Written By Scott Sinclair - Deep South Media
Based upon an interview with Rob Lewis conducted in Feb 2022
The partnership behind Chamber of Solutions
Truly unparalleled, the pandemic generated the biggest economic shock in 300 years. Never before did governments across the world tell their populations to stay at home, so shutting down huge swathes of trade and commercial activity. In our region, the bedrock of Hampshire Chamber’s response was Chamber of Solutions, an online community of practice launched to support businesses through this most difficult of times. It is an enterprising partnership with learning and development provider Mission Performance whose Founding Director Rob Lewis explains the value it brings.
Like the Chamber itself, Mission Performance is all about bringing a network of businesses together. I founded it 20 years ago with a fellow former Royal Marine, Chris McLeod. Our aim was to design and deliver exciting learning programmes focused on behavioural change. Typically this has involved coaching business owners and senior executive teams in leadership, communications and the de-risking of operational performance. Clients range from large global corporates down to much smaller businesses including micros.
We operate as a partnership of highly experienced leaders from backgrounds as diverse as the military, theatre and performing arts, elite sport, business, exploration and mountaineering. We’re practitioners who have truly ‘been there’ and have the proverbial T-shirt to prove it.
Our main base, from where we organise operations, logistics and finance, is at Lee-on-Solent, near Daedalus. We have satellite activities based in Lancashire, Somerset and Wales and a network of associates including in Canada. We fund them through coaching accreditations, upskilling them in the tools they need as trainers and investing in their future capability.
Before the pandemic, all our learning was delivered face to face. We have provided programmes in every continent of the world, in sectors including banking, insurance, energy, engineering, construction, marketing and professional services.
When the pandemic hit, it was a double whammy. People couldn’t travel and we had no opportunity for face-to-face training delivery. Overnight we faced losing our business. We had ten full-time staff and like other businesses, we had to make decisions about who to put on furlough. It was stressful and difficult, but we were determined to keep going, at least with our local clients. We drew inspiration from how the Royal Marines approach combat situations and other challenges: the mantra is ‘adapt very quickly, understand and overcome’.
Before the pandemic, Ross McNally at the Chamber and I had been talking about getting a network of businesses together. The shock of Covid meant that the Chamber had also lost the opportunity for providing face-to-face services and engagement. We discussed how we could support one another during these tough times. We both saw the merits of providing training through a virtual format that encompassed online sessions with access to training materials on a self-service platform. Together, we invented Chamber of Solutions as a safe space with clear advice specifically for a peer group keen to come together.
We began running online sessions every two or three weeks on subjects such as how to apply for finance, the ins and outs of furlough, how to maintain resilience, and how to stay close to teams when people are working from home. Word spread. We very quickly had members and non-members attending, not only from Hampshire but across the south and as far afield as Scotland. People were desperate to find information and many were asking similar questions. It became a community of practice with a light-touch structure.
I think it’s fair to say that Chamber of Solutions has really helped participants. Everyone has been learning a lot from the experience of hearing from experts. Ross reported at the Chamber AGM last October that our partnership had facilitated 28 different Chamber of Solutions events by then with an overall attendance of just under 2,000. It’s not just about recovering from the pandemic but laying the groundwork for a solid growth plan for the future, the journey to greatness.
Perhaps the only upside of the virus is that with it has come some real innovation. Necessity is the mother of invention. In Mission Performance’s case, it was going digital, securing B Corp accreditation on our social and environmental impact, gaining EMCC accreditation for our Professional Coach Accelerator program and developing our offering to meet the post-pandemic needs of learners. We have emerged stronger and we want Chamber of Solutions to continue as a partnership. People already see it as a gateway to Hampshire Chamber’s wider learning and development offer which is a wonderful endorsement.
My reflection on the Chamber of Solutions is that our partnership with the Chamber has shown that with a shared sense of purpose, trust and positive thinking you can indeed overcome and emerge stronger.