To call Lisa Bartlett’s (pictured) first year as president of Crawford & Company in the UK and Ireland a baptism of fire would be a significant understatement. After all, she was only weeks into her role when the UK was beset by the triple threat of storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge, an event quickly overshadowed by the COVID-19 crisis and the move towards a national lockdown.
“We had two weeks to vacate the office. And with no project plan in place, we had employees taking desktops home, but our IT team really knocked it out of the park,” she said. “What was really good, as well, was that it was a great time for us to show our employees that they were cared for and that their welfare truly comes first. And I think that was the starter for every [initiative] that has come after that.”
Bartlett noted that COVID has been an opportunity for her to earn her stripes and she reflected on how the results of Crawford’s most recent employee engagement survey were proof positive of how the company’s renewed emphasis on employee engagement has paid off.
“We have focused much more on employee engagement than external engagement, though of course we still do a lot of the latter,” she said. “And, during the first 100 days of the pandemic, we did a daily update for our employees and only stopped that when we felt they could become repetitive.
“We’ve totally transformed how we engaged with our employees and the vast majority of our managers have stepped up. So, we’ve turned some of the negatives into a positive which we are proud of and, of course, we’re [also] proud that the business has done so well.”
Looking to the future, Bartlett said her focus remains on keeping the company on track on the journey of modernising its culture with a “people-first” focus at its core. Crawford is not going to be the kind of business that goes back exactly to the ways things were pre-COVID. The company has successfully integrated technology into its client proposition and several of these changes will become permanent.
In addition to a new more rapid rate of technology development and adoption, she said, her focus is also on giving Crawford’s people more choice in terms of how they work, when they work and where they work. The business recently introduced a new smarter working policy, which is founded on the principle of giving people more choice when it comes to their professional lives.
“Culturally, I feel like we’ve moved at pace,” she said. “Gone are the days when employees go into the office to do their email, they will go there to do training, to learn, to collaborate, or because their preference is to be there. That will be a permanent change and, again, it’s another positive to have come from the pandemic.”
At the foundation of the people-first strategy that Bartlett has been enforcing since she first settled into the driving seat of Crawford are a variety of key characteristics – two essential stalwarts of which are innovation and empowerment. These are the traits that are coming to the fore as the business continues on this journey, she said, as she believes that success comes down to empowering people to find their voice more and moving to a place where no idea is seen as a bad one.
Crawford also recently established its own Diversity Council which came up with the idea to dedicate a whole week to wellbeing activities, she said. The event, which utilised technology to promote wellbeing through online yoga and fitness classes, health sessions and dietary advice, was a significant success and it was great to showcase some of the practical, visible ways that insurance businesses can support their people.
“There is no doubt that change has to come from the top-down,” she said “And Crawford globally has been really strong in leading the way. It was a global initiative to provide the Headspace app for every employee and I think that sent a really strong message, that actually the wellbeing agenda across the company was important. So our local efforts were reinforced by the global efforts which, I think, felt much more authentic to our employees.”
Across the insurance profession, Bartlett noted that she is seeing an increased acceptance of a fact that she has long championed – that, without your people, you simply don’t have a business. Crawford is made a stronger, more successful business through its employee-centricity, she said, and that is why its strategy for the year ahead revolves around embedding that fact deep into the heart of the company and all its operations.
Not, of course, that this mammoth task is enough for Bartlett and her team. Never the type to do anything by halves, the team is in the process of organising an Insurance United Against Dementia (IUAD) event in September that, restrictions willing, will see them walk 26 miles to boost morale and raise money. The original sponsored IUAD walk was cancelled last year, she said, but now it’s back on the cards and she’s looking forward to the chance to get out there and walk with her team.
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