What leaders think
Sue Langley, Chair, Gallagher UK(Senior Independent Director – UKAR, Lead Non-executive Director – Home Office, Trustee – Macmillan, Alderwoman – City of London)
What challenge did you tackle and overcome in your business this week?
Working with one of my mentees who has recently lost her job and is now looking for pastures new. In these times it’s not just our own businesses we need to look after!
Which ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this week/month?
What the operating models of the future should look like, is a common question and challenge for businesses I’m working with.
Things are still changing, and people have different situations. There’s a lot of feedback to consider. It’s clear that whilst remote working has many benefits, many definitely miss the interaction of the office. Striking the right balance and delivering the right solution for business is challenging.
In retrospect what would you have done differently in lockdown and therefore, how may this shape your thinking for any future lockdown (local or national)?
I don’t know about doing anything differently, Gallagher for example was very well prepared, but there were certainly some learnings to be applied going forward.
Our Gallagher COO had the foresight to ensure we were stocked up on laptops etc. and this meant the business was able to move rapidly to remote working.
I think it’s made us all think about the scenarios we run in our disaster recovery planning. I suspect very few people planned in detail for every one of their UK offices to be shut down simultaneously for a long period of time.
Ensuring the wellbeing of staff was a key takeout from lockdown as well as keeping them informed and still feeling part of the company. It’s obvious, but harder remotely, to make sure we had good and regular communication in place.
Given the reliance on technology during lockdown, do you now envisage an acceleration in digital/ workforce transformation in the short-medium term?
Many businesses will end up with some kind of permanent flexible working model. We were already seeing the march of A.I, especially in insurance. I think there will be even more focus on the part technology can play as it does provide greater resilience in these kinds of situations.
What are the new working norms starting to look like for your organisation?
Going forward a key question is “what’s the role of the office?” If it’s not just customer interaction, then what is it? Is it efficiency? A place to learn and train? Somewhere that embeds a culture and makes us all one team? We need to think through what its real purpose is so we can design something better and not just revert to pre-pandemic.
We also need to consider work-life balance and childcare. Even flexible working must have some structure!
Finally, I always say we don’t have loyalty to an iPad, we have loyalty to a company. Remuneration is just one part of this, how do we engage with our teams if work is always remote. A job has to be more than pay, otherwise it becomes purely transactional. We all spend a lot of our lives working, so we need to feel what we do is valued and enjoy it.
There was a dramatic reduction in our carbon footprint during lockdown, what is your business planning to do to help continue this going forward?
We were already focusing on this at AJG and certainly this will continue, for example, in terms of reduced international travel.
What changes personally will you keep from the lockdown period going forward?
Lockdown has been so busy. More so than being in the office! Going forward I’m determined to be stricter on which meetings are really required and which are just for information. I find video conferencing and telephone (and free travel time) makes it easier to fill the diary, not always productively.
Who or what has inspired you this week? (They don’t need to be famous)
The owner of a local restaurant, who like so many has had to try everything to save her business, including creative offers, personal emails and even providing office space. I really admire anyone who throws the kitchen sink at their business to survive and keep their clientele, but I know not everyone is able to do so. Really troubling times.
Did you manage a holiday this summer and if so where / how did you spend it?
This may surprise you, but I am a secret fan of canal boats; the tranquility of travelling at 2-4 miles an hour on hidden canals and rivers (where Wi-Fi isn’t always available) is fabulous.
We managed to do this in the summer, but with the ban on flying it seemed most of the UK were on the river with us! So, it was more of a canal boat jam. With so many trying it for the first time, it felt like an hourly occurrence to see boats sideways across the water or stuck in the bank.
Any words of wisdom?
We always talk about strategy, but a crisis always shows that resilience is just as key. It’s part of our operational planning but the pandemic has brought home just how important it is to think through every single element of your business, how resilient it really is and what should creatively change.