‘Some businesses have sacrificed people to save numbers, but it requires courage to sacrifice numbers to save our people’​

The blog features leadership insights from leading CEOs / CHROs on effective leadership and how their leadership styles helped to shape the organization culture and executive performance in mitigating the ever changing challenges in the business environment. This episode features Jude Gomes – Chief Executive Officer of Union Assurance PLC in conversation with Riaz Hassen – CEO of Colombo Leadership Academy . Jude Gomes took the reins as Chief Executive Officer of Union Assurance PLC in 2019. Union Assurance is backed by the strength of John Keells Holdings PLC , one of Sri Lanka’s largest listed conglomerates. Jude draws from a highly accomplished career in financial services spread over three decades with experience accrued across key Asian markets and global financial institutions in country and APAC roles: including HSBC, Manulife, Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of America. He has worked across 7 countries and lived in 5. Prior to heading Union Assurance, he served Manulife China Bank Life Insurance Corporation in the Philippines as President and CEO. Union Assurance PLC offers a range of solutions covering education, health, protection, retirement, employment, and investment. The Company pioneers digital transformation in the industry, bringing solutions closer to consumers through cutting-edge technology. 

Union Assurance PLC has received notable accolades including Life Insurance Company of the Year and Digital Life Insurer of the Year and was recognized as the Most Awarded Insurance Company in Sri Lanka for 2020. In 2021 Union Assurance was conferred the coveted Company with Great Managers award and has been certified as a Great Place To Work for nine years and is among the Best Places to Work in Asia.

 Riaz – What style of leadership will help create a high performance organization culture?

Jude – Empowering people to become agents of change driving towards the formation of a high-performance team. When we trust people to get the job done, we get leaders, who in turn steer and cascade this culture, a paradigm shift from micromanaging to empowerment. People should be given the confidence and latitude to learn from failures, which is profoundly rewarding as you help evolve them into creative and confident leaders with a healthy streak of appetite to embrace new ideas, drive change and growth.

Riaz – What are the key learnings you have taken from the recent crisis in the area of talent management, succession planning, and employee engagement?

Jude – The key learning from this pandemic is to expect the unexpected and develop a new core competency- the ability of rapidly responding to an uncertain environment. The pandemic has made a paradigm shift in our operating model, which oscillated from in person to virtual overnight and in-turn resulted in a new reality workforce.

Some businesses have sacrificed people to save numbers, but it requires courage to sacrifice numbers to save our people.

Under such circumstances, Emotional Intelligence and embracing the rule of NIB: notice, importance and belonging becomes even more significant to increase belongingness and engagement as most continue to work from home. Employee well-being will be further prioritized as we continue to support staff emotional and mental well-being in helping battle the pandemic.

In the area of talent management, we have further built on learning and nurturing opportunities through very specific talent development interventions and integration of HR technology to stimulate growth mind set.

Riaz – Why are diversity and inclusion important to your organization?

Jude – A diverse and inclusive work environment establishes a sense of belonging among employees. At Union Assurance, we endeavour to ensure our employees are connected at work, and collaborate more to deliver quality outcomes. Our recruitment policies ensure that recruitment searches attract diverse candidates so we widen our talent pool and as a result, the organization has more opportunities of producing new perspectives and innovation. Furthermore, an inclusive work environment instills greater trust between employees and leadership. Different perspectives challenge our decision-making capabilities making the outcomes more robust. 

Riaz – What is the future of HR and where do you see the challenges and changes happening?

Jude – Apart from the pressures of operating in a VUCA world, the pandemic has impacted the mental health of employees and hence the role of HR becomes extremely significant in further reinforcing a psychological safety net for our employees.

Working from home model is here to stay, even post the pandemic, as many employees have adapted to this transition and made use of this opportunity for a more balanced work life routine. There is a paradigm shift from the traditional work model towards one that’s more flexible, safe, and employee-centric. When people feel free and safe, it results in more innovation and advancements to better serve the customers.

However, substantially diminished physical interactions have also resulted in low engagement and mental well being challenges. Thus organizations will have to take cognizance and invest on employee mental health framework, while the model transitions more towards technology driven platforms. 

Riaz – What defines a Great Manager and what are the key competencies required to be one?

Jude – Great Manager need to have the ability to provide clear direction, motivate team to their fullest potential, delegate effectively and provide a platform for continuous learning and development. They need to take fast decisions based on available information and own up responsibility.

Great Managers are expected to communicate clearly, drive cross functional collaboration to achieve set goals, be problem solvers and provide regular feedback.

Quoting Bob Sutton (Weird Ideas at Work), great managers are those that ‘reward success and failures, but punish inaction.’ 

Riaz – What are the best practices in your organization that defines your employer brand?

‘We cultivate a culture where employees learn from mistakes and strive towards excellence’

Jude – Union Assurance is a leading corporate and the fastest growing entity in the Life insurance industry backed by the strength and stability of John Keells Holdings PLC, one of Sri Lanka’s largest conglomerates. We have been certified as a Great Place To Work for nine years and is among the Best Places to Work in Asia. In 2020, we were awarded the ‘Global Employer Brand’ by the World HRD Congress.

 An important facet for us is in nurturing a workplace culture in which safety and trust are prerequisites for people’s empowerment. When people feel empowered and safe in the workplace, it paves the way for more innovation and advancements to take place. 

Governance and Clarity play equally important roles in our employer brand. Governance defines how we work and how we behave, while clarity gives our employees a clear direction and alignment to where we are headed as an organization. 

Coherence across the facets of a safe workplace, trust, governance and clarity unify the entire organization to one goal, and this bodes well for our reputation. 

About the interviewer – Riaz Hassen

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Riaz Hassen is the founder CEO and Managing Director of Colombo Leadership Academy and has served in board positions in diversified conglomerates and has over 30 years of experience in providing leadership and driving business growth. He is an experienced Executive & Leadership Development Coach, A Leadership Effectiveness & Culture Assessor certified by the Leadership Circle USA. Culture & Diversity Ambassador by Hofstede Insights. Riaz is equipped with vast experience in Executive, Leadership and Transformation Coaching domains. Riaz is also an advocate of crafting Employer Branding strategies developing Employer Value Propositions and Diversity & Inclusion ventures. Check Riaz Hassen