Collaboration between a London Small Business and Higher Education : creating sustainable co-existence in a pandemic

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Authors:

Kiran Kachela is the Founder and Managing Director of Continuous Improvement Projects Ltd (CI Projects), a Business Solutions Enterprise established in 2012, specialising in delivering lasting organisational change through sustainable cost reductions, improved profitability and customer experience. She is an experienced and qualified Black Belt Lean Six Sigma Practitioner with experience of working with large corporations, leading academic institutions, Central Government and Healthcare.

Dr Monomita Nandy, Reader in Accounting and Finance, Brunel Business School , Brunel University London. Her research focus on emerging issues in Corporate Finance  including impact of  Sustainability and Digitalisation .

Adapting to customer needs

Customer behaviours have undoubtedly changed. The way we interact with entertainment, services, retail—and simply with each other—has evolved. Businesses that see this as an opportunity to re-engage with customers, and to adapt, can thrive.

The recent pandemic created several  challenges for  business. One main challenge is to , identify what skills businesses value, and where they should  invest time and money in developing those skills. As one would expect, these include the skills needed for economic recovery, but they also include areas of business growth. It might be the ability to quickly adopt new technology and transform the way customers purchase goods and services, it might be a whole new range of products, or new ways to work as a team within the business.

It is evident during the pandemic that businesses using growth models which are beneficial for a sustainable socio-economic growth managed to survive the recent worst hit pandemic in an efficient way.  CI Projects is a great example to be highlighted in this situation. CI Projects. used the Lean Six Sigma approach with clients for many years, but it has never been more relevant than the recent pandemic. The idea of “eliminating waste” cuts across all sectors. Following the US’s Environmental Protection Agency’s definition related to Lean  (2003), CI Projects started applying Lean Six Sigma during pandemic that allowed them and their clients  “to develop the highest quality products, at the lowest cost, with the shortest lead time by systematically and continuously eliminating waste, while respecting people and the environment.” The approach taken by CI Projects is also supported by the academic literature (e.g. Dues et al., 2013). Many are questioning the very fundamentals of what it means to be a business; whether there is a need for a physical space called office or shop; what it means to work in a team, with colleagues or customers. It might be that the very core of your business is called into question, or that a few tweaks will do the trick, but understanding that what once provided value might now be considered waste can be a tough concept to accept. Those that thrive are prepared to have a harsh look at reality, to hear and understand their customers, and to adapt pragmatically, but boldly. If something is no longer adding value to the business customer and to the  business, then  it’s waste.

Thriving with purpose

In order to succeed, businesses need to lead with purpose, not least because consumers and investors demand it. Just delivering the services and products that customers want is no longer sufficient if it doesn’t benefit the greater good – socially, economically and environmentally. Businesses have the ability to be architects of their communities and have a duty to fix the system and create long-term value.

One of the positives of the pandemic has been the rise of social responsibility, of “giving something back”. Like many small businesses, CI Projects already felt strongly about this and had several ongoing projects. With the downturn in client commitment due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, the business had to consider if they  could still commit to these ventures. The business decided they could and took an initiative  to share their experience with others in the community through this blog.

An area CI Projects is most proud of is their not-for-profit work with young people in education, at schools and at universities. This isn’t entirely selfless, whilst they can enhance education by sharing business experience through talks, workshops, mock interviews and work placements, it is never one way.

CI Projects never encourage their clients to embrace change and adapt to new demands, they live by that philosophy themselves. They strongly believe that any diversity a business add to an existing business is going to improve their ability to respond creatively, innovatively and flexibly; young people can provide that tenfold, and the CI Projects team members have their worldview challenged again and again when  they go into schools and meet with students, or provide work placements for university students.

CI Projects work closely with the Brunel University London  and the Co-Innovate Journey Brunel, and in partnership with them and Middlesex University, published a research study last year [insert link: https://ciprojectsltd.co.uk/ci-projects-research-published-by-parliament/, to understand what businesses are prioritising in order to achieve sustainable recovery. This helped the business to ensure their  strategy and business model to align with  the needs of the partner, and it provided some interesting insights into the mindset of businesses at the time. As a result of this study, the business managed to  develop some short-term service packages for clients to support them in their recovery, such as digital transformation and skills training.

In addition, the business continues to work with the university and students to drive mutually beneficial change. Recently, the business  took part in a panel event arranged by Brunel university and attended by businesses and students to share the work the business is doing and encourage other businesses to take part. The business is constantly working with Brunel final year graduate students for mutual exchange of ideas and to enhance the values of the business.

Last summer, despite the uncertainty of the pandemic, the business provided an internship for a marketing student, and continued to work with colleges and schools remotely, such as Harrow College and St Mary’s in Twickenham. The business highly recommend contributing in this rewarding and energising way as it creates purpose and helps businesses look inwards and towards the horizon.

After the pandemic

We don’t know what the future holds any more than anyone else, but businesses need to plan from now! CI Projects and the researchers the business is working with, recommend that the Lean Six Sigma approach with existing and prospective clients can be a way forward  to exploit the opportunities coming out of the pandemic.

The authors and their network are raising awareness about Lean Six Sigma to  support businesses to increase in-house capabilities and to build sustainable change. The mentioned team strongly believes that  adopting a Lean approach will allow business to reduce waste and increases value – economically, socially and environmentally. In their awareness movement the team is keen to assist business to incorporate environmental issues in their growth model. The team is confident that business in this society can only grow sustainably and scientifically when they learn how to  adapt to change after the pandemic.

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