Carl Palmer – Take a Walk in Their Shoes

Carl Palmer, Executive Chairman at CIS Security

In his latest blog for Infologue Carl Palmer, Executive Chairman at CIS Security writes about his experiences on the 2017-2018 Clipper Boat Race, his business approach and how one has influenced the other. Carl writes: “I am back. After nine months at sea, travelling some 25,000 nautical miles from Liverpool (UK) to Qingdao (Northern China). In more than 30 years at CIS Security, I have come to realize many things about business, but it was in the last year, when I took on the challenge to tackle five legs of the Clipper Round the World Race, that a number of insights seemed to rise to the surface for me.

“During my sailing trip, it was evident that we needed everyone on board to perform their roles to the best of their ability. Otherwise, we faced significant problems. Victualler, Navigator, Engineer, Sail Repairers, Watch Leader and of course, the Skipper, whose job it is to coordinate and lead everybody in their respective roles.

“Whilst I must confess that my experience in the role of Watch Leader on our Dare to Lead boat, was extremely enjoyable for me and well suited to my character traits, the time spent “in the shoes” of various other roles were also rewarded with satisfaction and a sense of achievement. It was this role swapping that highlighted for me, the importance of empathic intelligence in a business such as my own.

“It was just as I wearily but dutifully stepped in to the lonely role of Watch Leader as my shipmates took a rest in their bunks below deck, I realized that this reliance on the expertise and dedication of colleagues is not too dissimilar from the approach needed in running and growing CIS into the award-winning company that it is today. I am proud to be at the helm of one of the only elite (ACS and NSI Gold accredited) independent security guarding companies in the UK, employing over 1,600 people.

“I am grateful for my experience (and indeed the experience of most of my co-Directors at CIS) as a frontline Officer early in my career, understanding how it feels to wait for relief in a freezing cold cabin on an isolated site, or indeed the vulnerability felt in the face of a challenging situation, needing vital information to coordinate an effective and intelligent response for my client.

“While I don’t actually take up duties on the front line these days, much of my time is spent visiting sites and speaking as well as listening to the talented staff, whom I have so much respect for. I want them to feel like they have some control over their work and their careers, the flexibility to balance work and home life.

“In my role as Victualler on the Clipper boat, I was responsible for the acquisition and provision of food and supplies for a crew of 30+ people with differing tastes and an appetite for 4,000-5,000 calories per day due to the physicality of competitive sailing life. I understood that, although we were in China, I wasn’t going to get everyone to like chicken feet (however abundantly available and affordable within our tight budget). Sometimes, we just needed to break out the bacon sarnie ingredients we had been saving. When spirits need a lift, a smile unlocked by a treat has serious productivity power.

“In business, I regularly use the term “CIS Family”. We are a community of people who need to respect each other’s individuality to enable the all-important feeling of belonging that gives people the desire to be productive in their roles. I know by looking at the faces around me in the office, when a surprise breakfast run is needed and I ensure that each and every person will get the sandwich they like, with their preferred sauce and bread. I know that it will hit the spot at those times when everyone needs to pull together to get the work done, and done well.

“Can do attitude” and consistency of work ethic are frequently requested within rallying calls to workforces. Of course, I want to strive for this as a business leader, but I don’t realistically expect perfection from everybody 100% of the time. Boy, did I experience ups and downs on that boat – as amazing as the Clipper Round the World Race experience was, missing my loved ones and enduring the monotony of some tasks left me at a low ebb, struggling to motivate myself and others.

“People need space and time to recharge their batteries, to learn new things and develop themselves. They need the inspiration to innovate and they need exposure to fresh air and exercise to keep their minds healthy. We recently invested in the renovation of our workspace, staff rest areas and training facilities at our CIS headquarters in London. I see the value of doing this even more clearly on my return from my trip. In addition to good ergonomics and reliable, secure infrastructure, it’s simple things like real plants and the smell of real coffee that make workplaces feel like pleasant places to be.

“Making staff feel appreciated is vital to good work outcomes. On those cold, dark, seasick days on oceans that looked like they would never end, it was kind words from others that got me through. The feeling that efforts have been noticed gives people a boost, “You are doing great, keep going, we will get there in the end”. On that boat, everyone is making potentially life-affecting decisions. Crew members go overboard from time to time (and yes, it’s absolutely terrifying), decision making can be a matter of life and death and you need to be in the right frame of mind to do the right thing.

“In our industry, there is a desire to make a difference, to be a hero in society. That’s why many security professionals get out of bed in the morning (or in the middle of the night if that’s when their shift starts). As a company, we celebrate our heroes as much as we can through awards and company initiatives. I for one feel good about our common cause every day. We are truly a Force for Good. I also don’t mind saying, I feel very good indeed to be back on dry land for the foreseeable future.”

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