613 Lorna Watkinson:

2020 was the year that changed everyone’s world. It shook us out of our routines, forced us into uncomfortable, uncertain and in some cases tragic situations, and also provided so much opportunity for innovation and growth. And while we aren’t past Covid yet, the world won’t be going back to the way it was.

So what does that mean for businesses and company culture?


I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who offers a unique way to empower teams and transform the workplace as we navigate this new normal.

Lorna Watkinson was an executive at Proctor & Gamble for 20 years before she set out on her own as the CEO and founder of Vibrant Thinking. Today Lorna is here to talk about how to build a great team culture, the challenges of remote and hybrid working environments, and how to profit from all the fast-pace change.

Lorna is going to be here in a moment, and first…

Lorna Watkinson says she experienced how easily miscommunication causes disruption that stands in the way of building a successful business. She also knows how to build very strong working relationships with team members you may never actually meet in person.

I know all about this personally, building my interactive podcasting app Podopolo from 2 to 25 people this past year over Zoom and Slack – and what it takes to build a culture where people love the mission, the work, and each other.

So I’m excited about this conversation about company culture as it is near and dear to my heart as an entrepreneur. Lorna says it all comes down to creativity – and for her, pottery painting is something she leverages in her team building workshops as a vehicle for facilitating creative thinking to overcome challenges, with the added benefits of helping people relax their minds and energize their thinking. For many the new business normal is a massive pattern interrupt and an opportunity to remake business how we want it to be – because why not enjoy the journey?

Lorna’s company Vibrant Thinking helps entrepreneurs and business owners make shifts in your team culture to ensure technology works with you, not against you. Today you’ll hear how digital team building works, and what corporate workplaces will look like post-pandemic.

Let’s put on our wings with the inspiring Lorna Watkinson.

Melinda Wittstock:         Lorna, welcome to Wings.

Lorna Watkinson:            Hi Melinda. Thank you. Good to be here.

Melinda Wittstock:         It’s good to have you on too. And it’s such an important topic about how we evolve our workplaces post-COVID. A lot of people have gotten used to working from home in their PJ’s.

Melinda Wittstock:         How do you see the workplace evolving post-COVID?

Lorna Watkinson:            I think it’s going to be an interesting ride. I don’t think anything is going to happen quickly. I think the critical thing with post-COVID working is that individuals are going to want to work in their own unique way, so not everybody is going to want to go back into the office, equally not everybody is going to want to stay at home, and there’ll be some people that want to do some days in the office, some days at home, but they won’t necessarily want to have that structured as in you work in an office on a Wednesday and a Thursday, and you can work from home the other days, they will want to be able to choose.

Melinda Wittstock:         You see, I love this because that’s how people naturally are, right? If you go way back, what created the nine to five, it was the necessity of the factory, but there are so many jobs that aren’t that way. If my developers really are most productive in the middle of the night, then fine, code away in the middle of the night. It’s really more about the result.

Lorna Watkinson:            Absolutely. And I really think that therefore, that we have such an opportunity here to completely reinvent the way of working for the better that will allow rather, people to be at their most productive, because they know when they work best. And you don’t need to necessarily tell people, in fact those constraints then people fight again. I think having a hybrid way of working where people are able to work as they work best is great for them, but great for the company too. And who wouldn’t want that.

Melinda Wittstock:         It’s so true. It just seems very entrepreneurial to me, as a serial entrepreneur, this is the only way I’ve ever worked, right? And it’s the only way I’ve ever really run my teams because it’s really about the result. And you understand that very, very clearly when you’re an entrepreneur building something out of whole cloth, that it’s the result of overdoing.

Lorna Watkinson:            Yeah.

Melinda Wittstock:         And so it’s interesting because big corporate cultures, I can just imagine the massive change required there, it’s a whole mindset shift as much as anything else.

Lorna Watkinson:            It is, absolutely. It’s a huge mindset shift and one that I think many companies, corporates particularly, aren’t necessarily wanting to go there. I think having said that, I worked for Procter & Gamble for 17 years, and I’ve got to say that this is actually where I learned about the joy of being able to work where you worked best, as in, they measured output, not how you did it, but output. And I genuinely felt, I didn’t realize until I left P&G actually what a gift that was. And I hadn’t realized how most companies don’t work like that. So I find it astonishing that we’re even having these conversations that we could be going back to a world of nine to five structure. When I think, we all know it’s possible, we’ve proven with COVID that the impossible is possible, so why aren’t we building on that?

Melinda Wittstock:         Well, It’s vital for a couple of reasons. It’s vital for women. When you think of the things that have kept women out of the workforce, or stuck under a glass ceiling, it’s that lack of flexibility. It’s all the guilt and whatnot that comes from, you think you should be with your kids when you’re at work, you think you should be at work when you’re with your kids, all of that whole mess, and women really need that flexibility to be able to thrive.

Lorna Watkinson:            Yeah. And I would also argue that women are less, they’re far more likely to repay the ability to be able to work how they want, and to be able to get that work-life balance with loyalty, because they appreciate what is being given to them.

Melinda Wittstock:         Absolutely right. But the other side of the coin too, is that if you want to attract great talent, real A-players, those people don’t want to be micromanaged, they want to be told how to do it. They’re already great at what they do. They just need guidance in terms of, what’s the mission, what’s the result we want, but they don’t want to be micromanaged. The surest fastest way to alienate great people is to do that to them.

Lorna Watkinson:            Absolutely. As you say, they just need to be shown what they need to deliver, and they want to be able to fly, not be tethered down, or told that this is not how we do it, or this is how we do it. So I think that for me, the hybrid, it’s not just hybrid working, it’s the whole sense of a different way of work in terms of giving your employees ownership by which we are giving them the ownership to deliver the results, but how they deliver it is up to them. And changing that I think then creates such a different workplace and means that you, from the company’s point of view, the results are delivered faster.

Melinda Wittstock:         So what was it that led you to create Vibrant Thinking? Was it inspired entirely by the COVID, or were you doing this before?

Lorna Watkinson:            So before COVID I was doing theme building and I was using pottery painting as a vehicle to help people get into a different thinking space, and to be able to have quite difficult conversations, not converse, helping them overcome challenges and to come up with better solutions because they were in a completely different state than work mind. And obviously I was doing that in offices, obviously with COVID that meant that all went. And initially, certainly until September, October, nobody was interested in team building because everyone was in crisis mode just delivering the business.

And I really took that as an opportunity to step back and think about how to evolve the business, which is realizing and looking at the trends that were coming out with hybrid working, and all of the challenges that go with that, which I felt I was quite well-placed to lead on, having worked in Procter & Gamble, and worked as effectively. You wouldn’t have called it a hybrid environment, but working with teams who were based in London and Geneva, and I was based in the North of England. So I never met many people I worked with. And in those days we didn’t even have videos, it was all on phone. But knowing that it’s very possible to have built really strong relationships and deliver fantastic results with a team that is disparate and don’t actually see each other every day. So I wanted to combine that with my pottery painting aspect, which I know is an incredibly powerful tool to unlock people’s thinking, innovation, which is where I am with vibrant thinking now, really helping forward-looking CEOs to figure out their hybrid strategy for their organization.

Melinda Wittstock:         Right. Building my fifth business, I had to hire everybody over Zoom in the past year. And onboard everybody and really focus in on how do we create a really great collaborative culture of innovation that leverages all these great things, really trusted connections, elements of play, real creativity. It’s vital to the business and what we do. And not easy when you can’t connect, and yet we found ways to do this. And so what it’s meant for us now though, say if we said, okay, so now actually we want to have an office because we’re growing and scaling. It’s like, where on earth would we put that office because our team is all over the world? So, that’s a little bit of a conundrum.

Lorna Watkinson:            Yeah. And I think you have illustrated perfectly that it is possible to build a business without an office and not meeting, not seeing each other face to face. And maybe you don’t have an office, but you maybe, when we are able to, can have annual days, or weekends, or whatever it may be in different places around the world.

Melinda Wittstock:         That’s exactly what we’re doing. So we’re having our first retreat for four days at a beautiful, actually palatial Airbnb in California. And then we’re going to do it at least every quarter. And they’ll get bigger and bigger as the team grows and scales, but it’s a chance for people to bring their kids, their spouses, and have a lot of fun. And what I think is really interesting about that is that we will put so much energy into creating a beautiful experience for people that, that’s more valuable than just, Oh, I’m showing up for work because I have to, or I’m going to a meeting and I’m going to sit in a meeting in an office that I have to travel to just because it’s always been that way, not because there’s any particular reasons to be meeting.

Lorna Watkinson:            Totally. Yeah. That is in my other book based only on meetings, is that I think, meeting culture was bad enough before COVID, but now it’s just insane. I think people are, I know friends that are still in corporate and that are back-to-back Zooms every day and, or them working into the night to do their job. And I’m passionate about it is possible to reduce that by I think 50% if you’re prepared to look at every meeting and decide whether or not you actually need to be there, because most of the time, or a lot of the time, you’ll find it it’s because you’ve always been there, or somebody in your department has always been there, and it’s just habit, right? Not necessarily that you get anything out of it, or you give anything.

Melinda Wittstock:         Gosh, it’s so true. And I think there’s a lot of that, in setting up the culture of a company. Do you think people feel like they have to be at meetings because there’s a fear of missing something? If you have the type of culture that, if there’s any toxicity in the culture, for instance, or if it’s a fear-based culture, it’s terrifying not to be in a meeting.

Lorna Watkinson:            It is, because there is the fear of FOMO, fear of missing out, of that you might not have, you might miss out something that’s really important that said in the meeting, that you might miss the opportunity to impress the boss, but by not being there, you’re disappointing the boss and all of these actually go track back to, is the organization measuring results and output, or are they measuring your activity? Because if you’re in one where they’re measuring activity, then actually that reinforces needing to be in meetings, which is why it’s so important for organizations to take a step back and say, are they really measuring output?

Melinda Wittstock:         Exactly, because those Zoom meetings, it’s one thing, meetings were bad pre-Zoom in a lot of cases, right? And then you transfer them on to Zoom, and the Zoom video calls are actually exhausting. There’s this new research on that, but they’re harder actually in a lot of ways for a lot of people, and particularly introverts, but just sitting in place, you can’t really walk around, you can’t really move, your eye movements could be misinterpreted if you’re taking notes because people can’t see the whole picture of you, there’s potential for all kinds of missignals. So it’s stressful. Right?

Lorna Watkinson:            It is. I know, and the thing is that, the reason that meeting culture has lasted so long when we were able to be face-to-face is because what it did give everyone was energy. Because when you see people face-to-face you get energy from that, so it may have been a waste of time from your point of view in terms of the work side to things, but you caught up with a colleague and you might’ve exchanged something they actually found really useful. And you feel better having, you walk into a meeting and it feels good. Zoom is absolutely the opposite, as you say, it just completely drains everybody, and you’re so conscious of trying to make sure that you’re not being misinterpreted.

It is, yeah, it’s a nightmare, which is, one of the things that I’ve created is actually a template to reduce your Zoom calls by 50% to help people in terms of, just really thinking ahead of time about what needs to be, what the purpose of this meeting is, because I think that’s the other thing with now we’re all on Zoom, is that it’s not only the meetings that are on Zoom, it’s also the, what would have been the five minute catch-ups at the coffee machine have become Zoom meetings.

Melinda Wittstock:         Well, that’s the thing. So the ‘creative collision’ as I like to call it, and other people have too, is where you’re walking through the office and you meet somebody who’s not working on the same project, or even in the same area as you, it’s like where marketing people meet engineers, or whatever. All these interesting cross disciplinary collisions are often the spark of innovation. And they’re sometimes accidental, or they’re just, when people get to talk and people understand other people’s roles within a company, often the magic of an innovation can really be sparked by those interactions. And they’re not necessarily planned, they’re just a thing that can happen when people are in proximity to one another. And that’s pretty hard to architect via Zoom.

Lorna Watkinson:            Yeah. Those firm catch ups, I think, those accidental ones are very difficult, I’m not going to say impossible, because I don’t believe anything is impossible anymore, but I think the Zoom it has its limitations when doing meetings, but it can be really helpful with, I think it’s an incredibly strong tool when doing socials, doing, and again, I’m going to go back to my pottery painting here of what I, because I figured out how to do it all virtually and send pot packages to people to be able to do it. And what I realized is that it’s actually, when people have a task to do, and it doesn’t need to be pottery painting, it could be cooking or anything, but on Zoom it’s astonishing how alike it is to be as if you’re in the same room together. Because when you’re in the same room together doing something like pottery painting, you’re absorbed in what you’re doing.

Melinda Wittstock:         So you forget the camera and you forget all that stuff. So it’s more authentic. Yeah.

Lorna Watkinson:            At the end of that sessions I’ve had so many people that say, Oh, it’s been so great to see everybody in-person and then go, Oh, I don’t know why I’ve said that, we’re on Zoom, or people say it’s like we’ve been in the same room together. So whilst I think Zoom should be used less for meetings, so we should have fewer meetings, but I think we should use more for the social side of things. And then, this is going back to your thing about marketeers, bumpkins, engineers, is that having it as a mixed group of people, not necessarily, or department, but trying to mix it up over time. Not as a, everybody has to go, but just people who want to, but try to allow for those kind of bumping into somebody moments happening.

Melinda Wittstock:         Exactly. So there’s all these other tools too that we use in addition to Zoom like Slack, right? For instance, Confluence, JIRA, a lot of collaborative software. It’s what you do with those though. So if you set out to purposely create a culture in your company where people are always rewarding other people’s achievement, or genuinely happy when other people do things that are really great, what our Slack channel looks like is just a whole bunch of constant high fives. And it’s just like, because people are just supporting each other and like, wow, that’s amazing. And people are really openly asking each other questions, and it’s amazing to see, and it could be very different. So it’s like what you infuse these tools with, to begin with, are important. So how do you go about that? Where you’re marrying this hybrid way of working and team building in this new world, but really creating a great culture where people really are aligned and happy.

Lorna Watkinson:            So what I do with people, and I’d recommend the process even if you don’t do it necessarily with me, is first of all, I think it’s really important to have a kickoff session with the leadership team to really understand what the challenges are that that business is facing, and what they want from the future. And so, I would expect that if they’re wanting to do this work, they are open-minded and wanting to change things. And as part of that, it’s really important to talk to your employees to understand what they are wanting from, what their ideal would be in terms of the future of work, and how they were going to work. And also most critically what everybody has learned from the past year, because I think everybody’s learned an enormous amount and we’ve done things that we didn’t think were possible, and it’s really easy to forget that because a year ago there were many companies and departments that had been told they could never work remotely, and yet they managed to do it in a week.

Melinda Wittstock:         Right.

Lorna Watkinson:            So, it’s important to have that mindset of not like, Oh, well, that’s not possible to do. It’s like, let’s understand first, and then without judging. And then the critical thing for me is that we work out for the company, the company works out how they want to work, what the culture they want before they even start talking about what possible tools to support it, and I’ll come onto that in a minute. But it’s important that they’re very clear about how they want to be working, what kind of culture they want, and what changes need to be put in place. And that those are put in place immediately, and with a, again, with a mindset of, it’s probably going to be wrong to start with, because nobody’s going to get this right first time, we’ve never done it before this, we’re just going to have to go out for each, to try and learn what works best and adapt as you go.

So for me, what I offer with clients is an initial half day workshop in-house, or on virtual, and then followed by six weeks support as we run and adapt the different approaches, the different strategies to encourage the culture and the behavior. So, that could be changes in how meetings are run. It could be changes in how your performance is measured. It could be changes in how teams are structured. It could be many different things, it depends on the organization, but it’s only at that point, once you’re very clear about what you want for your organization, and what changes need to happen, to then look at the tech that could support that because there are so many tech options out there that you need to be making sure that you are choosing one, or several, that are going to support what you want and not starting with tech first, and then finding that you have to adapt your organization around that tech, which sounds obvious, but I think many companies just often take a tech solution because they are, it’s like, this will solve all of our problems with communicating.

So like Zoom Rooms, for example, if we use Zoom Rooms that’ll help everybody with body language, and that’ll mean that all virtual meetings will be fine, but it’s not getting to the real issue of the meetings, the number of meetings that are happening in the meeting culture. So you need to solve that first and then figure out what the right solutions are.

Melinda Wittstock:         So a lot of it is just really being mindful and purposeful, and it’s easier to do when you’re an entrepreneur building your own business. Right? And you go at it with a dream of what you want to create all the harder when you’ve gone down a path and you have to pivot and change, and the change management piece of it is tricky. So you wear both hats, you had this, what you call a safe corporate job at P&G, and then you’ve left into the unknown of entrepreneurship. And what do you perceive the changes are in that kind of change management equation?

Melinda Wittstock:         Well, yeah, because I was just saying, because you have both hats. You’ve been in a large corporate organization, P&G is one of the biggest in the world, but then now you have your own, you started your own company.

Lorna Watkinson:            Yeah. So I think, for organizations, what they need to, again, the mindset change needs to be on getting things out there fast and trying it. So, rather than trying to spend months perfecting what they want for the culture and how that’s going to look, and all of the different ways that, that could be brought to life, and then a big launch, they need to just, it’s about starting and trying things as soon as possible, and adapting as you go. I think that’s the biggest difference for me is Proctor & Gamble it would take forever to, it literally was a products were perfected and then they dominated the world, but it took years to do that, years literally, decades sometimes. And we don’t have that luxury of time to figure out what the perfect solution is, organizations are going to have to take a risk in terms of trying things out and adapting as they go. But I think that’s something that will be welcomed by employees because they can give feedback.

Melinda Wittstock:         Right. Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s so, so important. And so I’m curious how you found the transition, and what lessons can be learned for other women who are listening to this podcast right now that are in a corporate job, but really want to take the leap into entrepreneurship. What were some of the toughest pieces of that? How did you make that transition?

Lorna Watkinson:            For me, I found it relatively easy to make the transition because I’d got to a point within my career at Proctor & Gamble where it felt for me definitely worse to stay than to leave. I had various things going on, and I had my daughter who was about three, four at the time, who was barely seeing me, and she really started to notice that. And there was changes within the meatiest part that I was working with globally. There were lots of things happening, but it got to a point where it was almost like a no-brainer for me to leave.

But what allowed me, I guess the one thing that allowed me to think that this is the right thing to do was because I’d found something that I felt I really passionately believed in. So I discovered this pottery painting and how powerful it could be. And I really believe that this needed to be taken to different places than just children’s parties. And it’s so powerful unlocking people’s way of thinking whilst at the same time bringing you into the now and effectively being a bit of a meditation and you feel so good and focused after it. And it’s fun. So for me, it’s like, that was like I now have a mission to take this into corporate because so many people can benefit from it. So if you have a mission that drives you, you can, I think that, that’s the thing you need if you’re leaving corporate.

Melinda Wittstock:         Yeah, Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely right. And so what were some of the lessons that you’ve learned along the way, and what keeps you going when times are tough as an entrepreneur, because we all know it’s an up and down journey?

Lorna Watkinson:            It certainly is a roller coaster of a ride. So the lessons that I’ve learned are, I’ve really learned about my strengths and the areas where I’m really not so good. So, for example, I have no idea that I was a perfectionist until I left P&G, and I now realize, Oh my goodness, all of the things that I blamed P&G for actually it’s my perfectionism. But actually that’s a very critical learning because once you understand you can overcome it and push through challenges. I think in terms of what keeps me going it’s my mission and my passion to change the way we work to a place that you go to get energy, where you leap out of bed and want to go to work and it’s not easy, I’m not saying everything’s easy and there aren’t challenges, but that you feel like you have the resources to overcome that.

Melinda Wittstock:         Absolutely. Yeah. It’s so true. It comes down to the mission. You’ve got to wake up every day loving what you do. Right? Because that’s what makes all the tricky times easier, but also there’s an acceptance that failure is going to happen all the time. And how to fail up, in other words, take the lessons from it. It was just constant feedback. And that’s a big mindset shift from corporate to entrepreneurship, where in essence, as an entrepreneur, you’re continually innovating. And so you’re continually learning and you gotta embrace it in that way, it’s vital. So it’s, I’m going to tell this joke again, which I say so often on this podcast, if you want therapy, just become an entrepreneur, because all your stuff will come up, like you were saying about perfectionism, or any feelings of unworthiness, or any of these fears, all of it, it all has to be confronted to succeed as an entrepreneur. So Lorna, I want to make sure that people know how to find you, and work with you. And first of all, just before you say that, who’s your ideal client?

Lorna Watkinson:            It’s high energy and forward-thinking CEOs who want to really transform their workplace to build a fully inclusive, connected and productive organization.

Melinda Wittstock:         Well, it’s fantastic you’re doing this work. So how can people find you if they want to connect with you and work with you?

Lorna Watkinson:            You can find me on LinkedIn, I’m actually under Lorna Helps, my maiden name on there, but also there is, I’m offering a one hour hybrid working strategy call for free, which would normally be $99 for your listeners. And you can find that, you can book there at www.lorna-helps.com.

Melinda Wittstock:         Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us.

Lorna Watkinson:            Thank you. It’s been really enjoyable. Really appreciate it.

Lorna Watkinson
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Listen to learn the secrets, strategies, practical tips and epiphanies of women entrepreneurs who’ve “been there, built that” so you too can manifest the confidence, capital and connections to soar to success!
Instantly get Melinda’s Wings Success Formula
Review on iTunes and win the chance for a VIP Day with Melinda