It’s all about risk

Blog entry
Date: 
24.07.2015
Author: 
Chris Mould

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of chairing the second in a series of Shaftesbury Partnership roundtables under the banner Doing Good and Doing Well. Our aim in hosting these events is to build a cross-cutting network of like-minded individuals who are committed to delivering a wider value to society in their work. Our belief is that more can be done through collective leadership.

This second roundtable was on skills development in the context of an ageing workforce and uneven opportunities in the labour market. A broad range of companies and organisations were represented around the table, including BAM Construct, British Gas, Carillion, Jaguar Land Rover, Mears Group, Natwest, and Sodexo – and unsurprisingly the discussion identified a wide range of issues.  

Skills shortages – an opportunity?

Craig Lucas, Acting Director of Science & Innovation at the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC), challenged us about scale. There are 7.5 million homes which are low-quality on energy efficiency, and therefore much harder to upgrade. An estimated 160,000 construction employees will be needed as energy efficiency projects move from relatively low-skilled insulation work, which is not far from completion, towards higher-skilled work. This implies the industry needs a far larger workforce than any current skills development initiatives could handle. Craig argued this is a major opportunity for providers that can innovate and do the right kind of training to support the retrofitting of social housing. But he stressed that this won’t happen until mind-sets change.

Social value, not social cost

Steve Gapik of British Gas New Energy agreed that large-scale installation of energy efficiency measures is challenging and costly, and he argued that the issue of fuel poverty can only be solved when companies like British Gas work in partnership with government. Steve also discussed other ways to create social value. As a Founding Member of Social Business Partnership, British Gas is working with Shaftesbury Partnership to bring social enterprises into its supply chains, and Steve said it is important to see social value as good value rather than a cost.

Success or significance?

The event was held at the Message Enterprise Centre, Manchester, and we were also joined by Andy Hawthorne OBE, Founder and CEO of The Message Trust. Andy was a successful businessman when he was younger, but when he saw the difficulties faced by ex-offenders and unemployed young people in the local area, he decided to switch from doing well to doing good. The Message Trust employs over 100 staff, and re-offending rates are less than 10 percent. Andy’s challenge to everybody in the room was to move from being successful to being significant.

The need to take risks, collectively

For me, one of the key take-home points from the evening was that there are no risk free approaches to doing good and doing well. Remarkable risk-taking is necessary if we are to tackle the big issues successfully, and the best way to do this is collectively.

We need to find out the best ways to take risk, rather than rush headlong into action on an impulse. Networking and connectivity fuel innovation. They also reduce the risks around risk taking.

The challenges discussed during the evening are societal and systemic. Stated in stark terms, to make real headway at scale on the skills development issues, we have to address the fact that the young and the old are victims of system discrimination. This is why cross-cutting approaches and systemic thinking are essential.

Individuals matter

My final observation, based on the evening’s discussions, is that individuals are at the heart of all change robust enough to last, so the key is to find somebody in your organisation or industry that is willing to do something together with you.

Leadership is located at the level of the individual. Pointing to an industry or sector and saying they should fix something won’t work. An organisation only becomes a leader because people within it chose to risk leading. That’s what Shaftesbury Partnership’s Doing Good and Doing Well discussions aim to support. As Andy Hawthorne puts it: “why not add significance to success?

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