A CEO’s Reflection: My Top 5 Leadership Tactics through CV-19. Part Two.


In my last post I reflected on how it felt, as a CEO, to lead a company when suddenly faced with a global pandemic, which felt like stepping into an unknown abyss every day. Upon reflection, when I started looking back at my survival strategy, I found there to be 5 key tactics I leant firmly on to get through it. Of course, every business and every CEO is different but, if like me, you saw yourself navigating into a never-before-seen landscape, trying to keep you and your team together, all while riding this imaginary rollercoaster, then I hope you can find some of my learnings useful.



Yes, we have all read about it, we all (hopefully) have one as an organisation but this is a bit different. Focused, single-minded and simple. A bespoke, short-term purpose with everyone, and I mean everyone, geared towards it. I was frankly astonished by the power of this. It’s been my nature to divide and conquer to keep the whole ship moving forward, on various fronts. But CV-19 taught me and my organisation just how incredible this short-term purpose approach really is. It not only speeds up the results, it binds you as a team and is motivating, rewarding and clear.

We had one job for 3 months solid – get people on the frontline, now. Our onboarding process, normally taking four weeks, turned it into a matter of days. We went from onboarding 4,000 flexible workers a month to 20,000. The number of clients we supported doubled - and we did it. We did the lot. Yes, there were challenges, but that changes things doesn’t it? How could I not rethink my forward strategy after those kind of results?



We were literally laying down the tarmac as we drove on it, so we needed a whole new approach to our structure through this. We implemented 3 teams, Gold (CEO & Board - strategic direction), Silver (Executive leadership team - problem solvers), and Bronze (All Staff/Depts - practical implementation).

Importantly though, these are not as tiered as they sound. Each played a critical role and worked hand in hand, versus up and down. We needed to keep a firm finger on the pulse of the business, and we wanted it three times a day. So, for weeks, that is exactly what we did.

These core teams met three times a day on Microsoft Teams to check in and keep the wheels rolling forward at speed. The Bronze team were identifying the problems, the Silver team were solving and authorising them and the Gold team were keeping us heading in the right direction. And none of us could have done our roles without the others. I often sat on Silver team but not as their leader – it was all hands-on deck, as and when we needed it.



The purpose was clear, but the goal posts were a complete moving feast – that daily unknown of what was coming in in terms of new needs, wants and demands. So, we broke the strategy down into small sprints. Short bursts towards each milestone. This allowed us to get traction and move forward, but still be agile enough to deal with the incoming flood of changes and adapt to learnings along the way.

We didn’t have any time to think really, we had to do. Accepting we would get most of it right and some of it wrong was OK. It was a BIG step away from the V22 Transformation programme we had been working on – 6 months of planning for a 3-year programme suddenly became 6 hours of planning for a 3-week push. But it worked. Again, not perfectly, but it got us there. Employing this tactic in a modern fast-moving marketplace makes perfect sense to me. Bite-sized chunks, but in a calmer environment we hope, will pay off.



Predictably this is where we fell over the most, especially early on. Even though we were keeping our clients and our members in the loop with the changing focus and delivery of our services, we didn’t always cover everything. Our call centre went from 1,200 calls a day to 12,000. We had to ease the pressure and help them answer what was happening. Even with the command structure in place of Gold, Silver, Bronze, it wasn’t enough, so we started having a weekly webinar. One that gave a full comprehensive update on what we knew at that stage and what was coming next.

Out of 850 staff, we had an average attendance of 500+. And we still have that today, even as we start to come out the other side. That tells us everything we already know as CEO's and leaders: people not only want to know, they need to know what is happening - especially if they are to understand the roles they are playing and how that all fits within the bigger picture. This is a lot easier to do with one clear purpose too, I assure you.



There are the flexible NHS workers we represent, then there are my incredibly flexible NHSP staff. Overnight we had to change so many people’s roles to fit the new immediate needs of the business. Recruiters ended up in compliance, sales teams became change champions, the list is long. A lot of effort had to go into figuring out what our priorities were and where to deploy people. Everyone was incredible, but I think had we not had the urgency of the pandemic, the crazy tight deadlines and the one clear purpose to get people to the NHS frontline, it simply would not have worked.

But because everyone just rallied and stepped up, it did work and it not only helped us get it done, it showed everyone just what they are capable of. And that is a great thing because that gives my workforce a unique power. It is an incredible resource to have at our disposal, as well as a fundamental belief in themselves and their own currency for the team to know they can do that. My next job is how to motivate them as we come up and out the other side – I’ll save that for next time!



The bottom line is this: a lot of these tactics are not new, I know this. But they have, for me, perhaps gotten a bit ‘standard’ in my normal day to day management style. CV-19 and all it has rained down upon us as leaders has got to make us all rethink. What have we all got in our arsenal that we can use here and how? How can I breathe new life into those tactics and make them fit for purpose? Whether you are in an organisation that has been put under the strain of incredible growth as we were, or under equally difficult strain of a business suffering due to lockdown and having to scale down at incredibly painful speeds, if not indeed stop altogether, the challenge is monumental.

We will all need to be at our very best to rebuild as we continue this ongoing battle with the virus and the impact it has had in business and our lives. Talk, share, innovate, inspire and for goodness sake, may we all continue to support each other. I continue to step into the unknown every day. It’s not an abyss anymore as I think I’m getting used to it, but it’s still super challenging. Despite a load of small sprints, when they are done back to back it’s still a marathon. Having the team and the tactics at your disposal massively helps. We are all in this together, in community and business, so please tell me your ideas. Two ears and one mouth remember – I’m listening, I promise!


Nicola Mcqueen, CEO, NHS Professionals.