She adds that the most important lesson for managers leading teams who work away from a traditional work environment is to set very clear expectations in the arrangement as early as possible, with open regular conversations. Suncorp uses technology that enables team members to talk to others with a visual image on their computer, as well as virtual meeting rooms for people to ‘meet’ in. Leaders are equipped with toolkits around managing virtual teams. White also encourages leaders to bring people into the office on a periodic basis so they don’t feel too isolated.
“It’s critical that the leader talk to the individual every single day. You can’t underestimate the power of being in the same room every day or all being in the same space at work – and when you’re not it can be quite isolating.”
Suncorp has also invested a huge amount of time and money into a revamp of its L&D offerings. L&D at Suncorp is a collaboration between the group L&D function, known as the Suncorp Academy, which sits across all lines of business, and separate Business Learning Campuses for each business line.
The CI Learning Campus offers specialist development and learning support to employees for their entire life cycle, from onboarding job readiness through to senior specialist skills development.
The Suncorp Academy focuses on leadership development, which is applicable across the group. Both options provide blended learning options offered by in-house facilitators and external providers.
Over the past 12-18 months the company has focused heavily on leadership development, firstly identifying what type of leadership was needed for the future success of Suncorp and then what the gap was with the existing leadership population. During what White calls a “huge undertaking”, a significant number of employees were interviewed at all levels of the organisation about their experience of leadership at Suncorp. The gap was mapped on a ‘strategy canvas’, and then each of the three groups of identified leaders had their own ‘leadership canvas’ developed.
Leaders were categorised into three groups: strategic leaders (CEOs and executive GMs); business leaders (executive managers and senior leaders who lead large teams); and first line leaders. Each group has specific leadership development activities designed to get them operating at the highest level of capability.
That leadership clarity will be required for the future. White notes her significant HR challenges include managing, motivating and engaging what is an increasingly diverse workforce, and battling the war for talent for certain specialised roles. However, her biggest ongoing HR challenge is staying on course to deliver on business strategy while continuing the process of significant business transformation. Suncorp has been on a ‘simplification journey’ for several years, taking what was a highly complex organisation (the result of multiple M&As), and simplifying structures and culture.
“Historically we thought change had a start and end date and then things would go back to normal. That’s not the case now; you need to keep evolving. We need our employees to be change fit and some more readily adapt to that than others. The communication is vital – communicating an honest message about what the future looks like and the impact for employees."
White, who notes that her team of 13 HR professionals are “the best talent she’s ever worked with”, believes the future is bright – come rain, hail or shine in the broader economy. “I’m so excited to be working for such a dynamic company. We’ve come such a long way and we’ve got some fantastic HR practices in place.”