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The Bridge International is 3 years old! What have we learnt, what has worked?

I can’t believe three years have passed since a small group of ex-colleagues David McDonald, Sara Elmstrom, Ben Coleman, Stuart Brown and I took the plunge founding and launching The Bridge International. Since our 2018 Sydney launch with Nelson Mandela’s grandson as our special guest, Sky News’ Chloé James as MC and 100 close friends, family and colleagues … so much has changed!

After launch, our first 12 months was like sprinting a marathon. As with a lot of start-ups we had to adapt, pivot and change strategy based on what was working and the feedback from our customers and trusted partners. We had early success and found many business leaders drawn to our consulting and advisory services given our unique proposition. Having consultants with deep client-side experience including executives, general managers and specialists, we are able to walk in our client shoes.

We have created a bridge between a fairer, professional services model offering lower rates and more experienced consultants.

In the second year, we grew rapidly as an alternative and innovative consulting practice offering advisory services from strategy, transformation, customer and operations, sales and marketing, digital innovation, commercial and performance benchmarking, culture and risk.

Its wasn’t until I left the safety and security of a corporate job (not to mention a guaranteed monthly salary) that I truly appreciated the support you get from colleagues and your corporate network.

To those of you who provided an encouraging pat on the back, a quick text to say “how are you going?” or whisper of encouragement – thank you. You will never know how important that was in the early days and still is!

With a start-up you are walking a tight rope with no safety net, building the plane while you are flying and just hoping your best will be enough.

We were busy, growing, expanding our services across industries and geographies, investing in our team and future when COVID-19 hit! This has given us time to reflect on the last 3 years and there is a lot to be grateful for.

What have we learnt and what are the key leadership challenges ahead?

With Australia now open for business (but like the Australian open, not in full swing), I have reflected on the impact of COVID-19 and the leadership challenges ahead for our clients and The Bridge.

Leadership and culture first

High performance leadership and culture has become even more challenging as we emerge from COVID-19 with new and exciting opportunities for forward thinking organisations. It remains the number one priority.

Top three leadership challenges:

1. Optimising working from home and in the office – creating the work environment of the future now

The emergence of the hybrid workplace model where leaders must deliver best in class employee engagement with less face-time for building connections, teamwork, coaching, networking and mentoring. Creating the workplace as a destination, so team members feel safe and want to be in the office will enable leaders to engage and galvanise their most important asset behind purpose and vision.

Research has proven time and time again that a high level of staff engagement produces superior shareholder returns in the long run.

We will see this inter relationship magnified due to COVID-19. The heavy lifting by leaders to improve their culture over the last 12 months will pay back in so many ways, when other companies are still trying to understand why they have lost contact with their workforce.

2. Accelerated investment in customer and digital solutions

The pressure to fast-track digital transformation for customers, to make doing business easier, touchless and less costly has never been more real. Customer behaviour has now permanently shifted to expect a frictionless digital experience even among consumers who were previously sceptics or had a preference for analogue.

The bar has been set very high by the leading digital platforms.

It is well documented that it is not the technology itself, but the acceptance and adoption by the people in the organisation that will determine success. It is here and it is now.

David McDonald published an article last week on the "What InsurTech Means Today And How It Will Evolve In 2021"

As for the many companies that moved quickly to leverage the new appetite for digital transformation, the benefits for customers and a lower cost to serve has been a silver lining from the pandemic.

3. Playing an important role in social connectedness and wellness

The COVID-19 experience has left its scars on people, the economy and in some states snap lock downs continue. The lock downs have been particularly challenging for our clients and team members in Melbourne and Geelong.

Unfortunately, it is not over and the mental health impacts will be around long after the last vaccination.

People are still trying to cope, recover, build resilience and build confidence – while being asked to drive change harder, faster and adopt new work practices. And all without the face to face emotional and physical support that traditionally came from the workplace.

Many leaders are still trying to assess the best way to support their organisation through uncertain times. After seeing the impact of the pandemic in the community and surge in mental health concerns, members of The Bridge volunteered to do pro bono work for Lifeline. What started out as a few days a week, has now continued for over 12 months, strengthening operational performance of an organisation that saves so many lives.

Lifeline and many other not for profit organisations have been at the frontline supporting many Australians struggling during such unprecedented times.

One thing is clear, as social creatures we all need contact. Understanding the full impact on wellbeing due to your workplace strategy decisions has become more complex. The Bridge is now working across multiple organisations in the health sector and we see first-hand the direct relationship between corporate leadership and employee health.

Corporate Australia has always played a significant role in society and people’s lives and is playing a lead role for inclusivity and diversity. An increasingly important role will also become social connectedness.

What would we have done differently?

Probably move faster and pressure test our strategy sooner. It took a while to regroup and refocus once lock down hit. In retrospect, this was a unique opportunity to pause, take a deep breath and work on the business, rather than in it. Many of our clients have doubled down and are executing their current strategy faster where others have identified new revenue streams and changed their strategy to survive, evolve and thrive.

Pressure test your strategy and plan. Does it need to change?

As a CEO, I found it invaluable to pressure test the strategy and plan externally. Unfortunately, you learn the hard way and in the past I did find myself sometimes not ‘failing fast’ and changing direction quick enough.

It is so easy to fall in love with your own ideas or that of your team’s.

We all have an unconscious bias that comes from operating within the organisation you are trying to change and thinking there is only one way to move forward. Having an independent and trusted sounding board(s) is one of those ‘must haves’, if you are going to be a successful leader.

One of the most valued and rewarding services we offer to clients is The Bridge 360 Degree Review. During COVID this review has been in more demand than any of our other consulting services. We have been able to offer an expert, independent and unbiased review of an organisation and bring fresh thinking to help executive teams better inform their strategic thinking.

The Bridge International 360 Degree Review

The Bridge 360 Degree review is a fast-tracked diagnostic, benchmark and assessment of your organisation. Generally, it can be completed within two to four weeks.

Our approach includes both quantitative and qualitative diagnostics, including proprietary designed financial and competitor analysis, stakeholder interviews and questionnaires for senior leaders all the way through to the frontline staff.

We provide analysis on internal capabilities and benchmark performance against peer groups and other sectors.

The output of the review provides a snapshot of performance across The Bridge Triple Play of culture, customer and commercials, customised against your purpose, plans and objectives. We provide an overview of opportunities, challenges and explore barriers to achieving your strategic goals.

An ideal time to review the business?

Most organisations are starting to set preliminary plans and budgets for next financial year. Consider undertaking our fast track 360 Degree Review.

Give me a call to discuss. I can provide more detail and we can tailor an approach to your business.

Stuart Blake

Managing Director

The Bridge International

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