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Unprecedented with Stuart Hartley

Published 1st April 2021

At Unprecedented, we had the opportunity to speak to Stuart Hartley, Director of Incrementa, who told us about how the pandemic has affected him both personally and professionally.  

A background into you and your business?

I started Incrementa back in 2015 on the back of a 10-year career of supporting startups and scale-up businesses in both the private and public sectors. I now spend my time supporting first-time founders in building both their businesses and themselves. During this time I have helped to start over 1000 new businesses and helped over 550 scale-up business, from a variety of sectors, to grow and develop.

Define leadership and what being a leader means to you.

Leadership is being the captain on the pitch, rather than the manager shouting orders from the sidelines. Leadership requires entirely different strengths and skills than management. Leading is about inspiring, enabling and co-creating.

Who are your Leadership role models/ inspirations?

This is a really difficult question. I’m not inspired by any of the “rockstar” entrepreneurs and leaders – Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg etc.

Whilst they may have a modern way of leading they do not inspire me as a leader. However, there are some great coaches and writers involved in leadership – Jesse Lahey who writes and podcasts on Engaging Leadership – is one of those.

What would you like your Leadership Legacy to be?

Again, a really difficult question. If I rephrase a little – perhaps the one key tip, that one thing that I would like all leaders to consider is simply – “ask, don’t tell”. ‘Telling’ provides the element of instruction, whereas asking (e.g asking how they can help or asking how a colleague could solve their own problem) provides that element of “being in it together”.

What are the “non-negotiable” behaviours that you expect you and those around you to live by?

I think that this depends on the situation to some degree. We have key values that we hope – not expect – our team to live and breathe. These involve:

  • Truth and honesty

  • Supporting well-being – being kind and supportive

  • Being professional

As an organisation, we encourage people to challenge themselves. However, there are times that these can occasionally go wrong, so my job, as a leader, is to ensure that we can all dust ourselves off and carry on!

What impact has covid had on your business?

To be honest, very little – at the moment. However, there is always a concern that budgets will tighten as a result of the recovery not being as strong as anticipated. As a team, we have managed to pivot quickly to online only and, largely, kept our client base.

Where were you and what were you doing when you first realised that Covid-19 was very serious?

Covid was interesting for me. I don’t think that there was ever a moment that it suddenly hit me, it was more of a gradual effect.

Back in February 2020, when it was just starting to spread, I was still working a lot in London and visiting clients premises. I slowly began to notice more and more clients asking “should we do our sessions online?” And it just continued that way.

From a personal standpoint, it was the moment that my children’s schooling changed and became online only that I first realised that Covid-19 was very serious.

What were the 3 biggest (or best) decisions you made in 2020?

Probably the best, but also most obvious, decision I made in 2020 was to just carry on. I found that the famous quote “Keep Calm and Carry on” was very apt for 2020 – especially professionally.

Personally, and this may sound petty and even irresponsible, but it was to grab a holiday. I had two weeks in France in between lockdowns 1 and 2. Having the time to get away from the business, the pressures of Covid and some of the really difficult decisions that I was supporting leaders to make was really important to me.

What remain your 3 biggest challenges?

Client acquisition, especially in times when budgets are being squeezed dry and leaders, and their businesses, are focusing their available cash on either surviving or growing out of the current situation.

Finding a work/life balance. Working from home and not having a commute, or a client’s premises to visit, means that the lines between “work” and “home” have become ever more blurred recently.

How have you/your business evolved from a digital/tech perspective?

We have adopted the digital and technology platforms that many other businesses have now included in their working patterns. We Zoom, utilise dropbox and focus our efforts more on digital marketing – webinars, emails etc.

If there is one change that may be longer-term, I believe that this will be the continued adoption of digital marketing methods – e.g online networking like Clubhouse, Lunchclub and LinkedIn.

We are also planning not to return to a physical office.

How have you (your business) coped from a mental health/stress perspective?

This is an important issue for me. As someone that has had, and continues to have, issues with my mental health, I’ve found that Covid has exaggerated these issues.

The difficulty with finding a work/life balance, the unknowns, the lack of clarity/certainty and the reduction in personal contact have all played a part in creating stress and have had an effect on my mental health.

Coping mechanisms are very personal. Mine are very much focused on ensuring that I find time for exercise – a class at home, a run or even just a walk – all significantly help me switch off for a while.

Looking ahead to 2021 what are your predictions for the economy? For your sector?

I think that there is definitely a difference between predictions and hope. I obviously hope that we will see a hockey stick recovery, both from a sector perspective and from the perspective of the broader economy.

We are working with companies who are actively seeking to aggressively grow out of the situation and we are very much following that mould. However, I do think that the recovery will be sector dependent.

Clearly, entertainment and hospitality are going to be the last to recover, however, I predict that there will be enough pent up demand for them that they will see a rapid recovery. I would also predict that other industries will follow this model and the only industry that I can see struggling is retail.

As a Leadership Team, how have you re-defined your vision and values? What have you done to make your culture remote-work friendly?

We haven’t really – our values of professionalism, truth and honesty, as well as creating a supportive organisational culture, are still relevant to our remote way of working.

As a leadership coach, I would hope that the vision and values of organisations haven’t changed as a result of remote working as vision and values are the DNA of the organisation, regardless of the operating environment or way of working.

We have changed the way that we communicate and have added more regular and structured brief stand-up meetings. We also made an effort to encourage social communication too.

The pandemic has caused many of us to reassess what is important in our lives. In what ways have you recalibrated your own priorities and goals.

I don’t think it’s a recalibration. The recalibration came when my children were born and they have always been my priority. I am hoping that post-pandemic I can maintain that focus.

If you’ve found the story of how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted Stuart Hartley and Incrementainteresting, you can connect with him on Linkedin.

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