At the heart of the UK’s economic recovery is its hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). To enable these businesses to thrive in the post-pandemic world, the not-for-profit social enterprise All Together held the virtual “Three Things Summit” to give CEOs actionable, positive and forward-looking advice to build back better. The event saw All Together, which Investec has partnered with to support UK SMEs, bring together 14 leading business minds to offer their advice in three key areas: technology, people and the planet.
Here were the event's top tips:
Technology: Tools to get the best of both worlds
Day one of the summit focused on digital technology and the presenting business leaders all agreed that as the UK begins to return to normality, now is the time for companies to capitalise on technological advances accelerated by the pandemic.
The pace of innovation went through the roof thanks to remote working. Keynote speaker William Reeve, CEO of Goodlord, recommended that hybrid working is the way forward and that new tools and procedures will be required. “The real issue will be making sure those working from home don’t feel like ‘second-class citizens’. Virtual meetings have proved to work just as effectively as physical ones, so if you continue to use those digital tools, it will make your workplace a more attractive prospect.”
Another theme discussed was the openness to new technologies that will be needed as businesses transform. Anthony Fletcher, former CEO at Graze, summarised by saying: “Some amazing solutions are coming to the market and they’re cheaper and simpler than ever before. But sometimes the board don’t like the cheap or simple ones. Don’t be a tech snob and keep your eyes open.”
A selection of "Three Things" from day one:
William Reeve (Goodlord, Nutmeg and Dunelm)
1. Embrace the change. Lockdown was hard, but there were silver linings. Look for them and learn from them.
2. Abolish Meetings. Where possible, take meetings online so that those working from home feel included.
3. Digitise your workflows. Streamline your business by doing sophisticated things simply with the help of tools such as Zapier, automate.io and If This Then That (IFTTT).
Jill Easterbrook (Boden)
1. Budget back better. Think carefully before you bring back pre-pandemic spending.
2. Be tough on teams. Who added value last year and who can you do without?
3. Prioritise relentlessly. What will make a tangible difference today, tomorrow, and next year?
Source: All Together
People: Diversity translates into innovation and creativity
Day two of the summit discussed how Covid has highlighted inequality and a lack of diversity within the workplace and issues around staff well-being and motivation while working from home. The panel advised on how businesses can tackle these issues to improve performance, with keynotes from two prominent business leaders.
The primary message from the first of those, Lord Bilimoria, President of the Confederation of British Industry, was for CEOs to champion ethnic diversity. “According to research by McKinsey, the top quartile of businesses that embrace diversity and inclusion are 39% more profitable. And in a Deloitte survey, diverse companies are more innovative and creative.” He cited his approach to hiring when setting up Cobra Beer, where he created a “mini-United Nations.” The buzz created by that diversity translated into innovation and creativity.
Octopus Energy’s Greg Jackson focussed on what business leaders should be prioritising when creating a working environment in which employees can thrive: “Don’t hang up your personality at the door. Fundamentally, human life is better when we create businesses that enable people to be themselves and live their lives while working. Better humanity means better business.”
A selection of "Three Things" from day two:
Lord Bilimoria (CBI and Cobra Beer)
1. Be diverse. Increase racial and ethnic diversity amongst your board and leadership team.
2. Be transparent. Publish statistics to highlight diversity progress.
3. Be inclusive. Diversity without inclusion is useless.
Greg Jackson (Octopus Energy)
1. Bring your personality to work. Create a culture where people can be themselves all day, every day.
2. Share the wealth. By all means, get rich. But make others rich in the process.
3. Enable talent. Everyone is skilful. You just have to find the right job for them to flourish.
Source: All Together
Planet: Know your purpose
On day three, the panel agreed businesses shouldn’t be returning to the way they did things before, both in terms of operations and for the benefit of the planet. Climate and the environment have shifted right to the top of people’s priorities, with many asking businesses to lead the charge on this front.
In recognition of this, Innocent CEO Douglas Lamont mentioned purpose: “Here at Innocent, we have a purpose, vision and values. Underneath that is our strategy which ladders up to those three things, we refresh this strategy every three years to make sure it aligns with our purpose, vision and values.”
Lamont captured the overall tone of the three-day summit with a rallying cry for business owners: “As a business leader, are you thinking about collaborating as much as competing? How can you collaborate more? We need to get directors to think about people, profit and planet in balance.”
A selection of "Three Things" from day three:
Dame Sharon White (John Lewis Partnership)
1. Have a plan. We had to be fluid in the pandemic, but now you need to plan carefully.
2. Learn from others. Think about your networks and build new friendships.
3. Have a clear purpose. Surround yourself with brilliant people who share your purpose.
Tim Lee (Mindful Chef)
1. Be clear on your purpose. A defined purpose helps navigate difficult decisions and manage conflict.
2. Build a culture around purpose. This isn’t CSR. Embed your purpose deeply into your company values and behaviours.
3. Be transparent. Sustainability isn’t about everyone being perfect; it’s about everyone doing something.
Source: All Together
While it is early days in the economic recovery of the UK, undoubtedly, businesses will play a crucial role in shaping how we rebuild. UK SMEs have a great opportunity to build back better and make a material impact in the world. When summarising the summit, All Together founder Jamie Mitchell called on businesses to grab the ‘low-hanging fruit,’ kickstarting momentum towards economic recovery. With such a wealth of knowledge available to steer company leaders, the next year could be very prosperous for British businesses.