Dealing with the Unknown

I have always enjoyed helping people. Making others happy has always been a major part of my make-up, so one of my earlier roles working in a call centre was a perfect environment for me to thrive. People ring with a problem, I listened and then found a solution. I loved the feeling of recognition when a client’s issue was resolved and it was great grounding in a reactive and customer service environment. It was also a warm comfortable office with plenty of hot cuppas on hand!

After a couple of years I progressed to another area of the business, becoming a department manager for the first time. This involved project managing small installations which included managing job costings, procurement, managing sub-contractors and liaising with clients. I loved the fast paced environment and reacting quickly to a client’s needs. Our team built great internal and external relationships and we loved the service that we could give to our clients. Again, this role involved working with a team of ladies within an office environment.

Still in my mid-twenties, well respected in the business and established within my role, I was approached by one of the business owners to see if I would like to transfer to a completely different business they had owned, to become Managing Director. Although the business was still within the service industry, it was in a totally male dominated warehouse environment. It was also struggling in all areas and had gone through two other Managing Directors without success. It was in a mess. I was scared, really scared. This would be a real test for me. Could I cope in a cold warehouse environment in an industry that I had little knowledge?

I had been happy in my role, progressing well, comfortable within my surroundings, business relationships developed, and had supportive work colleagues around me. Why would I want to leave all that, for something unknown where two far more experienced predecessors had not been able to make this business work? I had many reservations over that fear of change: what if I let people down, what if I don’t like it, what if I can’t do the job, where do I start? I knew the business had many challenges, not least from a staff perspective. I recall one of the first weeks when all but one of the eight staff members didn’t come back after lunch one Friday afternoon, and the running of the business was left to me and an apprentice! Duvet Mondays were a regular occurrence with a full team in work being a rarity… There were many occasions where I was scared and having to find ways to cope with change. I was running a business that had so many legacy issues in terms of property, staff, systems etc. and I was in complete fight or flight mode to deliver.

I had experience of running a department within a business but this was my first opportunity to make all the decisions on costs, staff, pricing, systems and it was a complete blank canvas for me to learn and add my stamp to it. It was a lot of responsibility and there was a real fear of failure and letting others down. Over a 7 year period, the business transformed from loss making, complaints a-many, and high staff turnover into a profitable well-managed, highly motivated business that had very strong relationships with its clients. The business had grown to such a level that it was then targeted by a nationwide plc and was successfully acquired in 2012. I look back on the journey to what helped it become a success and how I overcame those fears and accepted that change positively.

There is a chance of failure in everything that we do but learning from mistakes and being brave enough to take action were a few of the many things things that I had to learn fast:

  • Staff: getting that blend of ability and motivation is key. You may have the brightest person within your team but will they stay late when needs must? Will they care enough to go that extra mile for you and your business? Trust and Loyalty cannot be taught.
  • Be prepared to take action: Keep doing the same thing and you will keep getting the same result. If you notice a skill gap, appoint the right person; sometimes it is someone more capable than yourself, don’t be scared of this. Get people in the right roles to maximise their skills. People always gravitate back to what they enjoy.
  • Don’t try to be perfect, no one is – accept we all make mistakes. Acknowledge them, learn from them and move on.
  • Ask for help: Surround yourself with insightful and supportive mentors. Change in our roles as difficult and scary as they may seem make people and businesses evolve.

I recall so many of the fears that I had, as I made lots of decisions in terms of IT systems, staff, pricing, leases–the list went on as there was so much to do and change! But I firmly believe that nothing worth having comes easy and sometimes you get it right and sometimes you don’t. As much as you may have that fear of failure, the rewards of embracing it can give the recognition that the change was worth it!

Written by Claire Dunn