Adaptability. Good leaders tend to be organised, leading organisations that can move quickly and adapt. You can spend much time thinking and talking about stuff, but the reality is, if you’ve got a great team and good ideas, then it doesn’t matter if things fail — just do it. Our philosophy here is to fail fast. I’d rather do ten things and fail in six because four worked than do two things, and both didn’t work (or only one did).

We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Simon Moyle, CEO of Vivup.

Simon Moyle is CEO of Vivup, award-winning wellbeing and benefits specialists.

In the four and a half years since Simon joined Vivup, he has transformed the business from 17 employees to 160 and it has grown from a client base of c250 clients supporting c600k employees to over 800 clients supporting over 2 million employees. Simon is a bold and disruptive leader and has an ethos of openness and a willingness to hear creative ideas and to do things differently. His ambitious and engaging nature is infectious, and he not only takes people with him but motivates his team to proactively seek new and innovative ideas for change to continually drive forward. Simon was awarded UK Leader of the Year 2022 at the Investors in People Awards last November and Vivup also won UK Employer of the Year (50–250 employees).

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?

Vivup has grown into a phenomenal business. We’re here to help employees make more from the money they’ve earned and live longer and happier lives. In May, we acquired a new company called Work&Life Partners to add to our offering, which has products and services to help people with child, elderly and pet care. What we can do to help employees with that particular product is powerful. You might have heard of a phrase called ‘the sandwich generation’, where more and more people are supporting kids at the same time as looking after their parents. This unique problem has emerged over the past few years, so I’m very excited to bring a real tangible solution to the market to help solve this.

As for me, my youngest son is doing his A-levels right now, and he will be off to university in September. This means we will get some freedom back — going on holiday when we want and don’t even have to think about asking anyone. So, my wife and I are looking forward to that.

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

I’ve been blessed with three or four phenomenal leaders over the past 25 years. The person who comes to mind the most is Mick Thompson, who I worked alongside in Currys for over 12 years. Mick gave me a really good level of challenge. He never tried to step on my toes or tell me what to do. On the contrary, I was given a huge amount of autonomy to build the business however I wanted. But he asked the right questions; he was challenging, so he didn’t give me an easy time.

I always talk to our leadership team about the difference between delegation and abdication. Mick was a very delegating authority, but made sure he didn’t just abdicate — he still cared, asking the right questions, supporting me, and he brought me to achieve the maximum amount of my potential. Afterwards, that relationship flipped, and I became his mentor over the past three or four years. Today it’s me who coaches and supports and mentors Mick on his next journey since he left Dixons a few years after me. So, for me, it’s been brilliant to be still as close and tight to him, but our relationship has changed over the years.

Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?

My biggest mistake was taking on too much. It’s very tempting to try and do everything all the time because I’m a bit of a people pleaser. Whether it was at Currys or here at Vivup, there are examples where I’ve just said yes to everybody and then tried to do it thinking that was possible. But you are better off choosing and doing an excellent job in a few areas and being honest with people about timelines. Try to do things later or simply not do them at all because it’s too hard to do everything at once.

One of the challenges coming from a big corporate into a smaller SME was that in a big organisation, you would start lots of things off because the reality of the red tape means that only a certain percentage would get through to execution. Even then, it would be watered down. When I came into Vivup four and a half years ago, I did the same thing I’d always done. I kicked off many projects at the same time. Quite quickly, I realised that it’s actually up to me whether this stuff goes forward, so everything was landing. That’s where we had to stop doing so many projects because we simply didn’t have the capacity to see it all through — there was no red tape, no barriers.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

When I first got into management and started running teams, I thought a great leader was someone willing to get their hands dirty and be at the front-facing part of the business. I thought it was important to show that I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything I wasn’t willing to do myself. That meant that in shops where I spent a long time, I would serve customers myself.

Now I can see that as you go higher up and start taking on more accountabilities and responsibilities, doing it all is not a sign of a good leader. Don’t get me wrong, I will still speak to customers today, but what I don’t do is dedicate anywhere near as much time being on the shop floor. That tends to step on people’s toes too much, as I would tend to take over. In fact, it becomes intimidating for staff members when you are present on every single call or meeting. The bigger the company gets, the more people get intimidated by a leader’s presence, so this is something to keep in mind.

Success is as often about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?

It might sound perverse, but I’ve stopped doing a lot of the things that I loved. I came from a sales environment where I’ve always loved being with customers and suppliers. That’s the bit that I had to stop because I have an incredibly competent team that is fantastic at what they do. Being involved so much is now seen as meddling and standing on their toes rather than being supportive. It would be wrong for me to be that.

What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?

As a leader, the most important trait, when it comes a little later on, is putting people at the heart of what you do and ensuring that you’ve got a team you can trust and that is empowered to do their job. Leaders must stop abdicating or stepping on their toes by checking up on them every 30 seconds. Organisations that thrive appoint people into positions and then trust them. Having the support mechanisms in place, like mentoring, check-backs, and coaching, is essential, but fundamentally leaders should trust a team and be there when needed.

At Vivup, we’ve got a results-driven culture. I’m not bothered when everyone’s working. In fact, we’ve got loads of flexible options that allow people to be there for their kids’ school plays, pick them up from school or take their dogs for a walk. Just let people have lives and remember that we all come to work to sustain our lifestyle. We don’t want to live to sustain work. If we get that part right, we will always be a thriving organisation.

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?

I guess it is about trust in your gut. Quite often, people under stress and pressure revert to type, and that’s normal. When things are hard, your instinct is to do the things you enjoy, which tends to be doing stuff you know you’ve got a good team for. So, my advice for leaders is when you get pressured, first of all, realise what you’re doing and then do the opposite. Put yourself out of your comfort zone because that’s what the team will respond to and where you will get the best results.

Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?

It’s pretty much the same advice — to trust your gut and be yourself. It’s really easy to try and replicate somebody else or see some traits of other people and try to and be somebody else. It’s not sustainable — you just can’t do it for any period of time. To be a successful leader, you must do what you believe is right, what feels natural to you, rather than trying to be a people-pleaser.

I’ve always said that you learn as much from the bad leaders you’ve had in the past as you do from the good ones. From what I’ve experienced, bad leaders have always tried to act in a persona, so you could tell they weren’t really there but acting how people expected or forced them to act. In addition, they were always trying to replicate behaviours they’ve seen from other people, which always comes across as fake. Of course, they can’t sustain it for a long time. Unfortunately, in my lifetime, I’ve seen or worked with three or four leaders like that, and their traits were pretty common.

Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now?

1. Vision. A good leader has to be transparent with the team on what they are trying to achieve as an organisation. I always use the Dilts model as an example, with an idea and purpose at the top. Whenever I took over a new store at Currys, or later when I came into Vivup, I first brought the team together and painted that picture. It becomes much easier if everyone can visualise what success looks like and where we’re trying to get to. Unfortunately, companies usually have a blanket vision such as ‘we need to make more money, sell more and get more customers’. In fact, it’s the input rather than the output. The output is absolutely what you’re trying to do, where you’re trying to get to, and what’s the organisation’s purpose. For example, Vivup is here to help employees make more of the money they’ve earned and live longer and happier lives. That’s our purpose — everything we do adds up to that, making it much easier when you’re starting to prioritise tasks and initiatives to fulfil this purpose. Organisations should ask themselves, “Is it going to get us to where we’re trying to get to?” If the answer is yes, we can consider it; if it’s a no, it’s a waste of our time and a distraction.

2. Storytelling. So, your organisation has a vision, great. How are you going to articulate it? How would you believably and authentically tell that story? An organisation is successful when everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet. Going back to Vivup, people mainly want to work here because of our story. It means it’s coming across externally, and they want to be doing something meaningful and purposeful instead of just coming in doing a job and making a company some money. So, it’s about the lives we change through the products and services we sell.

3. People-first. It can never be overestimated how important this is to put the team at the heart. It means looking at everyone’s development, the way an organisation harnesses talent, takes chances on people and gives them trust and the support needed. When I started at Vivup in January 2019, I put in place a leadership program that we’ve now done for four years, with 50 colleagues going through it. We wanted to ensure that we were investing in the team and getting everybody to reach their potential by giving them the relevant skills. Interestingly, the cost of doing that at the time was crazy, and we were spending corporate-level money as a tiny SME with circa 30 employees. Anyone else would have said we were nuts for doing that! In reality, it allowed us to internally promote many people in a short time and mix that with the external talent we brought over these past few years. It also meant that people joined our business because they could see we invested in our teams, and they had a future with the company that won’t put a ceiling on anybody.

4. Resilience. Unfortunately, some things don’t always go according to plan. It’s essential to have a vision and a clear end-goal and believe it doesn’t matter what that journey looks like. A good leader is willing to change the journey to reach the destination. COVID-19 was a great example where we had to make rapid pivots to do different things because the world and how everyone did things changed. But what didn’t change was our vision and where we were trying to get to. Our journey was different — we prioritised different areas, moved into various sectors and pushed other products higher up the hierarchy. So, despite the changes, resilience got us through the period and allowed us to double our business every year for the past four years.

5. Adaptability. Good leaders tend to be organised, leading organisations that can move quickly and adapt. You can spend much time thinking and talking about stuff, but the reality is, if you’ve got a great team and good ideas, then it doesn’t matter if things fail — just do it. Our philosophy here is to fail fast. I’d rather do ten things and fail in six because four worked than do two things, and both didn’t work (or only one did).

American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.

It closely links to the five things I mentioned before. The masterpiece we are painting together as a team at Vivup is this real vision to change the way people treat their employees and how those employees can value their employers. So, every day we are making strides to get closer to that vision with new propositions, new people, new ways of working and every conversation we have. Hearing my employees tell the same story to our customers, who are more than willing to sell our product as a result, makes me so proud. That means one more person or company will impact more than 50 lives off the back of an hour’s call, and I think this is important.

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

I hope everyone I’ve touched or involved with the story will always be people-first and be themselves. This is something I wished for my kids when they were little. It’s not a work thing, it’s just a life thing — if you’re nice to people, good things will happen to you, and people will be nice back. So, be yourself, don’t try to be anybody else, be nice, and treat people well.

How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?

You can check us out on our website or LinkedIn, and you can also reach out to me directly on LinkedIn — I am always looking forward to speaking with interesting people!

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!