Every day leadership: managers stepping up to the crisis – Part Two

Written by Matthew Rock Friday 20 March 2020
Even in the middle of a terrible pandemic, many managers are using the time to learn and develop new skills. How can you and your team best learn in a lockdown? I spoke to teacher and Chartered Manager Benjy Rickman...
Monday 30 March

Benjy Rickman is an unusual combination: teacher at an ‘outstanding’-rated school and a Chartered Manager. After his school, King David High School Manchester, closed down due to the spread of the Coronavirus, Benjy started producing daily videos to encourage the children to continue their studies; he’s also done videos to keep spirits up among his team of fellow teachers. He does them early in the mornings, with the birds singing in the background, and they’ve made a huge impression on students and colleagues.

I asked Benjy about how managers could make best use of this strange period of isolation – and how they should encourage their teams to use this time to learn.

Benjy - of course! - responded in the form of a video. So here’s his advice to other managers. The key thing: role model learning yourself. Show that you’re committed to developing yourself. It’ll rub off on others.

Over to you, Benjy…


While it’s hard to generalise about a national ‘management mood’, I’m picking up a sense that managers and leaders are moving into a new phase.

Thursday 26 March

Some contours to this crisis are beginning to emerge. Last week talking to managers and leaders, it was all about crisis planning. This week the words I’m hearing most are ‘action plan’. The Covid-19 pandemic is grave and biting deep into all aspects of our daily lives, but organisations and managers must look at their operations and ongoing viability. One of the most common words used by Chancellor Rishi Sunak when outlining his new intervention scheme for the self-employed is ‘operationalise’. Yes, he seems to suggest, this is an awesomely huge socialist-style intervention by a Conservative government delivered at breakneck speed, but I’m sure as hell going to make sure it functions properly.

On a similar note, we’re hearing of dramatic resource reallocation taking place in many organisations as demand shifts. Some people are busier than ever while others are twiddling their thumbs. Managers are again having to step up, identify where the demand is high, realign objectives and repurpose staff to where they’re needed. We’ll be returning to this subject in detail next week. If you’ve got experience of suddenly having to reallocate resources, please let us know. Please email us at

A related issue is that huge numbers of people want to volunteer. What does this mean and look like in reality in your organisation? We’d be very keen to hear – same email.

One manager who exemplifies all this is Aaron Giudice. He’s a Chartered Manager and deputy managing director at Sowga, a business that operates within the UK facilities management market. Basically Sowga, which is based in West Sussex, maintains the mechanical, electrical and public health services within the commercial real estate sector (large multi-tenanted office buildings). Right now with the country in lockdown, most of those offices are empty.

But Aaron is still on it. There’s a business to manage, people’s jobs to protect and clients to service, albeit at a reduced level.

“At the very least we must maintain the essential security, safety and legislative compliance of the buildings,”

This all needs to be done without using public transport and maintaining social distancing.

In terms of the business as a whole, Sowga is fortunate to have

several excellent long-term clients who have confirmed that they will continue to pay our contract fees in full during this crisis, which should allow us in turn to continue paying our employees.

However, with the immediate future of this crisis uncertain, Aaron acknowledges that

we cannot completely guarantee that no employees will need to be furloughed, although we will avoid this as much as possible.

Aaron has drawn deeply on his management training and Chartered Manager experiences through the tough past couple of weeks. He is determined to stay calm which, in turn, means he’ll think more clearly and make better management decisions.

These are some of the management competencies he’ll be using to help him work around and ride out this crisis.

  • Adaptability. For example, being prepared and able to change my approach to everyday tasks and process and encouraging colleagues to do the same, to suit the changing working landscape during this crisis.
  • Communication strategy. For example, utilising technology such as video conferencing, Microsoft teams and WhatsApp groups to ensure I can remain connected with colleagues and important communication can still be achieved.
  • Organisational change. For example, accepting and embracing the present changes to my working environment and encouraging colleagues to do the same. Try to follow the same routine timings as if you were still heading to the office.
  • Human resource planning. For example, planning resource requirements and approaches to both maintain the required service delivery whilst minimising risk to our colleagues.
  • Emotional intelligence. Managing my own emotions during this time of crisis and understanding the emotions of colleagues to ensure a culture of support and guidance which will see us through this crisis.
  • Diverse thinking. "Many heads are better than one” so I’ll be including colleagues in key discussions to achieve a diverse thought process and the generation of different ideas on how we can manage various challenges during this crisis.

As Aaron says:

My mission during this crisis is quite simple – to protect our business and the people within it, to ensure we have a healthy business and healthy workforce able to pick up where we left off before this crisis struck!


Wednesday 25 March

Blimey, I’m having a lot of video calls! They’re great in many ways, encouraging regular and succinct dialogue. They’re also curiously energy-sapping by the end of the day. I will admit though that it’s quite interesting to see inside colleagues’ homes – apart from the clever ones who’ve figured out how to use ‘blur background’.

Today I spoke to Jo Owen, the entrepreneur and author of Resilience (Ten habits to sustain high performance) and Global Teams. Jo was at home in Kensington. He lives right next to a couple of central London hotels that have got zero occupancy. It’s eerily quiet.

Jo is the kind of man you want to talk to in a crisis. His entrepreneurial background means that his first instinct is to look for the positive. Starting next week he’ll be writing a series of blogs for CMI called ‘How to have a good crisis’. Here’s just a flavour of Jo’s can-do energy:

Leaders are like tea bags, you only know how good they are when they land in hot water. COVID19 is the perfect teabag test, for you and your team.


We have entered the lockdown days. In the second instalment of our diary of 'every day leadership', we meet a manager in the frontline of the construction industry, wondering whether sites will close and what to do with his employees

Tuesday 24 March

Last night prime minister Boris Johnson made his extraordinary message to the nation, imploring them to stay at home unless totally necessary.

We are in lockdown.

I haven’t spoken to my old friend Rob in years, but now feels like a good time to get in touch. Rob (not his real name) runs a small business in the construction trade. He’s got a full-time workforce of nine people based out of a workshop in Essex. They do high-quality specialist work on sites mainly across the south of England. He also uses a handful of long-serving self-employed contractors.

I sent Rob text. “Is the situation now clear?” I asked.

Here’s his response:

Still clear as mud, getting calls this morning asking where we are…

Initially last night we told everyone to stay at home today so no one working. I am talking at 9am with the other Directors to work out what were are planning to do ongoing.

We will probably try to continue on those sites where we can be sure of safe conditions , again no use of public transport. At the moment we are still not sure of 80% wage grant so all are off on unpaid leave.

Monday 23 March

Rob was working from home when we spoke. He set himself up to do this last year and he’s seen a big spike in his own productivity. Today, though, he’s totally confused. “I thought everything was meant to be shut down, but all the construction sites are open,” he says. His team is currently working on seven sites in central and outer London.

For their personal safety, Rob’s told them that they shouldn’t be travelling on the tube, so he’s ferrying them around in the company van instead. He can’t tell his sub-contractors what to do, though, so they’re still using the London tube and train system, potentially spreading the Coronavirus and endangering others. Twitter is alive with images of packed sites and trains. There’s growing concern about what effect this will have on NHS and other key workers. Communities secretary Robert Jenrick is pleading with the construction industry to do its bit. The hashtag #StayAtHomeSaveLives is trending.

What Rob really wants is some clear direction, even if it’s that all sites should close. That would mean he could properly think about moving his full-time team into the new ‘furloughing’ arrangement under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. He needs to be able to show that his guys can’t work. Right now, with the construction industry still open, he has to continue operating as normal - whatever normal means these days.

I’ve also been speaking to a COO in the media business. Her company works partly in the travel sector, which has totally shut down. So she’s been looking into the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme over the weekend. “It’s what we needed to stop redundancies,” she says, “and I’ve got our lawyers looking at it.” But the details about the scheme are very thin right now – unsurprisingly given the speed with which it’s been introduced – and there are a huge number of questions still unanswered. Does the £2,500pm salary that the government has pledged to meet include National Insurance Contributions? What if people want to take holiday while they’re ‘furloughed’? We’ll be looking at these questions later in the week.

Matthew Rock

Matthew Rock

Content Development Director at Think Publishing Ltd

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