It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, Colette Taylor took on the new role of VP Commercial Solutions and Specialty Lines Solutions, shifting her responsibilities from leading Sovereign’s Specialty team to assuming leadership responsibility for the Commercial team as well. During this time, she’s been faced with a hard market and a global pandemic, in addition to executing Sovereign’s ambitious strategies for each channel of distribution.
We checked in with Colette to get her thoughts and insights on leadership, learning, embracing change, and more, as she reflects on this unprecedented year.
This year organizations needed to be incredibly agile and adapt to a lot of change. How did you lead effectively through change in 2020?
Many initiatives this past year felt like they were moving at light speed – often because they simply had to – and that pushed people beyond their usual comfort level. As with any fast-paced initiatives, at times this led to failures in either delivery or communication. In those moments I leaned on members of the team whom I knew would give me clear and honest feedback about how initiatives were “landing’ with the team. From there, I was either able to make decisions or work with key stakeholders to change direction quickly to support the effective execution on our plan. Looking back, it wasn’t always perfect but that’s ok.
What was your biggest learning curve?
The biggest learning curve was how to adapt to communicating in a virtual environment. So much of leadership is about connecting, listening, and talking to people. However, within six weeks of taking on a large new team I was only able to connect with them virtually and for the first few months, by voice only. This made me realize just how much we rely on non-verbal communication to ensure that key messaging is being received how we intend it to, and that people believe in the strategy you’re presenting.
Often, virtual communications can feel very formal and structured, we lose some of the social and personal element that is so important to our business. I had to purposefully create moments to create space for levity or sharing personal stories to try to capture some of those key connection points and build relationships with my new team.
Describe a moment or experience that fulfilled you this past year.
So often in the early days of this role I heard people say to me “we have been working so hard, trying a lot of different ideas etc.”. It was clear to me that this was a team that cared deeply about “winning” but had not had all the right tools at their fingertips to do so. After a few months of seeing the new strategy implemented and playing out through the results, it was great to see them feeling like their hard work was now paying off.
How do you support a high-performance culture within your team?
In many respects, embracing a culture of high performance is built into my DNA, as it is for many people. Often the complexities of business obstacles and competing priorities can slow progress down or worse still, result in people becoming disillusioned about the impact they can have. I’ve found that an impactful way to mitigate this is through constant and constructive feedback, within our own team and with other teams too. This helps to generate clear accountabilities for everyone and ensure those inevitable obstacles can be met head on and moved out of the way.
High performance doesn’t just mean hitting financial targets. As a values-driven company grounded in co-operative roots, we’re striving to win with purpose. In other words, we can (and do) still strive to achieve great performance in our teams and for our business, but we do it in such a way that feels considerate of our people, partners, and customers.
Sovereign has placed a renewed focus on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) over the last year. As a female senior leader (in a largely male-dominated industry) who leads a diverse team, how do you actively champion and uphold D&I principles?
I’m always inspired to “pay it forward” in any way that I can. In the past 23 years of my career in Insurance I have had the opportunity to be inspired and supported by many strong female leaders who freely and enthusiastically invested their time and energy in helping me navigate through my career. It always brings me happiness to be able to do the same for others in any small way that I can. I also believe that being a D&I champion is an opportunity to constantly educate myself on ways that I can help any and all marginalized groups, not just the one I belong to.
Taking the time to reflect helps us learn important lessons and gain new insights that can then be harnessed moving forward. While we’re sure Colette’s second year in her position will bring new challenges and opportunities – and likely some curveball surprises too – she has certainly set a strong foundation with her team to build upon.