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Old Ingrained Habits: Not Shouting Out Too Hard and Too Loud!

How many of us out there have done really well? I mean, beyond what we first thought we would do. I know that I have readjusted my end goal many times in my life. I don’t think what I aspired to has changed much but the path to that end goal has veered around like a winding mountain road akin to the Stelvio Pass. I have seemed to have gone backwards and forwards but always slowly and gradually moved upwards all the time.

Each level has given me more skills and knowledge; the biggest achievement was the confidence I gained along the way. But that confidence was subsumed by the lesson I think a lot of us learnt especially in the United Kingdom – don’t blow you own trumpet!

When I have been asked to speak or write about what I do, I have claimed that I didn’t know that much and surely there were people who were bigger experts in my area: people with more skills who were better speakers. However, if you asked me to go in to look at a company and analyse and implement processes to improve performance, culture, and growth, I would have had no compunction in jumping right in.

So why do we do this? I know that I was always told to be humble and modest about my achievements. No one likes a braggart.

So how should we approach our achievements?

There are so many businesses who have flourished in the last year and not just because they have been in the essential business category. These are business owners who have changed the way they do things and really looked at what their customers need and sometimes even done a complete change in direction and product. They have been adaptable, tenacious, and determined to find a way out.

They deserve a huge round of applause and they deserve to boast about it. But most won’t – it is not in their DNA.

As I write this, expounding the virtues of singing your own praises, I know that I find it hard to do so too. My business has done really well considering the pandemic. I could say that it was because we were in the right business – fuel forecourts – and so we stayed open , making it through because we still had people coming through the door. Although this is true to some extent, it really isn’t the whole story. It could have all still gone horribly wrong.

I took over a business in 2014 that was limping along. If the pandemic had happened in 2014, we would not have survived. The fact that we not only survived lockdown but thrived is due to the changes we implemented in the five preceding years. When I took over, there was no management team, no processes, and an abysmal company culture.

In the first two years I spent an enormous amount of time trying to change the values and culture of the company by engaging with all 86 members of staff individually. We spent time together discussing how they wanted to work and what would make their lives easier. They also learnt about my vision for the company and together we built a purpose for all of us. Today, I can confidently say that you could walk into any of our sites and the staff will tell you what they are working towards, how they are going to get there and what their own contribution is towards that goal.

That is the one thing that I am inordinately proud of and do boast about – the people I have the pleasure to lead.

Getting a management team in place was vitally important. Without the right people, with the right attitude and skill sets you cannot even start to put together processes and procedures. If there isn’t anyone to supervise those processes and make sure they are implemented and, more importantly, understood, they will always be at best poorly executed. Our management team consists of a professionally qualified, very experienced finance team as well as an operational team that know every nook and cranny of the business because they have worked their way up. All of them are totally committed to the same vision, work hard because they believe wholeheartedly in what they are doing and feel that they have a voice in where we are going. The personal and professional skill sets and attitudes of each member are what has made the difference.

Putting together manuals for every aspect of your business (Operational, Financial, Legal and Contractual) is a very time consuming and brain draining exercise but having this in place, and having the processes in them become our normal working practice, has made all the difference during lockdown. Every member of staff knew what had to be done and how. They knew what decisions they could take without referring to the senior management team and some implemented click & collect and delivery services off their own backs. Others found ways of bringing customers in and developing their loyalty by ensuring their health and safety. They reached out to their local communities and put themselves out there. What I heard from them was this:

“If the company does well, we won’t lose our jobs and if we can do this while doing our bit for the country and our people, then we are doing ok”

Our Senior Management plan had put in a Contingency plan in February. Our staff thought we were overreacting when we put in sterilisation protocols starting in early March. All our extremely vulnerable staff were aware that we were supporting shielding and we rearranged out staff rotas to accommodate this as well as some leeway for anyone contracting COVID-19. We quickly swapped over everything to Zoom and Teams meetings and arranged a weekly wellness call with site managers.

Our bank had our 6-scenario plan and our cash requirements before lockdown, and in fact our CIBLS loan was the first in the country to be approved by NatWest Bank. However, by the first week of lockdown, we had an overdraft facility in place that kept us cash positive as sales dropped. We had had meetings with our suppliers in February to make sure the supply chains were able to cope and then we made contingency plans just in case anyway. The supply chains weren’t always able to cope but we did.

When the second and third lockdowns were introduced, we reached out to the staff to find out how we could help them, and we were told that they were all old hands now and this was their new normal.

They did not need any more additional help.

A lot of companies managed very well during this time, but I am especially chuffed because I did it sitting 300 miles away from my sites. Since early March 2020, I have not left my house in South West London apart from one week in a mobile home in August. I have a clinically extremely vulnerable child and we have been shielding. The success of our business today has come from what we have done as team in the previous five years and for that I will take credit.

Over the last 6 months, I have watched companies who have been trying to apply new processes to keep on moving. In a time of crisis, it is so much harder especially as you are trying to deal with new issues every day in an unstable work environment.

So, at the risk of blowing my own trumpet, Contact Me if you are struggling. Let’s work together to see how we can use some of the processes I used to help you not only survive but thrive in this most trying of times. I can work with you to do that in the best way for you, whether that be asking for advice, or helping you exit.

Sometimes, a conversation or two with someone who has been there helps. To all of you who have thrived, shout out hard and loud and then reach out your hand to those who may be able to use your skills – but do it with humility.

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