Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Two weeks before lockdown in March all my work disappeared – global leadership programmes, women in leadership programmes, leadership development programmes – you name it, it was on hold. I was not alone. This was not personal, not about my capability, my skill, my relationships, or anything that I had control of.
People in learning and development usually do what we do because we love it – it’s a vocation. I love what I do. I do it because I make a difference to people, I do it because it matters.
People are better at their jobs, more capable, more empowered, stronger, and better because of what I and the rest of my profession do. We have spent years studying people, learning about how people work and don’t work, being curious and working out how to get to the heart of a business in a really short time so we can help that business and those people be better. This is not just a job.
So, when the world is being hit by something that instantly changes the way we work and has a huge impact on how we communicate, behave and connect, a time that we are possibly best placed to help our clients navigate, to be side-lined is challenging.
But I understand the thinking. My clients were scrabbling to work out their way forward, they didn’t know how this would impact their business or impact their income. They were doing what they needed to do to survive and, in that moment,, I was surplus to survival.
And that’s where we all were back in March – survival mode, doing what we all needed to do to get through this in the best way possible.
LinkedIn in April was full of photos of people on Zoom calls and trainers talking about what great work they’d just done with whatever client virtually. Everyone was putting on a brave face, a business as normal face, trying to remind the people that normally work with them that just because we can’t meet in person or be at the front of the room as normal we’re still capable, and knowledgeable and able to deliver. And yet, this was the least normal time that most of us have ever worked in.
If your business is furloughing a significant percentage of people, or you are re-forecasting because your own clients are pulling back from you, or your whole business has also been put on hold, you are not thinking about how can we best support people or develop people. I get it.
Suddenly LinkedIn was full of people who were experts in mental health, change, transformation, and virtual learning. People who a month beforehand were not claiming to be experts in such things.
I lived in France for a period of time and there was a huge expat community amongst whom there were a large number of people claiming to be builders and doing terrible jobs – we used to joke that you could get a qualification to be an electrician on the six hour ferry journey from Portsmouth to Caen.
Lockdown in March felt similar. It was like a feeding frenzy. I was appalled by some of the things I saw people claiming to be and expertise that they were claiming to have.
It’s difficult not to get drawn into the fear and panic, I too was worried about how I would pay my mortgage for the coming months with no pipeline of work.
What I did know was that I wanted to do it in a way that is authentic and connected and driven by abundance and capacity not fear and anxiety. I decided to let the dust settle a little for everyone. It didn't feel right to be banging on doors trying to sell anything to anyone. I kept in touch gently and offered support where I could.
I, and many of my self-employed colleagues have received no support from the government.
We are amongst the three million people known as the excluded. We are the freelancers and self-employed who have fallen through the gaps, we have been unable to benefit from furlough or self-employment support schemes.
This has been enormously challenging both financially and emotionally.
Many skilled facilitators, coaches and learning professionals have been (and still are) doing temporary jobs at Amazon and Tesco or at local businesses.
Personally, I spent the summer handwriting greeting cards for a local business to accompany the beautiful plants they deliver to your door. They have been one of the lucky ones, one of the businesses that have seen demand shoot through the roof. And I have loved being part of that, I loved writing your messages of love, care, thoughtfulness, your happy birthdays, your happy fathers days, your condolences, your loss and your longing to see your loved ones while sending out boxes of gerberas and hundreds of lemon trees.
I rejoiced in being part of a team, in having a structure to my lockdown weeks, in having a minimum wage income, in knowing that I would be able to pay my bills that month. I am enormously grateful for having a job when so many others are not so lucky.
I also ran my own business over the summer. I networked and connected, collaborated, and created. I did some small pieces of work for some clients. I’ve worked harder this year than ever before, working two jobs, running a business, keeping myself going.
Some wonderful things have come out of this – new projects, new relationships, new opportunities but the truth is that my business will turn over less than half of what it turned over last year.
I’m lucky, my work started to pick up in September. It is at about 25% of what I would normally be doing at this time of year but at least I’m working doing a job that I love and making a difference to people.
These are tough times and dark days for many people.
The media has been great at reminding us to support small local businesses, the ones that we relied on during the first lockdown. We are all conscious of supporting our local shops, pubs and restaurants. Your learning and development supplier might be one of those small businesses that could use your support right now.
We are tooled up, skilled up and ready to support throughout the coming months. We are agile and capable of offering engaging immersive experiences online just as we did when we were able to physically be with people.
How can you support? Even if you don’t have any budget to spend….?
Even if you are unable to offer work right now can you refer people, recommend the people you like working with, comment on and share their posts, blogs, or initiatives?
What are the problems your business is facing right now? Chances are that a small business like mine can help you deal with those. Do you need people to be more able to manage their teams remotely? Do you need to boost resilience or bring mental health to the forefront? All things we know about.
How are you onboarding people remotely? Your L&D supplier can help you create a process and programme that does this for you whilst maintaining your culture and enabling people to settle in quickly.
Have you got people who have been promoted over the last few months and could do with some support? Perhaps they could use a short burst of coaching to help them or perhaps a bite-sized leadership programme would work.
Christmas is coming…
How about gifting learning experiences to your team this year instead of that hamper? Check out our 90 minute Toolkits designed to be budget friendly and focusing in on what’s relevant right now or ask about gift vouchers.
What about giving the gift of wellbeing – we have an amazing wellbeing offering about to launch for 2021 and would love to have you on board with it. Keep an eye out for details or message me to find out more.
The way we all work has changed but the problems that people face are still there and, in many ways, magnified. You and your HR team are probably busier than ever so let your small suppliers be the people you lean on to help you. Let’s work together to create something better for us all in 2021.
If you’ve managed to offer some work to your small suppliers in whatever way over the last eight months, then thank you. If that supplier is me then I am extra grateful. You have helped me continue to do a job I love; you have kept a roof over my head and food on my table. And that is my truth.