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Learning to become a better leader, without the guilt

Emma Heathcote-Jones – Little Soap Company
Emma Heathcote-James has used Productivity through People to work on her own skills and address business improvements

As someone who ended up becoming a leader of a team through her business naturally expanding, Emma Heathcote-James always felt guilty about investing in her own development. Find out how Productivity through People changed that.

The last 13 years have been a story of great success for Cotswolds-based business owner Emma Heathcote-James. In 2008 she took her passion for natural products and found a gap in the market – high quality, UK produced organic soap, made accessible to large audiences.

Following organic growth, she decided to invest in her own business skills and take her successful kitchen table business to the next level – to the shelves of as many high street retailers and supermarkets as possible.

Doing so meant growing and managing a team, as well as moving from business owner to business leader. And this is where her involvement in Productivity through People came in.

“Like most business leaders, I really didn’t think I could spare the time to do the course, even feeling guilty at the thought of spending time away from the business” confessed Emma. “But once I got involved, I realised how essential what I was learning was going to be to how I tackled the challenges and made my business even more of a success”.

A bittersweet 2021 experience

Naturally, the challenges presented by the onset of the pandemic were significant, and Little Soap Company was not immune. Interestingly, demand rose for Emma’s products, due to such a re-invigorated focus on hygiene, self-care and the impact on people’s skin of excessive handwashing and sanitising with synthetic products.

To maintain operations and ensure a seamless customer experience, Emma had to work fast to move everything online, make changes to staff responsibilities, solve problems, and manage disruptions to the supply chain and manufacturing caused by coronavirus.

It turned out that some of the lessons learned during the Productivity through People (PtP) course stood Emma in great stead. Encouraged during the course to ensure 100 per cent cloud operations for email, file storage, project management and HR, Emma had already implemented changes and so was able to seamlessly shift her all the office-based team to remote working without disruption to meetings, sales and delivery. She was even able to grow the team during the pandemic, giving her the flexibility to meet fluctuating demand and help the company’s supermarket customers by reacting fast to shortages caused by panic-buying.

Fresh perspectives

Emma believes, like many others, she was an “accidental business leader”, going from a one-woman band to a leader with a team. Not only can this be a lonely and isolating position, but it can be one fraught with stress and guilt.

Emma explained: “You are responsible not only for your products and customers and the vision and shape of your business, but your team who look to you for motivation, engagement and leadership. I realised that if I was to fulfil my dream of being a household brand, a feature in homes around the country, I would need a strong team around me, and this is what drew me to the PtP course.

Even Emma’s interpretation of the concept of leadership was challenged.

“One of the things that struck me was my view of leadership, that I was thinking about it in the wrong way. My team were not there to help me. They are trusted, talented individuals, competent in their roles, and it is for me to help and support them – so they can do the best job. This turnaround in my perspective of leadership was pivotal to how I now approach people management.

“It was also insightful meeting other business leaders who are grappling with the same or more difficult challenges in their business. There has been a sense of camaraderie throughout the pandemic, and we shared worries, bounced ideas off of each other and jointly worked through business solutions. The positive impact of this network has continued long after graduating from the course, with a very busy, active and positive WhatsApp group and community, offering communication and support.

“A highly refreshing and reassuring perspective was seen on an invaluable visit to a Rolls-Royce site, where we realised that even large, respected and high-profile British companies are constantly looking at processes and operations to become more efficient and productive. The examples given were honest, illuminating and inspiring, making you reflect on what can be achieved in your own business”.

Learning, put into practice

“Much of what I learnt was able to be implemented in my business, with great results. Thanks to the finance modules, I reviewed our practice, bringing in a commercial accountant and changing how we format our monthly management accounts.”

Due to her self-professed improved understanding and enlightened view of leadership, Emma feels more confident and empowered to trust her “wonderful” team, and no longer has guilt about taking time to review the business and invest in her own learning and development.

“I also recognise that it’s impossible to know it all as a business leader, but that through access to the fantastic mentors and other leaders you get on this course the solutions are out there, which you may never have discovered on your own,” she added.

“One excellent example of this is when the benefits of having an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system came up. Previously, I didn’t even know what this meant! But now we are integrating an ERP system into the business, which I expect to greatly improve the productivity of our operations.”

Little Soap Company just gets bigger and better

Pre-coronavirus, Little Soap Company forecast 63 per cent growth in the business, but it’s actually ended up being 110 per cent, revealed Emma. Circumstances and sales have been unpredictably boosted by recent events, but the business has become “slicker, more ambitious, more confident and determined” to continue to learn and grow.

“The Productivity through People course has been a truly important aspect of my journey,” Emma revealed, “due to the inspiration and knowledge drawn from the content, mentors and alumni network of business leaders who I continue to value for their collaborative approach, morale and support.

“I would urge any business owner who wants to improve their leadership and bring out the very best performance in their team, to take the time to invest in the programme. It was worth every minute of my time.”

Find out how our Productivity through People programme could help you and your business.

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