Romero Expert Insights Series: Stability

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As part of our 2023 insights initiative at Romero Insurance Brokers, we will be highlighting team leaders across the Romero Group. Over 12 months, The Romero Group will showcase 12 important figures, each from different departments and different disciplines.

Eighth in our Insights Series is Helen Tipping, Operations Manager for NDML and Club Insure. Helen has been with Club Insure since its formation, and the business’s exceptional growth parallels her own career path. Helen recounts for us the different roles she’s undertaken, the skills she’s honed and how she manages different people’s workstyles.

What are your roles and responsibilities?

As the Operations Manager, I look after the internal staff. I cover Club Insure and NDML, and also the marketing department. There are lots of different processes within each department, which is where management becomes a bit more challenging. I’ve got to keep abreast of everything that’s going on; I can’t roll out just one process for all, I’ve got to synchronise with each simultaneously.

I work really closely with Victoria Romero-Trigo, Director of Romero Insurance Brokers; I’m the buffer between more senior management and my guys. I decide what needs to be adjusted and what processes to roll out.

Please can you briefly recount your career pathway and management experiences?

This broker is the first insurance business I worked for. I worked for an estate agent and was made redundant, so I initially applied for a marketing role at Romero Insurance Brokers. The duties involved prospecting, which wasn’t what I thought it was going to be if I’m honest, and I’m not sure it suited my skillset – but I liked the company. I could see the business was growing and I really liked the people I was working with. I got on well with my boss Victoria.

After around 18 months Victoria said she’d like to form an admin team. Before I started, there was only NDML you see, Club Insure didn’t exist, and as the business took on more staff members, more and more admin was required. It was quite obvious Club Insure was going to take off, so Victoria asked if I wanted to head up the business support team.

The team had only me and two others, but it gave me an insight into management – it wasn’t intense and I was doing an admin-based role, still taking client calls. I did that for five years.

Eight years ago, Simon said to me he was looking to restructure. Our side of the business had never had an Operations Manager. Victoria took a step back from Club Insure and NDML, from the day to day, such as managing holidays, work loads and recruitment; and I took over the direct management.

How has your job’s development paralleled the development of the Romero Group?

The past eight years have been relatively similar, though moving to the new office was a big step, as was taking over the marketing team. The job role has stayed the same yet the team has grown quite a bit since I first started – it’s 30 now but we started with half that. We are proud of our retention rate, and our work culture.

How would you describe the culture and work processes at Club Insure, NDML and The Romero Group?

We try to keep the culture quite fun. Everybody in the team really gets on – Club Insure works as a series of little groups, there are 3 to a group mostly – so we need team players. These groups then form the bigger teams or departments. With the exception of probably one or two, there is no one who has a unique role. This ensures all bases are covered and communication is fluid, it works well.

My guys are really good at helping each other out. You never get anyone saying “Well I’m too busy” or “That’s not my job”. We’re a team.

I would like to think I’ve had a hand in the culture over my time, and also that I would get stuck in, were systems to go down or work pile up. There isn’t anything I’d ask someone to do that either I haven’t done myself or wouldn’t. I haven’t been an out-and-out handler before, but I have done all the elements of the job, and I’m quite happy to do what needs doing if others get too busy. I’d agree that as a manager it’s important to have the skills and knowledge and to be prepared to do yourself whatever role you ask another to do.

Before my influence, there was a feeling of micro-management from the team, so I’ve tried to change that. It’s not easy, because in my role I have my targets to hit and I’ve got to keep senior leadership happy, all while ensuring each person in my team is performing. Therefore I need to manage people but in a way where they feel like they want to achieve, and are not being dictated to. It’s a fine line.

How do you tackle underperformance?

As a manager, you’ve got to know your team. I can’t be everywhere all at once with such a big team, and so sometimes people can sail under the radar. However, it’s important I check in with everybody. Hence, what’s helped me perform my role is to appoint two team leaders.

Emily (Roche, Senior Account Handler) and Amy (Moor, Senior Account Handler) are an extension of me, and act as a sounding board for the team. If I am in meetings, then there is always somebody around the team can go to. For example, Emily and I have a weekly catch up every Monday morning and we talk about every single person, whether we are aware of any issues; that’s really important to keep an overview of the staff.

I don’t pretend I’m best mates with my staff, but I like to think if they were struggling it wouldn’t go unnoticed for too long.

I think I’d struggle without the extra support of the team leaders. It’s definitely better now that I’ve appointed them, and the team have more support now.

What are the crucial skills that you look for or try to develop within your team?

Being a team player is cliché, but it really is important due to the group dynamic. Time management is massively important to the role. Most of the team are account handlers, and as a handler you’ve got to be able to work with other departments and not get frustrated. Accept that, as a handler, you are oftentimes, sweeping a path. Attention to detail is also important, ensure you cross reference everything.

If I’m recruiting, I always tell individuals “Don’t be nervous, it’s just a chat.” Most of my employees come with no experience at all. They are often young, straight out of college, may have had admin jobs before; not always but mostly. With a large part of Club Insure and NDML’s business being scheme based, experience in insurance is not always necessary, a lot of it is automated and you can pick it up just through good training.

At The Romero Group, we offer really good training; a fact which is reflected in people’s monthly reviews, that they appreciate our level of training and support. So being a nice person and willing to learn is key.

What does it mean to you to be a figurehead as a woman in senior leadership?

I don’t face any challenge here by being a female. A lot of management is female – there is a good female presence within higher management. I’ve never felt like I was stepping into a male’s shoes, or that I’ve had to prove myself. I have earned my spot on my own merit. I know that challenges for females within the insurance industry exist, but I have never felt it at Club Insure, NDML, The Romero Group or Romero Insurance Brokers. And the culture reflects that.

What is the single most important skill you need to have to perform your role successfully?

Flexibility. I need to be able to adapt all of the time.

As with other jobs, I may have an idea of my day in the morning, but within the hour someone’s had a melt down and I may need to contact HR, so the whole day can flip on its head. Maybe somebody is off sick for a week and I need to rearrange work allocations.

What’s the best way of communicating within an organisation?

We do regular 1-2-1s, where I don’t go through a list of questions but instead ask about their life outside of work and try to get to know more about the person. If somebody has a problem at work then they shouldn’t be leaving until their 1-2-1; instead a 1-2-1 is an opportunity for me to re-engage with people.

Of course there are people I’ve naturally got more in common with and chat more regularly to, however 1-2-1s are important for me to interact with those I don’t see as much in the department. Me and Emily always alternate so we each see everybody.

Day to day, I do try to communicate face to face as much as I can. I’m always wondering up and down the office to speak to people. It’s inevitable there will be email trails in a company like ours, which can often be levelled at us, however I find that criticism unfair because I think our managers communicate very well. It can be hard when you’re managing lots of different teams because there are lots of different lines of communication. I can’t send one email to cover 30 staff, I have to use multiple platforms.

Having adopted marketing these past 6 months, it has presented its own challenges. I’ve worked with Adam (Lister, Business Development Manager) for ten years, and Nick (Howell, Business Development Executive) for all the time he’s been with us. When I was asked to oversee them, I didn’t want it to feel like I was suddenly managing them – I wanted instead to learn where I could help. I knew they were struggling with their current digital system, so straight away I got our development team to build them a bespoke web-based package that’s now in use. So instead of pointing out what was going wrong, it was more a case of “What could be changed?”.

Sometimes teams just need a new fresh pair of eyes. And although they both do the same role, Nick and Adam work completely differently. Even though this is the case, they still produce similar results. Whilst I’ve worked alongside them before, I’ve never had to understand exactly what they did and how they worked until I became their manager. That’s great, it’s interesting for me.

Is there a universal piece of advice you would give to other managers?

Trust your judgement. As a manager, you can’t please everybody all the time. You have to be happy when you’ve made a decision for the greater good.

Thank you to Helen for laying out their management style and the challenges faced by managers.

To read more of the insight series, see here.

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