Zoe Lewis Interviews Paul Lomas

In her most recent interview, Director of Coaching Zoe Lewis speaks to Paul Lomas, Director of People, Change and Transformation at Bibby Financial Services. Discussing the impact COVID-19 has had on the organisation, how they have responded to challenges faced and guiding principles, read the full interview below.

ZL: Tell us about Bibby Financial Services.

PL: Bibby Financial Services is part of Bibby Line Group, we are a broad based financial services business. We have 4 businesses; invoice financing, Leasing, FX and an Insure tech start-up. In terms of invoice financing, outside of the banks, we’ve got the got the biggest market share in the UK at about 24%. We're an organisation of around about 1200 people worldwide and we operate in 10 countries.


We have brilliant people working with us and we are proud to be in the “Sunday Times 100 best companies” list and this is our seventh, ninth in total, consecutive year of being in the top 100. Alongside this our colleague engagement survey reflects that this is a great place to work and I’m proud to be part of the organisation.

ZL: What is your role in the organisation?

PL: I joined Bibby in October, 2018 and I'm the Director of People, Change and Transformation. My focus is working with the executive team and through our people to drive our business strategy through our people agenda. The focus is on how we enable things to happen that are critical in terms of the attraction, engagement, retention, development and motivation of our colleagues around the globe.


ZL: So with a global organisation, what impacts has a global pandemic had on the organisation?

PL: It’s fair to say it’s provided a challenge!


Let’s start with some of the successes. We came out of our offices early, around 9th March, so here in the UK around two weeks ahead of the official lockdown. We moved very quickly to ensure that we enabled all of our colleagues through technology implementation, ensuring that they had the right setup at home to be able to operate, and good communication with our clients and key stakeholders. I was really impressed with the way we moved ourselves out of the office and maintained our work during this time.


I think the impact is really twofold. I think our operating model is being tested like it never has been before, because the challenges facing our clients have changed significantly which means we’ve had to adapt also. If organisations are not trading as normal then from an invoice finance perspective, there is less turnover to fund against. That said, we’ve seen some great success in supporting clients with bad debt protection facilities, and helping them to start to prepare for better times ahead. Our message has remained that we are “open for business” with a clear purpose of “helping SMEs thrive, both now and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic


In addition, we now find ourselves in competition with the government through the creation of their various small business loans, CBILS and other similar products. So, whereas there might have otherwise been an opportunity for potential new clients using our products, the government offering is likely to be their first point of call. Nevertheless, we still see a great opportunity to support SMEs now and in the future. The great thing about invoice finance is that it helps organisations to unlock cashflow from within their businesses, so despite the challenges, we believe there’s a real opportunity to get this message out there right now.


ZL: How have you responded to these challenges?

PL: We look back and we say, "Right, our model has been tested, but we've got a strong foundation of business. And once the economies begin to come out of lockdown, then we should see that business beginning to return." However, the thing we're not sure about is, as is true for everyone, “Is it going to be a V-shaped return curve or a U-shaped improvement? And are we going to have super recession?” And the truth is we just don't know, we just have to be ready for whatever that may be.


ZL: What does that mean as you move forward into the unknown?

PL: We've got a well-versed strategy. We know our market very well and it's basically, we're open for business. We're here. We've never gone away. We've also always looked at how we can maintain our business, so we have a good prospect network, a direct channel and our own staff referral scheme, all of which helps us to pinpoint business opportunities.

In short, it’s about being ready and being agile to an unfolding situation.

ZL: What have been your guiding principles as you’ve led through the pandemic?

PL: As a business we are clear on our purpose and we have a culture of focusing on the three Cs, colleagues, clients and contribution. This all comes together to create a workforce that understands what needs to be done and how to operate.

I think we've always had a degree of flexibility within our organisation to make decisions. If you're in front of a customer or you're talking to a client, you need those freedoms and constraints to know how far you can go and the decisions to be made. We’ve supported our people, whether they’re in sales, operations or support functions to continue to make the right decisions.


We have retained our regular governance structures, but recognised that we’d had to move quicker, be more agile in our decision making. We instigated a frequent steering group to focus purely on COVID19 and its impact to ensure the decisions required were made as appropriate be they colleagues, client or contribution related.


ZL: With that in mind, what have you been doing to support your colleagues during this time?

PL: Communication has been a big focus. We run weekly all UK calls to keep colleagues informed and uncover any topics we need to know about and discuss. Team and individual catch ups are taking place as well as social sessions, and we also launched Yammer to provide an additional social channel for colleagues to connect and interact. We’ve run specific topic sessions with one recently held on wellbeing that focused on reminding colleagues about the support that is there for them, that’s it’s okay not to be okay, to feel free to speak openly, as well as signposting our existing support such as our employee assistance programme.


We've upgraded and extended a number of our people policies to try and help, for example our sick pay policy has been extended, improved and change in line with government guidelines and we’ve made other positive changes to support colleagues, for example with enhanced dependency leave and greater flexibility on working times to facilitate work/life balance.


I'm proud of our leaders and managers and the way that they've managed the current situation. We’ve maintained our business and the engagement of our colleagues; I'm quite proud of how we've approached this.


ZL: Finally, what three tips would you share with others about leading during uncertain times?

PL: As a leader, this first tip would be about being true to yourself and being open and honest, both with yourself about what's working well and what isn't, but also with your teams as well; being transparent in what you’re sharing.


I think the second one is this thing about one size doesn't fit all and everyone is different. Recognise that fact and manage situations with empathy and humility.


The third tip I’d share is about communication and engagement, it's about listening and intuitively picking up the signals and the signs of what’s really happening and keeping that communication open.

ZL: Thank you for sharing your experience of leading through the pandemic and we wish you plenty of success as we move out of the pandemic and into whatever the next phase looks like. It’s been a pleasure talking with you today.

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