In a time of change and uncertainty, effective people leadership becomes a stabilizing force, providing guidance to navigate challenges in the marketplace. In this edition of The Interview, Andrew Parker, Head of People and Culture at LifeSearch, shares insights into his journey into people leadership and his achievements in the field.
Andrew met with Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, to discuss the importance of company culture, the challenges of engaging employees in inclusion work, and the traits that make a successful leader.
I’m the Head of People and Culture for LifeSearch. We’re one of the largest life insurance brokers in the UK. We’re a whole-market broker, working with partners to make sure clients are properly protected from the financial impact of illness or bereavement.. We have around 470 employees across the UK.
I’m one of those people who fell into it. I joined the business 18 years ago as a customer service assistant — five promotions later, here I am as Head of People and Culture. A lot of that is down to finding myself at the right company: the values and culture here have always made me feel at home, and it doesn’t really feel like work to me. I soon discovered that people leadership was my true interest, and I worked my way up through the People and Culture team until I arrived in my current position.
We’re currently kicking off a new programme of activity to power up our culture. About ten years ago, we first started to try and define our culture: that really made us think about how to define and promote our values. But a lot has changed in the last few years, so we’re going back out into the business to find out what matters to our employees. We’ve also had a lot of new arrivals: we recently appointed a new CEO, and we’ve hired 96 people over the last twelve months. We have a huge range of ages – our youngest employee is 18, and our oldest is 72 — so we can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to communication, leadership, and benefits. All businesses change over time; our firm is 25 years old this year, and we’ve evolved through several incarnations. So we must think carefully about what direction we will take over the next three to five years.
We employ people from all walks of life: it doesn’t matter who you are; we’re only interested in what you can do and how your values align with ours. We have values of Openness and Tolerance so have created an atmosphere where people can be themselves and are respected, valued and appreciated by others for being exactly who they are.We don’t just apply that to recruitment but also to promotion: we want to make sure those values and philosophies are ingrained in our leadership group.
It can be a struggle. When we first formalised our values, we noticed a hesitance to get involved in inclusion. People were afraid it would distract them from their performance targets. But over several months, we convinced them that performance and supporting our values were the same thing. We aren’t asking people to take on extra tasks but to integrate inclusion at the heart of their everyday work. So to encourage that, we create value-focused goals every quarter that the whole business can get behind. At the end of the day, we want everything we do to support our values.
Clarity is the first thing that springs to mind. You need to be completely transparent with people about what you expect of them. Tell them where they need to be and how they can get there. After that, diligence is another key trait. Personally, I make sure I know about everything that’s going on under my remit. I don’t need to have all the fine detail or micro-manage but a broad sense of everything Finally, it’s important to follow up: if you ask someone to do something, you have a responsibility to check that they’ve done it. You need to have a relentlessness to always improve and make things better for your team. We have a responsibility to make sure our employees leave the building feeling good about themselves and their work. When their friends ask them what it’s like to work here, we want them to have something positive to say.
I had a lightbulb moment when I realised a lot of the work my team does revolves around defining moments in people’s lives. It might be the moment they join the business or another formative experience they have here. It’s crucial to be mindful of what people might be going through, whether physical, mental, or emotional. It’s necessary to understand the importance of those moments and have responses to each of them so we can offer better support to our people.
The key is authenticity and being yourself. It’s a difficult road to understand who you really are, and not only in your professional life. But if you have that authenticity, it allows you to speak openly and honestly, even in difficult situations.