Recognising Potential in a Crisis – the HRD’s Moment, with Gary Wright

At Livingston James we are led by our purpose; to advise and support people and organisations to realise their potential so that together we can change lives and communities for the better.

In these challenging times, organisations must elevate the most important asset they have: their people. By focusing on the fundamentals of people strategy – leadership, culture, talent, reskilling, and HR, companies can emerge stronger, more agile, more innovative, and better able to respond to an ever-changing environment.

In the last quarter of 2020, we introduced our ‘Recognising Potential’ series, which focused on the experience and impact of CEOs throughout the pandemic.  In 2021 we are continuing the series, with a focus on HRDs, entitled ‘the HRD’s Moment’ focusing on the experiences of a select group of HR professionals from the local market to discuss these key areas as businesses settle into the new reality.

Our first instalment of 2021 features Gary Wright, Group HR Director of Hunter Boots Ltd.


Technology has been radically transforming the way work translates, changing the skills that people require for their jobs, and redefining many critical as well as everyday roles. The pandemic has seemingly catapulted businesses five to ten years into the digital future. How would you suggest that organisations can retain a distinctly human feel in a technology-driven world? 

Whilst we quickly adjusted to the use of Teams as a primary source of communication thanks to our amazing IT team, I agree there is always work to be done on the human touch.  Fortunately, Hunter is a digitally-focused company with a youthful, online-savvy employee population.  ‘Cameras on’ is obvious as well as regular moments to check in with your own employees on a personal level, whilst encouraging employees to do the same with managers and colleagues.  However, there is always a degree of coaching required as not everyone has the time or EI skills to do this naturally.  ‘Having someone at work that cares for you’ is a key engagement driver, especially at the junior levels and more so during periods of tumultuous change.  We also have regular mental health / wellness forums, diversity and inclusion meetings, and even a thriving, if virtual, running club.  

 

The new generation of both talent and consumers, expects businesses to look beyond their profit lines, with the view of a positive impact on society. Having a company purpose, and realising its influence on strategy, can sit at the heart of this shift. How would you describe your preparation within your business/clients for a shift aligned to their expectations?

As a fashion brand, we have long recognised the need to take a sustainable and ethical approach, especially knowing that we are a company that produces rubber boots in Asia.  The reality is that our boots and other products are made of naturally and ethically sourced rubber.  Additionally, we have made it a point of principle to improve our contribution to the essential conversations around sustainability.  We started behind the scenes, working with our manufacturers and suppliers, without making too much noise about our progressive achievements.  Our roadmap now turns to a more visible and forward-looking approach to sustainability, directly engaging with our customers.  We are fortunate that our sustainability approach is authentically aligned with our strategy, values and culture and is fully supported by our shareholders.  Just watch this space…

 

The business world is changing at a radical pace. Multiple forces are reshaping how organisations function, inclusive of new technologies, business transformation, an evolving talent base, and greater employee expectations. To remain relevant, businesses have had to adapt in order to thrive. In your professional opinion, what do you believe the core characteristics of a successful, progressive organisation to be?

In a career full of challenging moments, I strongly believe that the minimum level is to have a compelling vision of the future that inspires and engages employees, as well as signposting the direction the organisation is heading.  This, together with a clearly communicated strategy, robust leadership and the resources / capabilities to achieve the required results and you already have a winning formula to overcome most tests.  However, they say: “strategy is a bicycle and culture is a bus” and without agility, foresight and freedom of action, businesses will be lucky to survive, never mind thrive in a VUCA world.  Empowering individuals to make independent decisions aligned with their leader’s intent and based on disciplined risk-taking is critical and proven to drive stronger results, not to mention improved morale.  There is no magic fairy dust you can sprinkle on a team to make that happen overnight. It takes a lot of time and energy in terms of leadership development, team effectiveness, coaching and mentoring for that to be true.  

 

People are the driving force behind any organisation and more organisations are placing additional focus on empowering their employees. What strategies did you implement and what would you recommend to continue to guide your/clients’ employees through such uncharted territory?

In my experience, human beings of all walks of life are endlessly resilient and almost pre-programmed to rise to challenges if well-led.  We have a highly educated and incredibly talented workforce (we are a relatively small, yet global organisation which makes us very selective – there’s no room for passengers in our fast-paced world).  This background gives them the right to use that considerable talent to make independent decisions and question the ones being made for them.  Our senior leaders are encouraged to ‘serve to lead’: give enough direction and guidance, then stand back and allow our employees to do the amazing things they do every day.  It’s a matter of trust at its core but also constant, empathetic communication, understanding intent / context, encouraging initiative and tolerance of the inevitable ‘learnings’ rather than mistakes, that result from honest, well thought-through endeavours.     

 

During the pandemic, many organisations have accomplished what had previously been thought impossible. What have you learnt about yourself through the course of 2020 and into 2021?

It’s been a tough year for many organisations, and we are certainly part of that club although let’s not forget that many of us have been through other challenging experiences in our careers or personal lives, so it’s all about perspective.  We’ve been through Covid, refinancing, restructuring, as well as global political events impacting employees at a time when some were at their most vulnerable.  HR have been in the thick of all these moments, non-stop for well over a year now and have often become the focal point for the emotion that naturally stems from such momentous change.  I’ve relearned the importance of sticking to my values, being true to myself and setting a constant reminder that it’s not personal.  Every day is a new day and another opportunity to reset, learn and grow.  At least I keep telling myself that!

To discuss leadership and people strategy requirements please contact Jacqui Paterson on [email protected]

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