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Time to remove the mask from your business

Re-discover and re-energise your people, says business expert Steve Elsom – and it’s as simple as taking off the face coverings . . .

“It’s been a long time . . . coming up for two years now,” I commented to a business owner last week. “Two years?” he replied. “Yes” I said, “it’ll be two years since businesses stopped developing their people”.

He blushed a little, perhaps in the realisation that his own business had done exactly that; no staff training (outside of the mandatory health and safety), no staff development and little staff engagement.

As a population, we have all become accustomed to wearing masks. The concern is that in many cases our businesses are wearing masks as well. Too many businesses are only seeing part of their people’s ability and potential. The mask is hiding that potential, that capability, that ambition and that energy. As a consequence, and rather like a person wearing a mask, it can make communication difficult and there is a tendency to become more transactional than relationship driven.

How many of us can say that communication through a mask is easy or perfect?

In order to ‘read a situation’, we may have to rely on the eyes, maybe a frown and maybe a shrug of the shoulders. It’s harder isn’t it? So, translate that to your business and maybe we need to reflect on what we are missing.

Through the lens of the customer, it might be a reduced service offering. If so, has ‘reduced’ become the new norm? Are you accepting that you will never return to those heady days of providing excellent customer service? Rest assured, there will be businesses who will just shrug their shoulders and accept this is the new norm. However, there will be others who will challenge themselves to make the adjustments and improvements to re-kindle their USP and ultimately ‘stand out in a crowd’. Which one best describes you?

Through the lens of the staff, the mask over your business might feel like the size of a blanket to them. What happened to their regular 1:1s, their Development Plan, their secondment to another department, their ‘reverse mentor’ role, their professional qualification conversations and their team engagement exchanges? We need to be honest with ourselves here – if any of these essential areas have been overlooked or dare I say, ignored over these last two years, we have created a generation of ‘flight risks’ from our businesses. Flight risks that will seize the earliest opportunity to go and work for a business that values and develops them, and a business that listens to them.

I fear for a generation of staff who have missed out on development and training because the business where they work has been wearing a mask and I fear for a generation of staff who won’t fulfil their potential or their ambition because nobody paid attention and nobody listened to them. So what can we do?

By removing the mask from your business, you can re-discover and re-energise your people. Simon Sinek, author of the leadership themed title ‘Start with Why’, comments that ‘leadership is a way of thinking, a way of acting and most importantly, a way of communicating’. If we agree that wearing a mask can inhibit the effectiveness of your communication, now is the time to remove it!

The business owner that I mentioned at the start of this article has removed the mask, and immediately re-introduced the 1:1s and Development Plan conversations. I am now working with him and his team to re-launch a structure and process to ensure that staff training and development is a top priority in the journey to re-kindle their business USP.

If you think that this would benefit your business, why not get in touch?

Steve Elsom is director with Number 4 Consulting. Contact him via or visit

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Steve is a regular contributor to B2B publications, see some of his recent articles for insights into current business news, leadership and much more...