The past year has caused us all to take stock of what and who is really important and to evaluate where we’ve come from and where we’re going.
Looking back, it was a redundancy option in 2013 that led me to consider my future career path. I’d always relished the challenge of the trade merchanting role I was in, but the commute was distracting from the enjoyment, so this felt like the opportunity to do something different.
With no clear plan, but a promise to myself that I would invest in my future and return to studying, I left what my family referred to as a ‘perfectly good job’ in search of something different.
I’m a huge believer that everything happens for a reason and after just a few days I was called to go for an interview with Dulux Decorator Centre. I remember sitting in the reception area being strangely comforted by the tins of paint on display - until that moment I’d never appreciated how much I felt at home working in the construction industry.
Fast forward to the end of 2019, I’d worked for Dulux Decorator Centre for 14 months, achieved a distinction in my Masters, stepped out of my 20+ year HR comfort zone and taken the opportunity to lead the creation of Dulux Academy.
The training centre was a UK decorating industry first, and by that stage we had the ambition to train 10,000 trade professionals by the end of 2020. I didn’t stop there, I also extended my remit to lead the transformation of the Dulux Select Decorators scheme.
As 2020 started we had a great team, clear plans and support to activate them from the AkzoNobel business. Then in March, just as the Dulux Academy was about to celebrate its fourth birthday, the wheels fell off. We had to close the face-to-face training we offered and instead promise to quickly develop a way for the team to work remotely.
Working from home was a novelty at first, the sun was shining, and the removal of the daily commute meant longer evenings to enjoy some free time.
As the weeks went by, the severity of the pandemic became apparent. Making a decision about furloughing members of the team will stay with me. We're a close knit team and to make the decision not knowing what the future held was tough.
The Dulux Academy had to reinvent itself. We’d always talked about how online learning could be part of the mix but that was it, all talk. Now was time for action. We needed a solution to still deliver training and support decorators. Launching Dulux Academy Live was one of my proudest moments.
The resilience of our Dulux Select Decorators and the team that supports them must also be admired. While we’d already started to put a focus on mental health this really came to the forefront with all the uncertainty and personal and professional challenges of the pandemic. Small gestures like an Easter egg became a comfort and the community built from shared experiences. Now the scheme couldn’t be in a better place as we look forward.
Personally, reflecting on nearly a year of leading a team remotely, I’ve surprised myself at how well I have adapted - despite a few moments where the ‘Zoom-fatigue’ has kicked in!
My personality means I have a preference for the company of others, it’s where I get my energy from. But although most of the last year has been ‘virtual’, it’s been a great opportunity to evaluate who is important in my life.
I’ve also learned to love the spaces I have at home. My North London flat is small, but I’ve been able to create spaces I enjoy spending time in. These days ‘office’ is in an alcove in the corner of my lounge that I’d never really been in - anything is possible if you have to.
If the last year has taught me anything about leadership, it’s about being creative, adaptable and brave. I’ve also learnt how to manage what is in my circle of control and block out what I can’t deal with; even if that means switching off the real world for a while.
My passion for the construction industry isn’t anything to do with the products, although I am a big fan of all things paint and colour, it’s always been about the people. I’m very fortunate to have an amazing team, supportive colleagues and customers who really care.