support and reassurance. As the pandemic eases we are turning out attention to inclusivity and the steps we can take to ensure all our people are heard and their views respected.
We have set up an in-house Diversity and Inclusivity group to lead on this run by a cross-section of staff who are passionate about having a psychologically safe workplace - where honest conversations can take place and people can share their concerns.
Next steps for employers - and upcoming employment challenges
Whilst welcome, the Roadmap out of lockdown and returning to the workplace has presented its own challenges. There is still a lot of uncertainty regarding vaccines for clients and staff working in social care, local restrictions on movement, distancing and face masks. Some clients and staff remain anxious about being in the company of other people and sharing indoor space. We have done all we can to put measures in place to reassure people and are continually updating our risk assessments to follow best practices across the sector.
Overall, our experience of the pandemic has solidified the company’s resilience and more than ever before drawn our 220 strong staff team together in the face of adversity. We have developed new partnerships across the community and re-engaged with some old partners dealing with risks and opportunities that were not previously identified in our Business Plan.
During a tumultuous 16 months, we have taken practical steps to improve the lives of our clients and have invested in upskilling our colleagues and supporting their well-being so that no one gets left behind. Pure Innovations have remained relevant by responding to changing needs, preventing hardship, and supporting those in crisis.
We focused on doing the things we knew we could do well and didn’t over-stretch ourselves by trying to do too much. Team Pure innovations are responsive, fluid, and ever-changing and we feel ready to move onto the next challenge and whatever the future brings.
Written 30 July 2021
Judith Hutton is HR Director of Pure Innovations Ltd, a Charity based in Stockport. They deliver a portfolio of specialised services for young people and adults with disabilities and/or mental health conditions across Greater Manchester.
Pure are experts in the field of supported employment and have developed services to intersect other provisions including modernised day services, education programmes, independent travel training and health and wellbeing services.