Great Work Wins at IoD Young Directors Conference

I was fortunate enough to attend the Annual Institute of Directors (IoD) Young Directors Conference in Manchester today.

Here were my key learning points:

Katherine Corich (Founder and Group CEO of Sysdoc) stole the show for me with her impassioned plea for the audience members to be brave in leading the charge to rethink business in its current conventional form and practises. In its place, she called for sustainable holistic business enterprises that meet the needs of the community, team and customers. In particular, Katherine identified 3 core areas for new role-model business leaders to focus on:

  • intersecting business with the needs of the social agenda,
  • thriving as small-medium sized businesses (to stay connected both internally and within the community rather than becoming faceless large corporates),
  • encouraging diversity in recruitment and work practices.

Sysdoc has its own unique culture and has stuck to its principle of defining innovative new business models that are scalable, repeatable and have global potential. Meanwhile, it has no formal recruitment procedures, deliberately flouts the “Victorian” 9-5 working day (in favour of spending time with the family) and overall is driven by principles and values rather than profits. Yet over the past 25 years, Katherine has successfully built Sysdoc into a leading organisation with offices across the globe whilst staying under the radar of the public eye and ignoring commonly accepted business practices.

Sysdoc is a great example of purpose-led business doing great work – in fact, encouragingly GREAT WORK appeared to be an underlying theme of the day.

Other notables included:

Richard Williams (Co-Founder and Director of Williams Murray Hamm) called for businesses to differentiate in an era of Karaoke Commercialism. Predominantly focused on FMCGs sector, Richard Williams’ presentation walked the audience through a series of household products – from washing up liquids to soups etc – that all look boringly similar. Criticisms that could be leveled at pretty much all business sectors. Of course, where products or services are the same then all you have to compete on is price – clearly not a long-term sustainable plan! (unless you can make money from deliberately setting out to THE cheapest ala Ryan Air). Rather than following the traditional path of seeking efficiencies and recruiting like-minded staff, Richard encouraged the audience to be brave and test new ideas, products and services. To search for your unique values, history and story and to build this into your product or service design and delivery. More great work…?

Colonel Charlie Strickland OBE (Royal Marines, former Commanding Officer of 42 Commando) gave an inspiring account of the dangerous work completed by our troops that he led in Afghanistan. The key message for business for me was balancing risk v reward and building the trust and understanding of your team. He spoke about the importance of constantly “manoeuvring to make your own luck” in a military deployment sense yet this segwayed nicely with others’ talks about the need to constantly reinvent your business. I also liked the way in which Colonel Strickland emphasised his inclusive culture using discursive decision-making which, rather than suggesting weakness, actually allows the team to better understand the leader’s thinking process enabling them to understand your expectations when a crisis or emergency strikes. Further insights included: Regular review and analysis with the team (especially over a beer) ensures that everyone is on the same page. Detail is vital but “don’t micro-manage” – let your team know how high your bar is set initially but then ease off when your team understand the ropes.

Overall, an enjoyable conference with the opportunity to mix with like-minded business people and participate in some fun and insightful talks.