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Reflect and Reset to Survive - Reimagine to Thrive

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Jonathan Dempsey MBA
Director of Red Laces Consultancy | Guest EHS Content Writer
Published On
March 2, 2021

In January, few of us returned to the workplace as expected. Many remain separated from colleagues, family, and friends.

New Year’s resolutions met their fiercest challenge as the 3rd UK lockdown closed schools, gyms, pubs and curtailed non-essential travel. Illegal to leave home without good reason. More homeworking in a makeshift ‘office.’ More balancing work with home-schooling and ‘entertaining’ children. Less physical socialising and ‘getting out,’ leading to increased feelings of isolation.

Thoughts of drawing a line after “that year” quickly dissipated.

Against this backdrop, there is action that your business can take - to Reflect, Reset and Reimagine.

Reflecting with 2020 Hindsight

Context is everything, isn’t it?

It’s imperative to understand your operating environment and the interplay with your business.

Undoubtedly, 2020 was transformational.

Lockdown reduced travel overnight. Nationally, it took away the busy ‘rush hour’ on roads. The grounded aviation sector stopped international movements. Forcing businesses to adapt to technology-based communications solutions, question the renting of premium office space, and attending global conferences. Safety risks associated with drivers and office use reduced. Of course, statutory maintenance for fire safety, Legionella spp, and other facilities management activities remained. Environmentally, there were benefits from reduced air pollution and lower requirements for commercial waste management.

Manufacturing of food and essential supplies continued, along with the construction sector. The logistics sector met rising demand with productivity levels increased closer to pre-Christmas, without the benefit of recovering from the Autumn/Winter 2019 peak. Lack of capacity for planned preventive maintenance and repairs combined with the fatigue of management and teams tested EHS control measures to the limit.

Covid restrictions accelerated prevailing trends.

A perfect storm struck the retail sector as a population confined to home in a rapidly digitising economy fuelled unprecedented growth of online shopping. This further reduced the commercial viability of many struggling High Street brands and department stores. Mass shifts to homeworking forced even the most technophobic employees into videoconferencing through Zoom, Microsoft Teams or similar, at home.

Mental health awareness became ‘mainstream’ as the world faced one of the most stressful years in recent history. There was greater showcasing on social media, tackling stigma. Here, technology has emerged as a factor. On one hand, social media has been blamed in part for increasing anxiety levels (particularly amongst GenZ) and, conversely, praised with the development of apps such as Headspace and Calm. Perhaps, the roles, responsibilities, and effectiveness of Mental Health First Aiders warrant attention in this climate.

The Black Lives Matter movement and proliferation of ‘Women In…’ networking groups across sectors moved diversity and inclusion from the realms of Human Resources policy to headline news. Consumers and employees now expect brands and employers to place a stronger emphasis on social conscience. Demonstrating how they live corporate values.

Reset to Survive

How can your business stay the same in this rapidly changing world?

Strategic drift is already a risk. A reset is required.

We need to consider recent changes in the macroenvironment, our responses, and what this means for strategic and operational capabilities - this year and beyond. A platform to focus on purpose and empower teams. Unlocking the power of technology to drive creativity, curiosity, and care.

Human Resources

Attraction, recruitment, and retention are more complex.

Major economic crises prompt an upswing in new business creation. Affordability of technology and accessibility of social media now enables the more entrepreneurially minded to create their own businesses and quickly scale. This can compound a shortage of required skills on the market.

Appeal as an employer is essential to attract the best talent. How well did you demonstrate your corporate values when they were tested during the Covid outbreaks? What fuelled the public perception of your brand via social media? What are the stories that your employees shared?

Brewdog, the global brewery business has been relentless in pivoting to support national efforts to alleviate the crisis - even commended in a televised Prime Minister’s Daily Coronavirus Briefing. Alongside this, leadership in sustainability. Becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral brewery business and hosting a global sustainability summit with industry leaders. Gymshark, the leisurewear brand has become a £1Bn turnover business through a focus on people and brand leadership across social media.

In the UK, the Government furlough scheme was extended until April. So, many suitable candidates may opt to remain with their current employer rather than apply for new roles and risk moving to a probationary period with a new employer.

More fundamentally, is your business subconsciously trying to stay the same while the world is rapidly changing around you? Recruiting to fill existing roles with the same job descriptions from a pre-Covid world? Or, is there a recognition that the capability of individuals to be agile, adaptable, and solve problems is vital?

Video-based job interviews were a novel tool for the recruitment process, in 2019. Now commonplace, they raise challenges for both recruiting teams and candidates, alike. Widespread redundancies have included large sections of the job market with years, if not decades, of stable employment without undertaking job interviews. The most suitable candidates for a role could be overlooked if they are unable to adapt to the technology.

Onboarding new employees is more difficult. Induction of key information, mandatory training (including EHS), and becoming part of a team now require different approaches from an office-based environment. These early phases are important for success in the role and retention in the longer term. This is even more critical for new senior leaders as they need to positively influence the culture and performance.

Without the need for travel and physical access into buildings, a positive element which has little coverage is the increased access for people with physical disabilities to a wider range of roles. Similarly, candidates with children or other caring responsibilities can be offered more flexible working arrangements.

Leadership Styles

As more of us work from home, which styles of leadership and management will be most successful? How effective can traditional command-and-control styles be for fragmented teams and remote individuals? What support might senior managers require to translate leadership into influence? The pace of change with throw up new challenges on unprecedented levels. Coaching and mentoring to empower problem-solving will be essential. Trust is also a factor as many employees home-school and fulfil other responsibilities in their household, disrupting their working day.

Reimagine to Thrive

Successful businesses will be those which reimagine their strategy for growth and development capabilities to drive agility, adaptability, and build resilience. Spotting opportunities and utilising insights at a pace, underpinned by strong governance are imperative. Technology is now the enabler across all parts of the business, including EHS.

Here are three areas to consider from an EHS perspective:

1.     Culture

“how we do things around here” has developed over years, decades, or even centuries. Newcomers pick this up from the buildings, behaviours, signs, symbols, and stories in the workplace. But, there have been unforeseen paradigm shifts that question the essence of the organisation’s DNA. How will your business proactively shape the culture it needs from now on?

2.     Strategic risk mindset – agile, adaptable, and resilient

How well-equipped is your business to ‘design in’ risk management at a strategic level? It is imperative now to undertake gap analyses aligned with business strategy in the context of your external environment. To anticipate threats, responsively.

The rapidly changing world, digitisation, and technology are helping or forcing individuals and businesses alike to adapt, at pace. Previously, innovation may have been the luxury of R&D departments investing millions of pounds in research and design for a competitive edge. Or, at least, driving operational efficiency in the visible parts of the business.

Costs of technology have fallen so much that mobile technology can now be utilised to provide access anywhere, anytime, online and offline. This has opened up new possibilities for the management, governance, and reporting requirements in environmental, health, and safety (EHS) portfolios.

Filing cabinets filled with completed checklists now gather dust in Head Office buildings which lay empty. Almost certainly, over the past 12 months, the environment in which the business operates has changed together with activities, supply chain, contractors, and risks.

Now, more than ever, it is vital for multisite businesses, in particular, to have fully customisable and auditable management systems. Technology not only captures EHS performance, as part of a corporate EHS Strategy. But it can also power decision making. Moreover, what are the ‘new’ stories? A move towards the EHS department being enablers, collaborating cross-functionally to ‘design-in' value-added solutions?

3. Management systems – actions not words!

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (UK) require risk assessments to be “suitable and sufficient.” This means to cover the scope and depth of risks, as experienced, in appropriate detail. This is not new. However, it is worth stating. In many businesses, assessments have become complex documents that record generic, hypothetical activities across the business and are reviewed annually.

During Covid, many businesses pivoted entire business models and activities within weeks. It highlights that risk management needs to be grounded in reality and drive action. At every level, risk assessments need to be tested (monitored) as living tools. For instance, in logistics, the segregation of people and vehicles is a critical risk factor. If the control measure is to repaint all yard markings ‘every 3 months' or every ‘X number of hours’. How was this delivered in 2020 when there was a 50% uplift in business throughout the year?

Similarly, if Peak/Winter planning usually begins in Spring, to prepare for spikes in volumes and winter weather disruption the following Winter. How did this take place in 2020 with the immediacy and unrelenting spikes in volume from the first UK lockdown?

Should companies take this opportunity to evaluate how best to connect with their employees and align benefits with the radically different environment? In 2019, ‘work-life balance’ was an aspiration, and working from home is often considered a perk. Well-being programmes included fruit bowls in the office, Cycle To Work schemes, and discounted gym membership. It’s questionable how effective these were in engaging and motivating employees to adopt a healthy lifestyle or how widely they were valued. Similarly, how prevalent or accessible were they for employees in manufacturing sites, logistics warehouses, and construction sites? What does wellbeing look like in your business now with homeworking and gyms closed?

What is morale like in your business? How are employee engagement tools being used? These are important in measuring the ‘climate’ of an organisation and how well the corporate values are being lived (and reflected externally). Both are critical to the culture and performance of the business and brand reputation. This is played out in your business safety culture. The expectations, role modelling, behaviours, recognition, and rewards lay on a continuum from reactive and a compliance focus to collaboration and ‘ownership’ by the business.

Drawing together themes from this article, here is a checklist that you may find helpful:

2021 EHS Checklist

1. How consciously is your Board ‘designing in’ risk management to strategic decision making?

2. How effectively does your current infrastructure (including technology) enable the Board to gain executive line of sight of key risks ‘as experienced’ across your business?

3. How does information and communication flow throughout the business?

4. Does your written Health and Safety Policy (statement, organisation, and arrangements) reflect your business in 2021?

5. Is there a 2021 Safety Improvement Plan owned by your business?

6. Are your 2021 EHS performance targets appropriate for current and emerging trends?

7. Do you trust your measures which monitor the resilience of your supply chain?

8. What levels of assurance do you have that emergency planning and business continuity processes reflect current roles, responsibilities, and resources?

9. Are details of licences, permits, and accreditations kept under review?

10. What specific, NEW questions does your business need to ask?


In the turbulence of this global pandemic, there is more uncertainty, anxiety, and instability than most people have ever experienced. From Governments to businesses and individuals alike, our frames of reference have gone.

Digitisation that would have taken 5-10 years occurred throughout Spring and Summer. This has set the tone, the precedent for how business leaders need to think. To create a strategy, design work, build and empower teams, customer relationships, and supply chains based on agility, adaptability, and resilience.

Involve stakeholders to reflect, learn lessons and apply them.

Reset…draw breath to focus, make sense of the ‘here and now’ and what needs to be done.

Reimagine the endless possibilities for your brand and reputation, strategy for growth, teams, customers, and suppliers. Imagine 2022 and beyond. How can technology, social media, and ‘designed in’ risk management unlock your potential?


Jonathan Dempsey MBA

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