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An action learning group gave me our “aha” moment

A peer action learning group has helped one media production company get crystal clear on its values and then turn them into the foundation of a sustainable growth strategy.

Helen Lawrie joined Land & Sky in 2018 as Business Development Manager and Producer.

Land & Sky Media is a small but ambitious production company based in Cumbria. Specialising in documentary film, photography and remote location media, it collaborates with brands and organisations that have a genuine social and environmental impact.

Started by Dom Bush in 2011 as a part-time business, his partner Helen Lawrie joined in 2018. The pair are now refining the company values and developing a new strategy for sustainable growth.

A big part of their strategy is to increase efficiency and social impact by becoming crystal clear about who they are and who they want to work with. With their recent Guardian documentary shedding a light on hidden rural poverty and farming communities, this strategy looks like it’s paying off.

As business development manager, Helen has driven much of the new strategy work. To help her through the process she has joined a Be the Business Peer Action Learning Group. We caught up with her to learn what the experience was like and how it’s impacted business.

What is a Be the Business Peer Action Learning group?

  • Small groups of family business leaders work through real time business challenges together
  • Overseen by a trained facilitator who manages the action learning process, encouraging members to ask questions rather than provide answers
  • Discussions are confidential, so participants can get candid in sharing concerns and challenges

Why did you decide to join a peer action learning group?

Dom Bush founded Land & Sky in 2011 and is the Director and Cinematographer.

“Land & Sky is quite new as a business in its current form. Dom and I started running it together at the end of 2018 and, because we’ve chosen to pursue it as our only work, we have to operate differently and grow to be able to sustain us both.

“At the same time, I’ve been trying to shift us away from traditional marketing work to something with greater social impact. We were originally doing outdoor brand videos but it’s not where our passion lies today. We’re more interested in working with businesses and organisations with social impact that are inspiring people to make a change.

“We know what our values are but have struggled to put them in to a strategy, formalise it, and then communicate it to everyone else.”

How did your first session go?

“I had tried out action learning before in a previous job. At the time I felt that they were quite clunky, and I didn’t get a huge amount out of it. But I was curious to try it again and I wanted it to work. Thankfully I had a completely different experience this time.

“It was set up clearly and the facilitators did a great job. They were gentle in their approach and the whole experience was relaxed and informal. As a result, people felt confident to talk openly and honestly about what’s happening in their business.

“I now find the process really useful. Part of my background is in therapeutic work, so I’m used to open questions and encouraging someone to do the thinking themselves. We naturally tend towards giving advice if we think we have it, so it can sometimes be a challenge for people to not step in and give their advice directly. But once you get used to the technique, and find you gain an insight yourself, it feels really empowering.”

What’s changed for you and your business?

“The way I approach sales has definitely changed for me. I’m a bit allergic to it, which is funny because I run a business. It doesn’t fit with my personality to do a hard sell, and my background has always been in making a difference and working for charities. With the action learning groups I’ve done some work around reframing that sales process for myself. I’ve asked myself how we can redefine our offer so that I don’t feel as if I’m having to sell it.

“The real ‘aha’ moment for me was that in order to sell Land & Sky I need to be crystal clear about who we actually are. That led me to do a values exercise and work out exactly what underpins everything we do and who we want our clients to be. Now I can have a simple conversation with people and let them know that there’s an opportunity for us to work together if our values are aligned.

“When you try and make enough money to live your vision can sometimes get clouded. It can be difficult to know what to do when a client that you don’t want to work with offers you money. By doing these value exercises and clarifying how they fit in to our strategy we’ve become more confident to only accept work that we want to as a business.”

Helen Lawrie and Land & Sky Media are participants in a Be the Business Peer Action Learning Groups. We’re inviting family-owned and operated businesses in the North West of England to take part in a free six-month programme. For more information or to sign up go here or email familybusiness@bethebusiness.com.

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