Lockdown Stories: Sharon Le Goff, IVE

As a creative leadership training provider that has been trusted advisors to Government, led national development programmes and worked across a range of sectors, IVE has certainly been in a unique position to experience the true impact of this global pandemic.

Despite the uncertain times the UK marketplace is facing, IVE called upon its own creative expertise to implement innovative changes that would ensure the continuity of business productivity and enable the team to “remain agile to events as they unfolded.”

That is not to say IVE hasn’t dealt with its own challenges along the way! With a busy schedule of training programmes planned prior to the Covid-19 crisis, it is fair to say that lockdown caused an abrupt stop to the majority of IVE’s upcoming activity.

This was complicated further by the fact that IVE invests all profits into its social enterprise, IVE Studio, which is geared towards improving access to creative skills and opportunities for young people across the UK.

As a result, IVE was “forced to reimagine its approach and in essence, apply its own training to the situation”. In doing so, the business was able to evolve quickly and make critical adjustments that would ultimately protect IVE longer-term!

To gain a better understanding of how IVE successfully navigated through this uncertain period and learn more about its ‘lockdown story’, we recently caught up with Business Development Manager, Sharon Le Goff.

Crisis Management

Like thousands of businesses across the UK, the restriction imposed by lockdown caused widespread disruption to what was expected to be an extremely busy time at IVE.

“On the day of lockdown, we were meant to be delivering training to Post Graduate students at Leeds University. The weekend after, Drew Rowlands, our Deputy CEO was due to give a keynote speech at the National Education Expo in London. The following week we were scheduled to be training senior police officers from across the country, and we had bookings to start delivering our Creative Leadership Development Programme with SMEs from the Leeds City Region as part of West Yorkshire Consortium of Colleges Higher Performing Workplaces.”

Realising that this pandemic could have a significant impact on the training provider profession, IVE took a proactive approach to ensure that business operations remained ongoing with minimal interference.

“In some ways, our experience reflects that of the wider industrial landscape in that our order book suddenly dried up and we made the decision to furlough our leadership team on a rotational basis to protect the rest of our workforce. However, we have several funded projects that we lead, so cash flow has remained strong and due to the nature of our company and where our expertise is, we were able to pivot quickly and innovate.”

Embrace Change

As a business that thrives through collaboration and interaction, IVE had to find an alternative method of delivering training programmes in the same engaging and effective way as the team did pre-Covid. Through necessity, new technologies had to be integrated into IVE’s business processes.

In the training we offer, we look to demystify the term ‘Creativity’ and drill down into how to unlock the capacity so that ideas might be generated without constraint. We also examine the behaviours that are needed for creativity to be developed and explore how to establish the right environment for creativity to be nurtured. As part of this process, we interrogate mechanisms that might be used to apply creative thinking and problem solving on an individual, team as well as an organisation-wide basis. Since March we have applied these principles to rapidly adapt what we do to online and virtual platforms.”

“This change has reinforced my view that if you understand creativity and the creative process and are equipped with the tools to apply a model of thinking across your environment, then problems, no matter how colossal, can be turned into opportunities. Whilst I’m still unsure if our virtual training via zoom (other platforms are available!) completely replicates the experience of our face to face training, we have mastered the functionality of the platform to such an extent that we are able to undertake the majority of collaborative activities we delivered previously.”

Not only were the IVE team able to successfully provide their training programmes virtually, but this transition also enabled the business to increase its footprint within the industry.

“It has also meant that we have been able to establish far greater reach; having delivered to participants from literally across the globe. In addition, we have adopted many of the techniques we use in our training and applied them to our operational structures; from how we structure agendas, to how we facilitate ideation. This means we have become an embodiment of what we train.”

Learning from Lockdown

For Sharon and the entire IVE team, delivering training online has afforded them new opportunities to not only enhance the business’ current services offerings, but also develop new approaches to attract new clients.

“We used to deliver our training programmes face to face but in light of the new era that we are living in, we are now offering all of our training programmes at the IVE Hothouse online. It is a new virtual world and we are successfully empowering teams online with various companies across the UK.

“We face a pandemic that cannot be controlled. 2020 is about survival and IVE are offering innovative approaches to grow creative, future-ready leaders through our tailored, experiential, and reflective training. Our industry-led, work-based apprenticeships also instil self-leadership capacity within each participant and equip them with the skills they need to be effective and resilient in these uncertain times.”

In addition to maintaining business continuity throughout this period, Sharon also utilised her time to identify the most effective way her work can help create a “better working world for all.”

“We are all recovering from the pandemic. So, more than ever, professionally my time is now to work with others to build back better. I am also really passionate to tackle inequality, to improve diversity and inclusive working cultures, to focus on climate change, find educational and work opportunities for our future young generation, to look at sustainable ways of living and leadership to fight the climate crisis.”

Community Spirit

Despite the uncertainty that Covid-19 brought to so many of our lives, seeing Yorkshire’s business community, as well as all IVE employees, willingly adapt to this ‘new normal’ is something Sharon has been most impressed to see.

“COVID -19 has changed what normalcy means for everyone, and the community spirit that I have received and witnessed from other business partners coming together has been phenomenal. When we work together in a time of great uncertainty it emphasises the value of a community network and the resilience that we have created to prepare for the unexpected.

“Our teams have all worked remotely with a strong work-from-home mentality, at IVE we are a culture that embraces change and trust is a two-way street. We are empowered to manage our own time and workload without the familiar surroundings and structure of our teams and workplace.”

Communication is Critical

As the way we work continues to change, to become safer or more remote, Sharon believes that business leaders must be responsible for ushering in this transitional period, which can only be successfully accomplished through clear and coherent communications.

“The importance of leadership and learning has been key in the face of change. For me, leaders who communicate with their teams and promote transparency and lead by example clearly understand that the future of work is changing, and leaders need to take a proactive stance in understanding how work will be done and how that shift impacts the workforce.

“I have never been so close to technology which is vital for all communication and employee engagement. When you have that global mindset you can still connect when you are working from home, I use video conferencing for meetings regularly and you don’t need an existing IT infrastructure in place, there are plenty of free apps on smartphones and PCs to connect people remotely which is brilliant and I am not traveling so it is greener and better for the environment.”

Be Resilient

When asked about the words of advice that Sharon would share with others based on her own lockdown journey, she urged that “remaining positive in unprecedented times is vital.”

“It takes time to adapt to new situations, and for some, this is more difficult than others. Although we are all in this situation together, everyone’s experience is different. My words of advice would be to remain positive, focus on the silver linings of lockdown and the pandemic, and think about what you are thankful for still having during this time – whether that be time with your significant other or friends and family, virtually connecting with your work colleagues on Zoom, keeping up with exercise or a new hobby or just taking some time for yourself.

“We are capable of adapting and we have shown that thus far, our innovation and ability to ‘build back better’ can see us through the toughest of times.”

We at Yorkshire Mafia are certainly impressed with the innovative approach IVE adopted to sustain its training programmes during a pandemic! Embracing new technologies is certainly something we are seeing on a large scale across Yorkshire’s business community, but it is really encouraging to see IVE use these to take advantage of new opportunities as too.

We also have to say that we echo Sharon’s views when it comes to community spirit. Yorkshire Mafia knows first-hand just how beneficial a strong network can be, and we continue to see this be an important factor in helping businesses remain active throughout the region during this incredibly difficult time.

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