Cumbria Regional Director Clare White takes huge satisfaction from seeing her team members grow, develop and thrive. In this blog to kick off Learning at Work Week 2023, she gives her top tips on how she helps support and empower them to be the best they can be.
Approachable and available
First and foremost, it’s about being always being approachable and making yourself available. Pre-Covid this was focused on being face-to-face and was difficult to achieve due to working locations and time constraints. The restrictions led me to create regular online sessions with my teams. Some of the time was spent whinging about Covid, home schooling and the general frustrations we were all experiencing at the time, but the frequency and informal style helped to build rapport and strengthen relationships. The regular opportunity to discuss the challenges we were facing at work gave people the forum to open up and seek advice, support and help. Some of the sessions still run and are supplemented with regular team days in our offices where we sit together, sometimes go for a walk at lunchtime and usually eat together.
I love getting stuck into challenges and working with my teams on different ways of doing things. I’m the first to admit that I’m not an expert in everything (is anyone?!). I enjoy debating things, working together to find out where we can learn more, then doing that research together and learning together. In order to do this, you need to dedicate the time to work through things with people. Although sometimes necessary, people rarely learn as effectively by being dictated to. There’s a big emphasis at Solomons on people really understanding why they’re doing something, not just how to do it. That way you properly get under the skin of how something works and can better understand how it can be improved or adapted to solve different challenges or meet the specific needs of clients. For me, that’s how people truly learn, grow and develop.
An opportunity to shine
It’s really important that individual team members are encouraged to take initiative and get the opportunity to shine. It’s great to get positive feedback from clients about someone who you’ve supported and empowered to go off and show what they can do. This can be helping an individual with a specific task or pulling a few strings in the background to help shape things, but the upshot is that despite your involvement, the team member gets the credit. The hope is that this is then paid forward, and that particular team member will look for opportunities to support and highlight the work of others. Ultimately it is about helping each other to take the next step up in the career ladder.
One size doesn’t fit all
It sounds obvious, but it’s true – you have to tweak your approach to get the best of people. Everyone has different strengths and interests. Everyone learns differently and at different paces. For me, the key is making the most of their strengths and empowering them in the right way. And of course, you can’t “win ‘em all”! Sometimes there isn’t a fit and it just won’t work and that’s always really hard personally.
Creating an environment where people feel comfortable and excited to share their ideas is important. This is how innovation happens, we have some great tools, learning packs, initiatives and processes which have been in the main developed and implemented by our team members but have been recognised, celebrated and supported by management. Many of these are now embedded in Solomons way of doing things.
Covid brought to the forefront lots of challenges in terms of work/life balance. Many of our people did a great job working from home and some continue to benefit from that flexibility now. We have found ways to encourage and support these flexible patterns, whilst keeping our clients happy and still offering support and development to the team members.
Playing to Strengths
Getting to know people means that you can consider their interests and strengths with the opportunities you offer. Some benefit from being part of wider company initiatives such as our involvement with Constructing Excellence and our own Future Skills Academy. Others are real team players and have been crucial in driving forward team events, social impact projects and our Community Fundraising Forum. Others are quietly competent mentors, who enjoy helping others in the background. All of which are really beneficial and of course supportive of our emphasis on shared learning and paying things forward.
Not being afraid to have difficult conversations
By their nature they’re not easy, but you can’t shy away from having difficult and uncomfortable conversations. We have regular benchmarking sessions with our teams to assess competency and skill and highlight where they need to improve and what they need to focus on to make the next step up. The latter can be difficult to hear and sometimes disheartening. At Solomons we do push our people to learn more and think differently because we’re always focused on how we can improve things for our clients. It’s not just a case of being able to do things, but really understand why and meeting the Solomons “standards” of challenging the norm and thoroughly looking for better, more efficient and quicker ways of doing things. It also helps people to be fully prepared for the type of difficult questions they’ll get at their APC panels when they come around.
As horrible as these conversations can be, it’s been amazing to see how people have gone away, reflected on things, rolled up their sleeves and done their homework and then blown us away at their next sessions. You feel they’ve turned a massive corner. They become more comfortable, confident and generally a lot happier. And that’s what it is all about.
A “proud mum”
Watching people grow really is the best feeling. When you have found a way to get the best out of someone and you have a trusting and supportive working relationship it’s so nice to step back with pride as you see them absolutely nailing it! There are people who’ve stepped up to work directly with clients, run their own teams, handle their own projects and take on some really tough challenges, with very steep learning curves, and they’re thriving. It’s so exciting to see just how far they can go. It sounds cheesy, but I feel a bit like a proud mum!