“2020 is going to be an epic and memorable year”, one of my trainers enthusiastically proclaimed after a few glasses of champagne at our Christmas do. I’m sure he meant this in a very different way than the manner in which all of our lives was changed, almost overnight, in the surreal, science fiction-like days of March. Like many businesses, mine suffered. All our booking were cancelled (not postponed) in a matter of days. The vast majority of our work is face-to-face highly experiential learning sessions to raise awareness of 7 skills that, actually, we now need more than ever: adaptability, critical thinking, empathy, integrity, being proactive, optimism and resilience. We worked with law firms, universities and health practitioners. 2020 was meant to be a high-growth year expanding on successful and hard-won contracts. A brand new website had already been commissioned.
“When dealing with fast, unexpected change the key skill everyone needs right is the ability to move and adapt” – Joe Nellis, my Global Economics professor at Cranfield School of Management
I knew, pretty fast, that we needed to turn everything online and I had often toyed with the idea of replicating what we did face-to-face into some sort of blended learning but had never seriously sat down and worked out how. Now I was forced to. One by one all our clients went silent. It wasn’t even possible to have a conversation. And then one of the law-firms that had sessions booked in for the 1st April asked if there was any way we could offer the same session online but change it to make it relevant to the current crisis. I responded with a “yes” but really had no clue how I was going to do this. Our normal sessions were one-day full workshops using drama, improvisation, experiential exercises to boost self-awareness. How on earth could that be replicated online? After some discussion our brand new 90-minute live masterclasses were born: 4 of them linked to themes of adaptability during turbulent times, optimism during crisis, supercharging productivity whilst working from home and turning challenges into opportunities. For this firm, everything was to be run on Microsoft Teams, an unfamiliar platform and one which does not lend itself well to being very interactive.
After spending days and days preparing for the first session, I felt some trepidation at delivering online in this way. Yet we had fantastic feedback and, as a result, monthly repeat bookings and long waiting lists with delegates attending from around the world. Normally, for this particular client, we would have run 3 – 4 sessions a year in the UK and abroad. Each participant would also have received an individual personal feedback report and these often took hours to write. Suddenly, we had quadrupled the number of sessions and coaching. This was very welcome, since actually we had no other client to speak of.
Fast forward to June and many Microsoft Teams, Zoom, GoToMeeting and Adobe webinars and meetings later and we’ve been able to replicate these masterclasses with another firm and with doctors newly arriving in the UK to practice (a session that, likewise, was run face-to-face before and has now quadrupled). Alongside all of this, I completely changed the website and have been replicating all of our skills sessions into purely online modules on our own integrated learning management system. This is a tremendous amount of work, and risk – it’s required a huge upfront investment of time and money. It’s also a massive amount of learning and utilising all of the materials design skills experience from the last few years. This means I can draw on experience gained from consultancy work designing blended and online learning modules. When you’re working all the time it’s hard to find time to develop your own business model in a strategic way. Your energy goes into your clients and their needs.
The changes, uncertainty and crisis of the recent months have propelled me into doing focusing on my business much more strategically and I am sure that taking our successful face-to-face model and designing it into a high quality, interactive virtual learning experience is the right way to go.
The future is even more uncertain but I do know that the skills I advocate are needed more than ever and, if anything, getting them out to a much wider audience makes complete sense. One-by-one our clients are gradually emerging to have conversations, to make sense of all of this and to work out how to continue.
Most of the time, the future arrives gently. Despite the high speed of change we are so used to, we actually absorb its effects into our daily lives far more slowly — especially at work. Changing anything in our lives or at work often gets deferred — until one day something happens and suddenly everything that was familiar is broken. At a stroke, all those fixes, ideas and experimenting with new ways of doing things that have been waiting on the side-lines get fast-tracked to the mainstream. We are in one of those exceptional moments.