"I just joined as MD in February. Then the lockdown happened"

Briefing: Interflex's Jim Griffin on leading from the home office when nobody knows your face.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 21 Apr 2020
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Coronavirus

Jim Griffin was CEO of automotive parts manufacturer Autins Group when the 2008 recession hit, so he’s hardly a stranger to leading through a crisis.

Despite having virtually no cash in the bank, the company survived by focusing on innovation and expanding its product line to attract new clients. By the time Griffin stepped down in 2016, turnover had tripled and Autins had gone public. 

Griffin says his strategy worked because he knew his people, their strengths and how to get the best out them. But that’s not something he can count on now as the new MD of Interflex, an automotive parts manufacturer.

He only took charge in February, just a few weeks before the government announced the coronavirus lockdown. Since then the company has had to close its main manufacturing plant in Langar, furlough some of its 45 staff and refocus its efforts to the manufacture of PPE equipment for the government. 

Griffin says that he’s had to get innovative when it comes to getting to know his team.

“I always try to remember everyone’s name, and that’s easier with 20 people than 200. At Autins I was circulating videos to staff telling them about me, who I was and what my vision was for the company. They knew my face. If they saw me going through the factory or the office, they would stop me and we’d have a chat. I haven’t had that chance at Interflex. 

“At Interflex many people didn’t even know who I was until I became MD in February so it's been a big learning curve for them. 

“We have a channel on our Teams software that’s for chit-chat, so the first thing I do every morning is just say good morning to everybody. It might be a picture of my dogs doing something stupid, or you just talking about what has happened at home. I’m trying to use it as if I’ve just walked into the office. 

“We have a regular video meeting with everyone each morning and last week we had a management meeting with a beer. There’s also a channel for all furloughed staff and I am keeping in touch with them. 

“When we get back I'm going to speed date everybody. I want them to tell me some facts about themselves and I'll tell them some facts about me. They'll all be told some slightly different ones so they can cross the ideas together and see what everybody knows about me as a whole. I want to know who they are and about their background because ultimately that will help me build the business plan around them.

“Other than that it’s just been about letting people know that the company is still out there. We’re using LinkedIn to get that message out and make sure our staff, customers and suppliers are seeing that. 

“That’s the best we can do until we get some clarity really, although I am meeting with a small group at the site in order to prepare to start manufacturing PPE equipment.” 

Image credit: Courtesy of Interflex

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