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Having got through, we need to get ready. But ready for what?


Karen Lynch, vice chair SEUK, former CEO Belu Water, non-exec Home for Good Glasgow, and speaker at our International Housing Summit shares her thoughts on the last few months. 'This time has shown me how much of a business's success is down to having and embedding the right values'

As I’m sure you did, I spent March coming up with a plan to ensure that the business I was responsible for (Belu Water) would survive the emerging pandemic. It was the last three weeks of a ten-year tenure, and it was not the exit or handover I had planned. To come to a dead stop in April would have been impossible for my brain to handle (I had been planning a few months of in Spain visiting my elderly parents, but of course COVID-19 changed everything). Instead, I spent the months that followed as a volunteer, coaching and supporting dozens of the social enterprises that I had met through my time in the sector. I had to do what I could to help.

This time has shown me how much of a business’s success is down to having and embedding the right values.

Those businesses ranged from socks to food educators, baby clothes to housing providers. It was an incredible challenge for me to be jumping frequently from one business model and sector to another. These businesses were all completely different in so many ways, and yet there were three things that stood out, almost without exception.

• Firstly, there was no question of would they survive this. The discussions were always about how they would get through this, and how they would get ready for whatever the world threw at them on the other side.

• Secondly, protecting their positive impact on people and planet was always the first thing the leaders of these businesses wanted to talk about, not the finances (or lack of them).

• Finally, despite the survival challenge that most of them faced, they were all looking to do more, not less. Even for those whose usual trade had completely dried up there was little talk of moth balling. Instead, they had already begun pivoting the business by focussing on what social needs the world has right now.

The resilience, positivity and sheer ability of these businesses to pivot by not always doing the obvious, blew me away.

It’s at times like these you really get to see which businesses have their values on paper and which actually live them.

Although many of these businesses needed practical support, or a sounding board, or help to structure their thinking, these sessions made the point time and time again. If a business and its people are aligned and engaged behind a purpose that isn’t just about making money, the right path is more obvious. If the values are embedded in the organisation, the right decisions are more obvious and easier to take.

I saw this in detail through my work with Homes for Good. For just over a year I have been a non- exec and like all good boards, we have been in more frequent contact through this period. An upside of all the challenges faced are that we as a board know this business better, and the business knows itself better too.

Homes for Good has a clear purpose. Beautiful homes not just houses, to those who find it hardest to access them. So, the instinct to simply step close to all their tenants and step up the support through this period was driven by their drive for social impact, although it delivers commercially too.

Whether delivering urgent supplies to those isolating, craft packs to families with children, creating enhanced community with their tenants through new communication ideas or tackling issues with digital inclusion, the purpose remained - putting people first, with the operational challenges simply worked through to ensure that remained. I was privileged and proud to observe this first-hand, Homes for Good is an even better business due to this challenge.

We’ve got through this, but what next?

I’m sure very few of us had a global pandemic on our risk log, I know I didn’t. I’m also sure that there is no right answer to the question – has everything changed or nothing at all?

I don’t think either of these things really matter as much as this. As we focus on getting ready for what next, we must use this time to capture this opportunity to reboot not just our operational business model, but the purpose and values of the organisation too. That’s what really matters if an organisation is to realise its true potential.

Hear more from Karen at the International Housing Summit, 30 June – 2 July, in the day two session ‘How to reboot a business’ with Oke Eleazu, chief operating officer, Bought by Many

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