In-person events are well and truly back. But connecting face-to-face emphasises something undeniable: the world is different now, and so are we. Some of those differences, however, may be for the better.
That was on full display during the first face-to-face roundtable since the beginning of our Leadership Circle series, an opportunity to discuss how we can retain talent, inspire teams and build resilience during turbulent or uncertain periods. With a broad range of attendees and speakers, it’s more apparent than ever that leaders are looking to learn from others in different industries and organisations.
That’s why we were so lucky to hear from Tom Walley, Global Managing Director of Corporate Traveller — part of the Flight Centre Travel Group — whose story and insights resonate far beyond the travel industry. We were also joined by guest speaker Peter Gilmore, Executive Chef at Quay. Here are some of my biggest takeaways.
A tough journey: building resilience despite volatility
It’s no secret that the travel industry has been one of the most severely affected by the pandemic. Even as organisations gradually return to in-person events and meetings, business travel in Australia looks very different today compared to the pre-pandemic era. As a result, travel organisations like Corporate Traveller were forced to make thousands of staff redundant during the early days of the pandemic.
Tom shared how this upheaval impacted the company and leadership team in ways that still sting, and the difficulty of recruiting candidates in a hard-hit industry. But there were also important lessons they’re carrying forward.
Listening to Tom, one of the things that stuck out to me was the role of vulnerability — in leadership, in building resilience, in navigating tricky or even painful circumstances. Tom spoke from the heart, describing the individual and collective pain of having to make hundreds of colleagues redundant in a single day. In almost any circumstance — even some of the most challenging ones — the ability to acknowledge and share emotions helps build connections and encourages broader sharing and trust in the group.
The crucial role of vulnerability tends to come back to authenticity, which Tom called out as one of his top three lessons from the pandemic and its fallout.
- Authenticity. Tom stressed the importance of being open and honest with your people, while also encouraging them to do the same.
- Trust. Your people are even more resilient and resourceful than you might be assuming. But, first, you have to trust them, and you need to be authentic and honest as a way of earning their trust in return.
- Decisiveness. As a company that stresses the importance of data, Tom shared that they were often waiting for the full data before making decisions — which wasn’t helpful during the rapidly changing chaos of the early pandemic. With no precedent, he and other leaders needed to make decisions much faster. Even if it turns out to be the ‘wrong’ decision, Tom pointed out that your people will still value you, and often they simply wanted someone to make a decision. People expect a leader, not an oracle.
While it’s not the only answer, technology can play a role in facilitating all of the above. The right digital solutions can free you to make faster choices and focus on human connection.
“Automate the simple so you can shine in the complex,” advised Tom.
Corporate Traveller is applying these lessons to current approaches, careful to not let valuable new habits and lessons learned slip away over time. Tom said that there’s “muscle memory” in any organisation and that it’s easy for people to roll back into old ways of doing business.
That’s why they’re making conscious efforts to ensure that faster, more agile responses aren’t restricted to a pandemic. It also includes “kinder” priorities — that is, a greater focus on mental health, wellbeing and looking out for one another.
The path ahead: cultivating inspiration
Tom was candid about what worked, what didn’t, and what they’ve learned from it all. It was an authentic and vulnerable foundation for our wider discussion, where other leaders opened up about their struggles and insights.
Despite attendees from a range of industries and geographies, I noticed some common issues — and some fantastic ideas for addressing them.
For starters, the struggle for talent appears to be nearly universal. This isn’t just attracting talent, it’s also a matter of retaining your people after you’ve invested in upskilling them. When you significantly invest in developing top talent and they become more valuable to rival employers, how do you make sure they stay? After all, not every company has the resources to offer luxe perks.
The reality is that top talent want to be working on interesting projects, which is one of the big opportunities of technology. Leaders should be thinking about “automating the simple” as Tom shared, so they can ensure their people work on interesting projects and proofs of concept. But, in addition to interesting projects and work, employees also want to work for organisations whose values and passions are aligned with their own — and they want to be recognised and supported for those values.
So how can employers make sure they’re delivering these sorts of environments? They’re questions that overlap with two other common problems: employee burnout, and getting people back into the office.
Our guest speaker Peter Gilmore, Executive Chef at Quay, observed that we’ve spent so long needing to react to urgent circumstances, we may need a renewed focus on bringing creativity into what we do. Since creativity is a huge part of his work, Peter has been honing the ability to keep evolving and finding new inspiration.
His suggestion for attendees? We need to get outside, both literally and figuratively. We need to spend some time together.
But what does that look like in our current environment? Most leaders shared that employees are tired, burnt out and aren’t taking as many holidays. Plus, many are reluctant to give up the benefits of remote working, even as collaboration and creativity take a hit.
Some leaders pointed to the need for employers to earn the right to ask people to return. This might mean giving them exciting new projects or opportunities, even those from other functions.
Leading with values and staying connected
Further, Peter noted that he’s seeing workers gravitate toward values and purpose-led organisations, and not just in hospitality. It’s a trend that spans technology, travel, service and everything in between. People want to work for leaders and organisations who inspire and motivate them, whilst doing good in the broader community.
There’s no sure-fire formula for achieving these things. But one thing is clear: we’ll get closer to answers if we’re willing to connect with one another and be honest about what we’ve learned.
Want to see more insights from Leadership Circle roundtables?
Check out discussions with Foxtel, Canva and the Warehouse Group