When the Disruptors Get Disrupted, Lead through Community

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INFLUENCER: As the lockdown continues, it's important to lead through honesty and transparency, says giffgaff CEO Ash Schofield
When the Disruptors Get Disrupted, Lead through Community

At giffgaff we’re a disruptor. Always have been and we love it. Then a global pandemic changes life as we know it. Suddenly the disruptor is getting disrupted. We need to challenge our way of thinking. The pressure is on to navigate through a rapidly evolving new normal.

Just over 10 years young, the giffgaff brand remains ever evolving, making decisions that are true to our founding principles - A transparent authenticity to create value, rooted in the principle of mutual benefit. Our intention is to create a better version of what we want giffgaff to represent. To challenge the established mobile connectivity sector through the power of people. Not just the people in the giffgaff team but also the members (customers) who have joined our community.

I’ve never led a business through such testing times and neither have my team. While we’re leaning on our values, our sense of purpose and our instincts to guide us, we also have the added advantage of having always been online, lean, agile and community focused – a model we’re seeing other businesses having to adopt.

Reaching for our 2020 business plan, our intentions never seemed more relevant. If I’m reading the signs right, I sense that people will want great value and a bigger sense of community from the brands they choose. We are committed to being transparent in the way we create value, rooted in the principle of mutual benefit. Only time will tell, but the giffgaff way of thinking looks to me more essential than ever before. 

But here in the now there’s a strong sense to step up and put the culture we’ve built to the test. It’s mildly terrifying. Leaping forward, I want our people to feel proud of how we’ve responded, not only for the team, our giffgaff members but for the wider community.  If you invest in culture, if people feel their opinions count, if they connect what they do with a greater sense of company purpose, then how we respond doesn’t rest solely on senior management, it’s a responsibility shared by all.

I often talk about how giffgaff is a brand led tech company, so it came as no surprise when before we even went into lockdown, our brand and technology teams were already sparking ideas off each other on how we could step up.  Thoughts immediately went to the wider community and those most in need. We realised we are in the prime position of putting community first and have pledged to provide telecommunications support to NHS staff. 

We also launched something new, goodybank - a way of scaling our existing support to vulnerable members; and through a partnership with Neighbourly reach those in the wider community, across the UK. What sets our approach apart is that we’re giving members the opportunity to help more vulnerable members stay connected as well as bolster donations to the Neighbourly scheme. We’re leveraging our members’ history of generosity, who through our Payback scheme (the way giffgaff thanks it’s members for contributing with fresh ideas, feedback and helping other members) regularly choose to donate their payback to charity rather than take it as phone credit or cash.

Meanwhile to maintain the day-to-day drum beat of the giffgaff way of working, we’re learning new habits and reinvigorating old ones. 

Internally we’ve done a playful rebrand from the ‘giffgaff the network run by you’ to ‘the network run from home’. Whilst our naturally social ways of office-based-working have had to adapt, we’ve always been reliant on our online community platform to help foster the relationship with our members. The fact we’re now all online is a great leveller.

The team still gathers for our traditional all-company Monday morning meetings, only now it’s online with 200 faces looking back at me. It’s such a great way to remain visible and share the evolving narrative. Also dialling up recognition, calling out our own heroes in my new daily Workplace post has been a lovely way to celebrate success together. What’s been most inspiring is people being wonderfully human – on day 2 of lockdown our chief operating and technology officer Steve shared an impromptu video of him playing piano, and during a tea-break on a lengthy product review meeting on Zoom, our design lead Eve played her saxophone. People have also instigated online HIIT, yoga and meditation zoom classes. It’s liberating that our people want to do that for each other and feel they have permission to do so. 

Being CEO carries a risk of becoming slightly disconnected from people’s feelings, more so now, which is why I’m prioritising my availability. I’ve opened my diary for managers to call me and share feedback, and I’m hosting welcome lunches (minus the lunch) for new joiners in the last six months to glean their perspective on the giffgaff culture. 

If a leader’s job is to share an inspiring vision, help people understand their place within it and hold up the scorecard on its progress, then measurement of culture, engagement and inclusion are key. And if we are in this for the long haul, we must pulse our engagement survey to identify any signs of my biggest fear - that people start to drift and lose focus. I mean how many of us actually know what day it is today.

Tough decisions will lie ahead, but my guidance would be to lead through honesty and transparency. By staying true to your values and making the team proud to belong, you’ve every chance people will unite through that all-important sense of community.

Best of luck all.  



Ash Schofield is CEO at giffgaff

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