Reflecting on Question Time 2023
Written by Simon Whitbread
By Simon Whitbread, Leadership Development Director, Windsor Leadership
A few weeks ago, we held our annual Question Time event at the IET London: Savoy Place and this year we had a record number of alumni and guests join us, as we explored some of the key issues facing senior leaders today. As well as listening to three fantastic panellists, we also took the opportunity to ask the audience the same interactive questions we asked last year. By asking the same questions we have been able to get a feel for how the answers have changed, as well as get a sense for current feelings.
The first question we asked was how well you feel your organisation is handling key issues internally, issues like employee wellbeing, diversity and inclusion and social mobility/opportunities. Employee wellbeing is still the area that most leaders feel that their organisation is handling the best. However, we saw a dramatic reduction in how people perceive their organisation handles both diversity and inclusion and support for their local community. Whilst we didn’t have the opportunity to explore this in more detail, it may be that the necessary continued focus on wellbeing following the pandemic, and the ongoing ‘cost of living’ crisis is having an impact on our ability to focus on other issues too.
It was also striking to see that social mobility/opportunity came last for the second year. We were pleased to have panellist Sarah Healey, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, share some of her thoughts on this topic. Discussions centred on how we don’t all start with the same opportunities in life, and that to enable truly diverse talent to flourish, we need to address this and create positive opportunities for all. A key takeaway was that as leaders if we can help create these opportunities, it may also help us address some of the wider diversity and equity issues that we face within our organisations and wider society.
The second question we asked the audience related to the broader external social challenges that we think will hinder and impact our organisations over the coming year. The same concerns ranked highly both last year and this year, with the ‘cost of living’ crisis still featuring heavily in people’s concerns, along with individual’s lack of trust in the establishment. Panellist Tanweer Ikram, Deputy Chief Magistrate, reflected on some of the issues around trust in leadership and spoke about what he does personally to build and maintain trust. Discussions touched on how we need to acknowledge that it may never be perfect, but we should try to aspire to be worthy of the people we hope to serve. Another interesting reflection was on the role of ‘outsiders’, in helping to bring about change and growth in an organisation and how sometimes acting as an outsider on the inside, can be crucial in shifting an organisation’s culture and practices.
One change that we did see this year was an increasing concern over the impact that AI and new technologies might have on the workplace and wider society. A topic which has also been covered a lot more on our programmes over the past year. Panellist Dame Elizabeth Corley, Chair of Schroders, talked about the need for organisations to think responsibly about how they use any new developments and technological advances.
It was interesting to see that many of the challenges faced by the leaders in the room have remained constant over the past couple of years and raises the question ‘what is stopping us as leaders from effectively tackling the big issues of today?’ We will be picking up on this and many of these challenges at our upcoming programmes and events in 2024.