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.
Tenth in our Insights Series is Nicola Murphy. Nicola manages the Nottingham office team; overlooking workloads, checklists and work processes. A shining light for the office, Nicola performs a dual-role which is both professional and communal. Nicola discusses with us the differences when working within a small team, the key skills needed and how to tackle underperformance.
What are your roles and responsibilities?
Commercial Department Manager of Nottingham. I think I have probably the longest job title at Romero Insurance Brokers. I manage the Nottingham commercial branch, which includes a small team of Brokers and Broking Assistants. My responsibilities include managing the team’s work allocation and performance; I check reports from the head office, monitoring how cases are proceeding, as well as measuring the success of the procedures we have in place.
I also get involved with training. Recently that’s been Epic training, as well as the usual knowledge based training around the role for team members. We’ve had quite a few new starters recently. I manage their progression and their involvement within the team; and once they’re ready, I allocate their workload.
But most importantly, my main responsibility is to make sure my team are happy in their role. I like to see it as being that go-to person for the team – be it someone to confide in or just someone to rant at, as well as a leader.
Please can you briefly recount your career pathway and management experiences?
So off the top of my head – I started in claims at the age of 18 for R A Cowen and Partners. After about 6 or 7 years I moved to a newly formed team for small business called Insure4Biz. This was where I got my first real chance to be a team leader. I had brief stints at two other companies before landing at Aston Larke, where I eventually went into branch managing.
The turning point was when I had my son, and decided the commute was getting a little much, so I left for pastures new. I became a Romero member and don’t think I will ever look back or want to move to any other company.
How do you try to incorporate new starters into a small team environment?
At The Romero Group, we’ve recently changed how we incorporate new starters. The first week is in Leeds, at our main office, and then they are invited down to Nottingham. I set up their own desk and workspace down here, and have them follow the new starter checklist which has recently been rolled out over the company.
However because we do things a bit differently down here in Nottingham, they do veer off into what’s needed and what’s going on at the time. I try to not have them do the same thing everyday and make it interesting for them.
Often the first few weeks of their new role involve mirroring either myself or Julie (Cripwell, Senior Broker). We demonstrate different aspects of the role and how it’s done the Romero way. I think this is important because too often new starter in other businesses are thrown in the deep end and can get lost. If they are finding on their own how to complete a task, that’s great, but it might not marry with how everyone else works at the Romero Group.
Through this new way of educating our new starters, we ensure they learn our processes and programs, including Epic, as well as how to manage workloads the Romero way. This works really well for new starters such as Bronte James who already has the insurance knowledge from working at other brokerages.
From my point of view, I feel that the new starter checklist has worked really well and I can see that Bronte has already picked up Epic to quite a high level, which can be complex.
How much impact does a manager have on the environment within an office?
I think because, externally, Romero Insurance Brokers can be seen as quite bullish and aggressive, winning business and working hard – it may appear as though the workplace is aggressive. But that’s not the case.
I suppose I have a way I want it to feel in the office. I and branch manager Dave (David Wagstaff) try to have a laugh, make the office feel friendly and fun, but not unprofessional.
We work really hard, and it’s important colleagues see that. When someone is having a bad day, instead of letting their mood impact the workplace, I try my hardest to turn around their bad day. There is a fine line between a relaxed work environment and slacking, and we must ensure we’re always on the right side of that line.
The biggest and best thing about Romero Insurance Brokers, is that when you work hard, you are rewarded.
Please describe the work processes within your department?
I overview and implement a few different work process to keep our department on track:
We’ve recently introduced the monthly tracker, this allows each individual in my team to confirm whether they’re meeting the company deadlines with regards to working procedures. I believe that this is a really good tool for each person to identify where they may need additional assistance or where they feel that they’re doing really well.
Epic also assists our procedures and processes as the activities act as a constant checklist for team members as they provides prompts, helping us manage workloads and get everything done on time.
We also try to have frequent team huddles to discuss workloads and anything that may be bubbling in the background where one of the team may need additional assistance. These huddles were suggested by Michael Craggs in HR after it was successful in other departments. I ask the team questions, such as; Who is really busy? Who needs assistance? Where can the team help?
Huddles have been one of the biggest positives for our team. It helps de-stress people. And I also I conduct 1-2-1s with every team member every two months.
What are the crucial skills that you look for or try to develop within your team?
There are three key skills that I’d expect to see in a team and which I try to nurture in new starters.
First, team work. It’s my number one skill to look out for. If you are not a team player, it’s going to be hard to work in a small office. I do not like the ‘that’s not my job’ attitude. We’re a team and if you can help someone to achieve something for the whole branch then I want that to be priority.
Second, a strong work ethic. The difference between a small office and a large office is that it’s harder to hide. People will be able to see if you are talking or not pulling your weight. I want employees ready to work their socks off, as I always believe that hard work pays off.
Third, an element of fun. We work with each other 8 hours a day, that’s far too many to be serious the whole time. If someone is having a bad day, let’s try to pick that person up.
This is definitely the Nottingham way. With such a small team, one person can throw the whole Nottingham branch off. I’m really anxious when we get a new person, because they have a large effect on the atmosphere. So I try to help bring out the above qualities in people.
What is the single most important skill you need to have to perform your role successfully?
Every manager needs to be approachable. After all, how can I expect my team to do a job well if they are not comfortable coming to me asking for help when they need it. If they’ve got a problem, then I need to be open and available to helping them fix it.
It can be quite hard to put yourself in another person’s shoes, but as a manager it’s essential. If their child is not well, maybe they themselves have a bad illness – managers need to be flexible and to put yourself in other people’s shoes.
A huge positive is that Romero has a wellness initiative and offers wellbeing training. Managers know to point colleagues in the right direction and get them professional help. We have access to both internal wellness solutions and external numbers to call.
Crucially, if you, as a manager, have had a good day, and others are maybe going through a bad time, it can be hard to come down to their level. It can be a surprise – and if I’m honest, you need to have the right personality to be able to be empathetic and pick people up. I do think a manager can gradually gain more empathy, but ultimately it’s down to personality.
What makes an inherently good leader?
All leaders have different skill sets.
As part of being a manager, I think there is an expectation you got there because you are the best at everything. But it’s negative to think this way; I still have a lot of work to do and a lot to learn. I believe I am good at what I do, but I’m not an expert in every area.
I think what makes a good leader is the ability to look at their team and see their strengths. It’s important to be able to use each person in a role that suits their strengths.
For example, Julie is excellent at IT and Excel, where as, I’m not great at Excel. She gains job satisfaction and I like them to know they are the best at something, and I give praise where it’s due.
There is a benefit, as a manager, to encourage people to take the reins with something that they’re good at, I wouldn’t want to take away an area where someone feels enabled. And in fact, some colleagues need this feeling – some people really like to be the best at something – and they want to be celebrated and I believe that can really help with job satisfaction.
How have you conducted a disciplinary issue or managed underperformance?
We have had underperformance within our office. In a small team, it’s easy to pick up when somebody underperforms – and I believe, as soon as you see a pattern, you have to nip it in the bud.
I prefer to give someone a nudge and privately explain how they’re being perceived by the team.
Having an honest conversation with someone will help them understand, as maybe they don’t even realise it themselves. I don’t leave it, as underperformance can fester and cause issues.
Once the initial chat has happened, I see how they receive the message. Hopefully, they see my point of view and they come back with a more positive and professional attitude towards their job.
Luckily, I’ve not had to do disciplinary – I’ve got great support from Joanna (Pullan, Director) and Michael Craggs. We’ve also got Sentient, our HR partners, who can provide advice on how to deal with a disciplinary.
In your opinion, what’s the best way of communicating within an organisation?
Face to face, for me. Meetings, little but often, as a team, will allow everyone to speak out and be heard by everyone. I also like 1-2-1s for communication – they’re a really good way of catching up with every member of the team. It’s nice to be able to talk and make sure everyone is okay, certain members need this communication.
Is there a universal piece of advice you would give to other managers?
Lead by example.
Managers can’t afford to sit in the office and moan, they need to set the tone. That doesn’t mean that every day has to be a dream, but we have to understand that being positive is really important. Within your team, every member has different personalities and different things going on in the background. Be friendly, treat everyone well, and I’m sure your positivity will be picked up.
Thank you to Nicola for her time and thoroughness. Nicola works incredibly hard, not only in her job, but also in pushing her team to do their very best. A positive impact wherever she finds herself, Nicola is greatly appreciated by both directors and team members.
To read more of the insights series, see here.