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      Ketan Dattani of Buckingham Futures

      We Spoke to Ketan Dattani of Buckingham Futures on Being an Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

      As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Ketan Dattani.

      Ketan Dattani holds 23 years of Environmental Health recruitment experience and has a high profile within the sector.

      He is widely documented as an expert on Employment Law, Employee Rights, and for providing Careers Advice.

      He is the Founding Owner and CEO of Buckingham Futures, a specialist Environmental Health Recruitment Business that provides bespoke permanent and temporary recruitment and consultancy solutions to public and private sector employers.

      Academically Ketan is a graduate of Environmental Biology and a post-graduate of Environmental Planning and Management.

      He also holds a Certificate in Employment Law and The Certificate in Recruitment Practice which is a nationally recognised recruitment qualification developed jointly by the REC and key employers.

      Outside of business, Ketan volunteers with several schools, colleges and universities providing careers guidance, CV & interview technique workshops, and conducting mock interviews with those looking to embark on a career within the Environmental Health sector.

      He also offers work experience programs and opportunities at Buckingham Futures for students, to help achieve their potential by giving them an insight into the world of work.

      Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

      From a young age, I developed an avid interest in the Environmental. As I got older, I comprehended that Environmental matters were of little significance in 80s London; Margaret Thatcher had declared that there was no such thing as society and no one understood that more than the inner-city populaces that bore the brunt of a broken nation.

      Having failed in the school system it was my avid interest in Environmental matters that led me back to education and to my academic choices of undertaking a degree in Environmental Biology and a Masters degree in Environmental Planning and Management.

      After completing my post-graduate degree in 1998, I struggled to find a role within the Environmental sector and so began my career in recruitment.

      I set up Buckingham Futures, a specialist Consultancy supplying Environmental Health personnel across the Private and Public sectors on a nationwide basis as I identified an opportunity to aid Environmental Health professionals to fill the gap in the employment sector caused by significant challenges to the global economy caused population growth, increasing demand for natural resources, soaring costs of energy and escalating impacts of climate change.

      My philosophy is one whereby Environmental factors are drivers of my business success. This means that we always go the extra mile to understand the business objectives and operating environments of our clients.

      Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

      When I first set up Buckingham Futures, I found that most clients were averse to doing business with a ‘one-man-band and I felt that to succeed I needed to give the impression that Buckingham Futures was a bigger business than it was.

      I look back on the startup days and chuckle about how I used to play YouTube videos of a busy office environment in the background when calling clients.

      I invested in a virtual business address to help add credibility to Buckingham Futures as I felt would be easier to successfully attract clients by having a ‘brick and mortar location.

      My business cards showed a prestigious central London location, all my mail was posted there and I would arrange to meet with clients in the reception area of the virtual office and conduct our meetings in nearby cafes.

      This set-up was running well for about 8 months. Then one day I received a call from a client to say that she was in London for the afternoon and would love the opportunity to meet with me and my team in person to thank us for everything we had done for her and that she would be at my office in less than 10 minutes.

      The problem was that it took me over an hour to get to my virtual office from the box room at my parent’s house (where my actual office was) and there was no way I’d be there in 10 minutes. I was afraid that the receptionists would let the ‘cat out of the bag’ and tell her that Buckingham Futures did not have an office, let alone a team-based there! I felt that had no choice but to come clean about my business set-up.

      It was on this day that I learnt that the most imperative quality clients look for its authenticity. To be authentic can be the difference between failing or succeeding.

      It is not easy, as being authentic is as much about revealing your flaws as playing to your strengths. It is often tempting to put up a front of total competence rather than risk looking vulnerable. However, authenticity is a key ingredient in running a successful business and leading a great team.

      As the business has grown, I remember to always remain authentic and to never lose that openness and willingness to connect with people.

      None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

      I credit my mother for some of the most valuable life advice over the years. I would not be the person I am today without her unconditional love.

      Throughout the years, I have witnessed her endure many hardships and overcome many life-changing obstacles.

      She has always been there through all of the ups and downs of my life. During my tempestuous times, she was the only person that believed in me!

      She has instilled in me a hard work ethic, and a moral compass always pointing in the direction of compassion.

      She is one of my best friends and confidante, I still rely on her judgement and approval to keep me grounded and maintain my self-esteem.

      Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

      My vision was simple, to provide clients with an Environmental Health recruitment service focused on quality, trust and efficiency, enabling our clients and candidates to continuously succeed in this ever-changing world.’

      Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my job, as I progressed in my career, I found it challenging to strike a work-life balance.

      When I was an employee one of the aspects of my life that took the biggest hit was my family. I worked long hours and constantly checked email when at home. It was easy for family time to get sacrificed.

      The desire to be around to help raise my children drove me to reassess my options and to build an Environmental Recruitment business on my terms.

      I love to accomplish goals and to feel as if I’m contributing to something important — an overarching vision for what I can create and am motivated by change, challenge, and diverse problems to solve.

      Starting a business was exhilarating, rewarding and fun, but also exhausting, relentless and stressful in equal measures.

      Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

      Fortunately, the way we work means that the pandemic did not have too much impact on my business as a lot of what we do can be done digitally or over the phone.

      Throughout lockdown we have continued to receive new instructions to hire from our clients and candidates also took advantage of any downtime by applying for new opportunities.

      Thanks to the technology available, many of our Environmental Health roles offered some degree of flexible working or home working.

      I initially found managing a remote team was quite challenging. I felt that we had an excellent company culture that had taken time to cultivate which involved hiring the right employees, fostering healthy communication, and instilling that culture across the board. I presumed that by us not being together that the team cohesiveness and company culture would suffer.

      I swiftly comprehended that creating a healthy company culture with a remote team that reflected my business’s values required a plan, much like any other project or initiative.

      To continue our culture of open communication, remote team members needed to be able to communicate with everyone, including me, with a virtual “open door” policy.

      Lock-down measures have highlighted to me the value of workplace flexibility. As the economy begins to reopen, working from home in part will become the new normal for my team.

      Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

      At the start of the first lock-down, the fall out of my normal routine left me feeling somewhat despondent. What kick-started my motivation is the incredibly talented team I have built and their dedication to Environmental Health recruitment. Seeing a colleague dedicated to the company goals is very humbling and inspiring — if they can keep it going, so could I.

      What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

      The best decision a leader can make is taking a personal perspective on the situation. It is crucial to be emotionally aware that worldwide events are happening in our employees’ lives and on a global scale that affects us all.

      Staying connected and communicating with employees provides a real sense of comfort, especially when everyone is feeling the anxiety of the unknown and adapting to new adjustments that are necessary to keep the business running.

      When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

      The best way to boost morale is to find out how your team is feeling and make sure to communicate with them. It is our job as leaders to ask them if we can help with any challenges that they are dealing with.

      It is critical to ensure a sense of belonging. If employees start to feel disconnected, the isolation will crush their morale and productivity.

      In our morning meetings, I always include something that is not directly related to work. These little moments of sharing help build connections and make the team feel like they are a part of something special.

      We engage in weekly virtual team building activities like virtual happy and movie hour. This keeps everyone engaged even when they aren’t in the same office.

      What are the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

      This is never a nice thing to do, but honesty, compassion and empathy is always the best policy. If you are straightforward with your team and customers, they will respect you more. Feigning like everything is fine will only damage your long-term credibility as a leader.

      How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

      The pandemic has taught me to plan for the short-term while being resilient and maintaining a focus on my strategic goals.

      I like to think of this as an opportunity to take stock while making practical efforts to ride the current storm.

      Once the storm has subsided, I will reflect and pause on how to navigate for a changed new world and be flexible in my approach so I can pivot when I come out at the other end.

      Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

      How we view difficulties strongly influences our ability to succeed. As a leader, you constantly have to remain positive and focus on the future and employ agility to spot and exploit deviations in the market while retaining the structural characteristics to weather changes.

      Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

      1. During periods of augmented uncertainty, leaders sometimes panic and suspend recruitment activities whilst they wait to see how the situation evolves. However, these knee-jerk reactions can be counter-productive.
      2. Some business focus on the end goals rather than the small and significant steps taken to reach that goal. The mistake that I have seen some leaders make is not giving credit to a job well done.
      3. The key to success is realizing that our big goals aren’t going to happen overnight but this is okay. Make it normal to give yourself and your team a pat on the back for doing a good job.
      4. Being too slow to respond is another problem I’ve seen with other businesses during the pandemic. Leaders should know what changes need to happen so that they can still provide a great experience for their consumers.
         

      Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

      COVID-19 has changed our behavior, attitudes towards work, and even some views about society itself.

      Since the start of the pandemic, most businesses have been playing defense. While the pandemic has endured a long time, the outlook has changed — much for the better. Leaders who adapted to the pandemic swiftly in March 2020 should once again prepare to adapt quickly to what’s ahead.

      My strategy for forging ahead and not lose growth traction is keeping an eye on the cash flow, communicating with my team perpetually and look for ways to grow the business that fits the new direction that economies are taking.

      Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

      The pandemic has been a large-scale reminder that businesses are constantly facing changes that threaten their bottom line — some minor, some major. Being agile, flexible, and resilient will better position you to overcome these challenges as they surface, with minimal impact on your business.

      It’s all about your attitude; if you perceive it as a challenge and not as a threat, you’re more likely to have a positive approach. Find the silver lining between sustaining and innovating.

      The five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during turbulent times are:

      1. Celebrate successes

      This is a peculiar challenge for any leader. How can you celebrate success and a team’s hard work, while respecting the atrocious context that allowed it?

      If you are fortunate enough to find yourself in this position the most important is to pay it forward. Make sure to spend time supporting others who have been less fortunate. Be it through financial help, advice, sharing materials and office space, or engaging in charitable initiatives, it’s important to reach out to those who might be struggling.

      2. Be resilient

      Resilience is the ability to recover and learn from failure and loss. Use this experience to understand your operations’ pros and cons, and what you can improve in the future to thrive.

      3. Be agile

      Business agility is the ability to react to change in real-time, creating a new strategy in the face of situations like COVID-19 for which there is no playbook.

      Agile leaders do not shoulder the creative burden alone. They know how to harness the creativity of everyone in the company.

      In the current climate, successful leaders will look for any opening to rally their teams to take risks and make bold moves.

      4. Remain competitive

      Now is the time to pay extra close attention to what is happening in your sector and remain competitive; bring your marketing and sales on board and get your best services out there and keep your brand reputation strong.

      5. Reassess metrics

      When you find yourself in an unprecedented situation, anything you can measure to validate how your business is performing is advantageous, along with increasing the frequency with which you revisit those metrics. Reassessing these processes are critical to helping a business make decisions during difficult times.
       

      Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

      “Be like a tree and let the dead leaves drop.” ~ Rumi

      I see a tree as stable, strong, and robust. Its roots grow deeply into the ground, allowing it to stand firmly in its place.

      Being like a tree means creating a deeper connection with Mother Earth, being present in the now, and continuously growing even when it’s not visible for others to see beneath the surface.

      Letting the dead leaves drop to me epitomizes being open to change and allowing myself to renew.

      How can our readers further follow your work?

      I am active on Instagram and LinkedIn.

      They can connect with me on https://www.instagram.com/ketanova/ and https://www.linkedin.com/in/recruitmentandconsultancy/