The Creative Engagement Group : Lessons Learned in 2021

Russ Lidstone
Russ Lidstone

As the year draws to a close, Russ Lidstone, Group CEO of The Creative Engagement Group, reflects on the lessons learned and forecasts what’s ahead

As we look ahead to another year affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s time for some reflection, personally and more generally, on where we and the global business community find ourselves amid the ongoing crisis.

I’m reminded, here, that the Chinese word for “crisis”, “wēijī”, has come to mean “danger-plus-opportunity”. As the world responds to this nightmarish chapter of Big History, it’s time to consider what kind of society we can look forward to and decide what kind of businesses we want to be.

A new social contract between individuals and society, between employers and employees, has evolved, addressing everything from economic inequality to climate change. In business, this collaborative, transparent and purpose-led approach recognizes that we are no longer defined purely by the balance sheet, but also by the way the world and its communities experience us.

As a species, of course, we’re proving to be extremely resilient, in all sorts of ways. But resilience isn’t simply about enduring – it’s about recovering and evolving.

Business-wise, we have strengthened our ability to pivot and innovate at pace. AstraZeneca’s no profit pledge on its COVID-19 vaccine, and the likes of Christian Dior turning its hand to, well, hand sanitizers, are instances of how business at its best thinks laterally, and pivots in various creative ways during crises.

But with automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and new job models reconfiguring the business world, according to PwC, 80 percent of CEOs see the need for new skills to be one of their biggest challenges. And the business world will require many more ‘pivots’ to help address the biggest challenge of all, namely imminent climate catastrophe.

Constant agility and learning throughout the flow of work will be driving forces of the foreseeable future. Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) won’t come to a screeching halt either. M&A deals broke records during 2021’s Q1, to the tune of $1.3 trillion, and at The Creative Engagement Group (TCEG), we began the new year with some excellent news: having made two acquisitions throughout 2020’s pandemic – Logicearth Learning Services, and Cormis Capability Consultancy – in January, we were delighted to acquire the talented US-based Vitiello Communications as part of our Forty1 division. This company provides employee engagement consultancy to a range of blue-chip clients. In addition, we invested in our own world class Behavioral Science unit to underpin our ambition to inspire lasting change.

In March, EY Future Consumer Index presented a roadmap for navigating a post-pandemic future. At the top of the agenda were affordability, health, planet, society and experience. Its message was about living in the moment to make the most of life: for many workers, starved of office culture, the post-lockdown freedoms resulted in a return to the office – or are at least some form of hybrid working. By May, Reuters was reporting that a combination of Zoom-fatigue, loosened lockdowns and vaccination programs had seen “bankers rushing to see CEOs and other top executives in person”. At TCEG, we see the option of office-based working as a strategic advantage in the ‘war for talent’, as well as something that helps define our culture.

When it comes to both deal-making and creativity, there’s no substitute for face-to-face engagement; for those water-cooler knowledge-sharing moments; the chat on the way to pick up lunch. However, that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can to minimize risk. Safety has been at the heart of The Creative Engagement Group’s approach throughout the pandemic, just as employee wellbeing evolved to be a fundamental duty of care.

Vindicating our approach, this May, TCEG was thrilled to be ranked in the Top 100 UK Best Large Companies to work for 2021 and in Philadelphia’s Best Places to Work 2021 list. We were particularly commended for our approach to remote working during the pandemic, having increased our focus on mental and physical wellbeing and personal resilience. This was a proud moment – I have long believed that our team defines us, and that our ‘work with, not for’ philosophy is key to who we are.

When allowing people to return to our offices, risks have been constantly monitored throughout. For example, we have a desk booking and contact tracing app, the capacity of our offices has been reduced, and our attraction-not-instruction approach has led to safe office engagement.

Mental wellbeing has increasingly come under the spotlight, as the past years have exacted a heavy toll. So, I was delighted that TCEG was this year’s recipient of a Gold Award from the UK’s leading mental health charity, Mind – their highest accolade. Mind was impressed by well-being initiatives such as regular pulse-listening surveys, along with frequent and transparent communication and a number of home-grown wellbeing initiatives and employee assistance programs.

The coming year will see us settle into ‘constant discontinuity’. Life will be volatile, of course – but change can often be good and inspiring. Change management is no longer simply the provenance of consultants, but also the primary role of the CEO.

We have a new arm to our business launching in the first quarter of 2022, plus some fantastic new hires and a range of new services launching. Our culture of transparency, collaboration, open-mindedness, and trust has steered us through uncertainty and ensured the successful integration of acquisitions – as well as giving us strong foundations from which to innovate.

And whilst there will continue to be uncertainty and change, holding true to our values will underpin our outlook and continued growth.

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Russ Lidstone is the Group CEO of The Creative Engagement Group and Chair of Trustees Creative Mentor Network