"It’s critical that we have managers who see the potential, and the best in people, and who also have the skills to draw that out of them."
M7: Apart from the culture and behaviors, in terms of developing people, what are the initiatives Lane 4 has in place?
AM: At Lane4, as well as developing companies’ culture, we work to develop their leaders, teams and management, with the ultimate aim of improving people’s working lives. The metaphor I use from my time in swimming is that I want to help people in their own race – whatever that might be for them. Because we are a development organization, everything we do for our clients we also turn in on ourselves, and make sure we have the best developed employees too! Right now, a big part of my time is taken up seeing how we can best work within the restrictions, and for us that has meant moving a chunk of our face-to-face delivery to virtual. It’s been a big shift but also an exciting one in terms of showcasing some of our new digital products.
Our digital team has been working really hard over the past couple of years so that we have webinars, e-learning tools, virtual classrooms and personalized coaching apps already. These tools mean our transition to virtual delivery has been much smoother than it otherwise would have been. Our teams have also been sharing their learning with each other in real time. Again, from sport, we are really good at in moment performance reviewing – good or bad; asking ourselves: what’s the lesson?
I’m most excited about the off-the-shelf products which we’re going to market with. They aim to develop skills which are really relevant right now: adaptability, wellbeing, and how to be a high performing team. They’re scalable because they can be accessed anytime from any device, and that’s been the real success within the organisations we’ve used them in so far: it allows leaders to unify learning. That sense of cohesion is a benefit which feels all the more relevant now most of us are working virtually.
M7: Development is very closely linked to performance management. What approach does Lane 4 take when it comes to managing employee performance? And what is the reason behind such an approach?
AM: When I started Lane4, I had just come from this incredibly elite environment of professional swimming, and I wanted to apply some of that performance psychology and focus to the workplace. I’ve always had the belief that if people are given the right tools, then anyone can improve and realize their potential. It’s this belief that talent is everywhere, combined with psychology and our experience in elite sport, which grounds our approach and gets the best out of people. Our ultimate aim is to build winning organisations and improve people’s working lives.
I am also a big believer in the coach enabling and facilitating people – in this case, the person’s line manager. It’s critical that we have managers who see the potential, and the best in people, and who also have the skills to draw that out of them. Clarity between the person and the manager around role and goal expectations is crucial.
"If people are given then right tools, then anyone can improve and realize their potential."
M7: With many more people working from home, leaders are starting to experience a drop in people's motivation at work. In your opinion, how can smart managers effectively lead and motivate remote teams during the COVID-19 pandemic?
AM: In the last month I have run webinars with my colleagues on both leading virtual teams and maintaining motivation, because they are issues which many of us are facing right now. Leadership and motivation have to be looked at completely differently right now, because COVID-19 is a completely unprecedented challenge.
In terms of leading teams at the moment, there are some key lessons I have learnt from my experience of performing under pressure and weathering the 2008 financial crisis as a small business. To name a few, during a crisis it’s key to manage your own state as a leader. A lot of this is understanding what physical signs your body gives you when it’s all getting a bit much. Investing in support networks means you can then lean on others when this happens. Another one is to set up clear roles and responsibilities. In coping with disruption, priorities get scattered, and it becomes even more important to have those contracting conversations so that your teams know where their focus should lie.
At Lane4, we look at motivation through a framework. This outlines the four determinants of motivation: Autonomy, Belonging, Competence and Meaning. Once you have understood how working from home has impacted your motivation as a leader through these four areas, interrogate how that might be playing out for your team. With this understanding, you can tailor your leadership behaviors to help improve your team’s motivation.
There’s also something to be said about giving your teams a line of sight towards your organisation’s defined purpose during COVID-19, which might not be as corporate as it used to be. Having that line of sight allows them to create their own roadmap towards the goal and helps remind them of the meaning of their work at a time where little feels certain.
M7: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work - what day to day processes have you had to re-tool to be able to pull them off remotely? What does your remote tech stack look like?
AM: As Managing Director of Lane4, I spend a lot of time with the six board members I’m lucky enough to have working alongside me. Part of my job is helping them be brilliant, and thankfully I can still do that virtually, not that they need much help at all!
I’ve always believed that effective communication is key to a successful organization and I’ve managed to maintain this with people in my team during the pandemic. However, this does mean I find myself on Microsoft Teams for a lot of hours during the week. What this situation has made me notice is that operating remotely can still be highly effective given the number of digital tools we have available now. Although I still maintain that nothing beats a face-to-face conversation over a coffee!
As I mentioned, we’ve been operating mainly on Microsoft Office 365. The whole organisation uses this so it creates consistency throughout different teams. Whether that’s saving and sharing documents on SharePoint or holding a company-wide update on Microsoft Teams, I’ve been really impressed with how seamlessly the tech has worked.
"The sense of cohesion is a benefit which feels all the more relevant now when most of us are working virtually."
M7: How does Lane 4 cultivate an environment that encourages employees to seek guidance and support from leaders?
AM: We believe in having a learning mindset at Lane4, which dictates that people’s beliefs and abilities are malleable, not fixed. Because we encourage our employees to adopt and explore that learning mindset as much as possible, as people stretch themselves outside their comfort zones, they inevitably fail sometimes. But we believe in “failing fast”: failing, but learning quicker as you bounce back than you otherwise would have done. That’s where the support and guidance comes in, which we have embedded into the culture through mentoring schemes and coaching sessions.
We also promote trust immensely, and that’s been something which I’ve felt is pivotal to us as an organization overcoming the COVID-19 crisis. By being as transparent as possible with our people the whole way through this, I think they’ve felt more able to ask us for support when they have needed it.
M7: What are some exciting projects going on in Talent Management at Lane 4?
AM: One of the projects which we’ve been excited about recently has been upskilling all of our consultants to bring them up to speed with our new talent management offering. It’s been a huge project and one we are proud to have completed despite COVID-19 making it slightly trickier.
I’m also really proud of the Bounce Forward academy we’ve set up for our employees currently on furlough. It’s allowed them to access training sessions to help them gain confidence with all of our digital platforms, mentoring schemes and opportunities to connect with one another around topics other than work. There was even a virtual gardening session led by our Director of Finance last week!
M7: What is your favorite quote?
AM: During my time as a swimmer, my favourite quote was: “If you follow in the footsteps of somebody, you’ll never overtake them.” My coach used to point out athletes who were really good at what they did, and I would watch them and learn. Having said that, I was always aware of the danger of only focusing on beating my competitors, because my reasoning was: if I’m just trying to beat someone else’s best performance, I might never know what my best could have looked like.
Now my swimming career is behind me, I don’t collect inspirational quotes quite as much as I used to! The one I have taken with me into the journey of building Lane4 is: “The aim of this establishment is to create an environment where champions are inevitable”.