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To get ahead, it’s imperative that businesses radiate authenticity, says COO Gillian Thomson

I’ve been reading the thought pieces of other leaders, and that’s caused me to look inwards and reflect on how authentic we are as a company.

We have a big, diverse, and growing team and it’s been making me think about how we can retain authenticity as a business, and ensure we all represent our values, even though we all have very different personalities.

Of course, we’ve always had values – big, bold words written on a giant wheel – but if you leave the words for a moment and just focus on how those values play out in actions, what we have now is so much better in terms of what they mean and represent, and they’re more authentic.

We’re threading our values through every piece of onboarding, training, and performance management to ensure that we’re as consistent as we can be, and so that, when our team put on their Act-Clean uniform, they know what that represents and feel pleased and proud to play their part in their important role in the business of hospitality.

Authenticity - Gabriela Night Cleaner in her Act-Clean Uniform

The fact that Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) has become a much bigger thing in business over the last couple of years has focused our attention on how to do the right thing by our people, all the time, while ensuring we’re supporting the client’s needs.

Because we’re emerging from the past few years with much more confidence and a clearer vision of the future, we’ve started to add in senior people who share the same values.

There are so many positives to be gained from bringing in people who have worked in different cultures and sectors and have seen different things – things that can filter into our own business. As a result, I believe that we’ve evolved as a company, and we’re more committed to questioning how we do things, to changing and improving.

Naturally, there are some great personalities in the team, and we want those characters to continue to shine, so that they are their authentic selves too.

Those who know me know my strong personality – I say it how it is – and I couldn’t imagine being anything but. So, in a way, I very much lead the charge on authenticity!

Part of how we ensure that our team members continue to excel is by spending time with them. The benefit of the business shrinking during Covid is that I’ve met with more people who would otherwise have been kept at more of a distance because of our hierarchy. And that’s given them access to me and more insight into our business. It’s also given me some great new ideas and thoughts.

In the last year, we’ve identified two new operations managers who have come from site supervisor positions because the leadership team had the opportunity to meet them outside of their day-to-day duties and were really impressed by the quality of their commitment and communication.

The creation of a head of operations – someone who can deal with the important day-to-day running of the business – has allowed me to think more about our clients and people in the long term.

This illustrates that part of being authentic isn’t about sitting in an office and thinking about how to make the business better, it’s about meeting people in person across the business and identifying the stars of the future, as well as getting their feedback on the things that we can do better.

I concede that qualities and characteristics grow over time. It’s not about saying: I’m this person forever! I hope my reputation has evolved – what did I know when I started at Gordon Ramsay as the chief executive’s assistant aged 23?

My intent is the same as it was 20 years ago, but my delivery is different – it’s more constructive, more collaborative, and more in line with our values.

Much as you’ve got to make tough calls and hold people absolutely to account, and I never shy-away from this, I’ve learnt there’s ways of doing that that maybe don’t land so badly.

We work in a tough business, our team members are working in leading hotels and restaurants overnight when sometimes no-one else is around, and they’re working with expensive equipment – so strong management will always be required to ensure our clients can trust in us and our team members.

And what does that trust look like? How does it happen? We show up. We do what we say we’re going to do. We know what we can and can’t do. We own up if something goes wrong. We say it how it is, even if that’s hard. Those tough values are just as important as being passionate and being a team-player – and all contribute to Act-Clean being trusted and genuine.

Gillian Thomson was talking to Amanda Afiya.