“Saying we wanted to be the perfect company seemed a bit cheesy when we first thought of it, but as we played around with a vision, people kept referring to the idea of A Perfect Company. We realised we don’t always know what ‘perfect’ is, but our staff know what it isn’t and that is how we move on.”
Dr David Hall, CEO of HFL
In 1963, the Horseracing Forensic Laboratory was formed to ensure that performance enhancing drugs were not being used on racing horses or greyhounds. The company evolved to broaden their services to support drug development activity for pharma and biotech companies, and were subsequently acquired by Quotient Bioresearch.
Following their change of direction, the company were in need of a cultural revolution to overhaul their civil service mindset and think about their business more commercially.
David was to lead this change, and visualised a company whose commercial success and growth stemmed from exploration, improvisation, and knowing its own strengths, rather than strategy. He wanted the company to “come to terms with not knowing how it will reach its aims, whilst getting comfortable with what it is and is not good at.”
Enter Maynard Leigh. Our focus on bringing out the authentic, holistic individual at work exactly fitted HFL’s drive towards knowing itself and its people better. With his passion for improvisation in business, David instantly appreciated the value of the theatre-based skills at the heart of Maynard Leigh's training. Both companies share a commitment to living and breathing innovative and radical business practice.
Initially, HFL asked Maynard Leigh to enhance the self-presentation skills of the top board and senior managers. From this emerged four areas of development: immediacy, responsiveness, creativity and proactive approach.
The Personal Impact course helped HFL get to know its strengths and weaknesses at the grassroots by holding a mirror to the individuals who made up the company. "We give people the opportunity to see how they come across - to make new choices," explained Nigel Hughes, the Maynard Leigh associate leading the project. An example of this was by filming participants as they arrived - a playback session followed, setting a benchmark for new and honest feedback to continue throughout the day.
Nigel worked with the group on a number of exercises based on teamwork and awareness, including blindfolding the group and having them complete physical tasks together. By placing people in a situation outside of their comfort zone that enforced collaboration, the exercise provided a tangible experience of what teamwork was all about.
"Personal Impact is designed to shake people up a little," says Nigel. "This helps them look at things in a different, possibly new way.”
Towards the end of the day, participants gave a speech about a person who inspired them. As each of the speakers glowed with admiration for their subjects, they themselves inspired admiration from their colleagues, leaving an open question: is it a good thing to exclude so much of what excites you from work, if this is the impact that bringing it with you can have?
Several months down the line attendees say the course has made a difference to how they do things. “One thing I’ve taken from the experience is it’s not just your words that get the message across, it’s your enthusiasm," said participant Clare Kingsley. "I now use more enthusiasm when I’m talking to clients, and I’m learning to be myself more. The feedback from the course helps me remember I’m not as limited as I sometimes think.”