Leadership in Covid-19 – Lawrence Cramer

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We are delighted to bring you another installment from our Leadership Interview Series. Today, we are here with Lawrence Cramer, People and Culture Director at Inspired Villages.

Inspired Villages has a proven reputation for delivering award-winning villages for later living and aims to become the leading UK operator and developer in the sector. Working with Legal & General, Inspired Villages has the support of the largest pensions business in the UK and the fourth largest asset manager in the world. Inspired Villages is disrupting the traditional retirement living market by creating unique later living communities centered on the philosophy that “adventures, good health and happiness do not stop in retirement”. The company’s vision is to make a big impact to major societal issues such as health, care and loneliness.

Lawrence is a highly experienced and effective senior HR professional with a proven track record of delivering results in the private and not-for-profit sectors. Lawrence joined Inspired Villages in March 2018 shortly after Legal & General’s (L&G) investment into the business in 2017. At the time Lawrence joined there was a team of 35, the business has grown exponentially since and today is 270 people strong. The group has a workforce plan in place to take the headcount to around 1,200 over the next five years and a portfolio of 50 villages by 2025.

It was positive to hear from Lawrence that the business still sees growth in the medium to long-term future, albeit there is a hiring freeze in place currently and the strategic growth plan has been scaled-back with the current priority being  short term challenges and looking after colleagues.  On the day that we spoke, Inspired Villages had just received a planning approval for the development of the Kingswood site in Surrey (a former L&G head office). Inspired Villages is also pressing ahead with their plans on other key sites and so “the world hasn’t stopped in terms of site acquisitions and development”.

Here are some of the fascinating insights he shared with us on leadership and taking a transformational approach to HR during this period:

Amanda: “Thank you for taking part in the leadership insight, Lawrence. We’re delighted that you have decided to take part.

Lawrence: “It’s a pleasure, Amanda”

Amanda: “So first question: this is a difficult time for everybody, what have been the priorities for you and the leadership team?”

Lawrence: Without question, residents, colleagues and communication have been the three key priorities. Residents – we must make sure their wellbeing and safety is maintained along with the highest quality of living for them.  Colleagues – we need to make sure they understand their positions and their safety and wellbeing is a main priority for us too. Communication – we need to ensure we are clear, transparent and strike the right tone so we can stay true to our values and continue to evolve our culture during this period. Organisational culture is getting tested, fortunately the DNA is strong and evolving.

We are also trying to embrace new technology as much as possible, utilising AI to improve our business and product and support independent living.  In addition, we are in the process of reconstructing our marketing to ensure we are in the best possible position to attract the best talent into Inspired Villages in the future.

Amanda: “It would be interesting to hear more about your employee engagement platform at Inspired Villages.

Lawrence: “The investment Inspired Villages has made into establishing a first-class internal employee engagement infrastructure meant we were in a good position anyway prior to this period and now there is no doubt it has really come into its own.  Our employee communications platform, Inspired World, is a key part of this and it has received great buy-in from the workforce with over 95% uptake across the organisation. This platform was designed to be a one-stop-shop for content, information, learning and collaboration. There is also a social element with a messenger function.

A particularly important use for the Inspired World platform is making sure key leadership messages and initiatives are reaching the workforce in a direct but personal way, which is particularly important in what is a challenging time for all. Jamie Bunce, our CEO, regularly shares updates and thought leadership through the platform which is distributed directly to colleagues email and mobiles.

Furthermore, our e-learning platform which can be accessed via Inspired World has been fantastic during this period as it provides people with an outlet to continuously learn and develop. The portal facilitates digital face-to-face coaching. Everything’s in one place so employees don’t have to go searching in different folders and different files.”

Amanda: “What are some of the actions you have had to implement during Covid-19?”

In terms of new initiatives directly relevant for Covid-19, we assembled a ‘Coronavirus Crisis Response Team’ at the start and  have held frequent conference calls  focusing on the impact Covid-19 and government directives have had on the communities we support as well as the wider business, and responding effectively.

To help keep colleagues informed and reassured that their wellbeing is a priority we have introduced weekly or more video messages from the senior leadership team on Inspired World, and a live webinar Q&A every Friday, which allows everyone across the business to ask questions of the leadership team and for different directors to present on the things happening within their departments. These have proved popular with everyone.

We have also been building upon our online Wellness Centre to make sure there is a wealth of material and information to help people stay healthy and active particularly during lockdown and home-working. The centre’s content is divided into our four key pillars of holistic wellbeing: Move, Munch, Mind and Monies. This translates into lots of guidance around fitness, nutrition sleep and financial wellbeing, among other things, which all help to create better wellbeing for our colleagues. Adding to this has been a priority in these difficult times.

We are constantly looking to innovate and evolve our Wellbeing Centre to help improve both the physical and mental wellbeing of our colleagues. We are genuinely passionate about our people, and supporting them now and into the future is important to us

Amanda:  It is fantastic to see an employer taking such a proactive and innovative approach to engaging the workforce and putting wellness at the top of the agenda. So many interesting learnings here!

Amanda: Conversely then, from a people agenda, what have been the major challenges for you?”

Lawrence:A number of difficult decisions have had to be made and undoubtedly the communication and management around our  job retention scheme (furlough) has been a challenging process to manage. 105 staff have been put on this scheme during this period. A significant number (over 90) have been from inside the villages as the number one priority for everyone during this period is protecting and looking after the welfare of residents and looking to reduce risk wherever possible. As a result, reducing headcount on site in the villages to essential roles such as providing food and care has been critical. It has not been an easy process, but we have been trying to do our utmost to make sure that anyone on the retention scheme is still feeling engaged and valued. My team and I have been personally calling everyone in the business who is furloughed or in isolation to check in and make sure they are emotionally supported. We view this regular contact and communication as essential to ensure that everyone stays and feels connected tothe Inspired family”

Amanda: Finally, what key learnings do you think you will take away from this period?

Lawrence: “The world turned upside down in March and this is going to be a period of re-evaluation and reflection for many. It is going to be vital that as a business, we look inwardly and learn from this period. It is important that we position our business strongly for when we emerge the other side as we want to continue to get the work-life balance right. Combining our family lives with running a business that has the ambition to break the mould in our market and be a disruptive innovator takes hard work.

A final learning is the importance of strong culture and leadership. Key pillars of our culture are stronger together, courage, straight talking with no waffle, Be inspired and deliver. Combined with adaptability, resilience and agility and we are proud of the way the team have truly embodied these values during this period and see this as a real testament to the strength of our culture. We are also fortunate to have an amazingly inspirational leader in Jamie, who has a straight talking, no waffle style and is open and honest with people. If people feel connected to an organisation then employee engagement levels remain high.”

Thank you again to Lawrence who kindly gave up his time to provide us with these insights.

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