We recently invited Eileen Burbidge, Partner at Passion Capital to join us for our first virtual event, Transitions.
I’m a technology investor, and so I typically spend my days working with early-stage startups or scale-ups privately held that are looking to have a global impact or world domination. And so it might not be immediately obvious to people why I’d be chipping in today, but I really am honoured to be here. I think it’s incredibly important to support and do more for our local government institutions. So I’m really, really pleased to be part of it.
It’s incredibly important to support and do more for our local government institutions. And if there’s anything we’ve learned in 2020, it’s this indispensable relationship and dependency between our local government institutions and the private sector. The bricks and mortar as well as the digital businesses that really help underpin the economy and drive commerce in all ways. I don’t think we can have one without the other.
Thinking of the transitions I’ve seen, observed or been a part of with privately held companies, some of that can lend itself to what local government institutions should be thinking or considering as well. I wouldn’t be so bold to call them lessons learned because I wouldn’t at all suggest that local government institutions think about following or copying what happens in privately held startups. But when I was thinking about some of these experiences I’ve been through, that I’ve seen in 2020 and even before, I really feel like there’s some challenges or observations that probably lend themselves both to local government institutions, as well as what I’ve seen in the private sector.
What I’ve done is a list of nine takeaways or as I said, observations that I have. Trust me, it was really, really tempting to try and get to a really nice round number of ten. And in some cases, I’m going to talk through some of these that have some sub-points to them. And there you’ll see that I could have made it a list of ten, but I decided I keep it at nine because, as we all know, quality over quantity. And so I hope you don’t mind me leaving it on a really odd number.
1) Mental wellbeing
So with that, I want to start with my very first point, which is something that I think only really became super important and critically important in 2020. And I’m holding my hand up as someone part of the private sector that I don’t think we were as worried or concerned or just mindful about this before this year. But that’s mental wellness.
And I think I have to start the list with that, because even in the private sector, as an investor or board director, I’ve worked with teams or company founders with transitions, either with their teams or themselves or the company. I have to admit, unfortunately, I probably didn’t think about their mental wellness or that of the wider team as much as I have in 2020.
So the good news is I do now, and I think first and foremost it’s top of mind. It’s really obvious that we only get the best out of people, we only get the best contributions and you can only really have people fully aware and fully present in terms of making contributions if they’re also looked after themselves. And I guess it took a global health pandemic for that to really hit home. And for us to ask members of my own team at Passion Capital if they’re looked after, if their family’s feeling alright, if they’ve got what they need in terms of answers about health care, if they know what they have to look out for in terms of symptoms, whether it be coronavirus or otherwise. And thinking about looking after themselves before, then asking them to contribute in a work context.
And so that’s the first point, to look after people and make sure they’re in a good place so that they can actually make good decisions and make strong contributions. We have seen time and time again that the worst decisions and sometimes the worst actions are taken when people are under duress. We need to be mindful about how people are dealing with things and potentially battling things day in, day out in the privacy of their homes that we’re not aware of, but which a global pandemic sort of reminded us does affect everybody. Everyone’s got their own issues or their own challenges and everything that they’re coping with. And the best thing that leaders can do is to make sure those people are looked after first before asking them to go through any kind of transition, whether it’s at work or their place of work.
2) Stakeholder engagement
Number two is thinking about stakeholder engagement or stakeholder management and the priority of those stakeholders. So when I think about startups or scaleups it’s really easy to often think about users, consumers, the team, employees and there’s also the board and investors. Maybe there’s press and maybe in some cases, there might be regulators. And so you have all these different stakeholders and then you’ve got to think about which one is most important if we’re thinking about a transition.
Is it the users in this case? Is it the shareholders? Is it perhaps, unfortunately going to have to be the investors because you need capital to keep going? It’s different in every case. And I think I’m not actually suggesting that it needs to be one or the other in all cases, but that there needs to be real clarity with the leaders of managing a transition about what’s most important at that point in time or because of the situation.
It’s the same with public sector or local government institutions, what are we thinking about, first and foremost? Are we thinking about people delivering services? Are we thinking about the resources they need? Are we thinking about policymakers? Are we thinking about central government? Are we thinking about the citizens and the people that are going to benefit? Who are we looking to serve in this first instance to accomplish what it is we need to accomplish through a transition or responding to a crisis?
3) Diversity of thought
That brings me to point number three, which I think is incredibly important, and that is including a diversity of thought with any transition or any reaction to any kind of a situation or crisis.
It’s not enough to just have, in a privately held company, for example, the chair to be thinking about what it is that’s needed for a transition. It’s not enough for just the chief executive, whether it’s the outgoing or the incoming one. It’s not enough just for a board to be thinking about that. And similarly, at local government level, it’s not enough just for local government leaders or councillors to be thinking about what’s going to be happening or who should be considered. It’s not enough just to have the citizens’ voices. We need all of that, we need diversity of thought.
We need to actually make sure that many voices are consulted. Otherwise, you run the risk of falling short of what I mentioned in my earlier point about stakeholder engagement. You end up with unintended consequences of not being mindful of all the stakeholders you need to be mindful of, of potentially having an adverse impact on certain people, certain constituents or stakeholders. And so you really need this diversity of thought to make sure the quality of what’s being considered for the transition or the reaction in action is really holistic.