Jim and Ayyab Reflections 2021

Written by Martin James Admin

We make no bones about it, 2021 has been an incredibly hard year, one filled with setbacks, curve balls and challenges that we really couldn’t have foreseen! But it has also been a time of phenomenal learning and growth on so many levels. We are so proud of the positive impact we continue to have to the lives of children, families, workplaces and wider communities around the world. Inclusion of all people, through services and solutions which facilitate true human connection, is at the heart of everything we do. As we move in to 2022, we remain resolute and unrelenting in the delivery of our vision and mission, through the companies that make up the Network. To do this, we believe we must always reflect on everything we have learned from all our experiences, our mistakes, our successes, and use this as a platform to do even better in 2022.


So, we wanted to share some of our reflections on what we have learned at individual, interpersonal, collective and systemic levels in 2021.


Learned about ourselves

We have learned that bias, stereotypes and internalised fears can really impact our daily practice and hinder connection and innovation. However, we don’t just unlearn out-dated views or master our fears off the back of a one-day course, e-learning or because people tell us to. It’s a lifelong commitment to becoming intentional around self-challenge and reflection. It’s an often uncomfortable journey of questioning our long-held views, making mistakes, listening, learning, improving and practice, practice, practice!


This year we have been incredibly proud of the investment in our SEED practice framework and training, to promote our belief that the mindset change required to tackle inequalities more widely, starts with each and every one of us as individuals. Throughout the year, we have also supported a multitude of local community groups and incubated new businesses, all on a mission to promote a more inclusive society. This has also included supporting young people to realise their own business ambitions through EPIC Futures. We have continued to challenge our existing mindsets to help realise new ways of working through our new, home-grown inclusion training, as well as updated and implemented our revised DE&I strategy and ‘This is us’ charter, to encompass a wider, more human definition of diversity and inclusion.


We are very clear though, our work in relation to this is an ongoing journey. We won’t even try to reel off any inauthentic and superficial rhetoric’s of being completely free from all the ‘isms’ – no one is completely free; we are all imperfect humans and working daily to free ourselves from bias and fear. Rather than simply classify it as a tick-box exercise, we will simply never stop trying to be and to do, better.


Learned from others

The way each and every one of us sees the world and solutions to complex problems, is filtered through our very personal beliefs, attitudes and preconceptions. If we really want to learn and connect better, we must always attempt to view challenges through the eyes of others by actively listening. But we have also learned that even this process involves balance, where the seeing of the humanity in others, even when we strongly disagree, does not prevent the need to hold others and ourselves to account and have the courage to make bold decisions where it is required.


Listening, and we mean really listening, to diverse perspectives, has enabled us in 2021 to restructure central teams more effectively, develop stronger collaborative relationships globally, pivot when things were just not working, and adapt products and services to better meet customers’ needs.


In the very limited cases where this approach hasn’t worked due to people still unwilling to use the processes in place to see truths from others’ perspectives, we are incredibly proud to have stood our ground to protect our mission, vision, values and identity as a Network. Self-interest cannot be at the expense of our wider community endeavours and overarching purpose.


Learned as a collective

Without equity in decision-making, diversity is pretty much meaningless, and innovation and growth at real risk. We need to consciously create the conditions to enable people to feel empowered as individuals, but also connected as teams, towards achieving collective goals.  This has certainly been the case as we worked towards the opening of Holy Moly; our new, Harlem-inspired soul food restaurant in Harborne.  Under the ongoing and changeable conditions caused by the pandemic, we pulled together, relentlessly kept going, not losing sight of the ambition, and now have the doors open to welcome the community.


This year we have been so proud to see businesses that were just seeds of our imagination a couple of years ago, flourish and grow due to purposeful teams empowered by exceptional leadership. From Antser, which saw outside investment of £8.5 million only 3 years after conception, and TalkOut, which received an outstanding, high performance score in its latest engagement survey, through to Intellect, which achieved a world-class net promoter score and Fosterline, which won numerous customer service awards; teams are thriving under a common purpose. We are under no illusion though, we have more to do to amplify and empower people to speak out and participate more equitably across the Network, particularly at board and governance levels. This will remain a priority as part of our ‘fearless’ programme of work with leaders and staff in 2022.


Learned about the system

We have learned that when existing systems or ways of working are broken, don’t just paper over them with quick fixes, really overhaul them. But equally have the vision and insight to see that some solutions to problems are far simpler than we think and shouldn’t be over-engineered and overcomplicated. Knowing the difference between the two is crucial to any business.  It’s certainly something we’ve learnt in launching Humanise Training, which offers both cultural and compliance training to help workplaces prosper.


Our experience this year has taught us that we can sometimes get fixated in bringing people in to help ‘fix’ things when we just needed to lean on the expertise we already have through better collaboration or developing in-house talent. There are also some challenges that can only be owned by us as leaders, and not delegated to others just because we may fear we are not good enough. We have already begun to simplify and streamline structures, supported by more inclusive communication, engagement, learning and performance strategies. We have also commenced a review of all policies and procedures to ensure that they continue to promote inclusivity at all levels. These system level changes will remain at the top of our agenda in 2022.


Concluding thoughts

These reflections demonstrate that yes, we are far from perfect, but that makes us a very human organisation, striving to do better but not setting unrealistic, unachievable standards around this, which can only serve to demoralise. Furthermore, we consider perfection to be the enemy of innovation and progress. The pursuit of it would have prevented us from starting so many things we are incredibly proud of now. Instead, we focus on striving for excellence in the service of others.


Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of our exceptional leaders, staff and partners with whom we have the privilege of working with day after day. Together we are working collectively to help realise the vision of a society in which each and every one, no matter their background, fears and starting point in life, have an opportunity to unlock their true potential. Truly there can be no bigger or better purpose in life than to be working to create a better world for everyone.


We hope your festive season has been a healthy and happy one, and we wish you all a joyful New Year!