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Thought Leadership 08 April 2020 Andy Lothian

How will building community help us all right now?

Lately I’ve been exploring the idea of community, because when times are tough, that’s where you should go for help. The question I’ve been asking myself is, ‘How will building community help us right now?’

At the time of the recession of 2008, Insights had just made a multimillion-pound investment in building our first global headquarters. It was a soulspace for our people, and a positive symbol of the organisation we were becoming. But our products and learning solutions were some of the first things our clients were cutting from their HR budgets. We were feeling the pressure to retreat from our investment and stay in our humbler surroundings, at least until things improved.

I would lie awake at night staring at the ceiling, wondering how on Earth we would survive. I didn’t know if we could. I only knew that the very last thing I wanted to do was make people redundant. People with families and mortgages, who had built our business from the ground up. It was unthinkable.

The Insights Executive Team struggled with this for weeks: projections were revised here, and forecasts were slashed there. Then we hit a wall. We couldn’t see any other ways to cut costs or increase revenue, and so we did something that has forever changed how I think about the nature of organisations, and the power of community.

We asked our people what we should do.

We gathered every employee together and asked them to help us. We didn’t want to lose anyone, so we needed to find new and better ways to increase revenue and cut costs. It was like opening a tap: people were shouting out ideas, sticking Post-its up with their suggestions, getting into groups to organise next steps, offering up thoughts they’d long kept to themselves about how we could do things better, or more efficiently. I’d never been so inspired by a room full of people. Their ingenuity, their understanding, their willingness to listen when their leaders asked for help! It all blew me away. We implemented so many of those ideas, and changed lots of our processes, becoming a leaner, smarter, more creative organisation along the way.

That year, carrying a loss of almost a million pounds, we had set ourselves a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to turn that into a million pounds in net profit by year end. I was secretly hoping we could get back to a break-even position. In fact, we returned double our BHAG, when many other organisations in our space were struggling to stay afloat or were even sinking. That’s one of the defining moments during which I became inspired by the power and potential inherent in communities.

By choosing to be vulnerable and ask for help, I had unknowingly invoked the power of community. And as a community we have partnered, cooperated, shared, believed, dreamed, cried, planned and celebrated together ever since. We believe in possibility and alchemy, and in what communities are capable of when they work together. So, ask for help. You don’t have all the answers. And you don’t have to. If you’re a transformational leader, you’ll have gathered around you people who are better than you at what they do. Use them, gather their expertise, and let them lead the way forward when you can no longer see it.

If you’re struggling right now with the challenges Coronavirus is throwing at you, be vulnerable with your community and see how they respond. You’ll be overwhelmed and you’ll never look back.

That’s what we are doing at Insights right now. Who knows where this will all go? But we will do all we can, where we are, with the amazing Community around us, and let the rest take care of itself.

To find inspiration for your own journey join us for our new weekly webinar series, at 3.30pm on Thursday 9 April.

Andy is Chief Executive Officer of Insights Group, where he guides us to fulfil the Insights purpose - to create a world where people truly understand themselves and others and are inspired to make a positive difference in everything they do.

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